The square sail had been hoisted; it filled out slowly and, obeying the long rough oar which Bostock used as a scull, the raft behaved splendidly, leaving the long dark hull of the steamer behind, and steadily nearing the yellow stretch of sand backed by an enormous cocoanut grove.
There were birds circling overhead and flock after flock flying about the shore, which grew more beautiful each minute; but before they had glided far over the lagoon, Carey's attention was taken up by the shallowness of the water, and he reached out over the side to gaze in wonder through the perfectly limpid medium at what seemed to be a garden of flowers of the most beautiful and varied tints. There were groves, too, of shrubs, whose branches were of delicate shades of lavender, yellow, orange, and purple, and through the waving sea growths fishes, gorgeous in gold, orange, scarlet, and blue, flashed in the softened sunshine, as they were startled by the coming of the raft.
Bostock was very busy piloting their craft, but he was referred to from time to time as a mine of knowledge to be worked, for the old sailor had long been acquainted with the Eastern Seas, and had been fairly observant for an uneducated man.
Hence he was able to point out the fact that there were thousands of the great pearl-oysters clustering about the coral reefs which looked so shrub-like below.
"Look here, doctor," cried the boy, excitedly; "it's just like a lovely garden."
"Exactly," said the doctor; "a garden that lives and grows without a soul to admire its beauties."
"No, we're admiring them, sir," said Carey, promptly.
"But most likely we are the first white people who ever saw them."
"Don't let the raft go so quickly, Bob," cried Carey; "we want to have a long, long look at the things now we have found them. Look, doctor; oh, do look! there was a fish glided by all of a watch-spring blue, with a great bar across it like a gold-fish's."
"You are missing those flowers," said the doctor.
"No, I see them," cried the boy, with his face close to the water. "Sea anemones; clusters of them like those I've seen in Cornwall, only ten times as handsome. Look there, too, lying on the patch of sand there, seven or eight, oh! and there's one—a five-pointed one, scarlet, crimson, and orange-brown; but they don't seem to have any feelers."
"No; those must be star-fish—sea stars."
"Beautiful," cried the boy, who was half-wild with excitement. "Oh, what a pity we are going so fast! Look at all this lilac coral; why, there must be miles of it."
"Hunderds o' miles, sir," growled Bostock.
"Yes, it's very pretty to look at, and if you touch it, it feels soft as jelly outside; but it has a bad way o' ripping holes in the bottoms of ships. Copper and iron's nothing to it. Goes right through 'em. Ah! that coral's sent hunderds o' fine vessels to the bottom o' the sea, the sea. 'And she sank to the bottom o' the sea.'"
The old sailor broke into song at the end of his remarks, with a portion of a stave of "The Mermaid"; but singing was not his strong point, and he made a noise partaking a good deal of a melodious croak.
"This is a famous region for coral reefs, I suppose, Bostock," said the doctor.
"Orfle, sir. Why, as soon as you gets round the corner yonder, going to Brisbane, they call it the Coral Sea, and there you get the Great Barrier Reef, all made of this here stuff."
"More of those great oysters," said Carey. "I say, Bob, are they good to eat?"
"Not half bad, sir, as you shall say. They make first-rate soup, and that aren't a thing to be sneezed at."
"Then we shan't starve," said Carey, laughing.
"Starve, sir? No. I can see plenty of good fish to be had out o' this lagoon."
"But are these the oysters they gather for the mother-o'-pearl?" asked the doctor.
"Them's those, sir, and it seems to me here's a fortune to be made gathering of 'em. Why, they fetches sixty and seventy pound a ton, and the big uns'll weigh perhaps ten or twelve pound a pair."
"Then we must collect some, Carey, ready to take away with us when we go."
"And that aren't all, sir," continued the old sailor; "when you come to open 'em you finds pearls inside 'em, some of 'em worth ever so much."
"Oh, doctor, what a place we've come to," said Carey, excitedly. "Isn't it lucky we were wrecked?"
"That's a matter of opinion, my boy," said the doctor, drily.
"'Scuse me, Master Carey, sir," said the old sailor, with a peculiar smile.
"Excuse you—what for?"
"What I'm going to say, sir," said the old fellow, as he leaned against the handle of the big oar as he steered. "You've got a very nice-looking nose, sir. It's a bit big for your size, but it's a nice tempting-looking nose all the same."
"Is it?" said Carey, shortly, and his disengaged hand went up to the organ in question. "I daresay it is. I don't know; but why do you want to meddle with it?"
"I don't, sir; I only want to keep anything else from having a go at it."
"What is likely to have a 'go' at it, as you say?"
"Young shark might be tempted, sir."
"Pooh! Nonsense! But are there sharks in this lagoon?"
"Thousands, I'll be bound, sir. So don't you never try to bathe. What do you say to running up between those two bits of bare reef, sir—sort o' canal-like place? We could run right up to the sand there."
"Try it," said the doctor, and the raft was steered between the long ridges of coral, whose points stood just out of the water. Carey had the satisfaction of seeing that there was a shoal of fish being driven along the watery passage to the shallow at the end, over which they splashed and floundered till they reached deep water again and swam away.
"Some o' they would have done for the frying-pan, sir, if we'd had a net handy," said Bostock. "We must come prepared another time."
The raft grounded the next minute in what seemed to be a magnificent marine aquarium, into the midst of whose wonders the old sailor stepped to mid-thigh, crunching shells and beautiful pieces of coral in a way which made Carey shiver.
"All right, sir, there's millions more," he said, coolly. "Now, doctor, there's no need for you to step down," he continued; "it's wonderful slimy, and there's shells and things sharp enough to cut through your boots. You give me the guns and basket, and I'll take 'em up on the sands and come back for you. I'm more used to the water than you are."
The doctor nodded and handed the two double guns they had brought, along with the basket of provisions, with which Bostock waded ashore, returning directly to take the doctor on his back, after which he came again for Carey.
"Hadn't I better wade ashore?" said the boy; "one ought to get used to this sort of thing."
"After a bit, my lad," said Bostock, shaking his head. "You get used to growing quite well first. Now then, you stand up close here, and I'll nip you ashore in no time."
"Well, turn round then; I can't get on your back like that."
"You're not going to get on my back, my lad. I'm going to take you in my arms and carry you."
"Like a little child," cried Carey, pettishly.
"No, like a hinwalid who won't take a bit of care of his tender bones. Lor'-a-mussy, how orbsnit youngsters can be! Don't yer want to get well?"
"All right," said Carey, gruffly. "Don't drop me in the water: I'm precious heavy."
"Now, is it likely, my lad?" growled the old fellow, taking the lad up gently and starting for the shore. "I'm not going to let you down, so don't you—here, steady there—steady!"
Carey burst out into an uncontrollable roar of merriment, for Bostock's right foot suddenly slipped on the slimy shell of one of the great pearl-oysters, and he was as near going headlong as possible; but by making a tremendous effort he saved himself and his burden and hurried panting to the shore.
"Have I hurt you, my lad?" he cried, excitedly, perspiration starting out in great drops on his face. "No, not a bit," said Carey, merrily. "Phew! I thought I'd done it, sir. Now, you see, that comes of being too cocksure. Thought I knowed better, but I didn't. Now, are you sure you aren't hurt?"
"Quite, Bob," said Carey, wiping his eyes. "Well, you needn't laugh so much, sir."
"I can't help it," cried Carey, indulging in another hearty burst. "There, I'm better now."
The doctor, who had at once walked off towards the great grove of cocoanuts with a gun on his shoulder, now returned.
"Plenty of birds, Carey, my lad," he said; "cocoanuts by the thousand, and through yonder, where you can hear it roaring, there is an ample supply of fresh water. You can see from here where it runs through the sand. Now, the first thing I want to know is whether we are on an island, and the second, have we any savage neighbours."
"Let's go up the hills and take a good look round then," suggested Carey.
"That is the way to find out, of course; but it would be like so much madness for you to attempt such a climb."
"Would it, sir?"
"Yes, for some time to come. You are getting on so well that I don't want you to be driven back by over-exertion."
"But I could try and give up if I got tired."
"Yes, but I don't want you to grow tired, so you must content yourself here. There is plenty to see along the shore here."
"And suppose a lot of blacks come while you are away."
"Pick up the gun I shall leave with you; they will not face that. But I have no fear of that happening. I feel sure that there are no inhabitants. Still, I only feel so, and I want to be perfectly certain."
"You'll be ever so long," said Carey, gloomily, "and it will not be very pleasant to be quite alone. All right, though, sir, I don't mind."
"You are not going to be alone," said the doctor, quietly. "Bostock will stay with you."
"Oh, but that will not be right," cried the boy, eagerly. "Who knows what dangers you may run into?"
"I have my gun, and I daresay I can take care of myself."
"But you ought to take Bostock with you, doctor."
"I think not: and besides, as we have to divide our force it ought to be done as equally as possible. There, I shall take six hours for my expedition—that is to say, if it is necessary—and I shall go straight away for three hours, and then turn back."
"And suppose you lose yourself?"
"I have no fear of that," said the doctor. "But don't you go far in either direction. Consider that you have to guard the raft till I come back."
Carey felt ready to make fresh objections, but the doctor gave him no time. He stepped to the provision basket, took out one of the bread cakes that Bostock made every other morning, thrust it into his pocket, and gave his patient a final word or two of advice.
"Don't be tempted to over-heat yourself in the sun," he said. "Get into the shade of the grove here if you begin to grow tired," and, shouldering his gun, he stepped off through the sand, disappearing directly after among the trees, but only to step back and shout:
"I shall try and follow the stream as near as I can to its source in the lake that must be up yonder. Au revoir."
He disappeared once more, and Carey and Bostock stood looking at one another on the sandy shore.
"What's that here mean as the doctor said, sir?" growled Bostock, when the last rustle of the growth made by their companion died out.
"Till you see me again," said Carey.
"Why couldn't he say it in plain English so as a man could understand him?"
"Don't know," said Carey, shortly. "Ask him when he comes back."
Bostock chuckled and shook his head.
"I'd a deal rather we'd kep' together, sir," he said; "but I dessay he knows best. So we've got to wait six hours—six hours' watch, and we mustn't go very far away. Well, it's a very pretty place, and the sand's soft, and I mean to have some of them cocoanuts by-and-by."
"How are you going to get at them?" said Carey, looking up at the trees. "I suppose I mustn't try to climb one."
"Well, I don't believe you could."
"Dunno," said the old fellow. "I'm thinking I can if I uses a sort o' stirrup."
"I'll show you bime-by. Well, what shall we do?"
"I'm going to get out on one of those coral rocks and have a good look at the pools of water and the things in them. Perhaps collect some shells."
"Why not?" said Bostock. "I've got the bucket yonder, and one of the axes. We might collect a lot to take on board, and the oysters'll do for soup."
"Oh, you mean the pearl shells."
"Yes; didn't you, sir?"
"No, I meant any kind: but let's try for some of those big shells and open them. We may find some pearls."
"That's right, Master Carey, and when you're tired o' that look here."
He gave the boy a knowing look, and took a roll of long stout line out of one pocket, a leaden weight and a cork stuck full of fish-hooks out of the other.
"Fishing-tackle," cried Carey, eagerly.
"That's right. When we've got some oysters for bait we'll get out on the raft again, shove her off to the end of that bit of a canal, and try after a fish."
"Oh, we're not going to be dull," cried Carey, eagerly.
"Dull, not us; why, it'll be six hours before we know where we are. Come on."
The old sailor went back to the nearest spot to the raft, carefully examined the rope, which was fastened round a block of coral, and then waded out to the rough construction and returned with the bucket and a small axe.
"Now then," he said; "you keep here where it's dry, and I'll go and see what I can find."
He had little seeking to do, merely to wade amongst the fragments of coral and pick up pair after pair of the great molluscs, which he had no difficulty in detaching; and before long he had a score, which he carried to a spot on the rock which seemed suitable.
"You feel what a weight they are," he said, and Carey took up a couple which were about the size of pudding plates.
"They are heavy," cried Carey. "Why, you could soon collect a ton."
"Dessay I could, sir; but do you know the best way to open 'em?"
"Force a knife in between the shells."
"And break the knife," said the old sailor, chuckling. "No, there's a better way than that. Lay 'em out in the sun away from the water, and they soon open their mouths and gape."
"But then they die and go bad."
"That's right, sir; they do, and smell lovely. That's the way to do it best."
"But you can't eat bad oysters."
"Not likely, sir. I'm going to open these with the axe, and after we've felt whether they've got any pearls in 'em we shall put the soft fish in the bucket of clean water and take 'em back for cooking. Here goes. I've seen how it's done before now."
He took one of the oysters, laid it in a particular way upon the rock, gave it a smart blow over the muscular hinge, and then, taking advantage of the half-paralysed mollusc, he managed to get the edge of the axe between the shells, wriggled it about a little, and then, mastering the opposition offered by the singular creature within, he wrenched the two shells apart and used his knife to scrape out the flesh of the oyster, felt it well over and then thrust it into the bucket, which he half filled with the clear water.
"How many pearls?" said Carey.
"Not one, sir."
"I thought not. But I say, Bob, that's a precious nasty job."
"Not it, sir. I don't mind. Done worse than this."
"And the oyster looks horribly messy."
"It won't when it's made into soup. But I say, nice shells, aren't they?"
"Beautiful," said Carey, who was examining them. "So these are to cut up for mother-o'-pearl?"
"Yes, sir, and to make shirt buttons."
Bang! a wrench with the axe, and another fat oyster was cut out and the shells cast aside, before a fresh search was made for pearls, but without result.
"Not much luck, Bob," said Carey.
"What! Look at these two shells; and there goes another oyster for the pot. Reg'lar fat one. I do call it luck. Bet a penny we do better with the oysters and the tackle for the soup than the doctor does. Besides, we're going to ketch some fish."
It was very pleasant sitting there in the sunshine, with the cocoanut-trees waving and bending in the soft breeze to his right, the calm lagoon, dazzling in its brightness, to his left, and away beyond it the silver spray of the breakers thundering softly upon the coral reef. Then, too, there was a submarine garden in every pool, and a luxury of beauty on all sides, even to his very feet. The only thing which seemed repellent to Carey was the growing heap of pearl shells, and the work upon which Bostock was engaged, which the boy looked upon with disgust.
"Bah!" he exclaimed at last; "you're a regular oyster butcher, Bob. It's horribly messy."
"Don't you call things by ugly names, Master Carey," said the old man, stolidly. "Butchers aren't a nice trade sartinly, but think of the consekenses. Think on it, my lad. Who's got a word to say agin the butcher when there's a prime joint o' juicy roast beef on the table, with the brown fat and rich gravy. Ah! it seems sad, it do."
"What, to kill the oxen?"
"Nay, not it. They was made to be killed. I meant having all that beautiful stock o' coal on board, and the cook's stove ready, and no beef to roast. There, you needn't look at my messy hands; I shall wash 'em when I've done. You look at the insides of them big shells; they're just like to-morrow morning when you've got the watch on deck and the sun's just going to rise. I've seen the sky like that lots o' times, all silver and gold, and pale blue and grey. I say, seems a pity; we've got lots o' crockery ware in the stooard's place. Them shells would make lovely plates, painted ten hunderd times better than those we've got aboard. It's just as if natur had made 'em o' purpose. Just think of it eating—or drinking: which do you call it?—soup, oyster soup, out of an oyster shell, enjoying the look o' the shell with your eyes. There, that's the last of 'em," he continued, as he wrenched open the last pair of shells.
"But I expected we were going to get some pearls as well, and out of these twenty great oysters you haven't got one."
"Haven't I?" cried the old sailor, with a hearty chuckle. "Just you feel here."
"I'm not going to mess my hand with the nasty thing," said Carey, with a look of disgust.
"Who wants you to, sir? Only wants the tip o' one finger. Here you are. Yes, and here, and here. I say, what do you think of that?" cried the old fellow, reaching out the shell he held. "Just one finger and you'll feel 'em, nubbly like."
"Pearls!" cried Carey, excitedly, and, forgetting all about the messiness of the great wet shapeless-looking mollusc, he used both finger and thumb. "Here, cut them out."
This was soon done, and the boy sat with his face flushed, gazing with delight at three beautifully lustrous pearls lying in the palm of his hand glistening in the bright sunshine, one being of the size of a large pea, and the others of good-sized shot.
"Beauties, aren't they, sir?"
"Lovely," cried Carey, who, recovering as he was from a painful illness, was full of appreciation of everything he saw. "Yes, they are lovely; and only to think of it, if we had not found them they would have lain there and perhaps never have been seen."
"Like enough, my lad. There must be millions and millions about here."
"Yes," said the boy, with a sigh. "Here, put them in your pocket, Bob," and he held them to his companion as if wanting to get them out of sight.
"What for? Aren't you got one?"
"Yes, but you found them; they're yours."
"Nay, we found 'em; and besides, I'm only a common sailor, and like your servant. You keep 'em."
"It wouldn't be fair, Bob," said Carey. "You have the best right to them."
"Tchah! They're no good to me. I should on'y sell 'em to somebody if ever we got away, for the price of a pound o' 'bacco as would go away all in smoke. Once upon a time I should ha' took 'em home to my old mother. Now I aren't got one, and you have. So you have 'em made into a ring some day, with the big un in the middle and the little uns one on each side."
"Shall I, Bob?"
"O' course. There. Now I shall just sink that bucket in the clear, cool water so as the soup stuff keeps good. There we are, and those bits o' clean coral to keep 'em down. Now I washes my hands in that little bit of a rock basin and they aren't a bit messy; dries 'em in the hot sand, and now what do you say to trying for a bit o' fish?"
"Capital," cried Carey, excitedly.
"On'y I tell you what; we'll tie one end of the line to the raft, so that you can let go if we get hold of a big un. I'm not going to have you hauling and hurting your sore place."
"That will be all right."
"No, it won't, unless you promise you'll let go if it's a big un."
"I promise," said Carey, "for I don't believe we shall catch any."
"Well, there's something in that," said the old sailor, "for the number o' times a man goes fishing and don't ketch nothing's a thing to think on."
Bostock talked a great deal, but he was not like a gardener, who somehow can never answer a question without stopping short; say, if he is digging, driving the spade into the ground, resting one foot upon it, and resting his fist upon the handle. Bob Bostock's hands were always busy, and while he was chatting about the fish he was picking up a few damaged scraps of shelly oyster, laying them in a shell for bait, and then preparing the line by tying on the lead and a good-sized hook.
"Now then, my lad; ready?" he cried.
"Oh, yes, I'm ready and waiting," replied the boy. "I say, doesn't it make you feel in good spirits to be out here? I should like to run and shout."
"Then you just won't, my lad. But it do seem jolly and comf'table like. I feel as if I could sit down and whistle for hours. Now then, don't you get that line tangled. I've laid it all in a hank ready to run out; and don't ram them hooks in your fingers, because they're hard to cut out. Now, you carry them and the shell o' bait and I'll carry you."
"No, no; I'll take off my shoes and socks, and tuck up my trousers."
"Tucking up wouldn't do. You'd have to take 'em off, and then you'd cut your feet on the sharp coral. You're going to do what I sez."
"I say, Bob, what an old tyrant you are! Just you wait till I get well and can do as I like."
"All right, my lad; I'm waiting. Then you can do as you like, but you can't yet. Here, you be off. None o' them games, or I shall have to shoot you."
"No, I shall," said Carey.
"Nay, that you won't," growled the old sailor. "I'm not going to stand by while you fires that gun as'll kick and upset your shoulder again."
"Bother my shoulder!" cried Carey, impatiently, and he leaned back to gaze up at two beautiful grey and white gulls which for the last few minutes had been sailing gracefully round them and coming nearer and nearer, watching the two strangers curiously the while.
"They're after the oysters, Bob," said Carey.
"Yes, smells 'em, or sees 'em. Birds have got wonderful eyes and noses."
"Beaks, Bob," said Carey, laughing.
"Smellers, then, my lad. Well, they can't get at the soup meat in the bucket, and they only clean the shells, so we'll let 'em alone. Now then, up you come."
The next minute Bostock was wading out to the raft with Carey in his arms, after which he poled their clumsy craft out to the end of the two coral ridges which formed the little canal.
As soon as he had made fast, the hook was carefully baited, the line laid in rings with one end fastened to a plank, and with a gentle swing the lead thrown out into a clear spot, to fall with a splash in the smooth water, forming rings which ever widened as they glided away.
"I wonder whether there are any fish there," said Carey, and then he started in astonishment, for there was quite a little wave raised as, with a rush, a shoal of fish made for the bait.
"Got him?" cried Bostock, as there was a tug at the line.
"Yes—no—no—yes," panted Carey, and there was a heavy pull as a fish made for the open water, its actions sending its companions flying out of the water, some even leaping out and falling back with a splash.
Carey held on, but with a sudden quick action Bostock caught hold of the line behind the boy's hand.
"Oh, Bob!" cried the lad, appealingly.
"Too heavy for you alone, sir. 'Sides, you've only got one hand to work with. You go on, sir; I'm on'y easing it for you, and you know you couldn't haul him in yourself. That's the way; don't let him run. Now then, in with him, and think you're a three-handed man."
The captive made some bold dashes for liberty, but in vain, and a minute had not elapsed before it was lifted on to the raft, proving to be a fish of four or five pounds' weight, in dazzlingly beautiful armour of silver and steel-like blue, one which needed handling carefully on account of an exceedingly sharp saw-like back fin, which was stroked carefully down before Bostock extracted the hook.
"Looks as if he ought to be good to eat, sir."
"It's a beauty," cried Carey, excitedly.
"I dunno," said Bostock, stolidly, as he rebaited the hook.
"Nonsense; look at the silver and pearl and steel-blue on its sides."
"Ah, but some of these furren fish are poisonous, sir."
"I was thinking about its beauty," said Carey, impatiently.
"Was you, sir? I was thinking about the frying-pan. He'd be all we should want, but we'd better try for another in case the doctor thinks this one not good to eat."
"Oh, yes, try for some more. I wish Doctor Kingsmead were here, though, to help. I wonder where he is now."
"Ay. Wonder how he's getting on, and what he has found. There, if that isn't a tempting bait, don't know what is. Line all free?"
"Then off we go again," said Bostock, and once more the lead went flying in a low curve over the glistening water, to fall with a gentle splash.
There was a wave raised in the shallow directly, and in less time than before, and ere the bait could have reached the bottom, it was seized and the line ran out, to give Carey's arm a heavy jerk and elicit a cry of pain.
"Hurt you much, my lad?" cried Bostock, as he made a snatch and caught the line.
"Yes, rather," said the lad. "You're right, Bob; I'm not quite strong there yet."
"No wonder it gave you a nip, sir," cried the man, excitedly. "This is a regular rampayger. My word! look at him; he's going all over the place."
"Let the line run," cried Carey, excitedly, and quite forgetting the pain.
"Nay, he aren't a whale, sir; but from the games he's playing he might be a shark four or five foot long. I'll tire him out though. I say, sir, you ought to be glad you aren't got hold; line reg'larly cuts into my hand. Look at that now. I say, sir, we shan't want for something on the table. Strikes me there hasn't been anyone fishing here lately."
There was a grim smile on the old sailor's face, as he stood there easing the line a little, as the fish darted here and there in the most vigorous way, and would have broken free had not the sailor's arms acted like yielding springs.
The playing of that fish lasted what seemed to be five minutes, and its darts and rushes were as vigorous as ever when all of a sudden it gathered up its forces and made a rush into shallow water amongst the coral, some of which bristled above the surface. Then they had a good sight of its size and gleaming golden scales, for it leaped a good two feet out of the water, came down with a heavy splash and jerk, and the next minute Bostock was hauling in what was left of the line, fully half, with lead and hook, having been borne away.
"Oh—oh!" groaned Carey, giving utterance to that sound so full of disappointment peculiar to fishermen.
"Ay, 'tis a pity, sir," said Bostock, "such a fine fish too. Reg'lar golden-red."
"Yes; what was it?"
"Can't say, sir. I don't think," he added, with a grim smile, "that it was a red herring."
"But you should have let it run."
"Didn't want it, sir; he took the bit in his teeth, and he has run."
"I mean eased it and wearied it out."
"Yes, sir, I s'pose so; but I aren't big at fishing. Wait a bit, and you'll have your turn. How's your shoulder?"
"Oh, that does not hurt now, but I do feel rather queer."
"No wonder," said the old sailor, looking at the boy searchingly as he ringed up the remainder of the fishing-line. "Let's get ashore."
"Oh no. Try for another fish."
"Can't, sir; he's taken away my lead sinker, and I don't think we could ketch one on the surface; besides, my line's too short."
There was nothing to say to this, so the raft was unmoored again and poled back to its old place with alacrity, made fast, the fish rolled up in some wet seaweed, and then Bostock turned with a grim smile to his young companion.
"Feel no better, sir," he said.
"No, Bob; if anything, worse."
"And it aren't your shoulder?"
"No," sighed Carey; "I feel faint and sinking. I suppose it was from the shock of the pain."
"I don't, sir," said the old fellow, gruffly. "I know what's the matter with you."
"What is it, then?" said Carey, rather anxiously.
"You've got the eight bells complaint, sir."
"What do you mean?" said Carey, suspiciously.
"Dinner-time, sir; that's what's the matter with you."
"Absurd. It can't be dinner-time yet."
"Can't it, sir? Doctor's been gone hours. Just you look up at the sun."
It was undoubtedly beyond its highest point, and as he gradually grasped the truth of his companion's words, though feeling no better, Carey's despondency passed away, and he became cheerful.
Soon after, as the pair sat together in the shade of the cocoanut grove, eating the lunch they had brought with the greatest of enjoyment, the weary symptoms passed rapidly away, and the boy was himself again.
"I say, Bob," he said, "we must have one of those cocoanuts. Couldn't you knock one down by throwing the hatchet?"
"P'raps it would be throwing the hatchet, sir, if I said I could," said the old fellow, with a grim smile. "But I'll try soon. I say, I wonder how the doctor's getting on."
"So do I. I wish he were here to have some lunch."
Carey had his wish a few minutes later, for there was a loud hail from the open, and Carey replied to it and hurried out from the shade where they were hidden, to find the doctor half-way down to the raft with his gun over his shoulder and a brace of huge crowned pigeons hanging from the barrel by their tied-together legs.
Doctor Kingsmead said nothing about his adventures until he had made a hearty meal and grown cooler. Then he began to talk cheerily.
"Something for you to cook, Bostock," he said; "they'll make a pleasant change after so much tinned and salt meat."
"Where did you shoot those?" asked Carey.
"Up yonder in the open forest under one of the trees, not far from the river. There are plenty of them about, and so tame that I felt satisfied that there were no blacks near."
"Then you've seen no signs of any, sir?" asked Bostock.
"Not a sign."
"That's good, sir, but it don't mean much, for we might have a visit from a big canoe-full at any time."
"How far did you go?" asked Carey.
"To where the little river glides out of a lake up yonder in the hills. I fancy it must have been the crater of a volcano, for I kicked against pieces of obsidian and slag. The volcanic glass broke up with edges as sharp as a razor."
"But how far was it to the lake?" asked Carey.
"Ah, that I can't tell you in miles. In time it was two hours and a half hard walking. Coming back, one hour and a half. I was away just about four hours."
"Did you get a good view from the lake, sir?"
"No, but I climbed a peak close by it, and from there I could see all round the island."
"Round the island!" grunted Bostock, nodding.
"Yes, round the island; and nearly all round it at a distance are reefs of coral, with the rollers breaking upon them in white foam."
"Then it's only a little place," said Carey.
"Yes, only a few miles across."
"And all ours. Doctor Kingsmead, we ought to take possession of this place for our own. But I say, did you see anything wonderful?"
"N-no. Plenty of beautifully coloured birds; lovely flowers in abundance. Beetles and butterflies as beautiful as I ever saw."
"I saw none, and I should hardly think there would be any; but I saw two crocodiles."
"Did you?" cried Carey. "Where—up in the lake?"
"No, directly after I started, in the little river. Monsters."
"Any fish in the lake?"
"I could not tell. Most likely there would be. But I'm tired with my walk. I'll tell you more as I think of what I saw."
"Just one thing, sir," said Bostock, apologetically. "When you was up atop of the peak, could you see land anywheres?"
"I could not be quite sure, but I think so, in three different directions. I certainly saw reefs with the breaking water in several places as far as I could see. I ought to have taken a glass with me. Next time I go up I will. Well, what have you been about?"
Carey eagerly related how they had passed the morning, not forgetting the fishing and the pearls.
"Well," said the doctor, "we shall not starve. Pearl shell and pearls, eh? We must collect and save all we can, and I should think that we could collect enough cocoanuts to be very valuable, so that when the time comes for us to leave this place we shall not go empty away."
The rest of the afternoon was spent leisurely strolling about the shore, for the most part in the shade of the cocoanut grove, a couple of the nuts being cleverly knocked down by throws with the hatchet, used boomerang fashion, fortunately for the throwers without its displaying any of that weapon's returning qualities.
They strolled on as far as the mouth of the river, where it glided as a shallow stream into the sea, not without result—a satisfactory one to Carey, who was well in advance, threading his way amongst the masses of bleached coral which here encumbered the shore.
Bostock was about to close up with the lad, but the doctor checked him.
"Let him have the satisfaction of saying that he was the first to discover the mouth of the river," he said; but the words were hardly out of his lips when they saw the boy begin to stalk something, for he stopped and crept behind a mass of rock, and then after peering cautiously round it he crept to another and another till he was hidden from the lookers-on.
But directly after he re-appeared about a couple of hundred yards away, and signed to them to approach cautiously.
"Look to your gun, sir," whispered Bostock, cocking the one he carried. "He's seen a canoe."
"Think so?" said the doctor, rather excitedly, following the old sailor's example.
"I just do, sir, for there's nothing else he's likely to see. There aren't no wild beasts and things in an island like this. Better look out."
Following out Carey's tactics, they crept from rock to rock till they reached the mass which sheltered Carey, who waited till they were close up, and then whispered, "Quick! look round that side drawn out on the sands by the water."
"Then it is," said the doctor to himself, and troubles with a canoe-load of blacks rose before his eyes as he advanced to the rock, peered round one side, while Bostock as cautiously peered round the other, each occupying some time, Carey anxiously eager to follow their example, but unable to do so without being seen.
Quite a couple of minutes had elapsed before the pair drew back, looked at each other, and then turned to Carey.
"Well," he whispered, impatiently, "can't you see it?"
"See what?" whispered back the doctor. "Is that a canoe full of blacks?"
"No!" cried Carey, in a voice full of disgust; "an enormous crocodile, sleeping in the sun."
Both looked round the side of the sheltering rock again, and Bostock's head popped back.
"There!" said Carey, eagerly.
"Where?" said Bostock. "There aren't nothing but some bits o' stone and seaweed."
"Nonsense!" cried Carey, impatiently. "You can see it, can't you, doctor?"
"No, I see nothing," was the reply.
"Here, let me look again," cried Carey, and the doctor made way.
"Oh!" ejaculated the boy, in a disappointed tone; "it's gone!"
Bostock shook his head solemnly.
"You're a-getting better, young gen'leman," he said.
"Of course I am," said Carey; "but what do you mean?"
"You shouldn't, sir. There was a young chap once as kep' sheep, and he'd got a larky sort o' sperrit, and every now and then he used to begin running, and—"
"Yes, yes, I know," cried Carey, indignantly; "and cry 'wolf! wolf!' But do you think—"
"He's been gammoning on us, sir," said Bostock to the doctor.
"I haven't! I wouldn't play such a trick," cried Carey, indignantly. "There was a great crocodile that looked five-and-twenty or thirty feet long lying close to the water when I signed to you both to come. It wasn't twenty feet away."
"Where 'bouts were it, then, sir?" growled the old fellow, only half-convinced.
"Come and see," cried Carey, and he hurried round the rock, followed by his companions; but there was apparently no sign of any reptile, till the doctor pointed to a great groove in the soft dry sand.
"Yes, that's where he was," cried Carey. "Ah! and look here. You can see the marks of his paws."
"I see," cried the doctor. "Yes, Carey, it must have been a monster."
"Pst! pst!" whispered Bostock, raising his gun, and pointing away to their right.
"Don't fire," said the doctor, hurriedly; "those small shot cartridges are of no use. See it, Carey?"
"Yonder, floating and looking this way. You can only see the monster's eyes."
"Where—where? Ah, I see; those two knobs close together?"
"Yes; the brute must have taken alarm, and glided back into the river. It is evidently watching us."
"Beg your pardon, Master Carey. I thought it was games. Well, sir, it's a good job you see that chap. We know he harnts the place. Who knows but what you might ha' took a fancy to bathe there some day?"
"I was thinking what a beautiful place it would be, because there'd be no fear of sharks in such a shallow place."
"No sharks perhaps, sir, but they're innocent babies to a thing like that. Why, he might have swept you in with his tail before you'd undressed yourself. You and clothes and all."
"What are you going to do?" said the doctor, as the old sailor handed Carey the gun and stooped to pick up a piece of coral as big as a child's head.
"On'y going to show him, cunning as he is, thinking that he's snugly hid under water, that we can see him, and that we know what's the meaning of two knobs on the water."
The doctor nodded and looked on, Carey feeling an intense longing to follow the old sailor's example, but feeling that it would be some time before he could throw a heavy stone.
Meanwhile Bostock walked slowly to the edge of the water, and then along towards the sea, reducing the distance till he was not above five-and-twenty yards from the floating reptile, when he stopped short and pitched the lump of coral with pretty good aim; but as it described an arc and was still in the air, there was a tremendous wallow, a wave rose on the surface, and they could trace the course taken by the monster, which, with one tremendous stroke of its powerful tail, glided right away towards the sea.
"Wish it had made a dint in his skull," said Bostock. "Beasts! how I do hate 'em! Dessay there's lots more, so we shall have to take care."
"How big was it, Bob?" said Carey, triumphantly.
"Oh, I wouldn't like to say, sir. I've seen a lot of 'em in my time— Africa, Indy, and in Chinee waters, as well as off the east coast yonder; but I should think this must be all you said. P'raps more."
Satisfied with the day's adventures, they now made for the raft, and were soon after sailing slowly across to the stranded vessel, where that evening Bostock was in his glory with the cook's stove sending up a cloud of black smoke, and saucepan and frying-pan were well occupied in the preparation of soup and fish.
"The pigeons'll have to stay till to-morrow, Master Carey," he said, confidentially. "But I say, sir, don't say as that hyster soup aren't good."
The lad did not. In fact he was helped twice, while the doctor sent a thrill of pride through the old sailor as he made comparisons between it and turtle.
"Well, no, sir," said the old fellow, modestly, "not so good as that. I dessay, though, we shall find some turtle floating in this lagoon. If we do we must get one, and then you shall see the difference."
"Do you think they are likely to be about these shores?"
"Sure to be, sir. We shall see one, I dessay, floating on the water, fast asleep; and I dessay we shall find something else, Master Carey, and if we do, look out."
"Sea-serpents, sir. I've seen 'em."
"What! have you seen the sea-serpent?" said Carey, laughing.
"Ah, I mean the black and yaller ones as basks in the calm sea 'bout these parts, six, eight, and ten foot long, and as poisonous as any o' them on land; so be on the look-out, sir; I knowed one man as died from a bite."
"Oh, do make haste and get me quite well, doctor," cried Carey.
"What a fellow you are!" said the doctor, laughing. "I can do no more."
"Can't you?" said the boy, plaintively. "Oh, do try. I heard the captain say one day to one of the passengers that you were one of the cleverest surgeons he ever knew."
"That was very complimentary of the captain, I'm sure."
"Then if you are, can't you get my bone mended more quickly? It's so miserable to be like this."
"Why, you told me last night after our supper that you never enjoyed a day more in your life. Surely you had adventures enough, finding pearl-oysters and pearls, eating green cocoanuts off the trees, fishing, and finishing off with an interview with a gigantic saurian and a sail back here."
"Yes, yes, yes, it was all glorious, but every minute I was being checked either by you or old Bob, or by a sharp pain. Can't you put some ointment or sticking plaster over the broken place and make it heal or mend up more quickly?"
"No, sir, I cannot," said the doctor, smiling. "That's Dame Nature's work, and she does her part in a slow and sure way. She is forming new bone material to fill up the cracks in your breakage, and if you keep the place free from fretting it will grow stronger than ever; but you must have patience. The bark does not grow over the broken limb of a tree in a week or two; but it covers the place at last. Patience, patience, patience. Just think, my boy, isn't it wonderful that the mending should go on as it does? Waking or sleeping, the bony matter is forming."
"Oh, yes, I suppose it's all very wonderful, but—"
"But you want me to perform a miracle, my dear boy, and you know as well as I do that I can't."
"I know it is very irksome," continued the doctor; "but just think of your position. Only the other day I was afraid you were going to die. Now here you are, hale and hearty, with nothing the matter with you but that tender place where the bone is knitting together. Don't you think you ought to be very thankful?"
"Of course I do!" cried Carey. "That was only a morning growl. But tell me this: will my shoulders and neck be all right again some day?"
"I tell you yes, and the more patient you are, and the more careful not to jar the mending bone, the sooner it will be."
"There, then, I'll never grumble again."
"Till next time," said the doctor, smiling.
"I won't have any next time," cried Carey, eagerly. "Now then, what are we going to do to-day?"
"You must be tired with your exertions yesterday."
"No; not a bit," cried Carey, "and going out seemed to do me so much good."
"Very well, then, we'll sail to the island again, and fish and collect."
"And get some more cocoanuts. I say, I could climb one of the trees, couldn't I? That wouldn't hurt my shoulder."
The doctor gave the boy a droll look.
"There, how stupid I am!" cried the boy, flushing. "I want to do things like I used to, and I keep forgetting."
"Try not to, then, my boy. Surely your own common-sense tells you that nothing could be more injurious than the exertion of dragging yourself up a tree by your arms."
"Of course, doctor," said the boy, grinning. "It's my common-sense has a bad habit of going to sleep."
"Keep it awake, then, not only now, but always."
"All right, sir. What are we going to collect, then?"
"Well, it is tempting to try and find some more pearls."
"Yes, very; but I say, doctor, oughtn't we to—I don't want to go yet, for there's so much to see here—but oughtn't we to try and do something about going on to Moreton Bay?"
"Ha!" ejaculated the doctor. "I've lain awake night after night thinking about that, my lad, but I always came to one conclusion."
"What's that?" asked the boy, eagerly.
"That we are perfectly helpless. I don't think we could construct a boat sufficiently seaworthy to warrant our attempting a voyage in her. There is plenty of material if we tore up the deck or the boards from below, and of course Bostock is very handy; but I am wanting in faith as to his making us a large enough boat."
"Why not a bigger raft?"
"My dear boy, we should be washed off in the first rough sea. Besides, a raft would be perfectly unmanageable in the fierce currents. We might be stranded on the mainland, but more probably we should be drifted out to sea. Either there or ashore we should perish from want of food. I am not wanting in enterprise, Carey, my lad, and it is terrible in spite of the beauty of the place to be stranded here; but I think our course, surrounded as we are with every necessary of life, is to wait patiently and see what may turn up. There is the possibility that some of the Chusan's boats may get to one of the western ports or be picked up by a vessel, and in time, no doubt, the agents of the company will send a steamer round the coast to see if there are any traces of their great vessel. I believe we have a large sum in gold stowed somewhere below."
"No fear of our taking any of it to spend," said Carey, laughing. "I say, then, you think we ought to settle down quietly, not bother about building a boat, and make the best of it."
"Certainly, for the present. Let's get you sound to begin with, and let the matter rest till you can swing by your arms and climb cocoanut-trees without a twinge."
"All right! I want to see my father and mother again, and I'd give anything to be able to send them word that we're safe; and every night when I've lain down in my berth it's just as if my conscience was finding fault with me for not doing something about getting away, for all day long I seem to have been enjoying myself just as if this was a jolly holiday; and you know, doctor, I can't help feeling that I should like to stay here for ever so long."
"You can be quite at rest, Carey, my lad," said the doctor. "Certainly for the present."
"Then hurrah for a day ashore and some more fishing! How soon shall we start?"
"As soon as Bostock is ready. He's cooking now."
"Yes, those two big pigeons. I'll go and tell him."
"And I'll load a dozen cartridges with ball ready for the crocodiles."
"Are they crocodiles or alligators?"
"Crocodiles, my lad. You may take it for granted that alligators belong exclusively to America."
Carey hurried forward, led by his nose partly, for there was a pleasant smell of roasting, and he reached the cook's place—a neatly fitted-up kitchen more than a galley—to find Bostock looking very hot, and in the act of taking the pigeons, brown and sizzling, from the oven.
"Not quite done, sir," he said. "I shall put 'em in the oven again for half an hour just before you want 'em. It wouldn't have done to leave 'em waiting. Things soon turn in this hot country."
"We're going ashore again as soon as you're ready."
"That'll be in ten minutes, then, my lad."
"You'll take a stronger fishing-line this time?"
"Don't you be feared about that," said the old fellow, nodding his head sideways; "but come along o' me on deck. I've saved this here on purpose for you to see."
"Pah! How nasty!" cried the boy, as Bostock brought forward an iron bucket containing the internal parts of the pigeons.
"Don't look very nice, but I thought I'd save it till you come."
"Come and see. I'm just going to chuck it overboard and wash out the bucket."
Carey grasped the man's reason directly, and they went on deck to the side where the water was deepest.
As they looked over the side they could gaze down through the crystal-clear water into the groves of seaweed and shrubberies of coral, where the anemones and star-fish were dotting every clear spot with what looked like floral beauties.
"Seems a shame to throw all that filth overboard, and spoil all that lovely clearness," said Carey.
"Do it, sir? Ah, it won't spoil it long. There's them there as'll think it good enough, and in five minutes the water'll be as clear as ever."
"But I don't see a single fish."
"More do I, sir, but they're all about somewhere. Ah, look yonder; there's one of them black and yaller snakes. He's a big thick one too. See him?" said the man, pointing.
"No—yes, I do," cried the boy eagerly, and he shaded his eyes to watch the strikingly coloured reptile lying apparently asleep on the surface, twined up in graceful curves, some thirty yards away.
"You see if he don't go like a shot as soon as I make a splash."
A line was attached to the handle of the bucket, which was then raised from the deck.
"Stand clear," cried Bostock, and with a dexterous heave he spread its contents far and wide, dropping the bucket directly after to fill itself and be washed clean.
"Where's the snake?" he said.
"It went down like a flash, Bob; but what a horrid mess, and there are no fish."
"Aren't there?" said the old fellow, coolly.
"Yes! hundreds; where did they all come from?"
"Oh, from below, I suppose," and after giving the bucket three or four rinses the old sailor stood watching the water, now alive with good-sized fish, darting about and bearing off every scrap of the refuse, not even a floating feather being left, so that in five minutes the water was as crystal-clear as ever.
"What do you think of that, sir?" said Bostock, smiling. "Fish are pretty hungry about here. Be 'most ready to eat a chap who was having a swim."
"It's plain enough that we could catch plenty from the deck here."
"Yes, sir, if you didn't get your lines tangled in the coral. I'd rather moor the raft out in deeper water yonder off the shore. Couldn't have a better place than we had yesterday."
Half an hour later they were being gently wafted towards their previous day's landing place, where cocoanuts were obtained, fish caught, and a large addition made to the number of pearl shells, which were laid on the sand in the bright sunshine, it being decided that on a large scale the task would be too laborious to open the great molluscs one by one.
"I'll show you how it's done, gen'lemen," said Bostock. "I've seen it. Before long those shells 'll be gaping, and the oysters dead. Then we'll haul one of the biggest casks we can get ashore and scrape out the oysters and drop 'em in along with some water."
"To decay?" said the doctor.
"That's it, sir. Give 'em time and a stir-up every now and then, and they go all into a nasty thin watery stuff which you can pour away, wash what's left with clean water, and there at last are all the pearls at the bottom without losing one, while the shells have lain in the sun and grown sweet."
Enough pearling being done for the day, Bostock attacked one of the heaviest laden cocoanut-trees, making a "sterrup," as he called it, by passing a short piece of rope round himself and the tree, tying it fast, and then half-sitting in it and pressing against the trunk with his legs, hitching the rope up foot by foot till he reached the leafy crown, where he screwed off a dozen fine nuts and threw them down upon the sand before descending.
"Why, Bob," cried Carey, "I didn't think you were so clever as that."
"More did I, sir."
"But you must have had lots of practice."
"Nay, sir, I never did it afore; but I've seen the blacks do it often, and it seemed so easy I thought I'd try."
Later on, when well refreshed, they went cautiously to the mouth of the little river, stalking the crocodiles by gliding from rock to rock, but without result; not a single pair of watchful eyes was to be seen on the surface. There were, however, plenty of a mullet-like fish.
But the party preferred to make use of their lines from the raft moored at the edge of the deep water, where they were not long in securing half-a-dozen fine fish partaking of the appearance of the John Dory as far as the great heads were concerned, but in bodily shape plumper and thicker of build.
Then the raft was unmoored and the sail hoisted, to fill out in the soft land breeze, which wafted them back to their stranded home.
The weather was glorious, and the days glided by in what would have been a luxurious life had it not been for the busy, investigating spirit which kept them active.
For they were in the midst of abundance. The well-stored ship, victualled for a couple of hundred people, offered plenty for three, while from sea and land there was an ample supply in the form of fish, fowl, and eggs, both birds' and turtles', places being discovered which were affected by these peculiar reptiles, and where they crawled out to deposit their round ova in the sand, while a fine specimen could be obtained by careful watching.
Then, too, there was an abundant supply of fresh water easily to be obtained by taking a water cask up the river on the raft.
As Carey's injury mended he was restlessly busy either superintending the pearl fishing, whose results were visible in half-a-dozen casks sunk in the sands and an ever-increasing stack of the great shells carefully ranged in solid layers by Bostock, to whom fell the lot of pouring water in the casks and giving their contents a stir-up from time to time.
"Smell, sir?" he said, in answer to a remark from Carey, who always went carefully to windward. "Oh, I s'pose they do; so does fish if you keep it too long, but I don't mind."
"But it's horrid sometimes," said Carey; "and if it wasn't for the pearls I wouldn't have anything to do with the mess."
"Dirty work brings clean money, my lad; and if you come to that, the fresh lots of shells I piles up don't smell like pots of musk. But it's all a matter o' taste. Some likes one smell, and some likes another, and then they calls it scent. Why, I remember once as people used to put drops on their hankychies as they called—now, what did they call that there scent, my lad?"
"Eau de Cologne."
"No, nothing like that."
"Nay, nothing like it. Here, I've got it; something like Paddy Chooly."
"That's it. I knew it was something about Paddy. Well, sir, if you'll believe me, that stuff smelt just like black beetles in a kitchen cupboard near the fire. I don't mind the smell o' pearl soup."
"But I want to see number one emptied. When is it to be?"
"When it's quite ripe, and it aren't ripe yet."
"Takes a long time, doesn't it?" said Carey.
"And no mistake. So much the better. You've been expecting and expecting, and thinking about emptying that tub, and getting shovels full o' pearls out o' the bottom, and it's made you forget all about your sore chesty and give it time to get well. 'Tis quite well now, aren't it?"
"I think so, Bob; only the doctor says I'm to be very careful."
"Of course you have to be, my lad. But don't you fidget; I'll tell you when number one cask's ripe, and then don't you expect too much, for it's like lots o' things in this here world; it may turn out werry disappointing. You puts in pounds o' trouble, and don't get out an ounce o' good. P'raps there won't be a teaspoonful o' pearls, and them only as small as dust."
"Oh!" ejaculated Carey.
"No use to reckon on them, sir, but all the same, sometimes when a tub's emptied it turns out wonderful."
But the time wore on; tub after tub was filled, and the contents grew more and more liquid, and the testing was still kept in abeyance.
"Never mind," said the doctor, laughing, when Carey protested; "there is no harm in waiting."
And day by day Carey grew stronger, gradually taking his part in the daily avocations, fishing and shooting; and it was a grand day for him when one day the doctor thought that he might join him on an expedition to the lake.
"I'm all right now, Bob," he said, hurrying to the old sailor after this.
"Well, yes, you seem to be, sir," said Bostock; "what with the doctor's looking you up and down and me feeding you, we've pretty well made a man of you, and you're nearly all right; but I don't quite take what you mean."
"I've passed my last examination now, and Doctor Kingsmead seems to think he can give me up."
"I'm glad of it, my lad. Hearty, my lad."
"And we're going to explore a bit, going right up to the lake."
"Am I coming too?"
"Of course. You'd like to, wouldn't you?"
"Course I should, sir. Going to take the guns?"
"Oh, yes, and I mean to shoot. I want to see that lake too. It has been so tiresome only keeping along the shore and about the sands."
"You've had some tidy sails about the lagoon, and some good fishing, my lad."
"Of course I have, but I want to shoot."
"Well, I s'pose it's natural, sir," said Bostock. "I know when I was a boy I always wanted to do something else. If I was in a garden it allus seemed as if the next garden must be better, and I wanted to look over the wall. One allus wants to be doing something fresh. It's Natur, I s'pose. Do we start soon?"
"Oh, yes, as soon as we can get off."
The early breakfast was over, and the satchel of provisions being prepared they were soon over the side, each bearing a double gun and a fair supply of ammunition, Bostock carrying, in addition, a small axe ready for use, and Carey hanging a billhook to his belt—a handy implement for getting through cane or tangled thorn.
It was another lovely morning, with the submarine gardens more beautiful than ever; but there was very little wind, and their progress across to their regular landing place was very slow, but not wearisome, for there was always something fresh to see in the sunlit waters. On this particular morning they sailed over sandy openings among the rocks, where Bostock drew attention to the abundance of those peculiar sea-slugs known in commerce as sea-cucumbers.
"Why not try some o' them cooked one of these days, Master Carey?" said the old sailor.
"Pah! Horrid! You never ate one, did you?"
"No, sir, but the Chinese think a deal of 'em, and give no end of money for a hundredweight salted and dried. We shall have to take to collecting them when we've got all the pearl hysters."
"Why, that will never be, Bob. There's all round the island to go, and even if we finished them we could sail to first one and then another reef."
"Yes, that's so, sir. Strikes me that when we do go away from here, what with pearl shells, pearls, and dried cocoanuts, we ought to be able to lade a ship with a valuable cargo."
"Look at the fish," said Carey.
"Yes, sir, there's plenty; but we're not going to fish to-day, of course?"
"Oh, no. Get ashore as soon as we can, and follow the stream right up to the lake."
"It's going to be a hot walk, my lad, and—"
"Hist! Look, Bob. Here, doctor, look! look!"
Both looked in the indicated direction, to see that the raft was on its way to glide by a turtle basking in the hot sunshine and apparently fast asleep.
"We're not going to fish," whispered Carey, "but we ought to have that."
"Yes," said the doctor, and Bostock was evidently of the same opinion, for he bent down softly to pick up a little coil of fine rope to make a noose at one end.
"You just make the other end fast to one of the planks, sir," he whispered. "He'll make a big rush as soon as he feels the rope."
Bostock crept forward softly and knelt down ready, with the raft gliding right for the sleeping reptile.
Then both the doctor and Carey held their breath with excitement, as the old sailor reached out, slipped the noose over one of the fins, and then started back deluged with water dashed up by the startled creature, which rushed off with all its might till it was brought up short by the line coming to an end.
At this there was a violent jerk, the raft was drawn out of its course and began to move at increased speed in the direction of the opening in the great reef, the prisoner making for the open sea.
"Better come and give a hand here, Mr Carey, sir," cried Bostock. "I ought to guide him a bit and make, him tow us our way so as to get him ashore. What do you say to the mouth of the river? If we could get him to run up there it would be splendid."
"And what about the crocodiles, Bob?"
"Eh? Ah! I forgot all about them, sir. Never mind; anywhere 'll do. That's right, sir; lay hold. Strong a'most as a helephant, aren't he? Wo ho! my lad. Don't be in a flurry. Well, I am blest!"
One minute they were gliding steadily over the lagoon; the next the rope hung loosely in their hands.
"Lost him?" said the doctor.
"Yes, sir. We must have pulled one of his fins out. Dessay we've got it here."
"The rope slipped over it, Bob," said Carey, in disappointed tones, as the noose was hauled aboard. "Oh, we ought to have had that. It was a beauty."
"Never mind," said the doctor. "Steer for the shore, and let's get off on our trip."
Bostock turned to his steering oar and shook his head in a very discontented way.
"It's just as I said about the pearls, Master Carey; it don't do to reckon on anything till you get it. But I ought to have had that chap."
They made fast the raft and landed soon after, a little chipping with a crowbar having turned a rough mass into a pier which ran right up to the sand and sort of put an end to the necessity for wading.
Then kits and guns were shouldered, and, light-hearted and eager, Carey followed the doctor, who struck in at once through the great belt of cocoanut palms, and, pushing upwards through beautifully wooded ground, soon took them beyond the parts heretofore traversed by Carey, who now began to long to stop at every hundred yards to investigate a flowering tree where insects swarmed, or some clump of bushes noisy with cockatoos or screaming parrots. But the doctor kept steadily on till a dull humming roar away to the right began to grow louder, and at the end of about a mile of climbing there was a soft moist feeling in the air, which increased till all at once their guide halted upon the brink of a precipice.
"Now then," he said, speaking loudly, for the roar of the hidden falls nearly drowned his voice; "come forward cautiously and look down."
Carey and the old sailor approached, parting the mass of ferns and creepers, which flourished wonderfully in the soft moist air; and then they found themselves on a level with the top of the hills which they had seen from the lagoon, where the little river suddenly plunged down into a deep hollow a couple of hundred feet below, and from which a faint cloud of mist floated, now arched by an iridescent bow. It was a beautiful sight, but the doctor gave them little time to admire it.
"You can come up here any time now," he said. "Let's push forward and get to the lake and the peak which we have to climb, so that you can have the view."
"But where was it you saw the crocodiles?" asked Carey.
"Oh, half a mile lower down, nearer the sea. I came straight across to-day, so as to take the nearest cut. The little river runs up through a winding valley right away from here."
"But we shall be missing all the beauties," said Carey.
The doctor laughed.
"There'll be more beauties and wonders than you can grasp in one excursion," he said. "I suppose you mean to come again, and to use your gun."
The boy was silenced, and followed the doctor as he pressed on for some distance farther, till the valley opened out a little and there was ample room to walk on the same level as the river, here gliding gently in the full sunshine, with its banks beautiful with flower, insect, and bird.
Every here and there, though, there were hot sandy patches dotted with peculiar-looking black stone lying in masses, cracked and riven as if by fire, while parts were cindery and vesicular, others glistening in the sunshine like black glass.
"You take the lead now, Carey," said the doctor. "You can't go wrong; only follow the river; it will lead you right up to the lake."
"Wouldn't you rather lead, sir?"
"No, my lad; I want you to have the first chance at anything worth shooting. Keep your eyes well open, and you may catch sight of the great crowned pigeons. There, forward."
Carey needed no further orders, and full of excitement he stepped on in front, looking keenly to right and left, and scanning every bush and tree. For the first mile he saw nothing larger than parrots, but turning into a stony part where the sand and pebbles reflected the sun with a glowing heat, something suddenly darted up from before him and ran rapidly in amongst a rugged pile of scattered stones.
"Here! a young crocodile," he cried.
"Nonsense, boy. There are no crocodiles here," cried the doctor. "One of the great mountain lizards."
"Too big! Six feet long," said Carey, excitedly.
"Well, they grow seven or eight. Go on."
Carey went on, but so as to follow the glistening creature he had seen disappear, cocking his gun for a shot if he had a chance.
The chance came the next minute, but he was not able to take advantage of it, for on turning one of the black masses of slag which looked as if it had lately come from a furnace, the great lizard was started again, and what followed was over in a few seconds, for the lithe, active creature turned threateningly upon its pursuer with jaws thrown open, and it looked startling enough in its grey, glistening armour as it menaced the lad, who stood aghast—but only to be brought to a knowledge of his position by the attack which followed.
It was no snapping or seizing, but there was a sharp whistling sound and, quick as lightning, the long, tapering thin tail crooked twice round Carey's legs, making him utter a cry of pain, for it was as if he had been flogged sharply with a whip of wire.
The next minute the great lizard had disappeared.
"Why didn't you shoot?" said the doctor.
"Hadn't time. Oh, how it did hurt! Why, it was like steel."
"Never mind; you must be quicker next time, but I daresay there will be marks left."
"And Bob's laughing at it," said the boy, in an ill-used tone. "Here, you had better lead."
"Never mind, lead on," said the doctor; "the smarting will soon pass off. It is not like a poisonous bite."
All the same the whip-like strokes stung and smarted terribly, as the boy went on again, vowing vengeance mentally against the very next lizard he saw.
But he did not take his revenge, though he started two more at different times from among the sun-baked stones, and Bostock bantered him about it.
"Why don't you shoot, sir?" he said, in a low voice so that the doctor, who was a little behind, examining plants, did not hear.
"Who's to shoot at a thin whip-lash of a tail?" said Carey, angrily. "They're here one moment and gone the next. They dart out of sight like a flash."
As they went higher the doctor pointed out various tokens of some ancient eruption, it being plain that there must have been a time when the bed of the river formed that of a flow of volcanic mud, mingled with blocks of lava and scoria. Then the lake must in the course of ages have formed, and its overflowings have swept away all soft and loose debris.
"Yes, it's all very interesting," said Carey, "but it's precious hot," and he gave himself a sort of writhe to make his clothes rub over his skin. But the attempt was in vain, for his shirt stuck, and a peculiarly irritable look came over his countenance.
"Do the weals sting?" asked the doctor.
"Horribly. That lizard's tail must be all bone. Oh, it does hurt still."
"It will soon go off. Think of it from a natural history point of view, my boy, and how singular it is that the creature should be endowed with such a wonderful power of defence. It regularly flogged and lashed at you."
"Yes; cracked its tail like a whip."
"No, no; the sound you heard was caused by the blows. It seems as if the saurian tribe make special use of their tails for offence and defence."
"Why, what else does?" said Carey, rubbing himself softly.
"Crocodiles and alligators strike with tremendous force; the former will sweep cattle or human beings off a river bank into the water; and I daresay those monster lizards attack small animals in the same way."
"But I'm not a small animal, sir," said the boy, shortly. "Yes, it's all very well to laugh, Doctor Kingsmead, and talk about studying a whopping from a natural history point of view, but one couldn't study wasps comfortably sitting on their nest."
"No, and I daresay the cuts were very painful, but the sting will soon pass off."
"Yes, it's getting better now," said Carey, looking a little more cheerful; "but old Bob keeps on grinning about it. He doesn't look at me, but he keeps on chuckling to himself every minute, and that's what it means. I wish he'd get stung, or something. Hi! look out. Snake!"
His shout aroused a sleeping boa—not one of the giants of its kind, but a good-sized serpent of the sort known among Australian settlers as the carpet snake.
The reptile had been sleeping in the sunshine and, startled into activity, made for its lair, a dense patch of woodland, escaping before anyone could get a shot.
"That's a pretty good proof that this isle was at one time joined to the mainland, Carey," said the doctor, "and this would account for the volcano we are ascending being so dwarfed. There must have been a gradual sinking, and so it is that we find creatures that would not inhabit an ordinary island. For instance, we should not find monitors and carpet snakes in a coral island. Look at the birds too; those kingfishers. Do you see, Bostock, there's an old friend of ours, the great laughing jackass?"
"Nay," said the old sailor, shading his eyes; "that's not the same. He's a deal like him, but our old laughing jackasses down south haven't got all that bright blue in their jackets. Going to shoot him, Master Carey?"
"No," said the boy; "I don't want it. 'Tisn't good to eat."
"There's a lovely bird there," said the doctor, pointing to where there was a flash of dark purply orange, as the sun played upon the head and back of a bird nearly the size of a jay. "A regular Queensland bird. I've seen it there."
"What is it?" said Carey.
"The rifle bird; a near relative, I believe, to the birds of paradise."
"But it's nearly black," protested Carey. "Birds of paradise are all fluffy buff feathers."
"Some of them," said the doctor, "but there are many kinds, some much more ornamental than the kind you mean."
He raised his gun to shoot the rifle bird, but lowered it again.
"I couldn't preserve it if I shot it," he said. "Come along."
They continued the ascent, finding the heat in the sheltered valley rather more than they could bear, and Carey looked longingly down to his right at the placidly flowing river, thinking how pleasant a dip would be.
"I say," he said at last, "what a little shade there is."
"And unfortunately," said the doctor, "it grows less the higher we get— a way with the growth on mountains; but we shall soon be high enough to feel the sea breeze, and after all it's a wonderfully interesting tramp."
Carey agreed that it was, for the bird life now was most attractive— gaily dressed parroquets, green, and with breasts like gorgeous sunsets, were plentiful.
There were the lovely little zebra parrots, too, in abundance, black cockatoos, white with sulphur crest, beauties in pink and grey, and finches with black or scarlet heads and breasts shot with topaz, amethyst, and vivid blue.
Then every rock had its occupants in the shape of silvery-grey, golden-green, or black and orange lizards, some looking as if they were bearded, others bearing a singular frill, while again others were dotted with hideous spikes and prickles, all being given to turn defiantly upon the intruders to their domain, and menacingly open their gaping mouths, lined with orange, yellow, or rich blue; but ready to take flight all the same and plunge into the rock rift or hole which made their home.
At last there was a rocky slope to climb, up to the left of which a sugar-loaf peak rose, which Carey at once concluded was the one which the doctor had climbed; so, feeling that their task was pretty well achieved, he manfully breasted the rock-strewn slope, ignored the lizards basking in the sun, and directly after gave a shout of satisfaction, for on one side there came a deliciously cool breeze, while on the other he was looking down at a vividly blue lake lying in a hollow a couple of hundred feet below where he stood, and quite sheltered from the wind, so that its surface was like a mirror and reflected the hills all round.
"Lovely, eh, Carey?"
"It is glorious," panted the boy. "Isn't it fine, Bob?"
Bostock grunted, laid down his gun, swung round the satchel containing the food, and passed the strap over his head, setting it afterwards on the ground in a very significant manner.
"Yes," said the doctor; "we may as well have our lunch."
"But I say," said Carey, "do you really think this was once a volcano, doctor?"
"Certainly, and the blue water we look down upon was preceded by a lake of fire."
"But how was that? Where did the water come from? Not from the sea."
"No, from the draining of these hills or mountains all round, upon which you have seen the clouds gather and melt into rain."
"And that put out the volcanic fire?" said Carey, quickly.
"Oh, no," replied the doctor, smiling. "If those trickling streams had run down into a lake of fire they would have flown up again in steam with tremendous explosions. This lake of water did not form until the volcano was quite extinct, and—"
"Shall I cut up the wittles, sir?" said Bostock, who had been impatiently waiting for the doctor to end his lecture.
"Here, fall to, Carey; Bostock is getting ravenous." And they ate their lunch, with Carey longing to go down the inner slope to examine the lake for fish and try to find out how deep it was.
It was a double feast, one for the body and one for the brain, the long walk and exertion having made all hungry, and as soon as this was appeased the doctor led the way for the final cone to be climbed.
Here Carey feasted indeed—the glass showing him through the limpid air reef after reef silvered with spray, and what were evidently islands, looking like faint amethystine clouds floating between sea and sky.
These islands lay to the north-east, but though they all looked long and carefully there was no sign of any great tract of land or continent.
"These are the times, Carey, when one feels one's ignorance," observed the doctor.
"Ignorance? I thought you knew nearly every thing."
"Nearly nothing," said the doctor, laughing. "I mean as compared to what there is to know. Now, for instance, there are charts in the captain's cabin, and the proper instruments for taking observations— sextants and chronometer. I ought to be able to tell exactly where we are, Carey, and mark it upon a chart, but I can't."
"Never mind, sir, it's very beautiful," said the boy. "I say, though, we can't see the Chusan from here."
"No, it is cut off by the projecting part of the mountain."
"Yes, and the lower parts and mouth of the river too. But we can see all round the other side of the island."
"Yes, and see what prisoners we are and shall be till some ship comes on a voyage of discovery and sees the great wreck."
"Well," said Carey, thoughtfully, "if it wasn't for one thing I like it, and don't feel in a bit of a hurry to go away."
"And what is the one thing?" asked the doctor.
"Mother and father's trouble. They must think I'm dead."
The trio rested at the top of the peak for a couple of hours, and then started back, the doctor taking the lead again so as to vary the way of descent, and gain an acquaintance with as much of the island as was possible.
This had the effect of lengthening out the journey, for there were many detours to be made to avoid dense jungly patches through which they would have had to clear their way; so that it was getting on towards evening when, after descending slope after slope and dodging, as Carey termed it, through little maze-like valleys, they came in sight of the waving cocoanut palms beneath them, and finally passed through to reach the sands.
They were still some distance from the landing place where the raft lay, and the sand was hot, loose, and painful to walk upon; but at last the rocky natural pier was reached, the raft cut loose, and, there being a pleasant evening breeze sufficient to ripple the water, they sailed steadily across.
"Might get a fish or two for supper easy to-night, sir," said Bostock. "I've got a line, sir. Shall I try?"
"No, we've done enough to-day," replied the doctor. "Let's be satisfied with what we've done and the provisions we have on board."
"Right, sir," said Bostock. "There is plenty of pickled fish."
"I feel more like a cup of tea than anything," replied the doctor. "It was a thirsty climb. Better take out the cartridges from your gun, Carey."
"Mind taking mine out too, Master Carey?" said Bostock, who was steering.
"All right," said Carey, following the doctor's example and returning the little charges to the ammunition bag. "I say, we shall only just get aboard before dark."
"We ought to have been half-an-hour sooner," observed the doctor, and five minutes or so later the raft rubbed with a grinding sound against the side, where it was made fast to a ring bolt by their hanging ladder.
The doctor ascended first to the darkened deck, for the night had fallen very rapidly during the last few minutes. Carey followed him, and leaned down before he reached the top of the ladder for the guns, which he took from Bostock's hands and passed up to the doctor.
The satchels and bucket of treasures they had found followed, and then Carey finished his ascent to the lofty deck.
"Look sharp, Bob," he said, "and let's have some supper at once."
"Supper it is, sir, in a brace of jiffies," replied the old sailor, as he stepped on deck, and he was in the act of turning to his left to go below to the galley, when he stopped short and uttered a warning cry.
"The guns—the guns!" he yelled.
Too late. There was a rush of bare feet on the soft deck, and through the gloom Carey was just able to make out that they were surrounded by a party of blacks, each poising a spear ready to throw and holding in his other hand either a knobkerry or a boomerang.
"Go mumkull white fellow; baal, lie down, quiet, still!"
This was said in a fierce voice by one of the savage-looking fellows, and Carey mastered the desire to bound away and take refuge below.
"Who are you? What do you want?" cried the doctor.
"Go mumkull white fellow; baal, lie down, quiet, still!"
"Says they're going to kill us all if we don't lie down and be quiet," growled the old sailor; then aloud to the blacks, "Here, what do you want—'bacco—sugar? Give plenty. Black fellow go."
"Want 'bacco, sugar, take white fellow old ship," cried the black who had first spoken.
"Take our old ship, will you?" said Bostock. "I think not, my lad. There, put down spear, mulla-mulla. We'll give you sugar, 'bacco."
The man laughed, and his companions too.
"Where boat?" said Bostock, speaking as if he thought the savages must be deaf, and the spokesman pointed over the other side of the vessel.
"It's all right, sir," said Bostock. "Nothing to mind; they're a party who've come in contact with English folk before, and they must have seen the ship. It only means giving them a bit of 'bacco and sugar and sending 'em away again. Don't look afraid of 'em. Better give 'em what they want and let 'em go. They wander about, so we may never see 'em again."
"Very well; fetch up some tobacco and sugar and give them," said the doctor; but at the first step Bostock took half the men rushed at and seized him, making his companions snatch at their guns, but only to have them wrested away, the blacks cocking them and drawing the triggers so as to fire them off if loaded, with a sharp click, click, as the hammers fell.
"That's bad, sir," said Bostock, in his sourest growl. "It means fighting, and we aren't got no tools."
"It is horrible to be taken by surprise like this," replied the doctor; "but it only means giving them presents; they were afraid we meant to shoot them."
"Mumkull white fellow, baal, lie still," cried the principal man, fiercely.
"All right, you dirty thick-headed black rough 'un," growled Bostock. "Now then, what do you want? Give it a name. Tobacco or sugar, isn't it, or both?"
"What's that?" said Carey, quickly, for the sharp sound of a match being struck in one of the cabins came up. "There's someone down below, getting a light."
The attention of the blacks was taken too, and they stood as if listening, till there was the sudden glow of a lamp seen in the cabin entry, and directly after a fierce-looking ruddy-brown visage appeared, the swollen-veined, blood-shot eyes looking wild, strange, and horrible as the light the man carried struck full upon it and made the great ragged beard glisten.
Carey stared at him in wonder, taking in at a glance his rough half-sailor-like shirt and trousers and heavy fisherman's boots. He noted, too, that the man wore a belt with holsters which evidently contained small revolvers.
The question was on his lips, "Who are you?" with its following, "What are you doing there?"
But the words were taken out of his lips by the doctor, who asked the questions angrily.
"Eh?" came in a hoarse, raucous voice, as the man rolled forward, with the lamp, till he was near enough to hold it close to the doctor's face, and then to those of the others.
"Only three on 'em, then. Don't let 'em go, my sonnies. Now then, you, what do you say? What am I doing here? What are you doing—what do you want aboard my ship?"
"Your ship, you bullying, drunken ruffian!" cried the doctor, in a rage. "You've been down in the cabin helping yourself to the spirits, or you would not dare to speak to me like this."
"Well! You do talk," cried the man, with a hoarse laugh. "Yes, I've had a drop I found down there. Thirsty, my lad, thirsty."
"Did you bring these black scoundrels aboard?" cried the doctor, who was beside himself with rage.
"Sartain I did; they're my crew, and I'm their master, and I've only got to say the word and over you go to the sharks. Eh, sonny? Sharks, eh?"
"Sharkum, sharkum!" cried the man who seemed to be the leader, and he caught hold of the doctor, his example being followed by his fellows; but in an instant he was sent staggering back, and Bostock's assailant met with similar treatment, while Carey struck out, but with very little effect, save that he hurt his knuckles against the grinning teeth of the black who seized him.
"Hold hard, my sonnies; not yet. Let's see how they behave themselves. Stand back."
It was evident that the great coarse-looking ruffian had perfect command over the party of black fellows, who shrank back at a word, and waited with glistening eyes, their faces shining in the lamplight.
"There," said the man, "you see; so don't be sarcy. I let you off this time, because you didn't know; only if there's any more of it I says the word, and over the side you go. Now then, who are you?"
"I am the medical officer of this stranded vessel, the Chusan, upon which you have trespassed; and I hold her in charge for the company of owners until they send a relief expedition to reclaim or salvage her."
"That all?" said the man, with a hoarse laugh. "That for you, then, and all you say," and he snapped his fingers in the doctor's face. "Now, look here, my fine fellow, I'm Dan Mallam, Beachcomber [see note], as they call me, King o' the Pearl Islands, dealer and merchant in copra, pearl shells, and pearls. These are my reefs and islands. This is my estate, and all flotsam and jetsam as is washed ashore is mine. Do you hear me?—mine, to do as I likes with. This steamer's come ashore on my land, and my black lads, as has been out shelling and collecting nuts, saw it come and tell me, who have come over to see what the sea has washed me up this time, for I've been getting short o' odds and ends, and the rum was getting low. There was the steamer, empty and cast away, and I've took possession, when you come and begin bullying and pretending you've got a claim on her."
"Claim on her, you scoundrelly pirate!" cried the doctor. "Why, men have been transported for life for what you are attempting to do."
The man scowled at the word transportation, and his right hand went to one of the holsters, whose flap he pressed over the stud so as to lay bare the butt of the pistol within. This he drew out and cocked.
"I just warn you to be civil, my fine fellow," he said. "I've only to say a word to my black fellows, and, in spite of your kicking, over you'd go into water that swarms with sharks; but when a man insults me, Dan Mallam, King o' the Pearl Islands, my temper gets warm, and I show my boys what a shot I am. Do you hear?"
The pistol clicked, and sent a shudder through Carey, who started at the ominous sound and looked wildly round for the guns, in the mad idea that he might be able to catch one up, load it, and fire in defence of the man towards whom he felt as if he were an elder brother. But the guns were all in the hands of the blacks, and others had possession of the satchels containing the cartridges.
Second thoughts convinced him that such an attempt could only result in the ruffian carrying out one of his threats, for he was beyond the reach of the law, if he were, as he said, a dweller in some neighbouring island, ruling probably over a little tribe of blacks.
What was to be done?
Just then the doctor spoke.
"Look here," he said, "I do not wish to insult you, but I am not going to give up to a man who is acting as you are. I tell you once more, I hold this vessel in my charge, and I am prepared to defend it on behalf of the owners."
"How?" said their visitor, with a mocking laugh.
"Never mind how," replied the doctor, more calmly. "I am not to be frightened by empty threats. We are not so far from civilisation that you dare injure me and my companions. The news would be carried to Brisbane, Adelaide, or Sydney, and one of her Majesty's war ships on the station would soon be here to call you to account."