English Literature

Bunyip Land by George Manville Fenn

Chapter One.

How I made my Plans and they were Endorsed.

“Now, Master Joseph, do adone now, do. I’m sure your poor dear eyes’ll go afore you’re forty, and think of that!”

“Bother!”

“What say, my dear?”

“Don’t bother.”

“You’re always running your finger over that map thing, my dear. I can’t abear to see it.”

Nurse Brown looked over the top of her spectacles at me and shook her head, while I bent lower over the map.

Then the old lady sighed, and went on making cottage windows all over my worsted stockings, giving vent to comments all the time, for the old lady had been servant to my grandmother, and had followed her young mistress when she married, nursing me when I was born, and treating me as a baby ever since. In fact she had grown into an institution at home, moving when we moved, and doing pretty well as she liked in what she called “our house.”

“Bang!”

“Bless the boy! don’t bang the table like that,” she cried. “How you made me jump!”

“It’s of no use talking, nurse,” I cried; “I mean to go.”

“Go!” she said. “Go where?”

“Go and find my poor dear father,” I cried. “Why, nurse, am I to sit down quietly at home here, when perhaps my poor father is waiting for me to come to his help?”

“Oh, hush! my dearie; don’t talk like that I’m afraid he’s dead and gone.”

“He isn’t, nurse,” I cried fiercely. “He’s a prisoner somewhere among those New Guinea savages, and I mean to find him and bring him back.”

Nurse Brown thrust her needle into the big round ball of worsted, and held it up as if for me to see. Then she took off her glasses with the left hand in the stocking, and shaking her head she exclaimed:

“Oh, you bad boy; wasn’t it enough for your father to go mad after his botaniky, and want to go collecting furren buttercups and daisies, to break your mother’s heart, that you must ketch his complaint and want to go too?”

“My father isn’t mad,” I said.

“Your father was mad,” retorted Nurse Brown, “and I was surprised at him. What did he ever get by going wandering about collecting his dry orchardses and rubbish, and sending of ’em to England?”

“Fame,” I cried, “and honour.”

“Fame and honour never bought potatoes,” said nurse.

“Why, four different plants were named after him.”

“Oh, stuff and rubbish, boy! What’s the good of that when a man gets lost and starves to death in the furren wilds!”

“My father was too clever a man to get lost or to starve in the wilds,” I said proudly. “The savages have made him a prisoner, and I’m going to find him and bring him back.”

“Ah! you’ve gone wandering about with that dirty black till you’ve quite got into his ways.”

“Jimmy isn’t dirty,” I said; “and he can’t help being black any more than you can being white.”

“I wonder at a well-brought-up young gent like you bemeaning yourself to associate with such a low creature, Master Joseph.”

“Jimmy’s a native gentleman, nurse,” I said.

“Gentleman, indeed!” cried the old lady, “as goes about without a bit of decent clothes to his back.”

“So did Adam, nursey,” I said laughing.

“Master Joseph, I won’t sit here and listen to you if you talk like that,” cried the old lady; “a-comparing that black savage to Adam! You ought to be ashamed of yourself. It all comes of living in this horrible place. I wish we were back at Putney.”

“Hang Putney!” I cried. “Putney, indeed! where you couldn’t go half a yard off a road without trespassing. Oh, nurse, you can’t understand it,” I cried enthusiastically; “if you were to get up in the dark one morning and go with Jimmy—”

“Me go with Jimmy!” cried the old lady with a snort.

“And get right out towards the mountain and see the sunrise, and the parrots in flocks, and the fish glancing like arrows down the silver river—”

“There’s just how your poor dear pa used to talk, and nearly broke your poor ma’s heart.”

“No, he didn’t; he was too fond of her,” I said; “only he felt it his duty to continue his researches, the same that brought him out here, and—oh, I shall find him and bring him back.”

“Don’t, don’t, don’t! there’s a good boy; don’t talk to me like that. You’re sixteen now, and you ought to know better.”

“I don’t want to know any better than that, nurse. I know it’s my duty to go, and I shall go.”

“You’ll kill your poor ma, sir.”

“No, I sha’n’t,” I said. “She won’t like my going at first, because it will seem lonely for her out here; but she’ll be as pleased as can be afterwards. Look here: my mother—”

“Say ma, Master Joe, dear. Doey, please; it’s so much more genteel.”

“Stuff! it’s Frenchy; mother’s old English. Mother don’t believe father’s dead, does she?”

“Well, no, my dear; she’s as obstinate as you are about that.”

“And she’s right. Why, he’s only been away four years, and that isn’t so very long in a country where you have to cut every step of the way.”

“Cooey—cooey—woo—woo—woo—woo—why yup!”

“Cooey—cooey!” I echoed back, and nurse held he hands to her ears.

“Now don’t you go to him, Master Joseph; now please don’t,” said the old lady.

“Mass Joe! hi Mass Joe! Jimmy fine wallaby. Tick fass in big hole big tree.”

Just then my first-lieutenant and Nurse Brown’s great object of dislike, Jimmy, thrust his shiny black face and curly head in at the door.

“Go away, sir,” cried nurse.

“Heap fis—come kedge fis—million tousand all up a creek. Jimmy go way?”

He stood grinning and nodding, with his hands in the pocket holes of his only garment, a pair of trousers with legs cut off to about mid-thigh.

“If you don’t take that nasty black fellow away, Master Joseph, I shall be obliged to complain to your poor ma,” said nurse.

“Get out!” I said; “Jimmy won’t hurt you; and though it don’t show, he’s as clean as a new pin.”

“He isn’t clean; he can’t be, dear. How can any one be clean who don’t wear clothes, Master Joseph? and look at his toes.”

Nurse Brown always fell foul of Jimmy’s toes. They fidgeted her, for they were never still. In fact Jimmy’s toes, which had never probed the recesses of a pair of boots, were more like fingers and thumbs, and had a way of twiddling about when he was supposed to be standing still—stand perfectly still he never did—and these toes belonged to feet that in climbing he could use like hands. More than once I’ve seen him pick stones off the ground—just like a monkey, nurse said—or stand talking to any one and keep his attention while he helped himself to something he wanted with his feet.

“There, be off Jimmy,” I said, for I wanted to stop indoors.

“Come kedge fis.”

“No, not to-day.”

“Hi—wup—wup—wup!”

Jimmy threw himself into an attitude, snatching a small hatchet from the waistband of his trousers, and made believe to climb a tree, chop a hole larger, and draw out an animal, which he seemed to be swinging round by its tail.

“No, not to-day, Jimmy,” I cried.

“Sleep, sleep,” said Jimmy, imitating a kangaroo by giving a couple of hops into the verandah, where he chose a sunny place, well haunted by flies, curled up, and went to sleep.

“Good morning!” cried a hearty voice, and I ran out to welcome our neighbour the doctor, whose horse’s hoofs had not been heard, and who was now fastening the rein to the hook in one of the verandah posts.

“Well, Joe,” he said as I shook hands and looked up admiringly in his bold well-bearded face.

“Well, doctor, I’m so glad you’ve come; walk in.”

“Ah! nurse,” he cried; “how well you look!”

“Yes, yes; but I am glad you’re come,” she said. “I want you to look at Master Joseph.”

“I did look at him.”

“Isn’t he feverish or something, sir? He’s that restless as never was.”

“Sign he’s growing,” cried the doctor. “How’s mamma?”

“Oh, she’s pretty well,” I said. “Gone to lie down.”

“That’s right,” said the doctor. “I had to come and look at Bowman’s broken arm, so I came on here to beg a bit of dinner.”

“I’m so glad!” I said: for Jimmy, the half-wild black, was my only companion, there being no boys within miles of our run; “stop a week and have some fishing.”

“And what’s to become of my patients?”

“You haven’t got any,” I said. “You told me so last time.”

“True, O King Joseph! I’ve come to the wrong place; you don’t want many doctors in Australia. Why, nurse, how this fellow grows!”

“I wish he’d grow good,” cried the old lady. “He’s always doing something to worry away his poor ma’s and my life.”

“Why, what’s the matter now, nurse?”

“Matter, sir! Why, he’s took it into his head to go looking for his poor dear dead-and-gone pa. Do, do please tell him he mustn’t think of such things.”

“Why, Joe!” cried the doctor, turning sharply round to me, and ceasing to beat his high boots with his long-thonged whip.

“I don’t care what anybody says,” I cried, stamping my foot. “I’ve made up my mind, and mean to go to New Guinea to find my father.”

“There, doctor, did you ever hear any one so wickedly obstinate before?” cried nurse. “Isn’t it shocking? and his ma that delicate and worried living all alone, like, here out in these strange parts, and him as ought to be a comfort to her doing nothing but hanker after running away to find him as is dead and gone.”

“He’s not dead, nurse; he’s only gone,” I cried; “and I mean to find him, as sure as I live. There, that I will.”

“There, doctor, did you ever hear such a boy?” cried nurse.

“Never,” said the doctor. “Why, Joe, my boy,” he cried as I stood shrinking from him, ready to defend myself from his remonstrances, “your ideas do you credit. I didn’t think you had it in you.”

“Then you don’t think it is wrong of me, doctor?” I said, catching his hand.

“No, my boy, I do not,” he said gravely; “but it is a task for strong and earnest men.”

“But I am strong,” I said; “and if I’m not a man I’m in real earnest.”

“I can see that, my lad,” said the doctor, with his brown forehead filling with thoughtful wrinkles; “but have you counted the cost?”

“Cost!” I said. “No. I should get a passage in a coaster and walk all the rest of the way.”

“I mean cost of energy: the risks, the arduous labours?”

“Oh, yes,” I said; “and I sha’n’t mind. Father would have done the same if I was lost.”

“Of course he would, my lad; but would you go alone?”

“Oh, no,” I replied, “I should take a guide.”

“Ah, yes; a good guide and companion.”

“There, Master Joseph, you hear,” said nurse. “Doctor Grant means that sarcastical.”

“No, I do not, nurse,” said the doctor quietly; “for I think it a very brave and noble resolve on the part of our young friend.”

“Doctor!”

“It has troubled me this year past that no effort has been made to find the professor, who, I have no doubt, is somewhere in the interior of the island, and I have been for some time making plans to go after him myself.”

Nurse Brown’s jaw dropped, and she stared in speechless amazement.

“Hurray, doctor!” I cried.

“And I say hurray too, Joe,” he cried. “I’ll go with you, my lad, and we’ll bring him back, with God’s help, safe and sound.”

The shout I gave woke Jimmy, who sprang to his feet, dragged a boomerang from his waistband, and dashed to the door to throw it at somebody, and then stopped.

“You’ll break his mother’s heart, doctor,” sobbed nurse. “Oh! if she was to hear what you’ve said!”

“I did hear every word,” said my mother, entering from the next room, and looking very white.

“There, there,” cried nurse, “you wicked boy, see what you’ve done.”

“Mother!” I cried, as I ran to her and caught her—poor, little, light, delicate thing that she was—in my arms.

“My boy!” she whispered back, as she clung to me.

“I must go. I will find him. I’m sure he is not dead.”

“And so am I,” she cried, with her eyes lighting up and a couple of red spots appearing in her cheeks. “I could not feel as I do if he were dead.”

Here she broke down and began to sob, while I, with old nurse’s eyes glaring at me, began to feel as if I had done some horribly wicked act, and that nothing was left for me to do but try to soothe her whose heart I seemed to have broken.

“Oh, mother! dear mother,” I whispered, with my lips close to her little pink ear, “I don’t want to give you pain, but I feel as if I must—I must go.”

To my utter astonishment she laid her hands upon my temples, thrust me from her, and gazing passionately in my great sun-browned face she bent forward, kissed me, and said:

“Yes, yes. You’ve grown a great fellow now. Go? Yes, you must go. God will help you, and bring you both safely back.”

“Aw—ugh! Aw—ugh! Aw—ugh!” came from the verandah, three hideous yells, indicative of the fact that Jimmy—the half-wild black who had attached himself to me ever since the day I had met him spear-armed, and bearing that as his only garment over the shoulder, and I shared with him the bread and mutton I had taken for my expedition—was in a state of the utmost grief. In fact, he had thrown himself down on the sand, and was wallowing and twisting himself about, beating up the dust with his boomerang, and generally exciting poor old nurse’s disgust.

“Mother!” I cried; and making an effort she stood up erect and proud.

“Mr Grant,” she exclaimed, “do you mean what you say?”

“Most decidedly, my dear madam,” said the doctor. “I should be unworthy of the professor’s friendship, and the charge he gave me to watch over you in his absence, if I did not go.”

“But your practice?”

“What is that, trifling as it is, to going to the help of him who gave me his when I came out to the colony a poor and friendless man?”

“Thank you, doctor,” she said, laying her hand in his.

“And I go the more willingly,” he said smiling, “because I know it will be the best prescription for your case. It will bring you back your health.”

“But, doctor—”

“Don’t say another word,” he cried. “Why, my dear Mrs Carstairs, it is five years since I have had anything even approaching a holiday. This will be a splendid opportunity; and I can take care of Joe here, and he can take care of me.”

“That I will—if I can,” I cried.

“I know you will, Joe,” he said. “And we’ll bring back the professor with all his collection of new plants for that London firm, on condition that something fresh with a big red and yellow blossom is named after me—lay the Scarlet Grantii, or the Yellow Unluckii in honour of my non-success.”

“You’re never going to let him start, Miss Eleanor?” cried nurse.

“Would you have me stand between my son and his duty, nurse?” cried my mother, flushing.

“Dearie me, no,” sighed the old lady; “only it do seem such a wild-goose chase. There’ll be no one to take care of us, and that dreadful black, Jimmy”—nurse always said his name with a sort of disrelish—“will be hanging about here all the time.”

“Iss, dat’s him, Jimmy, Jimmy, here Jimmy go. Hi—wup—wup—wup, Jimmy go too.”

“Nonsense, Jimmy!” I said; “I’m going to New Guinea to seek my father.”

“Iss. Hi—wup—wup—wup, Jimmy going to look for his fader.”

“Why, you said he was dead,” I cried.

“Iss, Jimmy fader dead, little pickaninny boy; Jimmy go look for him, find him dere.”

“Be quiet,” I said, for the black was indulging in a kind of war-dance; “you don’t understand. I’m going across the sea to find my father.”

“Dat him. Jimmy want go ’cross sea find him fader bad. Hi! want go there long time.”

“Why, you never heard of the place before,” I said.

“No, never heard him fore; want to go long time. Jimmy go too.”

“Why, what for?” I said.

“Hunt wallaby—kedge fis—kill black fellow—take care Mass Joe—find um fader. Hi—wup—wup—wup!”

“He would be very useful to us, Joe,” said the doctor.

“And I should like to take him,” I said eagerly.

“Iss, Jimmy go,” cried the black, who contrived, in spite of his bad management of our language, to understand nearly everything that was said, and who was keenly watching us all in turn.

“He would be just the fellow to take,” said the doctor.

“Hi—wup—wup! Jimmy juss a fellow to take.”

“Then he shall go,” I said; and the black bounded nearly to the ceiling, making nurse utter a shriek, whereupon he thrust his boomerang into his waistband, and dragged a waddy from the back, where it had hung down like a stumpy tail, and showing his white teeth in a savage grin, he began to caper about as if preparing to attack the old lady, till I caught him by the arm, and he crouched at my feet like a dog.

“Come long,” he said, pointing out at the sun, “walk five six hour—all black dark; go sleep a morning.”

“All in good time, Jimmy,” I said. “Go out and wait.” The black ran out, and crouched down upon his heels in the verandah, evidently under the impression that we were about to start at once; but Europeans bound on an expedition want something besides a waddy, boomerang, and spear; and with nurse shaking her head mournfully the while, my mother, the doctor, and I held a council of war, which, after a time, was interrupted by a curious noise between a grunt and a groan, which proved to be from Jimmy’s throat, for he was preparing himself for his journey by having a nap.

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