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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 sh.o.r.e, 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 ma.s.s 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 c.o.c.katoos 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 ma.s.s 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 ma.s.ses, cracked and riven as if by fire, while parts were cindery and vesicular, others glistening in the sunshine like black gla.s.s.
"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, c.o.c.king 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 ma.s.ses 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 pa.s.s 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."