Monday, 16 April 2012

Jungle Chums -Chs 1-3







Jungle Chums by A. Hyatt Verrill. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, April 2012.
For other chapters see...Here...under Fiction category.

Jungle Chums

Chapter I             Off to South America
"I've just been down to see Frank off to Cuba," announced Eric Marvin, as he entered his father's office one dreary December afternoon. "Whew! but it's cold down on the waterfront," he continued, and he threw off his overcoat. "Perhaps I didn't wish I were going along too. Just think of wearing warmer clothes and going swimming and fishing in the warm sunshine within a week."
"Well, I can't blame you very much, I admit," agreed his father. "How would you like a trip to the tropics for a Christmas present?" he asked.
"Hurrah! Do you really mean it?" cried Eric, and without waiting for an answer exclaimed, "When are you going? How long will we be gone? Where will we go? Do tell me all about it?”
"One thing at a time, my boy," said his father, laughing. "I am planning to go to British Guiana and shall try to get off next week. I have no idea how long we may be away, for I'm going on business. Mr. Perkins, the president of the Ratura Land & Development Company, has asked me to go down and look over their property. They own large tracts of land in British Guiana and instead of paying good dividends the property threatens to place the company in bankruptcy. The directors feel that there is something wrong, and as I am more or less interested and have had experience in the tropics they have selected me to go down and make an investigation and if possible put the place on a paying basis."
"British Guiana,—why, that's clear down in South America!" exclaimed Eric.
"Yes, the northeastern tip of the continent."
"That's ever so much better than Cuba," declared the elated boy. "There must be jungles and wild animals and savages and all sorts of exciting things there. Will I have a chance to do any hunting?"
"Undoubtedly," replied his father. "The Ratura lands are a long distance from the coast and the settlements and, in fact, extend far into the virgin forest or 'bush,' as it's called down there. A very large river flows past the property, and if one followed up this stream it would lead one into the very heart of the vast South American wilderness. You'll find plenty of hunting and fishing, but I can't promise the savages. I expect the natives are pretty well civilized by now. However, there'll be many things to interest you."
To Eric the forthcoming trip to South America was the event of his life, for he had never visited a foreign land, although much of his seventeen years had been spent out of doors, hunting, camping and tramping with his father in the woods and mountains of northern New England. But he had always longed to visit the tropics; to see the rank jungles and stupendous forests of which he had read, to navigate the great, mysterious rivers of the southern continent and to watch the strange and brilliant birds, and hunt the big game of South America. Now that his dream was about to be realized he devoted all his evenings to studying geographies and natural histories and to reading books on northern South America, while the days were fully occupied in preparation for the journey. At last all was ready, and on a raw, gray day Eric and his father stood upon the deck of the Maraval and watched the towering buildings of Manhattan as they faded from view in the smoke and haze of the western sky.
To Eric the voyage was full of interest and excitement, and the days passed rapidly. For hours at a time he watched the flying fishes which skittered across the waves like "toy hydroplanes," as he expressed it. He saw the broad patches of floating Sargassum which marked the edges of the fabulous Sargossa Sea; he chatted with the other passengers and learned much of the country to which he was going; he made friends with officers and crew and even tried his hand at "shooting the sun" under the guidance of the jovial skipper.
On the fifth day the tiny barren island of Sombrero was passed, and the Maraval entered the Caribbean Sea, with low-lying St. Martin's on the eastern horizon and the great isolated cones of Saba and St. Eustatius ahead. They were the first West Indian islands Eric had ever seen and he gazed at them with the most intense interest as the ship approached the mighty volcanoes rising abruptly from the sea.
"They are both Dutch," his father told him, and added, "You should not judge the tropics by the appearance of these two islands. They are small and rather barren, but are wonderfully interesting, nevertheless."
"I'm glad you told me," said Eric; "I was just going to say I didn't think much of their beauty. What's interesting about them?"
"Their interests are very distinct," replied Mr. Marvin. "St. Eustatius, or 'Statia,' as it's usually called, is famous as the first spot where the Stars and Stripes were saluted by the guns of a foreign power, while in Saba the people dwell in a crater and build boats a thousand feet above the sea."
"That's the funniest thing I ever heard," declared Eric, "but I don't see anything that looks like houses."
"You'll see a few peeping from the foliage in the center of the island when we're a bit closer," remarked the captain, who had approached, "but the main settlement's out of sight in a deep valley,—the old crater your father mentioned."
"I'd like to stop and see that place," said Eric, who was watching the shore intently through his glasses. "How do the people ever get up to their town, and how do they get their boats to the sea?"
"If you want to stop there you'll have to go to St. Kitts and take a sloop," replied the captain.
"Steamers don't ever touch at Saba. Place has no harbor and no anchorage,—just a bit of shingly beach. Folks get up to the village—which, by the way, is called 'Bottom'—by a flight of stone steps, eight hundred of them. But if you want to know all about the place go down and talk with the second mate, he's a Saba man."
Eric lost no time in finding the second officer, and from him learned a great deal about the strange island where people dwell in a crater and whose men are nearly all sailors.
Soon after Saba was left astern the ship passed along the leeward shore of St. Kitts, and Eric was loud in his expressions of admiration for the lofty, forest-clad mountains, the brilliant greens of the hillsides and valleys and the golden cane fields. Then Nevis, the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton, and the spot where Lord Nelson was married, was passed, and only the faint, cloud-like outlines of distant Montserrat and the filmy haze that marked Guadeloupe broke the blue rim of the sea.
The next morning Eric came on deck to find the Maraval approaching the island of Grenada and an hour later anchor was dropped in the perfect crater harbor of St. Georges, with its toy-like red-roofed houses and encircling hills of richest green.
After seven days of sea Eric and his father were glad indeed to stretch their legs on shore, and spent several hours strolling about the town and its neighborhood. The town was built on a steep hillside and many of the streets were carried up the slope in the form of stairways, while in one spot a tunnel had been drilled through the hill to form a highway. From the ancient forts above the town a splendid view of the harbor and its surroundings was obtained and the stay ashore was completed by a drive into the country to the Gran Etang.
To Eric everything was strange, wonderful and new. The groves of bronze-green cacao trees, with their odd red, yellow and purple pods hanging on the trunks and branches, attracted his attention, and his father had the coachman drive to the sheds where they watched the process of fermenting and drying the cacao beans.
The lofty, feathery, giant bamboo trees along the country road fascinated the boy; the wealth and luxuriance of the tropical foliage seemed marvelous to his northern eyes, and the immense, stately royal palms were a constant delight.
"I can hardly believe it's still cold, wintry weather in New York," Eric declared. "Why, only a week ago we were shivering in our overcoats, with slush up to our ankles in the streets, and here we're driving about in flannels with palms waving overhead and flowers in full bloom everywhere. It all seems like a dream."
His father laughed. "That's the way it seemed to me the first time," he said. "But after you've been here a while it will seem just as strange to go north and find no palms and the trees bare and leafless."
They had now reached the Gran Etang, a beautiful, silvery lake nestling in the very heart of the forest-covered mountains, and lunch was taken at the rest house. Here, for the first time, Eric had a chance to see a real tropical forest, and, after the meal was over, a walk was taken into the woods.
"My, but they're wonderful," exclaimed Eric, as he stopped and stared about at the enormous trunks soaring upwards for hundreds of feet. "Just see all the hanging vines and parasitic plants. It's like a gigantic spider's web or the rigging of a ship. I never dreamed trees could grow so huge. Why, not a single book I read gave any idea of what it's really like. Are the South American forests as grand as these?"
Mr. Marvin smiled at his son's enthusiasm. "These are nothing compared to the virgin 'bush' of the continent," he replied. "Some of the other islands have forests far thicker and trees larger than Grenada, but none of them can compare with the primeval forest of South America."
"If I read it in a book I wouldn't believe it," declared Eric, "but if you say it's so, it must be; although I can't imagine how it's possible. Isn't there any game here?" he asked presently. "I haven't seen a living thing or heard a sound, except a few birds."
"There's not much game on Grenada," replied his father. "A few wild monkeys and armadillos, some semi-wild hogs and doves, pigeons and parrots are about all. But don't expect to find wild animals abundant in the forests, even on the continent, Eric. The pictures in geographies are very misleading. One may sometimes walk for hours without seeing a living creature larger than a dove or a squirrel or an occasional monkey. Game may be very abundant, but the forests are so vast and so thick that one must know the haunts of the creatures and must hunt diligently to find the game."
A row upon the lake, which, Mr. Marvin explained, occupied an ancient crater, completed the outing, and a few hours later the two travelers were again aboard ship and the green mountain slopes of Grenada were blue and hazy in the distance.
The next morning Eric found the deep blue water of the Caribbean had changed to dull, brownish-green, while directly ahead lofty mountains stretched as far as eye could see to east and west.
"We're in the water of the Orinoco," said the captain, in reply to the boy's question. "The mud it brings down colors the water for forty or fifty miles out to sea."
"Then that must be South America ahead,'' exclaimed Eric.
"Sure as you live," laughed the captain, "those mountains to the west are in Venezuela; those dead ahead are the islands between the 'Bocas,' and those to the east are on Trinidad."
Rapidly the ship approached the land and presently Eric could distinguish the Bocas,—narrow waterways leading between wooded, mountainous islets, and seemingly scarce wide enough for the ship to pass through. Entering the nearest opening the Maraval steamed slowly ahead between the towering cliffs and wooded heights on either hand and a few moments later floated upon the tranquil waters of the Gulf of Paria.
To the left Trinidad reared its green-clad mountains to the clouds, while to the right the distant Sierras of the continent loomed above the horizon.
"I should never know that was an island," declared Eric, as he stood by his father's side and watched the charming panorama of Trinidad's mountains, valleys and sandy beaches. "It looks like the mainland," he continued. "But on the map it seems a mighty small place."
"Maps are deceptive things," replied Mr. Marvin. "Trinidad is a large island, and stretches for over fifty miles north and south. Moreover, it's really a bit of the continent and is only separated from the mainland by the Bocas, through which we have just passed, and similar narrow channels at the southern end of the gulf. In geology, fauna and flora, it's almost identical with South America."
The ship was now approaching the harbor of Port of Spain and in a few moments dropped anchor a couple of miles off the pretty town. Port of Spain seemed quite a metropolis after Grenada, and Eric was greatly interested in the many vessels which filled the roadstead and lined the waterfront. When a little later he stepped ashore from the launch, which carried the passengers from the ship, he was still more surprised, for the streets were thronged with people; trolley cars, automobiles and motor trucks were everywhere; splendid buildings and stores lined the thoroughfares, and every one seemed busy, industrious and prosperous.
"Why, this is a real city," exclaimed the boy, as he and his father passed under the splendid trees of Marine Square and entered Frederick Street.
"One of the busiest and most prosperous ports in the West Indies," said Mr. Marvin. "And one of the best built also," he added. "See, there's something will interest you, Eric." He pointed to a little group of people across the street.
"Why, they look just like pictures of India," cried the boy. "Aren't they picturesque and foreign looking?"
His father laughed. "No wonder they look like India," he replied, "for they're from India,— coolies, as they're called here,—East Indians brought over as indentured laborers. You'll see many of them here, but far more of them in Georgetown, over in British Guiana."
Everywhere about the town Eric found much of interest. The bright-colored buildings, the smooth, wide, straight asphalt streets, the strange people of every shade and color, the beautiful parks and the magnificent public buildings all attracted him. Then, when a short trolley ride carried them to the Savanna, the boy's enthusiasm knew no bounds. The immense green-swarded park, surrounded by a splendid driveway and bordered by magnificent residences, the great Queen's Park Hotel, and the palatial Government House all fascinated him, and he vowed it the most beautiful spot he had ever seen.
The next day a trip was made to the wonderful Pitch Lake, from which the asphalt for the world's highways is obtained; another excursion was made to the oil wells, and trips were taken to the superb cataracts and to the famous Blue Basin.
The four days at Trinidad passed quickly, indeed, and, when the ship once more steamed northward across the gulf and passed again through the narrow Bocas to the open sea, Eric felt that he had not seen half enough of the wonderful island they were leaving.
Fourteen days after leaving New York he stood upon the forward deck and, filled with anticipation, gazed through his glasses at the low-lying coast, which bordered the great muddy river up which the ship was steaming.
"It doesn't look a bit like South America," he remarked to a passenger who stood near; "I don't see any forests or mountains; it looks more like the Jersey coast than anything else."
The passenger, an American gold miner from Paramaribo, laughed. "Don't you fret, son," he said, "you'll find bush a-plenty,—just step out of the city and you're in the bush. Of course, you can't see it from here,—coast's all low and swampy, and, for nigh a hundred miles back, land's as flat as this deck. You'll find Ratura's wild enough to suit you, I'll wager,—right in the heart of the bush."
"Hurrah! Then I'll have a chance to do some hunting," exclaimed Eric.
"Righto," the miner assured him. "There's game a-plenty. Only trouble is to find it. The bush here's mighty thick,—have to chop a path wherever you go,—and game naturally lights out o' the way when a chap makes a lot of racket. It's not so hard to kill the birds and now and then an agouti or a deer, but if you want to shoot big game, like tapir, jaguar, peccaries and such things, you'll have to get a Buckman or a Bushnigger hunter to go along with you."
"What in the world are Buckmen and Bushniggers?" asked Eric, puzzled. "It's all Greek to me."
"I keep forgetting you're a stranger and don't know Creole," replied the other. "Buckmen are Indians,—native redskins,—and we call 'em Bucks or Buckmen so's not to get 'em mixed with the chaps from India,—the coolies or Hindus, you know. We call the women or squaws, 'Buckeens.' Bushniggers are a queer lot,—sort of wild niggers that live in the bush, or leastways along the big rivers. They're descended from runaway slaves and a heap wilder than the Bucks nowadays. Good-hearted chaps, though, even if they do run 'round naked and are a pack o' heathens. You'll meet up with plenty o' Bucks, but you won't run across any Bush niggers in Demerara, but over in Surinam,— Dutch Guiana, that is,—there's heaps of 'em."
"Do the Indians,—the Bucks, I mean,—speak English?" asked Eric.
"Well, I can't say you'd call it King's English," laughed the other. "You'll have a bit of trouble understanding their talky-talky at first,—sounds like dime novel 'Injun' talk,—but you'll soon get used to it. The Bushniggers speak another sort o' lingo altogether,—mixture of English, Dutch, African and French,—regular language o' their own. But, look here, son, yonder's the town. What do you think of it?"
Eric had been so interested in talking with his new friend that he had not noticed that the ship was close to the docks. All he could see were great warehouses, a few roofs and towers above them, a palm tree here and there, and numerous steamers and sailing craft moored to the docks and wharves.
"I don't think much of its looks," he admitted. "But there seems to be a great deal of shipping for such a little place."
"You can't see any more of Georgetown from the water than you can of the bush," the miner informed him. "City's below sea level,—or, rather, river level,—and out of sight beyond the docks and warehouses. You'll find it a right smart bit of a city as soon as you hop ashore, and right up to date. Trolley cars, railroads, automobiles and everything else."
"How do the people keep the water out if the city's below the level of the river?" inquired Eric, as the big ship was being warped alongside the dock.
"You'll see canals in most of the streets and out in the country," the miner answered. "Every time the tide runs out they open the sluice gates and drain the water off and before the tide turns they shut the gates up again and keep the water out. It's just like Holland for that,—you see, it used to be Dutch, and I reckon the Dutchmen couldn't feel a mite at home unless they lived below sea level. Yonder’s the sea wall,—favorite place for promenadin’ in the evening,—band plays there, and all that sort of thing."
The steamer was now made fast to the wharf, the gangway was up and porters were busy carrying luggage ashore. Presently Mr. Marvin appeared, followed by a colored boy with the hand bags.
"I've just been learning all about the bush and 'Bucks' and 'Bushniggers,''' exclaimed Eric, as his father approached. "This gentleman's been telling me about everything. Do let me introduce you to my father, Mr.—"
"Teach," supplied the miner, "Frank Teach. Glad to know you, Mr. Marvin. Hope you'll have a fine time down here and find everything shipshape. If you happen to be over Surinam way, look me up,—every one there knows me. Pleased to be of any service to you when I can."
Thanking him for his offer, and assuring him that they would certainly look him up if they visited Dutch Guiana, Mr. Marvin and Eric bade Mr. Touch good-by, and a moment later Eric set foot for the first time on South America.

Chapter II           In Guiana’s Capital
Mr. Marvin had much to attend to before leaving for Ratura, and for several days Eric was left to himself while his father was busy with agents, solicitors, merchants and others, and with papers and accounts. But time did not hang heavily on the boy's hands. He found Georgetown a fascinating city, with an interesting, motley population, and he never tired of watching the picturesque Hindus that swarmed everywhere and gave an Oriental touch to the cosmopolitan South American town.
At one spot he found a mosque, with domes and minarets gleaming among the palms, and somewhat timidly entered the grounds. A venerable, white-bearded descendant of Mohammed greeted him and in broken English invited him to enter the dim interior of the Moslem church. Somewhere Eric had read that those entering a mosque must remove their shoes, and slipping off his, he followed the priest and was shown the Koran resting in its niche.
When he finally parted from his ancient Mohammedan friend he felt as if he had made a visit to India itself.
Much time was profitably spent in the great Botanic Station, for here Eric found every useful and ornamental tree and plant of the tropics, and by the aid of a courteous assistant learned a great deal about the cultivation and preparation of tropical products. He saw the laborers gathering cocoa, watched them opening the pods and extracting the beans, and was shown the great trays on which the cocoa was drying in the sun. He also learned to distinguish many of the hardwood, cabinet and dye-wood trees by sight, and he marveled at the gigantic leaves and flowers of the Victoria Regia lilies which filled the ditches and canals; but of all things, that which interested him the most was obtaining rubber from the rubber trees.
Finding him interested, his guide explained the entire process at length, and even allowed Eric to try his hand at tapping the trees and gathering the milky juice which was afterwards congealed to form rubber.
"It's just like gathering maple sap," exclaimed the delighted boy. "I wonder if there are any rubber trees at Ratura."
“I believe there are,'' replied the attendant. “At least, a grove was started when the plantation was established, but I cannot say what success they have had."
"Well, if I owned an estate here, I'd go in for rubber," Eric declared. It seems the easiest of crops to gather, and from what you say, there must be lots of money in it."
"It's been far too greatly neglected," replied the other. "A few planters have gone in for it and are reaping good profits, but I should advise every one who has suitable land to raise rubber trees. Of course, there is a great deal of care necessary, and it requires several years for the trees to attain sufficient growth to tap, but once they are producing they are a constant source of revenue."
"I'm mighty glad I've learned about it," said Eric. "If there are any trees on our place I'm going to ask father to let me look after them. Can you tell me of any other things which might bring good profits from the Ratura plantation? That is,'' he continued, "things which bring quick returns. You see, the company's been losing money, and father's come down to try and put it on a paying basis, and I'm sure you can help us a great deal with your knowledge."
"There's no reason why Ratura should not be paying well," replied the other. "I expect mismanagement or dishonesty is at the bottom of your troubles. If your father wishes to turn the resources of the place into ready cash quickly I should advise getting out wood and timber. There's a large demand for crabwood, purpleheart, green-heart and other woods just now for rifle stocks, gun carriages and other purposes, and I have no doubt there is enough of such material on Ratura to pay off all indebtedness and leave a handsome profit in addition. Then, there's rice. A few plantations here are doing very well with rice, but the demand is still greater than the supply, for our large East Indian population consumes a vast amount of the grain. If you wish, I'll show you our experimental rice plot, and you may obtain some useful information regarding rice cultivation. But, of course, rice is quite out of the question at Ratura."
"That's awfully kind of you," declared Eric. "I'm anxious to help all I can, and all I learn will be of use. I'll tell father all you've told me."
They were now approaching a swampy, lotus-filled lagoon, and suddenly some huge creature rose in the midst of the pond, uttered a tremendous bellow, and disappeared with a great splash.
"What in the world was that?" cried Eric, with an exclamation of surprise.
"Only a manatee," replied his friend. "There are many of them here."
"Do you mean they are really wild?" asked Eric.
'' Certainly they are,'' the man assured him. '' We never disturb them; but we do kill off the crocodiles or alligators now and then."
"Do you have those here, too?" exclaimed Eric, in surprise.
"Yes, plenty, and to spare."
"And look at those herons and egrets," exclaimed the boy, as they came in sight of a pond near the path. "Why, you have a real zoological garden here."
"It's better than a zoological park," declared the attendant, "for all our specimens are wild, and are free to go and come as they please. There are parrots in the trees,—see, there's a flock now! Water fowl of many kinds live in the canals and ponds, and the shrubbery is full of birds,—even monkeys visit us occasionally. But it's the same way all about Demerara; if you drive outside the city anywhere you'll see rare and beautiful birds along the roadsides and quite tame, for we protect them by strict laws here."
"Well, if birds and animals are so abundant right here in the city, it must be a perfect paradise for them up at Ratura," said Eric.
"Few places are richer in wild life," declared the other, "but if you are interested in such matters you should visit our museum. You'll find an excellent collection there."
"I certainly shall," declared Eric. "I'll spend a whole day there."
When at last he was compelled to leave the gardens, Eric had obtained a vast amount of useful knowledge, and felt that he could really be of use in helping his father on the plantation.
Mr. Marvin listened with interest to his son's account of what he had seen and learned during the day.
"I'm very glad to know you've been putting in your time that way," he assured Eric. "I had intended visiting the station to obtain such information, but you've saved me the time and trouble, and we'll be able to start for the plantation all the sooner. I expect to finish my business in town tomorrow, and we'll leave the next morning. From what I have discovered already, I am convinced that downright dishonesty is at the bottom of our troubles. It's a difficult matter to prove it, and if I discharge the present manager, it may be hard to secure another to take his place. Moreover, I've been warned that he's a dangerous man,—utterly unprincipled,—and that if I make an enemy of him he'll no doubt try to obtain revenge in some way. However, I've firmly made up my mind to discharge him as soon as I arrive at the plantation. For these reasons I'm anxious to reach Ratura as soon as possible, for, if Leggett hears we are coming, he may suspect my purpose and do some damage and leave before we arrive."
The next day Eric spent in the museum, and by studying the hundreds of specimens of birds and animals, learned far more of the denizens of Guiana's forests than could ever have been acquired from books.
"We're off at daylight to-morrow," his father announced that evening.
"Thanks to your visit to the station, I've placed a large order for timber, but the finances were in such bad shape that I've been compelled to negotiate a large note to provide ample funds for immediate needs. It was somewhat difficult, for Ratura has earned a reputation losing proposition, but I found one man who still had faith in it, especially in view of the timber contract. He's an old Dutchman named Van Pelt, who lives in Paramaribo; and I think I was most fortunate in finding him, for, in case returns for the timber are delayed, he is quite willing to extend the note."
"Well, I'm ever so glad I helped some," declared Eric. "And I'm sure that with a little experience I'll be able to do a great deal about the place. But it's too bad that you had to give the note."
"In a way, yes," agreed his father, "but it enabled me to pay off all the little claims, and it's better to have one large creditor than a number of small ones, many of whom were clamoring for their money. At any rate, I'm quite sure Ratura has resources sufficient to place it on a paying basis if properly handled, but we can tell better after we see the place. Now, off to bed, Eric, for you've a long day's trip ahead of you to-morrow."
Little did father or son dream of the dangers or adventures which were in store for them or of the important part the Dutchman's note would play in their lives.

Chapter III          A Surprising Reception
Eric had studied every available source of information regarding British Guiana, but nothing he had read conveyed a true idea of the country. He knew that on the maps were countless rivers bearing strange Indian names, but not until he sailed across the mouths of the rivers on his way to Ratura did he realize what mighty streams they were. As Georgetown became a mere blurr of haze astern, and nothing could be seen but the vast waste of muddy waters with the low line of gray-green shores upon the horizon, he could scarce believe he was not upon the ocean.
"I'd never dream this was a river," he remarked. "It must be miles and miles from shore to shore."
"It's nearly thirty-five miles wide here," replied his father, "and the shores are so low that they appear even more distant than they are in reality. The Demerara and Essequibo Rivers join to form this estuary,—a sort of overflowed delta, so to speak, but they are both very large and are navigable for many miles. In fact, ocean-going steamships and great sailing vessels go up the Demerara River for over sixty miles to load greenheart timber."
Soon the distant shores became more distinct, and in a few hours the steamer entered the Essequibo and headed upstream.
Eric was delighted with all he saw, and, while the opposite shores were still dim in the distance, he had splendid views of the great forest-clad islands in the river, and the densely wooded nearer bank.
"That's Dauntless Island yonder," said the captain, pointing to a large island, several miles in length, and rich with greenery, "perhaps you'd be interested to know it's built on a wreck."
"That certainly sounds wonderful," declared Eric, "but I don't see how any island can be built on a wreck. Do tell me about it."
"It does sound a bit queer," admitted the captain, "but it's really very simple. You see, the river here is full of mud and sand,—that's what makes it so brown,—and just as soon as anything stops the current the sand has a chance to settle down and form a bar. About forty years ago a schooner named the Dauntless was wrecked over yonder, and pretty soon the sand commenced piling up about her and formed a bar pointing upstream. Then mangrove seeds lodged on the bar and took root and they made more of an obstruction and caused more sand to pile up. Then the mucka-muckas—those big lily-like plants you see along the shore here—began to sprout up, and, protected by these and the mangroves, the island commenced to grow, until to-day there's a good-sized piece of dry land and big trees, all due to a little coasting schooner getting wrecked."
"I think that's simply marvelous," declared Eric. "Were all these islands formed in the same way?"
"I can't say about that," laughed the captain, "but I expect they all began in a small way and were started by something or another getting lodged in the stream. As you go farther up you'll see plenty of good-sized bars caused by timbers or branches of trees."
The boat was now running close to the shore, and Eric turned his attention to the herons, egrets and strange water fowl which rose flapping from their retreats in the shallow water. Presently he caught sight of a patch of brilliant red upon a black, muddy bank which greatly puzzled him. He was about to ask the captain in regard to it when suddenly the brilliant color sprang into life and rose in air,—a marvelous cloud of scarlet which glowed against the dark green background of the mangroves like a mass of living flame. At the sight Eric uttered an involuntary shout of wonder and admiration, for he realized he was gazing at a huge flock of the rare and beautiful Scarlet Ibis.
At his exclamation the captain turned and glanced shoreward.
'' Oh, it's the Curri-curries,'' he remarked. '' They do look pretty, don't they?"
"Why, you don't seem a bit surprised," cried Eric. "I never expected to see such a wonderful sight."
"Surprised?" exclaimed the captain, in a puzzled tone. "What's surprising about them? They're always about, up and down the rivers, nobody pays any attention to Curri-curries."
Presently the vessel slowed down and drew alongside a tiny dock or "stelling," and Eric watched with interest the motley crowd of Hindus and negroes, who crowded the wharf; some waiting to board the steamer, others gathered to see their friends off, and others vending fruits, vegetables and caged birds.
Back from the dock were the broad, green fields of an immense sugar estate, and the great black chimneys of the mill reared themselves far above the surrounding trees. Eric was surprised to find docks, settlements and sugar mills here, for he imagined that civilization had been left behind, and that all about was wilderness. He had not yet learned that everywhere in British Guiana civilization borders on the vast untamed wilds of South America.
By midday, however, the last signs of cultivation had been left far behind. The wooded shores, with their interminable mangroves, stretched for mile after mile on either hand, and between them flowed the great turbid river, dotted with islands and forsaken save by occasional dug-out canoes loaded with cordwood and manned by stalwart, half-naked colored men.
Now and again tiny thatched huts were seen amid the jungle, or dead brown brush, and partly cleared spaces indicated where wood-cutters were at work. At one spot, too, the steamer ran close to the shores of a great, forested island where a number of buildings and a neat church stood in the center of cleared and cultivated lands. Nearer at hand an ancient, crumbling ruin stood close to shore, and the captain told Eric this was an old Dutch fort, that at one time the Dutch had many towns and settlements far up the rivers, and that the island was known as Fort Island.
Eric thought it would be great fun to go ashore and poke around among the ruins, and as a little dock projected from the shores he hoped the steamer would stop, but it kept steadily on, and soon the inland and the fort were hidden behind other islands astern.
For hour after hour the boat continued, swinging around bend after bend, threading a zigzag course between sand bars and islands, and ever with nothing save river, sky and endless jungle in sight. But, while the scenery was monotonous, and there was little of interest to be seen, time did not hang heavily on Eric's hands, and he plied the captain and his fellow passengers with questions, and learned much of interest and many things which later proved of the greatest value. He discovered that the tide rose and fell for nearly one hundred miles up the rivers; that navigation ceased at Bartica because of rapids farther upstream; that the Mazaruni and Cuyuni joined close above the town, and that the great penal settlement of the colony was just across the Mazaruni from Bartica. He was filled with interest at the stories of the gold diggings and diamond fields of the upper rivers, and listened to many a yarn of fortunes lost and won, and he gained an excellent idea of the life of the interior, the dangers of navigating the falls and rapids, the resources of the country and the products of the "bush."
Then the little settlements of Itaka, Dalli and Wolga were passed, with their granite quarries above the riverside, and Bartica was sighted far ahead, and just before sundown the steamer ran alongside the dock of this little town at the edge of the wilderness. It was a mere village,—a few score little wooden buildings straggling along grassy lanes,—but it was typically a frontier settlement, and everywhere were evidences that it was the jumping-off place of civilization. Before it flowed the great rivers leading into the heart of the continent, behind it stretched the forest, and on its streets silent, bronze-skinned Indians, negroes and colored men, Portuguese and a few Hindus mingled freely. Close to the dock was a great, open, shed-like structure, within which scores of prospectors and gold diggers swung their hammocks and cooked their meals, while waiting for boats to carry them up the rivers to the "diggings," and the front of the hotel bore the legend, "Boats, outfits and tacklings for the Balata, Gold and Diamond Fields."
Early the next morning Eric and his father boarded the heavy river boat which Mr. Marvin had engaged, and, impelled by the powerful strokes of eight paddlers, the craft swept swiftly up the river towards Ratura.
The sun was still low in the east, a mist hung over the river, parrots winged screaming overhead, great macaws screeched and toucans clattered from the tree tops, and from the depths of the forest issued countless songs, notes and cries of awakening life. The boat skirted close to the river bank, and Eric longed to step ashore and enter the rank green jungle, with its dark, mysterious shadows and giant trees. But he was forced to content himself with gazing at the bush from the passing boat, and with watching the strange birds and great sky-blue butterflies, that flitted here and there along the forest's edge.
At last a cleared space appeared ahead, the roof of a good-sized building was seen peeping from the greenery, and the boat was run alongside a tiny wooden dock at the foot of a shaded road. No one was in sight, and, while the boatmen busied themselves unloading the baggage, Mr. Marvin and Eric hurried up the pathway towards the bungalow.
As they came within sight of the house a white man, clad in dirty pajamas, approached. He was small, wiry, shifty-eyed and weasel-faced, and Eric took an instinctive dislike to him even before he spoke.
"Good morning," said Mr. Marvin pleasantly. "You are Mr. Leggett, I presume."
"Morning," grunted the other. "You guessed right; I'm Leggett. What do you want?"
"My name is Marvin,—this is my son, Eric,—and I've come down in the interests of the company, to look about and see if the place can't be made to pay."
Leggett's lip curled in a scornful snarl. "Huh! Come down to spy on me, eh. Well, you're welcome to see all you can. I ain't got anything to hide, but you needn't run away with the idea that this place'll pay—'tain't in it. I reckon I know my business, I do; and no bloomin' green hand can show me anything. Might as well chuck up the place and sell out while the sellin's good 's my advice."
"Oh, I don't know about that," said Mr. Marvin, as they turned towards the house. "I don't question your knowledge, Mr. Leggett, but there may be unnecessary expenditures that can be reduced, or resources which have not been developed. I should like, first of all, to go over your books with you."
At these words, Leggett stopped in his tracks, swung about and cried angrily, "So that's your game, is it? Come snoopin' around tryin' to make me the goat, eh! "Well, mister, I don't keep books, I don't. I'm too old a hand to have anything 'round for smart Alecks like you to juggle about to prove I'm to blame. S'pose you think I been doin' your bloody company?"
Mr. Marvin flushed at the insulting words and manner of the man, but he spoke quietly and calmly. "I regret that you take this attitude," he said. "I had hoped to avoid any unpleasantness, but, under the circumstances, I might as well tell you that I intend to discharge you. I don't think you've been 'doing' the company,—I know it."
''You do, do you?'' sneered the manager. “G'oin' to fire me, are you? Well, I reckon you don't know who you're a-talkin' to. You've got another guess comin', mister. When Tom Leggett's fired, he fires himself. Now, you get to blazes out o' here, and get quick, while the gettin's good. I don't let any one call me a crook more 'an once, you bet your life."
As he spoke he whipped out a revolver and leveled it at Mr. Marvin. For a brief instant Eric and his father hesitated, dumbfounded at Leggett's violent outburst and threatening attitude. But there was nothing to be done save obey the fellow's commands, for the boatmen were beyond call, and for all they knew the manager was a madman.
"Very well," said Mr. Marvin, after the tense pause. ''You have the upper hand at present, I admit. But rest assured I shall soon return, and the police will be with me. I had no idea of prosecuting you before; but you've shown yourself unworthy of any consideration,—you're too dangerous to be at large."
"Comin' back with police, are you?" screamed Leggett, in a frenzy. ''Come on; I'll know you nex' time I see you. I'll mark that smug face of yours all right,—take that, you dirty sneak!"
As he spoke, he sprang forward and snatching up a heavy stick raised it to strike. But the blow never fell; ere Mr. Marvin could dodge, ere Eric could spring forward, a lithe brown body shot downward from the foliage of the mango tree overhead and, landing full on Leggett's head and shoulders, bore him crashing to the earth. The revolver flew from the manager's hand and exploded harmlessly as it struck the road, and with the breath completely knocked out of his body by the unexpected onslaught, Leggett lay panting and half-conscious upon the ground, while over him stood a half-naked, bronze-skinned youth with a keen machete held threateningly at the other's throat.
"S'pose makeum move, me chop you plenty," laconically remarked this new arrival on the scene, and the prostrate bully, all the fight gone from him, took the hint and remained motionless.

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.