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Chapter Seven. A Dangerous Locality.
After their ample meal of oyster “roasted in the shell,” which was a breakfast instead of a supper, they rested for the remainder of the day, and all through the following night. They required this lengthened period of repose, not because they stood in need of sleep, but from the exhaustion of weakness, consequent upon their long spell of hunger and thirst.

They slept well, considering that they had no couch, nor any covering, but the tattered clothes they wore upon their bodies. But they had become accustomed to this kind of bed; as to one even less comfortable, and certainly not safer—on the hard planks of the pinnace. Nor did the cold discomfort them; for although the nights are colder on land than at sea, and in the tropics sometimes even chilly, that night was warm throughout; and nothing interfered with their slumbers except some horrid dreams, the sure sequence of suffering and perils such as they had been passing through.

The morning rose bright and beautiful, as nearly all Bornean mornings do. And the castaways rose from their recumbent position, feeling wonderfully restored both in strength and spirits. Henry and Helen—these were the names of the young people—were even cheerful, inclined to wander about and wonder at the strange objects around: the beautiful beach of silvery sand; the deep blue sea; the white breakers beyond, rising over it like along snow-wreath; the clear fresh-water stream alongside, in which they could see curious fish disporting themselves; the grand forest-trees, among them stately palms and tall lance-like bamboos;—in short, a thousand things that make tropical scenery so charming.

Notwithstanding the scenic beauty, there was something needed before it could be thoroughly enjoyed, and this was breakfast. The contents of the great oyster had given full satisfaction for the time; but that was nearly twenty-four hours ago, and the appetites of all were once more keenly whetted. What was to take the edge off them? This was the question that occupied their thoughts, and the answer was not so easy.

Saloo went in search of another Singapore oyster; Murtagh started along the bank of the stream, in the hope of beguiling some of the red and gold fish he saw playing “backgammon” in it, as he had seen the trout and salmon in his native Killarney; while the captain, having procured a rifle, that had been brought away in the boat, and which he well knew how to handle, wandered off into the woods.

Henry and Helen remained under the tree, as their father did not think there could be any danger in leaving them alone. He was well enough acquainted with the natural history of Borneo to know that there were neither lions nor tigers in the island. Had it been on the neighbouring island of Sumatra, or some desert coast of the mainland—in Malacca, Cochin-China, or Hindustan—he might have dreaded exposing them to the attack of tigers. But as there was no danger of encountering these fierce creatures on the shores of Borneo, he told the children to stay under the tree until he and the others should return.

The young people were by this time rather tired of remaining in a recumbent position. It was that to which they had been too long constrained while in the boat, and it felt irksome; moreover, the oyster, wonderfully restoring their strength, had brought back their wonted juvenile vigour, so that they felt inclined for moving about a bit. For a time they indulged this inclination by walking to and fro around the trunk of the tree.

Soon, however, weariness once more came upon them, and they desired to have a seat. Squatting upon the ground is an attitude only easy to savages, and always irksome to those accustomed to habits of civilised life, and to sitting upon chairs. They looked about for something upon which they might sit but nothing appeared suitable. There were neither logs nor large stones; for the beach, as well as the adjacent shore, was composed of fine drift sand, and no trees seemed to have fallen near the spot.

“I have it!” exclaimed Henry, after puzzling his brains a bit, his eye guiding him to a settlement of the difficulty. “The shells—the big oyster shells—the very things for us to sit upon, sister Nell.”

As he spoke, he stooped down and commenced turning over one of the shells of the immense bivalve—both of which had been hitherto lying with their concave side uppermost. It was nigh as much as the boy, still weak, could do to roll it over, though Helen, seeing the difficulty, laid hold with her little hands and assisted him.

Both the huge “cockles” were speedily capsized; and their convex surfaces rising nearly a foot above the level of the ground, gave the young people an excellent opportunity of getting seated.

Both sat down—each upon a shell—laughing at the odd kind of stools thus conveniently provided for them.

They had not been long in their sedentary attitude, when a circumstance occurred which told them how unsafe a position they had chosen. They were conversing without fear, when Henry all at once felt something strike him on the arm, and then, with a loud crash, drop down upon the shell close under his elbow, chipping a large piece out of it.

His first impression was that some one had thrown a stone at him. It had hit him on the arm, just creasing it; but on looking at the place where he had been hit, he saw that the sleeve of his jacket was split, or rather torn, from shoulder to elbow, as if a sharp-tooth curry-comb had been drawn violently along it. He felt pain, moreover, and saw blood upon his shirt underneath!

He looked quickly around to ascertain who had thus rudely assailed him—anxiously, too, for he was in some dread of seeing a savage spring from the bushes close by. On turning, he at once beheld the missile that had rent his jacket-sleeve lying on the sand beside him. It was no stone, but a round or slightly oval-shaped ball, as big as a ten-pound shot, of a deep-green colour, and covered all over with spurs like the skin of a hedgehog!

He at once saw that it had not been thrown at him by any person; for, with the sharp, prickly protuberances thickly set all over it, no one could have laid hand upon it. Clearly it had fallen from the tree overhead. Helen had perceived this sooner than he; for sitting a little way off, she had seen the huge ball drop in a perpendicular direction—though it had descended with the velocity of lightning.

Beyond doubt, it was some fruit or nut, from the tree under which they were seated. From the way in which the jacket-sleeve had suffered, as well as the skin underneath—to say nothing of the piece chipped out of the shell—it was evident, that had the ponderous pericarp fallen upon Henry’s skull, it would have crushed it as a bullet would the shell of an egg.

Young as the two were, they were not so simple as to stay in that spot an instant longer. On the tree that could send down such a dangerous missile there might be many more—equally ready to rain upon them—and with this apprehension both sprang simultaneously to their feet, and rushed out into the open ground, not stopping till they believed themselves quite clear of the overshadowing branches that so ill protected them. They looked back at the seats they had so abruptly vacated, and the green globe lying beside them, and then up to the tree; where they could see other similar large globes, only at such a vast height looking no bigger than peaches or apricots.

They did not dare to venture back to their seats, nor, although tempted by a strong curiosity to examine it, to approach the fallen fruit. In fact, the arm of Henry was badly lacerated; and his little sister, on seeing the blood upon his shirt sleeve, uttered an alarm that brought first Saloo, and then the others, affrighted to the spot.

“What is it?” were the interrogations of the two white men, as they came hurrying up, while the impressive Malay put none—at once comprehending the cause of the alarm. He saw the scratched arm, and the huge green globe lying upon the ground.

“Dulion!” he said, glancing up to the tree.

“Durion!” echoed the captain, pronouncing the word properly, as translated from Saloo’s pigeon English.

“Yes, cappen; foolee me no think of him befole. Belly big danger. It fallee on skull, skull go clashee clashee.”

This was evident without Saloo’s explanation. The lacerated arm and broken shell were evidences enough of the terrible effects that would have been produced had the grand pericarp in its downward descent fallen upon the heads of either of the children, and they all saw what a narrow escape Henry had of getting his “cocoa-nut” crushed or split open.


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