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Chapter Eighteen. Sick after Supper.
It was near upon sundown when the roast fowl was taken from the spit, carved, and distributed among them. The fire over which they had cooked it was close to the trunk of the tree under whose shade they intended to pass the night. It was not the one they had chosen after being driven from the durion, but another, with far-spreading branches and green glossy leaves growing thickly upon them, which promised a better protection from the dews of the night. They needed this, as they had not yet thought of erecting any other roof. The only thing in the shape of shelter they had set up was the tarpaulin, spread awning fashion over four uprights, which held it at the four corners; but this was barely sufficient to furnish the two young people with a sleeping-place.

After removing the roast fowl from the spit, they had not permitted their fire to die out. On the contrary, Murtagh, in whose charge it was, threw on some fresh faggots. They intended keeping it up through the night, not to scare away wild beasts, for, as already said, they had no fear of these; but because the atmosphere toward midnight usually became damp and chilly, and they would need the fire to keep them warm.

It was quite sunset by the time they had finished eating the roast hornbill, and as there is but little twilight under or near the equator, the darkness came down almost instantaneously. By the light of the blazing faggots they picked the bones of the bird, and picked them clean. But they had scarce dropped the drumsticks and other bones out of their fingers, when one and all fell violently sick.

A sensation of vertigo had been growing upon them, which, as soon as the meal was over, became nausea, and shortly after ended in vomiting. It was natural they should feel alarmed. Had only one been ill, they might have ascribed the illness to some other cause; but now, when all five were affected at the same time, and with symptoms exactly similar, they could have no other belief than that it was owing to what they had eaten, and that the flesh of the hornbill had caused their sickness—perhaps poisoned them.

Could this be? Was it possible for the flesh of a bird to be poisonous? Was that of a hornbill so? These questions were quickly asked of one another, but more especially addressed to Saloo. The Malay did not believe it was. He had eaten hornbills before, and more than once; had seen others eat them; but had never known or heard of the dish being followed by symptoms similar to those now affecting and afflicting them.

The bird itself might have eaten something of a poisonous nature, which, although it had not troubled its own stomach, acted as an emetic upon theirs. There was some probability in this conjecture; at all events the sufferers thought so for a time, since there seemed no other way of accounting for the illness which had so suddenly seized upon them.

At first they were not so very greatly alarmed, for they could not realise the idea that they had been absolutely poisoned. A little suffering and it would be all over, when they would take good care not to eat roast hornbill again. No, nor even stewed or broiled; so that now the old hen and her young one were no longer looked upon as so much provision ahead. Both would be thrown away, to form food for the first predatory creature that might chance to light upon them.

As time passed, however, and the sufferers, instead of feeling relieved, only seemed to be growing worse—the vertigo and nausea continuing, while the vomiting was renewed in frequent and violent attacks—they at length became seriously alarmed, believing themselves poisoned to death.

They knew not what to do. They had no medicine to act as an antidote; and if they had been in possession of all the drugs in the pharmacopoeia, they would not have known which to make use of. Had it been the bite of a venomous snake or other reptile, the Malay, acquainted with the usual native remedies, might have found some herbaceous balsam in the forest; though in the darkness there would have been a difficulty about this, since it was now midnight, and there was no moon in the sky—no light to look for anything. They could scarcely see one another, and each knew where his neighbours lay only by hearing their moans and other exclamations of distress.

As the hours dragged on wearily, they became still more and more alarmed. They seriously believed that death was approaching. A terrible contemplation it was, after all they had passed through; the perils of shipwreck, famine, thirst; the danger of being drowned; one of them escaping from a hideous reptile; another from the coils of a serpent; a third from having his skull cracked in by a fallen fruit, and afterwards split open by the beak of an angry bird. Now, after all these hairbreadth perils and escapes, to be poisoned by eating the flesh of this very bird—to die in such simple and apparently causeless fashion; though it may seem almost ridiculous, it was to them not a whit the less appalling. And appalled they were, as time passed, and they felt themselves growing worse instead of better. They were surely poisoned—surely going to die.


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