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Chapter Twenty One. Starting for the Interior.
Reclining on the soft silvery sand, inhaling the fresh morning breeze blowing in from the Celebes Sea, every breath of it seeming to infuse fresh blood into their veins and renewed vigour into their limbs, the castaways felt their health and strength fast returning. Saloo’s prognosis was rapidly proving itself correct. He had said they would soon recover, and they now acknowledged the truth of his prediction.

Their cheerfulness came back along with their returning strength, and with this also their appetites. Their dinner-supper of roast hornbill had done them little good; but although for a time scared by such diet, and determined to eschew it when better could be had, they were now only too glad to resort to it, and it was agreed upon that the old hen, stewed as intended, should supply the material of their breakfast.

A fresh fire was kindled far away from the dangerous upas; the huge shell, with its contents, was hastily snatched from the deadly shade, and, supported by four large pebbles to serve as feet for the queer stew-pan, it was placed over the burning embers, and soon commenced to steam and squeak, spreading around an odorous incense, far pleasanter to the olfactories of the hungry party than either the fresh saline breeze, or the perfume of tropical flowers now and then wafted to them from the recesses of the forest.

While waiting for the flesh of the old hen to get properly and tenderly stewed, they could not resist the temptation of making an assault upon the chick; and it, too, was hurriedly rescued from the tainted larder beneath the upas-tree, spitted upon a bamboo sapling, and broiled like a squab-pigeon over the incandescent brands.

It gave them only a small morsel each, serving as a sort of prelude to the more substantial breakfast soon to follow, and for which they could now wait with greater composure.

In due time Saloo, who was wonderfully skilled in the tactics of the forest cuisine, pronounced the stew sufficiently done; when the stew-pan was lifted from the fire, and set in the soft sand for its contents to cool.

Soon gathering around it, each was helped to a share: one to a wing with liver or gizzard, another to a thigh-joint with a bit of the breast, a third to the stripped breast-bone, or the back one, with its thin covering of flesh, a fourth to a variety of stray giblets.

There was still a savoury sauce remaining in the pan, due to the herb condiments which Saloo had collected. This was served out in some tin pannikins, which the castaway crew had found time to fling into the boat before parting from the sinking ship. It gave them a soup, which, if they could only have had biscuits or bread with it, would have been quite as good as coffee for their breakfast.

As soon as this was eaten, they took steps to change their place of encampment. Twice unfortunate in the selection of a site, they were now more particular, and carefully scrutinised the next tree under whose shadow they intended to take up their abode. A spreading fig not far off invited them to repose beneath its umbrageous foliage; and removing their camp paraphernalia from the poison-breathing; upas, they once more erected the tarpaulin, and recommenced housekeeping under the protecting shelter of a tree celebrated in the Hindu mythology as the “sacred banyan.”

            “It was a goodly sight to see

                That venerable tree

    For o’er the lawn, irregularly spread.

    Fifty straight columns propt its lofty head;

        And many a long depending shoot,

            Seeking to strike its root,

    Straight like a plummet grew towards the ground.

    Some on the lower boughs which crost their way,

    Fixing their bearded fibres, round and round,

    With many a ring and wild contortion wound;

    Some to the passing wind at times, with sway

            Of gentle motion swung;

    Others of younger growth, unmoved, were hung

    Like stone-drops from a cavern’s fretted height.”

The banyan often measures thirty feet in girth; the one selected by Captain Redwood was probably not less than twenty-five feet. Its peculiarity is that it throws out roots from all its branches, so that as fast as each branch, in growing downwards, touches the ground, it takes root, and in due time serves as a substantial prop to the horizontal bough, which, without some such support, would give way beneath its own weight.

They intended it for only a temporary dwelling-place, until their strength should be sufficiently established to enable them to start on their contemplated overland journey, with a prospect of being able to continue it to its end.

It seemed, at length, as if fortune, hitherto so adverse, had turned a smiling face toward them; and they were not much longer to be detained upon that wild and dangerous shore. For the same day on which they removed from the upas to the fig-tree, the latter furnished them with an article of food in sufficient quantity to stock their larder for nearly a week, and of a quality superior in strengthening Captain Redwood sent a bullet through the lizard powers to either roast or stewed hornbill, and quite equal to the eggs of the mound-making birds.

It was not the fruit of the fig that had done this; but an animal they had discovered crawling along one of its branches. It was a reptile of that most hideous and horrid shape, the saurian; and only the hungriest man could ever have looked upon, with thoughts of eating it. But Saloo felt no repugnance of this kind; he knew that the huge lizard creeping along the limb of the banyan-tree, over five feet long, and nearly as thick as the body of a man, would afford flesh not only eatable, but such as would have been craved for by Apicius, had the Roman epicure ever journeyed through the islands of the Malayan Archipelago, and found an opportunity of making trial of it.

What they saw slowly traversing the branch above them was one of those huge lizards of the genus Hydrosaurus, of which there are several species in Indian climes—like the iguanas of America—harmless creatures, despite their horrid appearance, and often furnishing to the hunter or forester a meal of chops and steaks both tender and delicious.

With this knowledge of what it would afford them, Saloo had no difficulty in persuading Captain Redwood to send a bullet through the skull of the hydrosaurus, and it soon lay lifeless upon the ground.

The lizard was nigh six feet from snout to tail; and Saloo, assisted by Murtagh, soon slipped a piece of his vegetable rope around its jaws, and slung it up to a horizontal branch for the purpose of skinning it. Thus suspended, with limbs and arms sticking out, it bore a very disagreeable resemblance to a human being just hanged. Saloo did not care anything about this, but at once commenced peeling off its skin; and then he cut the body into quarters, and subdivided them into “collops,” which were soon sputtering in the blaze of a bright fire. As the Malay had promised, these proved tender, tasting like young pork steaks, with a slight flavour of chicken, and just a soupçon of frog. Delicate as they were, however, after three days’ dieting upon them all felt stronger—almost strong enough, indeed, to commence their grand journey.

Just then another, and still more strengthening, kind of food was added to their larder. It was obtained by a mere accident, in the form of a huge wild boar of the Bornean species, which, scouring the forest in search of fruits or roots, had strayed close to their camp under the fig-tree. He came too close for his own safety; a bullet from Captain Redwood’s rifle having put an abrupt stop to his “rootings.”

Butchered in proper scientific fashion, he not only afforded them food for the time in the shape of pork chops, roast ribs, and the like; but gave them a couple of hams, which, half-cooked and cured by smoking, could be carried as a sure supply upon the journey.

And so provisioned, they at length determined on commencing it, taking with them such articles of the wreck-salvage as could be conveniently transferred, and might prove beneficial. Bidding adieu to the pinnace, the dear old craft which had so safely carried them through the dangers of the deep, they embarked on a voyage of a very different kind, in the courses of which they were far less skilled, and of whose tracks and perils they were even more apprehensive. But they had no other alternative. To remain on the eastern coast of Borneo would be to stay there for ever. They could not entertain the slightest hope of any ship appearing off shore to rescue them. A vessel so showing itself would be, in all probability, a prau filled with bloodthirsty pirates, who would either kill or make captives of them, and afterwards sell them into slavery: and a slavery from which no civilised power could redeem them, as no civilised man might ever see them in their chains.

It was from knowing this terrible truth that Captain Redwood had resolved upon crossing the great island overland at that part where he supposed it to be narrowest,—the neck lying between its eastern coast and the old Malayan town of Bruni on the west, adjacent to the islet of Labuan, where he knew an English settlement was situated.

In pursuance of this determination, he struck camp, and moved forward into a forest of unknown paths and mysterious perils.


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