Page:Picturesque New Guinea.djvu/110

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PICTURESQUE NEW GUINEA.

comparing it with similar scenery viewed in bygone times in far-off lands, one might for an instant believe oneself transported thither, but a glance at our dusky companions at once brought us back to reality, and made us feel that we were actually in New Guinea.

The sun was sinking behind the mountains, and it was time to begin to think of pitching camp for the night. A conference between our leader and the chief of our carriers led to the selection of a spot on the banks of the Laloki, distant about two miles in a northerly direction. The march, although but a short one, was terribly trying, both to the horses and their riders. It was a descent along the whole course; the tall grass hid numberless loose boulders, making progress both difficult and dangerous, and compelling us to dismount and walk. Besides this, there were many rugged gullies with steep precipitous sides to cross, bearing testimony to the fury of the tropical rains from the north-west quarter. The light-footed and accustomed carriers found no difficulty in crossing these perilous mountain chasms, but it was needful for the rest of the party to make frequent detours with the horses. These sagacious animals plodded steadily on, although at times their only foothold was the almost perpendicular bank of the river, densely covered with the thick foliage of the wild vine and rattan, and amidst fallen trees and gnarled roots, forming what might fairly be termed an impenetrable jungle.

At length, about five o'clock, we reached a dry creek, some twenty yards wide, with a smooth sandy bottom. The spot struck me as being just the place for a snug encampment, and so I remarked to my guide. Hunter smiled drily, and turning to the carriers, held a brief colloquy with them in their own language. In an instant all faces were turned upon me, and I could see by their looks and gestures that the party were pretty generally of opinion that I was, to put it mildly, a harmless lunatic at large. Then our leader calmly explained to me that the natives dreaded the spot, just on account of its inviting appearance and its gentle slope towards the river. This latter advantage made it, in fact, a favourite resort of alligators, which unpleasant reptiles would almost certainly, if we were to camp there, pay us a visit of inspection