Page:Picturesque New Guinea.djvu/115

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37
FIRST EXCURSION IN NEW GUINEA.

during the night, "with an ultimate purpose of having an unusually fine feast. Accordingly, a spot in the scrub about twenty feet above the smooth bed of the creek, was selected, which the natives at once set about clearing, prior to erecting a calico fly tent, kindly lent us by the missionaries. Whilst some were driving in stakes others lit fires, and others again went down to the river for water, taking cautious care not to wade in farther than was just necessary to fill their vessels. By this time the sun had sunk behind Mount Vedura, the short twilight of the tropics had darkened to nightfall, and our evening meal—tinned provisions and tea—was ready. Needless to say, we enjoyed it heartily, for we were both tired and hungry, although our day's journey had covered no greater distance than about twenty miles.

The impulse to "turn in" instanter was checked by the strange novelty of the scene and circumstances. Accustomed as I was to wandering in the unsettled regions of new colonies, I could almost fancy myself in another planet. The hammocks of myself and my assistant were slung beneath the calico roof. Hunter spread his blanket on the bare ground, the lamp was lit, and our leader entertained us with many "yarns" of his previous expeditions. The adventures of Captain Armit and his party were narrated in detail; the pathetic circumstances attending poor Professor Denton's death were told with feeling; how the whole party, with the exception of Hunter himself, were struck down by sickness; how painfully difficult a task it was to get the sick men conveyed to the coast; how fiercely insolent the natives became when the white men were prostrate and helpless; all these and other incidents were vividly and powerfully described. Hour after hour passed by, and still we sat listening, held by the spell of the adventurous explorer, and losing all sense of weariness in the interest of his story. A heavy fall of rain, which had been threatening since sunset, at length broke up the party, and sent us to our hammocks. But just before turning in, the natives (who had crowded round our tent for shelter), through their leader made a request to Hunter. Laughingly turning to me, he remarked, "Do you know what these fellows are asking?" I pleaded ignorance. "They want me to fire off my gun to frighten the