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The boy looked full in the speaker’s face, thrust his hands into the pockets of his brown linen trousers, and began to whistle softly.
“There, good-bye, Wilson. The sun will soon be overpowering, and I want to get on.”
“Well, you’ve got the tide to help you for the next three hours. Sorry you’re going. I’ll take great care of the specimens you send down. You can trust any of the boat-people—they know me so well. Any fellow coming down with rice or tin will bring a box or basket. God bless you both! Good-bye!”
There was a warm hand-shaking.
“Take care of yourself, Ned, my boy, and don’t let your uncle work you too hard.—Good-bye, my lads. Take great care of the sahibs.”
The Malay boatmen seemed to have suddenly wakened up, and they sprang to their places, responded with a grave smile to the merchant’s adjuration, pushed off the boat, and in a few minutes were rowing easily out into the full tide, whose muddy waters flowed like so much oil up past the little settlement, upon whose wharf the white figure of the merchant could be seen in the brilliant sunshine waving his hand. Then, as the occupants of the boat sat in the shade of their palm-leaf awning, they saw a faint blue smoke arise, as he lit a cigar and stood watching the retiring party. The house, huts, and stores about the little wharf began to grow distant and look toy-like, the shores to display the dull, green fringe of mangrove, with its curiously-arched roots joining together where the stem shot up, and beneath which the muddy water glided, whispering and lapping. And then the oars creaked faintly, as the boat was urged more and more out into mid-stream, till the shore was a quarter of a mile away; and at last the silence was broken by the boy, whose face was flushed with excitement, as he stood gazing up the smooth river, while they glided on and on through what seemed to be one interminable winding grove of dull-green trees; for he made the calm, grave, dark-skinned boatmen start and look round for danger.