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Read Across Unknown South America Part 61

Across Unknown South America is a web novel completed by Arnold Henry Savage Landor.
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The minimum temperature during the night was 69 F. We slept in the boat, and were simply devoured by mosquitoes. The chief of the Indians who had been lent me by the Fiscal Agent became seriously ill during the night with a severe attack of fever. All my men, with no exception, also became ill, and were shivering with cold, owing to fever. The chief of the police, Luiz Perreira da Silva, who had been placed by Mr. Barretto in charge of the Indians who were to accompany me, in jumping from the boat that night on to the sh.o.r.e hurt his foot, the pain caused by that slight injury giving him also a severe attack of fever. So that of the entire crew there remained only two men in good health–viz. Mr. Julio Nery and myself.

Amid moans and groans we got the boat under way at 6.45 the next morning, the men paddling in a half-hearted manner. As the current was strong we drifted down fairly quickly in a northerly direction, the river there being in a perfectly straight line for some 8,000 m. The width of the river was 1,300 m.

Behind a little island on the left side, and approached through a circle of dangerous rocks, was the hut of a _seringueiro_ called Albuquerque, a man in the employ of Colonel Brazil, the greatest rubber trader on the river Tapajoz. We landed at that point and made preparations so that I could start at once on the journey on foot across the virgin forest.

The loads the men were to carry were not heavy–merely from 35 to 40 lb.

each–the heaviest load being the one I carried, so as to give a good example to my men. We had ample provisions to last us, with a little economy, three months. When the moment arrived to depart there was not one man who could stand up on his legs; the policeman with his injured foot could not even land from the boat, as it gave him so much pain. The chief of the Indians was so ill with the fever and the medicine he had taken that he really looked as if he might not survive. The other Indians refused to leave their chief; while the Indian Miguel, whom I had employed subsequently, flatly refused to come along. Much time was wasted talking, Mr. Nery, a fluent speaker, haranguing the men, who lay around helpless, holding their heads between their hands or rolling themselves on the ground.

It is extraordinary how many ailments fright can produce.

[Ill.u.s.tration: Where the Rivers Arinos-Juruena and S. Manoel meet.]

[Ill.u.s.tration: Jose Maracati, Chief of the Mundurucus, Tapajoz.]

The accounts of the forest which I had heard in the neighbourhood were most conflicting. It was really impossible to tell beforehand what the crossing overland between the Tapajoz and the Madeira River would be like. In order to encourage my own men I had once more increased their pay for the extra hard work I required of them on that occasion, and I promised them each a further present of money if they succeeded in carrying all the loads safely as far as the Madeira River.

They had agreed to do the work, but unfortunately they were the most unpractical men I have ever come across, and insisted on carrying the loads in a way which made it impossible for them to carry them for any long distance. For instance, one man insisted on carrying a heavy wooden packing-case slung on one side of the body just over the hip, in the fashion in which Italians carry barrel-organs in the streets of cities; another man suspended a case on his back by a strap which went round his neck, so that after a few minutes he was absolutely strangled; while Filippe the negro let his load hang so low that it would certainly cause a bad sore on his spine. I tried to teach them, but it was no use, as it only led to a row. Absolutely disgusted with the whole crowd of them, late that afternoon of August 26th I made ready to start on our difficult journey.


Starting across the Virgin Forest–Cutting the Way incessantly–A Rugged, Rocky Plateau–Author’s Men throw away the Supplies of Food–Attacked by Fever–Marching by Compa.s.s–Poisoned–Author’s Men break down–Author proceeds across Forest endeavouring to reach the Madeira River–A Dramatic Scene

BY three o’clock in the afternoon I had been able to induce the Indian Miguel, his friend the carrier, and three other Apiacar Indians to come along with us for a few days in order to carry the heavier packages as far as possible into the forest, so that I could spare my men.

It was some relief to me–although I saw plainly that we should surely have disaster sooner or later–when one after the other my men took up their loads and started off. I gave them the correct direction with the compa.s.s, almost due west; in fact, to make it easier for them I told them that afternoon to travel in the direction of the sun.

With Filippe the negro at the head my own men started off at a rapid pace, the others following, while I was at the tail of the procession in order to see that no stragglers remained behind. For a short distance we found an old _picada_ which went practically in the direction we wanted, so my men followed it, only cutting when necessary the vegetation which had grown up here and there.

I had only gone a few hundred metres when I saw the ground a little way off our track covered with some white substance. With my usual curiosity I went to see what it was, and found to my disgust a large quant.i.ty of rice which had evidently been scattered about there a few moments before.

A few yards farther was another patch of white upon the ground, as if it had snowed. A whole sack of flour had been emptied and scattered about in such a way that it could not be recovered.

I well knew what was happening. My men were throwing away everything in order to make the loads lighter. So relieved of the weight, they had got far ahead, while the Apiacar Indians who had remained behind were behaving in so strange a fashion that I had to stay in charge of them, so that they should not escape with the boxes of instruments and collections which they were carrying for me.

We went that afternoon some 6 kil. through fairly clean forest, barring a few obstacles such as huge, ancient, fallen trees, the insides of which were all rotted away or eaten up by ants. In one of the cavities of those trees I found another quant.i.ty of food which had been hidden by my men.

Hampered by the Indians, who were giving me no end of trouble as they refused to carry their loads, it took me some little time to catch up with my other men. When I did I found them all seated, smacking their lips. They were filling their mouths as fast as they could with handfuls of sugar. When I reprimanded them there was an unpleasant row. They said they were not beasts of burden, that men were not made to carry, and that therefore they had thrown away all the food. Under no circ.u.mstance would they carry loads any farther.

A great deal of tact and persuasion were required. Alcides had discarded nearly all the stuff he carried, and was one of the chief offenders on that occasion.

Matters looked bad. We camped that night near a little streamlet at the point where it had its birth. We still had plenty of food left, notwithstanding what they had thrown away. I warned them that if they threw away any more we should certainly all die of starvation. During the night one of the Indians ran away carrying with him a quant.i.ty of our provisions.

On August 27th I once more proceeded on the march westward, this time with no _picada_ at all to follow, but cutting our way all the time through the forest. Mr. Julio Nery, who had been sent with me, was an enthusiastic and brave man, but in trying to help made us waste a great deal of energy and time. After marching eight hours we had only gone 10 kil. in the right direction, having made many deviations in order to find what he called a more suitable way. We travelled occasionally over thickly wooded, slightly undulating country, but generally the land was flat.

[Ill.u.s.tration: Apiacar Boy.]

[Ill.u.s.tration: Apiacar Indian.]

In the afternoon, when we arrived at the foot of a small hill, we were caught in a drenching storm, the foliage letting the water down upon us in profusion. The walking became heavy. In order to make the loads lighter, my men had removed from the packages the waterproof coverings I had made for them from waterproof sheets. The result was that in that storm nearly our entire supply of salt–some 50 lb. of it–was lost. The powdered sugar, too, suffered considerably, and became a solid sticky ma.s.s.

We arrived at a stream 10 m. broad flowing from north to south, where we had to halt, as my men said they were absolutely exhausted and could not go another step. The water of that stream was simply delicious. We killed a monkey, which my men ate eagerly for dinner.

On August 28th we left that stream at eight o’clock. We were confronted by a succession of steep hills with vertical rocks of immense size, on the summit of which were great slabs also of rock, not unlike angular roofs of houses. It was most difficult, I confess, for my men to take the loads up and down those giant rocks, especially as there were many fallen trees among them and the rocks themselves were extremely slippery.

It would not do to repeat in these pages the language of my men as they scrambled up and rolled down the numerous rocks–falling so clumsily that they always managed to injure themselves more or less. I was sorry for my loads, especially the instruments, which got knocked about in a pitiful way.

We came across three distinct hill ranges of that type, over which we had to travel, the highest point being some 300 ft. above the level of the Tapajoz River. The last bit in particular of that hilly region was diabolically steep, with loose rocks which gave us no end of trouble. A beautiful little streamlet flowing east descended in cascades among those huge rocks. Eventually we reached the summit of the plateau, a huge flat expanse of dark red volcanic rock. My men were so tired that we had to camp on that elevation. Nothing but a few shrubs grew in the interstices of that great table of rock, which extended for several kilometres to the north. The barrier of rock, a spur of the great central plateau, was very interesting from a geological point of view.

On August 29th we again marched westward, cutting our way through the forest, and found two streamlets–one flowing south, the other north.

Late in the afternoon we arrived at a spot where there was another great ma.s.s of rock, most troublesome for us. My men were discontented, saying that when they agreed to march through the forest they had not agreed to march over rocks–as if I had placed these there on purpose to annoy them. They were extremely morose. I knew by their manner that I had fresh trouble in store.

In the centre of that second immense table of rock I found a few pools of putrid rain-water in cavities. My men wanted to halt there, but I induced them to march along in hopes of finding a stream at the bottom of the tableland. Unluckily we went on and on until the evening and we found no more water at all. Only a torrential shower came upon us during the night, and we were able to fill our cups with water to quench our thirst.

Men and baggage got soaked in that storm. The loads were much heavier to carry the next morning.

On August 30th, when I called the men in order to make a start, two of them were attacked severely by fever, their temperature being 103. They seemed to be in agony, and had no strength left.

Mr. Julio Nery said that his duties called him back to his post, and he must return with the Indians under his charge. He accompanied me up to lunch-time, when we all together had a hearty meal. After lunch I gave Mr. Nery and his men ample provisions to return to the river Tapajoz, where the boat was awaiting them. Not only that, but I presented Mr. Nery with a handsome rifle and a watch, in remembrance of his politeness to me. In order that he might have a pleasant journey back I also gave him the few tins of delicacies which I had brought for myself, the only four tins of condensed milk I had been able to obtain in S. Manoel, and a few tins of sardines which had remained from my provisions I had taken over from England, and which he liked very much.

It was a great trial to me to see how my men wasted food all the time.

When I examined the loads once more I found that nearly the entire supply of flour, _farinha_, rice, lard, and much of the tinned stuff had been thrown away. We had been marching four and a half days, and out of the three months’ provisions we only had food enough left to last us a few days.

With my reduced party of my six original men, the Indian Miguel and his friend the carrier–eight altogether–I started once more in a westerly direction, opening a _picada_–that is to say, cutting our way through the forest.

We crossed two streamlets flowing north. After that we came upon a most troublesome patch of swampy land with high reeds in it, the leaves of which cut our hands like razors when we forced our way through them, struggling in mud and slush up to our knees, sometimes as high as our waists. A streamlet flowing north formed the marsh in that low place. The moment we had got out of the marsh the men threw themselves down and said they could go no farther. I pointed out to them that that spot was most unhealthy, and tried to persuade them to go some distance from that pestilential place. But they would not listen to reason, and there they would stay.

Although I had offered them every possible inducement to come on–their original high pay had been practically trebled as long as the hard work should last–and I had treated them with the greatest consideration, yet they refused to come any farther. They said they had decided to go back.

In examining my loads I found that they had abandoned my s.e.xtant and other instruments in the forest, and it was only after a great deal of talking that I could induce the man X to go back with me to recover them, for which service he received an immediate present of one pound sterling.

As luck would have it, that evening my men shot a plump _jaho_ (_Crypturus notivagus_) and a large _mutum_ (_Crax pinima_), two enormous birds, most excellent to eat.

[Ill.u.s.tration: Apiacar Women.]

[Ill.u.s.tration: Apiacar Women.]

That camp was stifling, the moisture being excessive, and the miasma rising from the putrid water poisoning my men in a disastrous way. The drinking-water, too, from that swamp was full of germs of all sizes, so big that with the naked eye you could see hundreds of them in your cup.

We could not boil the water because all our matches had got wet. We wasted hundreds of them in trying to light a fire, but with no success. Flint and steel also proved useless, because the wood was also soaking wet and would not ignite.

August 31st was a painful day for me. Two of the men were badly laid up with fever, the others were most obnoxious. I had endless trouble in making them take up their loads and start once more. The man X said he would take the load which contained my instruments, but he would certainly leave it, as soon as he had an opportunity, concealed in a spot where it could not be found again. I told him in plain words that if he carried out his intention I would shoot him dead, and I would from that moment do the same to any other man who rebelled. I was surprised to find that the lot of them took their loads upon their shoulders and proceeded to march along as quietly as possible.

The Brazilian forest was–unlike the equatorial forest of Africa–comparatively clean underneath, there being very little undergrowth. It was quite easy to cut one’s way through if one knew how.

There was a great art in cutting one’s way through the forest. If you happened to know the way trees grew or liane were suspended, it was easy enough to cut them with one sharp blow of the large knives. But if you did not happen to know the formation of the trees and you struck them the wrong way, you had to hit them many times before you knocked them down.

The same thing and worse happened with liane, which could be severed easily with one stroke if it were applied the right way, but which wound round and entangled you in a merciless manner if hit at a wrong angle.

No observant person, however, experiences trouble in marching through the Brazilian forest, and if not hindered by impossible followers it would be quite easy to march long distances daily in any part of the forest without much inconvenience.


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