Tuesday, 3 April 2012
The Lost Mine -Part1
This may be familiar to Verrill’s readers that have read the book ‘Thirty Years in the Jungle’ as it appears to be almost a complete copy of that section of the book (chapters 15 and 16.) This selection is just part 1 of a two part story.
The Lost Mine
By A. Hyatt Verrill
Out of the Past, from The Wide World magazine, June 1952 (UK Edition) (and republished from 1929 edition). Digitized by Doug Frizzle, April 2012
Somewhere in the little-known interior of Panama, lost to the sight of civilized men for centuries, lies Tisingal, reputed to be one of the richest gold-mines ever worked by the Spaniards when they ruled the New World. Many expeditions have set out to seek the vanished bonanza, but all have ended in failure and disaster. When the Author went into the jungle to study the wild Indians everybody assumed he was in search of the mysterious Tisingal, and before long he found himself involved in some very strange experiences. We originally published this story in 1929.
THE jolting, rocking banana-train dropped us at the last outlying station at the end of the line. I say "station," but the place was far from being worthy of that appellation. Beside the uneven, weed-grown tracks stood a tiny hut of corrugated iron. Beyond this lay a half-acre of partly-cleared land, and in the centre of the clearing was a ramshackle, unpainted building of roughly-hewn planks raised a few feet above the soggy, rain-soaked earth. This was the "store," canteen, and trading-post in one—the last outpost of "civilization" in that wild tropical land.
Lounging about the "station" and "store" were half a dozen ragged, filthy, unshaven, and dull-eyed peons, while several semi-civilized Indians squatted motionless in the shade of the buildings. Bedraggled black vultures hopped half-heartedly about the compound, hopelessly searching for chance scraps of offal. Mangy dogs skulked everywhere, and two rat-tailed, mud-covered native pack-horses stood shivering, with drooping heads, in the descending torrents of rain.
As we alighted and our dunnage was tossed into the partial shelter of the "station," a burly figure appeared in the doorway of the store and came splashing through the black mud toward us. Thick-set, broad-shouldered, bull-necked, with a mottled, bloated face covered with a stubble of beard and topped by a mop of reddish hair, he was far from a prepossessing-looking character. He introduced himself as Señor Anastasio Toro, and informed me that he was the agent, manager, commandante, alcalde (mayor), store-keeper, and proprietor combined.
As is so often the case, Señor Toro's character belied his looks. He proved a most genial and good-natured fellow, a bit of a braggart and boaster, perhaps, but kindly, friendly, and hospitable. Bellowing to the peons, he roused them from their semi-somnolent state, ordered them to shoulder our luggage, and led the way through the mud to the store.
The door gave entrance to an immense, bare room, with dingy whitewashed walls. On one side was a high plank counter littered with odds and ends of everything from patent medicines to cheap jewellery; behind this were shelves piled high with calico, blankets, cotton cloth, and bandana handkerchiefs.
Saddles, guns, rope, hats, lanterns, and countless other articles hung from hooks in the ceiling; and piled in confusion upon the floor and in corners were deer and ox-hides, rubber "biscuits," cacao, coconuts, dried fish, Indian baskets, and a thousand and one jungle products. On the opposite side was a roughly-made bar behind which an oily-haired, yellow-skinned Chinese bartender was serving fiery rum to a group of wild-looking, fiercely-bewhiskered, sandal-shod fellows in rubber-coated cotton ponchos.
Shouting boisterously but good-naturedly, Señor Toro shoved the customers aside, vaulted over the bar, and produced glasses and an unopened bottle of Scotch whisky. Keeping up a running fire of questions, all roared as if everyone within hearing were deaf, our host served the drinks. Then, without ceasing his interrogations to enable me to reply, he led us across the room and up a flight of rickety stairs. Here, with an all-embracing wave of his arms, he invited us to take our pick of the rooms, and, in response to a shout from below, rushed off.
A brief tour of exploration proved there was little choice so far as our temporary quarters were concerned. The four rooms opening from the hall-way were all equally dirty. The rain rattled like musketry upon the corrugated iron roof and spattered into the open, shutterless windows; but the place at least offered shelter. So, selecting the least draughty and rubbish-piled of the four rooms, I changed my sodden clothes for dry garments, bundled the filthy bedding into a corner, spread my own blankets on the cot, and—with the help of Tom, my black camp-boy—brought something resembling order out of the chaos.
We were interrupted by Toro's bellow summoning us to dinner, and descended to find him awaiting us in a cubby-hole that was evidently dining-room and kitchen combined. Planks laid across saw-horses served as a table, and were covered with a piece of fresh cotton cloth, on which cracked dishes and cheap steel cutlery were piled hit-or-miss. There were huge piles of native bread, mounds of violent orange-coloured tinned butter, an immense kettle of steaming black coffee, and a battered gallon tin of thick sancoche, or native stew.
Upon the grill above the smoky clay stove a loin of venison was broiling, and from the oven of a rusty oil range Señor Toro raked sweet potatoes and plantains. But, despite surroundings and appearances, the meal proved excellent, and I complimented friend Toro upon his culinary skill. This pleased him immensely; he fairly beamed. "Nothing like being able to do everything for oneself," he roared. "No women messing about here! Has the Señor observed? Here am I, keeping house as well as you please; me myself chamber-maid, mozo, and cook. Why should I want servants? And women! Ah, Señor, one never knows where one is with women about!
"Three things there are which one can never count on—a woman, a cat, and a pigeon. One thinks one has them, that they are tame, and then, first thing—Psst!—one finds them as wild and savage as ever. Is it not so, Señor? I myself, Señor Anastasio Toro, know! But how of yourself, amigo mio? You tell me you come here to search for Indios. So be it, Señor, if you would have it that way." Here he winked and grimaced knowingly.
"But between ourselves, my friend, you cannot deceive Don Anastasio. It is Tisingal you seek! Men have come here saying they searched for rubber, for oil, for timber, for land— all sorts of things. But never before has one come searching for Indians, and I know well that all of you are looking for Tisingal!"
It was useless trying to convince him to the contrary. To his mind strangers would only visit this out-of-the-way spot for one purpose— to seek the lost Tisingal Mine, the golden will-o'-the-wisp that had defied all investigators for centuries, and whose secret was still guarded by the vast, impenetrable jungle stretching northward for hundreds of miles through Panama and Costa Rica.
Somewhere within that wild, unmapped region, in the fastnesses of those mighty forest-covered mountain ranges, lay the vanished bonanza which, if we are to believe the old records and stories, was the richest mine in all New Spain.
A fascinatingly romantic story is that of Tisingal. Discovered soon after the Spanish Conquest, Tisingal was famed as the most fabulously rich of all the rich gold mines of the New World. A road was built to it, and a great dam and waterwheels erected to operate the crude mills. A town sprang up, and a chapel was built in whose tower hung a bronze bell specially sent overseas from Spain.
To protect the mine from the buccaneers and other enemies of the Dons, a fort was erected commanding the only road to Tisingal, and—with incredible labour—great guns were mounted behind the stockade. For many years the Spaniards drew vast fortunes from the mine. Countless mule-loads of gold were shipped to the river, carried down to the sea, and transported in stately galleons to Spain.
Thousands of Indian slaves toiled under the lash at Tisingal, and as they died off raiding-parties brought in new captives to take their places. But at last came retribution. The Indians far outnumbered the Spaniards, and suddenly, without warning, they revolted. The Dons were overpowered and massacred to the last man, the buildings and fort destroyed and burned, the mine and road obliterated. By the time knowledge of what had occurred reached the outlying world, Nature had done her part and the rank, quick-growing tropic jungle had concealed every vestige of man's handiwork.
For years the Spaniards sought to re-discover Tisingal. But the vengeful Indians lurked in the jungles, the seekers were driven off or killed, and finally the mine became merely a name and a memory. A century or so later, a white man was made captive by hostile Indians. But the chief's daughter fell in love with him, his life was spared, and he married the princess. Eventually he succeeded in inducing her to leave her tribe and return with him to civilization.
As she guided him through the mountains he came upon the ruins of the long-lost mine. From a mass of quartz rotten with virgin gold he hacked a sliver of the precious metal with his machete. There was no time to stop for more; already the tribesmen were hot upon the fugitives' trail. But the two escaped and reached the settlements in safety. There the fellow told his story and showed the fragment of gold. Memories of Tisingal were revived; an expedition was fitted out, and, guided by the Indian girl, started for Tisingal. Not a single man ever returned!
Another century passed, and then two rubber-gatherers, wandering in the jungle, became lost. As they cut their way through the tangled vegetation one of their machetes rang upon metal. Investigating, they found an ancient, corroded bronze bell. They were far too intent upon discovering a way out, however, to bother with bells, and they had never heard of Tisingal.
When, at last, they reached civilization and related their experience, the older inhabitants remembered the story of the lost mine and identified the bell as that of the chapel at Tisingal. Once more a search-expedition went out, but, as before, no man came back to tell the fate of the party.
From time to time, during the ensuing years, explorers have gone out seeking Tisingal, but few have returned and none has been successful. Some died of fever, others fell to the poisoned arrows of hostile Indians; yet others met with unknown deaths, and to this day the ancient mine remains hidden from civilized man somewhere within the mountain forests.
Little wonder, therefore, that Señor Toro was convinced I, too, must be in search of Tisingal. That anyone in his sane senses should be looking for Indians, and be willing to undergo all sorts of hardships and perils just for the purpose of scientific study, was quite beyond his comprehension. Accordingly I abandoned trying to convince him that Tisingal held no interest for me, and fell to questioning him about the jungle, the waterways, and the Indians.
Shaking his head, he declared it would be impossible for me to travel by river into the Indian territory. There were certainly Indians in that country—untamed, uncivilized tribes. How many? That he could not say. Who were they? "Quien sabe?" (Who knows?) Some, he knew, were Terribis—good enough fellows for Indians, and peaceful if left alone. But they resented strangers entering their country.
He knew some of them personally; he had traded with them, met them on the river and in the bush, and visited a few of their nearer villages. But he had never been to their headquarters—the home of their cacique, or king—and he had no wish to attempt it. He had no desire to find a poisoned arrow in his back, and Indians were always uncertain and unreliable.
Obviously Toro was not an adventurous soul, but I could scarcely blame him, for the Indians, apart from the miserable semi-civilized vagabonds near the settlements, cherish no love for folk of Spanish ancestry; while seldom actually hostile, they do not encourage visiting Panamanians.
Nor was Señor Toro's ignorance of the aborigines of the district at all surprising. Rarely indeed do the dwellers in the settlements know anything definite regarding the jungle tribes. The Indians may at times visit the outposts of civilization to trade or barter; occasionally they are met upon the rivers, but they remain shy and aloof, and even if they understand or speak broken Spanish they pretend ignorance of the language.
Toro had stated that some of the Indians were Terribis, but he had little idea of their racial stock or their habits and customs, and I felt sure that even if there were no other tribes in the district I should find a rich field for study once I reached the Terribi villages. But this, Toro insisted, would be impossible.
In the first place, he averred, I should not be able to get men to accompany me. No peon of the district, he vowed, would care to leave that apology for civilization and go into Indian-inhabited jungles. In the second place, even if I could secure men, I could not obtain a canoe, for the only craft available were the big dugout cayucas of the local banana-growers.
Finally, to clinch the matter, he reminded me that it was now only the beginning of the rainy season; the rivers and streams were all low and would be impassable for a canoe. Should I, by some miracle, succeed in ascending the rivers, a torrential downpour might bring on a flood that would destroy us all.
The outlook, as he pictured it, was neither promising nor encouraging. During my many years' experience in Latin America, however, I had learned to discount natives' statements; I had always found that where there's a will there's a way. I had discovered, moreover, that money will often work wonders, even in places where it appears to have little value.
My usual luck did not desert me. By the time dinner was over the rain had ceased, the sun was setting in a blaze of gold beyond the green-clad hills, birds were chirping and singing in the dripping trees, and flocks of noisy parrots and macaws were winging overhead with hoarse, raucous voices. It was too inviting to remain indoors, so, accompanied by the faithful Tom, I picked my way across the quagmire of a clearing, reached firm ground beyond the crazy, irregular railway tracks, and strolled toward the river.
Between its steep clay banks, with their crest of bananas and trees, the great stream flowed majestically in an eddying brown flood. In one respect, Toro had not exaggerated. The river was low, for sand-bars showed above the water in many places, and scores of huge crocodiles were basking in the last rays of the setting sun.
A STROKE OF LUCK
Presently, from around an outjutting point, a cayuca appeared, its two occupants steering the craft with their paddles as it drifted with the current toward where we stood. When its bow grated upon the bank the nearer man leaped ashore—a gigantic, coal-black Negro in patched and ragged garments.
Feeling sure he could give me definite information as to the state of the river, I greeted him and put my query. The fellow grinned, doffed his hat, and returned my greeting. "But why does the Americano wish to know of the river?" he asked, ignoring my question. "Does he think of going in search of Tisingal?"
Evidently the lost mine was uppermost in everyone's mind!
"No," I replied. "I wish to visit the Indians—the Terribis and others. Señor Toro tells me it is impossible; he declares no man here will accompany me. They all fear the Indians, I shall not be able to obtain a canoe, and the rivers are too low."
The Negro threw back his head and roared with laughter. "So!" he exclaimed. "Thereby Señor Toro proves himself a great liar and a greater fool. Of a truth he would not dare to go—he has good reason! And neither would these sons of Panama pigs who think themselves men. As for the cayuca, he is right; there is not a canoe fit to travel in this accursed spot. But if the Señor wishes—and will pay—I, Jesus Maria de Cordova, of the Cauca, will accompany you. And there is no better cayuca than mine in a hundred leagues. Is it not so, compaisano mio?" He turned to his companion for confirmation.
The latter, a slim, muscular, lithe-limbed half-breed, showed his teeth in a delightful grin. "Si, si, compaisano," he exclaimed, nodding his head. "And it would be a journey after my own heart," he added. "When do we start, Señor Americano?"
"As soon as possible," I replied. "But how about the water? Can your cayuca make it?"
"Señor," answered the Negro, "for twenty years—ever since I left the Cauca, when by the will of God the cause of General Gonzales failed and I cared not to be shot for a rebel—I have travelled up and down this river. I know its ways as well as I know the ways of my own wife, and—"
"In that case, compaisano, thou knowest nothing of it!" chuckled the other.
"Be still, Pepe," commanded the Negro loftily. "Interrupt not thy betters when they are speaking to an American caballero! But the ways of the river I know, and though it is certainly low, and doubtless the smaller streams are still lower, yet will I carry you and your mozo through. Of a truth, yes, even if I have to carry you upon my back. But what of the pay, Señor?"
I laughed. "And the more the pay the easier will be the going, I suppose?"
Cordova grinned and scratched his woolly head. "In a way, yes," he admitted. "But a thousand, even five thousand pesos could not make the going easy. I leave the amount to you, Señor; it matters not so much to us. So seldom do we earn an honest peso—"
"Or one not so honest," interrupted the irrepressible Pepe.
"Si, thou art right," continued the other. "Honest or not, the pesos we earn are so few that we have all but forgotten how they look. Here we seldom use money, Señor. We trade; and that robber and liar, Toro, cheats us and keeps us in debt. Give us enough to buy clothes, Señor, and to leave something with the Señora while we are gone."
"Perhaps two pesos a day for each of you?" I suggested.
"But the cayuca, Señor!" pleaded the Negro. "Surely a peseta a day for such a fine cayuca! And the risk is so great."
"Bueno!" I exclaimed. "Two pesos apiece for you, and a peseta for the cayuca; you furnish your own food. And now, to seal the bargain, take this and go to the cantina and drink to our journey."
As I spoke I handed the Negro a half-dollar.
“Señor Americano, I give you ten thousand thanks," exclaimed Cordova, with a low bow. "Truly it is the will of God that brought me and Pepe to this spot to-night! I go to drink to your health and the cursing of your enemies, Señor."
When Tom and I returned to the store, Cordova and Pepe were still drinking, meanwhile boasting of being tough Colombians who were not afraid of Indians, jungles, or anything else. The few natives present were half-heartedly trying to argue in their own favour, while Toro, bellowing like a bull as usual, was swearing that if anything happened to me, he, as local representative of the Government, would he held responsible, and that he forbade Cordova to undertake the trip.
"Por Dios!" shouted the big Negro, waving his drink and glaring savagely. "Am I a pig of a Panamanian, to obey you? Carrajo, Don Anastasio, the Señor Americano will have something to say as well. Think you he is one to be ordered to do this or that by such as you?" "Patron!" he cried, turning to me. "El Toro yonder forbids me to take you up the river. Is it not a joke, then?"
"Very much of a joke," I assured him. "But Señor Toro means well, and I absolve him of blame. I take all risks. You see, Señor Toro, I have found my men and the cayuca. We start at daybreak to-morrow."
"May You Go With God, Señor!"
Toro spread his hands and shrugged his shoulders in a gesture of hopeless resignation. "Bueno," he exclaimed. "The Señor will do as he will. I have done my duty. But the Señor, I know, goes to his death. No one has ever sought Tisingal and returned."
"But I am not seeking Tisingal," I reminded him.
"Then, Señor" he declared solemnly, "you are mad. But all Gringos are mad! Let us drink to your safe return, though I fear it will not be. But may you go with God, Señor."
It is one thing to plan starting a trip at daybreak and quite another thing to do so. My Colombians' overnight libations made them sleepy. Rain was falling steadily again, and there were innumerable small matters to be attended to and countless articles to be purchased—after much haggling by my boatman. By the time everything was ready and we at last embarked it was nearer noon than dawn.
Everyone in the neighbourhood—which is not saying much—came to the riverside to see us off, and I could not help laughing at the woebegone expression on Toro's face as he shook hands in farewell and, with bared head—as though already attending my funeral—repeated gloomily: "May you go with God!"
Within a few hours I began to feel that perhaps friend Toro had been right after all. The river shoaled rapidly, and soon Cordova and Pepe were forced to forgo paddles and pole the cayuca upstream. But if the water was low it had one advantage; there was little current, and we made fairly rapid progress. Moreover, it was still raining steadily, and there was every prospect of the waters rising and not falling as we proceeded.
By sundown we had travelled many miles and reached the first rapids. Here the canoe was run ashore at the edge of a great park-like savannah dotted with groves of trees, with the mountains rising in the background. It was a lovely spot in which to camp, but no camp was needed as it turned out, for my Negro's home was close at hand. Though merely a thatched cane hut, it was neat and clean. With the air of a grandee, Cordova informed me that his house and all it contained were mine.
By daybreak the following morning we were off once more, but several hours were consumed in getting the heavily-loaded cayuca through the rapids. These, though not dangerous, were swift, and so shallow that the craft had to be half-lifted and half-forced through the broken water.
Then the punting recommenced, and for hour after hour we worked steadily upstream, Cordova, with consummate skill, picking the deeper portions of the river, until at noon we came to a fork where two streams joined. We were now in jungle country, with great trees rising above the banks and impenetrable bush stretching away on every side. The left-hand stream was far the larger and more promising of the two, but Cordova declared that it dwindled rapidly and that no Indians dwelt about its headwaters, whereas the right-hand branch, which rose in the far distant mountains, led to the Indian country.
As we proceeded up this, however, even Cordova admitted that the rivers were far lower than he had imagined. Almost at once we came to rapids—a mile-long stretch of broken, rushing water through which the cayuca had to be forced by main strength. Throughout the afternoon we did little more than push the craft upstream through rapid after rapid until, exhausted, soaked through and through, and with aching muscles, we decided to call it a day, making camp in a grove of giant bamboos.
But the worst was yet to come. A few hours after breaking camp next morning the stream dwindled to a mere rill flowing through the wide, deep river-bed of smooth, water-worn cobbles and boulders. It was impossible to force the laden cayuca farther, and there was nothing to do but unload it, portage canoe and contents upstream to some deeper spot, and then restow the cargo.
However, the job was done at last, and again we embarked—but not for long! Very soon the stream divided, each narrow brook following its meandering channel across the mile-wide expanse of cobbles, and a reconnaissance was necessary in order to determine which branch to follow. Throughout the rest of the day we alternately poled, pushed, dragged, and forced the cayuca onward, tramping with blistered feet across the stone-strewn river-beds as we portaged our cargo round impassable stretches.
At last, just as we were about to make camp, we heard the yelping of dogs ahead and, rounding a bend, saw a small clearing in the jungle. Drawn up on the cobbles was a battered dugout, and, half-hidden under the trees, a thatched hut.
"Indios, Señor," explained Cordova. "Terribis. I know them well."
The occupants of the hut proved to be a wrinkle-faced old Indian, his two wives, and several children. He was, as Cordova had said, a Terribi, but a sophisticated, semi-civilized aborigine who spoke Spanish fluently. He was, however, an agreeable and intelligent fellow, and I plied him with questions about the Indians of the interior.
His replies were not encouraging. His tribe, he declared, had been decimated by influenza, introduced by Indians who had visited the settlements to trade. Scores had died, others were ill. How many were left he could not say. There were no villages, the Indians dwelling in isolated houses containing one or two families each, and several days' travel apart. Somewhere—very far away—dwelt the king; but the Indians of the lower river knew nothing of him.
Our informant said that he and his kind were gente (civilized folk), while the king and the people in the mountains were bravos (wild). Yes, he declared, they were all of the same tribe—Terribis. This, he added, was the name given them by the Spaniards. In their own tongue they were Shayshan. But there were also Doraks—real savages. It would be well if the Señor did not meet them!
Concerning the wild Indians' customs and habits, he either could not, or would not, tell me anything of importance. To his family he spoke in his native tongue, and the dialect interested me. It was quite distinct from that of any other tribe I had met in Panama, and the more I studied the words I jotted down in my notebook the more puzzled and interested I became.
Many of them bore a striking resemblance to those of the Guatemalan and Honduras dialects; one or two were distinctly Mayan. Was I on the verge of an ethnological discovery? Were the Shayshans remnants of some race from the north, or perhaps even descendants of some ancient Mayan colony? I was determined to find out, determined to overcome all difficulties and visit the mysterious Shayshan king and his subjects.
THE INDIAN GUIDE
Meanwhile, Cordova and Pepe had been conversing earnestly with a sturdy Indian youth who had come in from the fields laden with manioc roots. Presently the big Negro rose and joined me.
"Señor," he said, "I have good news. Chico yonder will go with us. He knows the river even better than myself, and being Indio, we shall be safer if he is with us. He asks no pay other than tobacco and a knife or two. Does the Patron approve?"
"Bueno!" I assented. "But does the boy know the way to the king's house?"
Cordova lowered his voice. "Señor Patron," he rumbled. "All the Indians know where their king lives, though they will not tell unless one is a friend. But with Chico we can reach the home of a Comisario, and if the Señor wins his friendship then all will be well."
"A Comisario?" I repeated. "What do you mean by that?"
"There are many Comisarios" explained Cordova. "Just as the President in Panama has his governors and his alcaldes, so the Indian King has his Comisarios. He is a great man, Señor, and cannot be seen by all his people, nor can he be everywhere among them. So his Comisarios rule their districts and report to the king. And Chico here knows how we may reach a Comisario— if the Saints permit us to go so far!"
Obviously the Shayshan king was an aloof and difficult monarch to meet in person; obviously, also, he surrounded himself with considerable mystery. But, as I well knew, the presence of an Indian with us would greatly facilitate matters, and Chico was promptly added to our party and presented with an advance payment of tobacco and a knife.
With Chico's help the going was far easier and quicker than on the previous day. In the first place, he insisted upon taking along his own canoe, a cranky, narrow, semi-cylindrical dugout about twenty feet in length by eighteen inches in width. Part of our cargo was transferred to this, and as a result we were able to navigate many shoals and rapids without portaging. When it did become necessary to portage the cayuca's cargo, the heavier packages could often be transferred to Chico's dugout and transported by water instead of by land.
The first day under the new system was bearable. At several places we were able to make portages through jungles, over soft earth, and often, for several hours at a time, we had little difficulty in travelling by water.
The days which followed, however, were indescribable. Never, in all my experience, have I met harder or more horrible going! Often fifty or more portages had to be made daily— and always the only "road" was over the mile-wide river-bed, consisting of stones of every size, from small pebbles to immense masses of glass-smooth rock weighing many tons, scattered in a confused jumble, and ready to roll or turn at a touch.
At every step one was in imminent peril of a sprained ankle or broken limb. Until one has experienced it one cannot imagine the hardship and suffering endured when tramping for mile after mile over such going. One moment your feet are sinking to the ankles in loose, burning-hot gravel; the next you are clambering over delicately-balanced boulders a yard or more in height. You slip and stumble across stretches of loose, rolling cobbles, splash through stagnant pools where the green slime, slippery as grease, covers invisible stones beneath the surface; and you are alternately drenched by showers and broiled by a merciless sun.
Again and again I was on the point of turning back. Nothing on earth seemed worth the exhaustion, the suffering, the wrenched muscles, the swarms of gnats and flies, the seemingly endless struggle to cover a few miles when countless leagues still stretched ahead.
Despite our snail-like pace, however, we made progress. The country was becoming wilder, the river-banks higher; great stone cliffs and bluffs rose here and there, and each time we caught a brief glance of the mountains in the distance they appeared nearer.
From the time we had left the Indian's hut, days previously, we had seen no sign of a human being. We were traversing an uninhabited primeval wilderness; it seemed incredible that any man could ever have passed that way before. Hence it was a most amazing thing when, rounding a point, we saw a wild-looking man hurrying from the jungle to the water's edge, shouting to us in Spanish.
Despite his ragged appearance and sun-browned skin, his grey beard and moustache proved him no Indian. Here, I thought, was some castaway of the bush, some unfortunate wanderer who saw salvation in our approaching canoes. But the fellow's first words proved me wrong.
WE MEET A QUAINT CHARACTER
"Señor!" he exclaimed, as soon as we were within conversational distance, "it is the will of God that I saw you approaching. For three months I have not tasted tobacco. Has the Señor, by the grace of God, a little to spare that he can sell to me? But a thousand pardons, caballero," he added, as the cayuca grated against the stones. "So long have I dwelt far from my fellow-men that I have forgotten myself! Permit me, Señor, to introduce myself. I am General Valdez Jimenez, at your service. And if the caballero will do me the honour of partaking of such humble hospitality as I can offer, my house and all it contains are the property of the Señor."
I was astounded. Here, at the very back of beyond, where I had thought no civilized man had ever trod before, I found myself speaking to an educated, courteous Spaniard who, despite his rags, bore himself with the dignity of a Castilian grandee.
Mutual introductions over, and the General having been supplied with the coveted tobacco, he led the way to his house, a thatched, open hut of the Indian type, elevated some ten feet above the earth upon stout posts. Had I come upon the General's residence minus occupants I should have thought it merely the home of an Indian, for there was nothing inside or out to indicate that it was the abode of a cultured white man. And, to add to the deception, two shy Indian women were busy at culinary operations in one corner.
The story of this queer character was as remarkable as his appearance in such a remote spot. A Spaniard by birth and a former General in the army of Colombia, he had become so disgusted with the politics of his adopted country that he had betaken himself to the bush, and for thirty years had dwelt with his Indian wife here in the jungle. But news of the outer world filtered through even to this most isolated and unknown spot.
Word had reached the General of Panama's declaration of independence, and, strapping on his rusty sabre, and embarking in his dugout, the old soldier had journeyed to civilization to offer his services to the new republic. Long before he had reached his destination, however, the bloodless revolution was over. Panama was a free and recognized republic, and, finding his services were not needed, General Jimenez turned about and retraced his weary way to his jungle home, which he had never left save on this one occasion.
"Doubtless the Señor seeks Tisingal?" he suggested, when he had told me his history.
The General shrugged. "But of what else is there to think?" he replied. "For thirty years, Señor, I have thought of Tisingal! For thirty years I have searched for it—as the Señor may see, entirely without success. But it is here—somewhere in this forest, among these mountains. But only the Indians know where. If the Señor seeks—"
"No," I interrupted. "I care nothing for Tisingal! I search for wild Indians. I am a scientist, engaged in studying the natives of the country. Do you think, General, that I shall be able to reach the home of the Shayshan King? "
The old soldier looked thoughtful. "I have seen King Polu thrice in thirty years," he answered. "But whether or not the Señor will see him, quien sabe? He is not hostile if one goes to him in peace. But the Indians, who know the secret of Tisingal, believe that no strangers come this way unless in search of the lost mine; and they do not wish anyone to find it. And there are the Doraks, Señor—horrible savages! Whatever you do, Señor, don't go beyond the Shayshan country into the land of the Doraks! But with Chico there, and Cordova, and possibly a friendly Comisario, I think the Señor may succeed in visiting King Polu."
In a way the old General's words cheered me. Evidently there was a king, and obviously it was not impossible to find him, for the old soldier had visited him. I plied the General with questions, but could get little further information of any value. The king, he declared, was a strange, retiring man, surrounded by an atmosphere of mystery and superstition.
He was an unusually intelligent Indian; it was said that, when a boy, he had lived for a time in the settlements and acquired much knowledge of civilization. As to the truth of this the General could not say, but King Polu at least spoke and understood some Spanish. I made up my mind to seek this elusive monarch at the earliest possible moment.
(To be concluded)
- ► 2016 (74)
- ► 2015 (35)
- ► 2014 (55)
- ► 2013 (41)
- Jungle Chums -Chs 1-3
- Jungle Chums -Introduction
- On the Return of the Medicine Stick
- Thirty Years in the Jungle -Chs 15-18
- Thirty Years in the Jungle -Chs 12-14
- Thirty Years in the Jungle -Ch 9-11
- The Science Behind Paiwari Making
- Thirty Years in the Jungle -Ch 6-8
- The Story of the First Carib
- The Lost Mine -Part1
- Thirty Years in the Jungle -Ch 3-5
- ▼ April (11)
- ► 2011 (104)
- ► 2010 (43)
- ► 2009 (40)
- ► 2008 (48)
- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.