Friday, 21 February 2014

The Lost Mine -Part 2

The Lost Mine -Part 2
A. Hyatt Verrill
Illustrated by CYRIL HOLLOWAY
From The Wide World magazine, June 1929, UK edition. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, Feb 2014.

Link to Part 1 in 1952

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 of them ended in failure and disaster. When the Author went into the jungle to study the wild Indians everybody assumed he was in search of Tisingal, and before long he found himself involved in some very strange experiences. The first instalment described the start of Mr. Verrill's up-river journey and his meeting with various people who told him of the existence of a mysterious native “King,” whom he determined to seek with the aid of an Indian guide called Chico.

THE following morning we left the General’s home in a torrential shower and, until he was hidden from sight by a bend in the stream, we could see the old Spaniard standing motionless in the drenching rain, wistfully watching us. I had been the first white man to visit him for ten years or more, and our short stay had been an epoch in his solitary, hermit-like existence.
At the end of a week it seemed to me we must have traversed the entire length of Central America, but Chico, Indian-like, would not commit himself. It was always “Un poco mas lejo” (“A little farther") to all questions as to the distance to the Comisario’s home. And then, quite suddenly and without a word of warning from Chico, we were there!
No one but an Indian would have dreamed that there were human beings within a hundred miles. No boat was drawn up on the bank, no opening showed in the fringe of dense jungle, no tell-tale smoke rose above the trees, and no sounds of voices issued from the forest. A scarcely-distinguishable trail led from the verge of the stone-strewn playa into the bush, and with Chico in the lead we trudged along it.
Half a mile inland we came upon a small clearing and were vociferously welcomed by yelping curs who rushed toward us from three thatched huts. As we reached the largest of these, the Comisario himself appeared. He was a dignified-looking, keen-faced Indian, and—much to my surprise and momentary disappointment—he was clad in white home-spun cotton coat and trousers.
His appearance, in fact, was far more that of a well-to-do native planter than a wild Indian; but I soon found that his more or less conventional costume was a mere veneer, and that he and his family were at heart as primitive and unspoiled by civilization as I could wish. All of them, men and women alike, wore clothing, but the garments of the women were a blaze of gay colours; their necklaces and other ornaments were of teeth, bones, and shells; and there was not a single “civilized” article or utensil in the houses.
Finely woven hammocks swung between the palm-wood timbers; baskets, calabashes, and peculiar pottery vessels were scattered about; beautifully finished bows and long arrows rested on the rafters overhead; and two young Indians were occupied in painting each other’s faces. Upon a fire of glowing coals a great earthen olla was boiling and sending forth appetizing odours, and one of the women was busily crushing cacao beans on a wooden slab by rolling a heavy oval stone backwards and forwards.
No one exhibited the least surprise at our appearance, and Chico informed me that the sphinx-faced Comisario had been aware of my approach for the past four days. How he had received the news he did not reveal, but I have no doubt that couriers telling of my plans had been sent overland from the Indian hut where we first stopped. Toluka, as the old fellow was called, seemed quite friendly, but he did not appear at all enthusiastic over my proposed visit to his king.
However, under the influence of presents to himself and family, he presently unbent, and not only gave his official permission for Chico to guide us to the king’s palace, but even volunteered to send one of his own youths with us, so that we should be under Government protection, so to speak. And once Toluka had discovered the contents of my trade-box, his bartering instincts were aroused and he brought forth innumerable articles of great enthological interest.
During the remainder of the day we rested, and I made good use of my time by acquiring a fairly complete list of Shayshan words, with the result that I became convinced that these Indians were actually of Mayan ancestry, or at least of a race which had come under Mayan influence in the past.
We made an early start, accompanied by a bright-eyed youth who gabbled incessantly with Chico, and performed most amazing acrobatic stunts in balancing himself on the gunwale of his ticklish cayuca as he poled the craft along. He was a cheerful, willing fellow, a great help in portaging, and seemed to take everything as a huge joke. And we certainly needed someone of an optimistic disposition!
All that had gone before was as nothing compared with the following three days. It was all up-grade, and the river, although very low, tore through its rocky bed like a mill-race. Often the united strength of the whole party was required to drag our canoe against the current, and I tried to picture what the passage would be like in the rainy season, with the river in full flood. Then it would fill the bed from bank to bank, nearly half a mile; and the water-swept bluffs and trees, and the bare, rounded boulders on either side, showed that the torrent would rise fully fifteen feet above its present level.
Here and there great trees were stranded high and dry upon the playa, and at one place we passed an uprooted tree over sixty feet in length and five feet through at the base, which had been carried down by the raging torrent and left firmly wedged between two enormous boulders ten feet above my head. Bad as the going was now, I thanked my lucky stars that I had not attempted to reach the Shayshans’ territory in the rainy season.
If current tradition and history were true, and Tisingal actually lay somewhere in this wild, untamed land, then superhuman indeed must have been the labours of the old Dons. It seemed utterly impossible that human beings could have transported supplies and equipment, machinery and tools—even a bell and cannon—over this route to the lost mine, or that they could have built a road through such an impenetrable wilderness.
But they worked with slave labour, loss of life meant little or nothing to them, and suffering and hardship were forgotten in their lust for gold. As we toiled onward I wondered how many worn and tortured men had died along the route, and how many millions in precious metal had been carried dowm this self-same river to enrich the coffers of the King or Spain or to fall into the hands of the dare-devil buccaneers.

Meanwhile the country grew steadily wilder and rougher. The river-bed became a canyon, and huge masses of grey, pink, and green porphyry took the place of boulders. On every side rose lofty mountains, covered with dense forests. Often we toiled for hours, lifting and carrying our canoes over impassable cataracts or through foaming rapids. .
To traverse the dry river-bed was like scaling the walls of some ruined castle. Scrambling and climbing, with bruised and barked shins and hands, we surmounted the barriers of glass-smooth rocks, leaped—with fear gripping our hearts—across the yawning chasms between them, or crawled and crept and wormed our way through cavern-like interstices. To portage our goods necessitated Herculean efforts.
No living man could force his way for a hundred yards with a load upon back or shoulders. Each parcel and package had to be carried piecemeal from one rock barrier to the next. Finally it became obvious that our craft could go no farther. Before us the river-bed was barred by a great dyke of jagged, razor-pointed, black lava. Through a narrow break in this the water poured in a roaring, plunging torrent, and on both sides the mountains rose in sheer thousand-foot precipices to the low-hung clouds.
Apparently all our labours had been for nothing. We had come to the end of our tether. Further progress was impossible!
But Chico and his fellow-tribesmen merely grinned, as, calmly and deliberately, they drew their canoes from the stream, began packing the contents of the boats into portagable packages, and gave obvious evidence of intending to continue onward. Evidently they knew of some way out of the impasse, and, encouraged by their attitude, Cordova and Pepe fell to work. But Chico promptly interfered. Only the lighter and most essential articles could be taken, he declared; the rest must be left in the canoes. In reply to my questions he pointed toward the frowning, multi-coloured wall of stone that rose on our right.
“Road too narrow,” he announced. And then, as though stating a most ordinary and familiar fact, he added: “Not any farther. The King’s house here.”
Was it possible? Had we actually reached our goal?
I was not to be kept long in doubt. Shouldering their loads, the two Indians picked their way across the stony river-bed toward the precipitous cliff. At the very base of the overhanging wall a narrow, scarcely-visible trail had been cleared, cut, and cleaned from among the debris fallen from above. It wound about enormous masses of rock, passed through a tunnel-like aperture under piled-up fragments of precipice, zigzagged this way and that, and finally came to an end. Pointing dramatically ahead, Chico exclaimed: “Look, sir! The house of the king!”
Before us the bare, rocky playa came to an end. The river flowed in a broad, swift expanse stretching from bank to bank, burbling musically over miniature rapids. Above our heads rose the cloud-hung precipice. On the farther shore the land sloped gently upward to a high hill crowned with jungle, and rising, tier after tier, to the distant mountains.
Up from the pebbly beach stretched a broad sweep of smooth greensward dotted with clumps of lime, palm, and orange trees; and upon the summit of the grassy hill stood a large hut, its thatched roof of palm leaves gleaming like gold in the afternoon sunshine.
It was the palace of the Shayshan king, and, gazing at it, all the hardships we had suffered were forgotten, for we had accomplished the seemingly impossible, and arrived safely at the home of the mysterious cacique of the Shayshans.
Our arrival had obviously been expected, for a group of Indians had gathered at the water’s edge below the “palace,” and already a long, narrow canoe was being poled toward us, its bronze-skinned occupant balancing himself upon the after-end, and handling his frail and cranky craft with incredible dexterity.
He was a stocky, sturdy youth and, as I learned later, no less a personage than the Crown Prince. Truly we were being received with high honours! He was thoroughly democratic, however, and, having greeted me in his own tongue—not a word of which was intelligible to me—he commenced chatting volubly with my two Indian boys.
We were to cross the stream in his canoe, it appeared, though it seemed impossible that our party and our dunnage could be ferried across the swirling river in such a tricky craft. But it would not do to show my doubts in the presence of royalty, and so, as it was a case of trusting to the canoe or swimming, I followed my men and belongings into the dug-out.
I hardly dared to breathe, for the water was within two inches of the gunwales, and a dozen times I felt certain the canoe was on the point of capsizing. But the Indians, and especially the Prince, were as unconcerned as though on dry land. Standing erect, the Prince poled his craft against the swift current and performed feats of balancing that would have shamed an expert performer on the slack-wire. And, almost before I realized it, the canoe grated on the opposite bank and we stepped safely ashore just below the home of the Shayshan king.
Like all Shayshan “houses,” the palace was open on three sides, was built upon posts several feet above the earth, and was floored with strips of black palm-wood. Its steeply pitched roof was of thatched palm-leaves, with low eaves.
A hearth of baked clay held an ever-smouldering fire. Its furnishings consisted of several carved wooden stools, a number of bark-cloth mats, several large earthenware pots, baskets of various sizes, a platform-like affair of split palm strips on which were calabashes and baskets of provisions, and three or four hammocks. Squatted about near the hearth were several women and girls, while naked princes and princesses played and rolled about like brown kittens.

The king himself reclined in a hammock. He was of indefinite age, with copper-coloured skin, a remarkably high forehead, an aquiline nose, a firm, thin-lipped mouth and keen eyes; he was obviously an Indian of most unusual intelligence. Much to my surprise he was dressed in a cotton shirt and trousers, but upon his thick, blue-black hair rested the regal crown of eagle feathers and macaw plumes.
He displayed no signs of either curiosity or surprise at my appearance, but through the medium of Chico as interpreter, received me most hospitably. He had carved wooden stools placed for myself and my men, and put the palace and all it contained at my disposal with almost Castilian politeness. Then the welcoming calabash of thick, unsweetened chocolate was passed round, and, having solemnly drunk this with due ceremony, I explained the reason for my visit.
Almost instantly I discovered that King Polu understood Spanish perfectly, and after this our conversation proceeded in that language. I soon found that the King of the Shayshans was a most remarkable man for a Central American Indian. Unlike his fellows, he was as stoical and reserved as any Sioux or Apache, and he possessed all the eloquence, the love of the dramatic, and the power of simple, poetical expression of a North American Indian.
When I asked him how long his family had ruled the Shayshans he rose and led me to the open side of his house facing the river.
Stretching out his arm the king pointed to the towering mountain-side high above the rushing stream.
“Once,” he exclaimed, pointing to the water-worn crags hundreds of feet in air, “the river flowed on top of the mountain. But even then my fathers were kings of the Shayshans.”
Despite all that had been told me, he proved to be a most amiable and friendly fellow. He assured me that to find all the members of his tribe would be a long, weary, and probably hopeless task, for they were scattered through the mountains, miles apart. But, he added, to save me trouble and help me, he would send a messenger to the outlying tribesmen with orders for all of them to gather at his house and to bring in such of their possessions as they were willing to trade.
My suspicions that the Shayshans were of Maya stock and were perhaps the oldest of existing Central American tribes were rapidly confirmed. Not only was the language distinctly Mayan, but the feather head-dresses were precisely like those depicted on Mayan sculptures and figuring in the engravings and paintings made in the days of the Spanish Conquest, and unlike those of any other known tribe.
Even more remarkable was the fact that the Shayshan’s bows were designed to be bent round side outwards, thus differing from the bows of other races. Apart from their bows and arrows, the Shayshans used blow-guns, ten or twelve feet in length, and here again the tribe differed from all their neighbours, for instead of darts the Shayshans used spherical clay pellets, which, at a distance of thirty or forty yards, were as effective as a small-calibre rifle for bringing down large birds.
Except for maize and a few plantain, banana, and cacao trees, these Indians raised nothing in the way of foodstuffs. An almond-like nut, the boiled fruit and young flower-buds of the palm, and a wild tuber resembling a potato were their mainstays. Corn was eaten whole, and the cacao beans, instead of being fermented and made into chocolate, were roasted and ground to a powder, from which a beverage resembling thick black coffee was made. The Indians drank this in inordinate quantities, taking it, boiling hot, almost incessantly from morning to night.
The Shayshans appeared so shy, so friendly, and so docile, that I could not imagine them in the role of hostile savages. When I mentioned this matter, Polu and the others declared that the tribe had always been peaceful, and that while they distrusted and disliked the Spaniards, by whom their ancestors had been enslaved, they had merely sought protection from these traditional enemies by moving farther and farther into the wilderness.
By this time I had come to the conclusion that Polu was a wily fellow, and that his sphinx-like face concealed a great deal more guile than one might suppose. When I asked about the other tribes who were reputed to inhabit the even more inaccessible mountains, Polu seemed loth to answer, and professed the greatest dread of them, although claiming to be at peace with all his neighbours.
And when I proposed visiting the Doraks, as the Shayshans called them, the king and his friends showed the greatest concern. They declared it would mean my certain death, explaining that though a Shayshan might enter and pass through the Dorak country, provided he did not linger, no white man would be permitted to set foot beyond the recognized boundary of Shayshan territory.

When pressed for reasons for this attitude, the King and his companions evaded the question. I felt certain they were trying to keep something from me, and as I puzzled over this I remembered Senor Toro’s words, the tales of the old General and others, and the universal belief that the Shayshans held the secret of the lost Tisingal mine. I also recalled Polu’s evident anxiety that I should not attempt to visit his subjects, and his suggestion that I should remain with him while a courier summoned the tribe.

Was there, after all, some truth in the rumours? Could it be that the wily King was trying to prevent any possibility of my stumbling upon the jealously-guarded secret of the lost mine? Was I “getting warm?” as they say in the game of “Hunt the Thimble.” It was a fascinating conjecture, and it seemed by no means impossible nor even improbable, I reflected, that the fabulously rich Tisingal might be located not very far from King Polu’s palace.
But I was not there to investigate mines, old or new, and I had no intention of searching for Tisingal, especially if to do so might result in arousing the resentment or even the suspicions of the Indians, and thereby thwart my purpose in visiting them.
Nevertheless, the romantic aspect of the matter appealed to me; my exploring instinct was aroused and—well, I doubt if there is anyone who would not be somewhat thrilled at the thought of being almost within stone’s throw of a long-lost, incredibly rich mine which countless men have sought in vain and whose history is one of tragedy, mystery, and romance.
But the most adroit and roundabout questioning failed to draw any definite information from Polu and his fellows, even though I felt sure I had convinced them that I was not searching for gold.
It might be, they agreed, that the Doraks knew of the old mine.
They themselves had heard from their fathers, who had heard it from their fathers, that long ago the Spaniards had a mine somewhere in the mountains, where they forced the Shayshans to labour as slaves.
But, they added, they themselves knew nothing. They had no knowledge of gold. It was valueless to them, and if they knew where the mine was they would gladly tell me, for was I not their friend; had I not given them presents, lived with them like a brother, and dwelt in the King’s house?
So, deciding my imagination had over-ridden my common sense, and that in all probability the Shayshans knew nothing definite about Tisingal, I busied myself with my scientific work and forgot all about the lost mine.
Then, as so often happens, Fate intervened and opened the sealed lips of the Shayshan King. His daughter, a chubby brown princess of eight, was seized with a most agonizing but far from dangerous fit of colic, the result of eating far too many oily piva-palm nuts. Her shrieks and screams in the middle of the night aroused everyone, and the Indians, firmly believing some evil spirit had taken possession of her, added their wails, lamentations, and incantations to the uproar.
At first Polu and his copper-coloured queen would have none of the white man’s medicine. But when the most powerful of Shayshan potions, the beating of drums, the application of “magic” wood and fungus, and even the slaughter of a cock failed to exorcise the “devil,” the Shayshans, as a last resort, turned to me.
The little princess’s trouble quickly responded to proper treatment, her screams of agony changed to sobs, the sobs to whimpers, and soon she was sleeping quietly and soundly on her mat of pounded bark beside the queen. I very much doubt, however, if Polu slept again that night. When I tumbled into my hammock he was sitting motionless, staring into the black, starlit night, and when I awoke at dawn he was in precisely the same position, immobile as a bronze statue, his mind evidently concentrated on some deep and important matter.
Not until the inevitable chocolate was passed to him did he come back to earth. Then, having swallowed the steaming mess, he rose, took down a long and powerful black palm bow and sheaf of wicked-looking six-foot arrows, and very carefully examined each one in turn. Evidently, I thought, the King was preparing to go out on a hunt. Then, to my unbounded surprise, he requested me to accompany him.
For a time he walked on in silence. Not until we had passed beyond sight and hearing of the house and were well within the jungle did he speak. Then, halting, he turned, beckoned me to his side, and grinned. His Spanish was somewhat crude and limited, and my recently-acquired knowledge of Shayshan was even more exiguous. But we had always got along famously, and there was no possibility of misunderstanding him.
Rubbing his stomach, he twisted his face into an agonized expression. “Child sick; very sick,” he said. Then he closed his eyes and sighed contentedly. “I am grateful; you were good to my daughter,” he added.
“I am glad the child is well again,” I replied, using his own dialect.
Polu narrowed his eyes and the half-quizzical expression I had often noted—an expression suggestive of crafty shrewdness—came over his face. For fully a minute he studied me. Then he turned abruptly and pointed toward the sombre green mountains, their sides still streaked with shreds of the night mist, their shadows purple, fathomless, mysterious.
“Come!” he ejaculated, suddenly, “Tisingal!”
I could scarcely believe my ears, hardly convince myself I heard aright. I was absolutely dumbfounded. Polu did know the secret of the lost mine! He was about to reveal it to me, was taking me to it as proof of his gratitude for curing the little princess!
For seemingly endless hours we climbed the mountains through a misty, penetrating drizzle. Mile after mile I followed Polu into the shadows of the vast, inpenetrable forest, until I lost all sense of direction. I was drenched to the skin and heartily sick of the whole business when the King suddenly halted and beckoned me to him. Carefully parting the drooping ferns and interlaced creepers, he pointed to a pile of rotting, moss-grown masonry rent by the snake-like, twisted roots of great trees, and almost hidden in the accumulation of decaying vegetation.
Here, buried in this untrodden jungle, was the age-old work of civilized man, and unquestionably, as proved by the mortar, of Europeans. Polu walked a few paces farther, and, stepping aside, showed me a stretch of roughly-paved roadway, beside which were the almost vanished hard-wood logs of what once, centuries before, might have formed a stockade or a massive gate. Was it possible that I was actually gazing at the remains of the approaches to Tisingal?

Then, while my mind was still a chaos of sensations, Polu, with furtive glance about him, as though desecrating a tomb, bent low, and, pressing through a thicket, halted among the trees. Before him lay two large cylindrical objects half buried in the earth. At first glance I took them for moss-covered logs, and then, with fast-beating pulse, I realized my mistake. There was no doubt about it—they were cannon! Cannon of bronze; ancient guns of small bore, ornately ringed, bell-mouthed and thick with the verdigris of countless years of drenching tropical rains and ever-dripping moisture.
Carefully scraping away the growth of moss and tiny ferns, I could distinguish raised figures and letters upon the metal. Corrosion had almost obliterated them, but here and there a letter was decipherable, and on one the date—“1515”—was quite plain.
I had thought that ancient mines, real or imaginary, held only a passing interest for me, and yet as I knelt there beside those centuries-old guns, in the heart of that unknown forest, I felt a wave of exultation such as I have seldom known.
Beyond the shadow of a doubt I was looking upon objects that many a man would have given half his life and thousands of dollars to behold—the ancient Spanish cannon that once guarded the way to the richest mine in the New World; the long-lost, long-sought, almost fabulous Tisingal! And, strangest of all, that which no other civilized man had been permitted to see had been revealed to me through a child’s attack of colic!
Unquestionably, I was the first white to view those relics of the past and live to tell of it during all the centuries that had passed since Tisingal had been lost to the world. Somewhere near by, hidden in the rank growth, was wealth beyond one’s wildest dreams, but if I had dared to enter that ominous jungle alone a silent arrow might have sped from some lurking, watching savage, and my bones might have been added to those of other seekers for the elusive Tisingal.
As I stood there in that shadowy forest and looked upon those ancient bronze weapons, the whole tragic story of the mine came vividly to me. I could revisualize the Dons—mail-clad, ruthless, cruel, caring nothing for life or bloodshed where gold was to be won—murdering the simple Indians who resisted the invaders, enslaving those who were peaceful.
I could imagine them hewing their way through the jungles as they penetrated farther and farther into the mountains. I could see them in their cumbersome craft conquering the rapids, falling by the wayside, suffering martyrdom in their lust for gold, until at last they reached the Shayshan country and, by inhuman tortures, wrung the secret of Tisingal from some captive Indian.
And, having come that way myself, I could appreciate the Herculean labours of the Spaniards and their slaves as they transported their goods and equipment up the river, made rude roads through the jungle, built forts and bridges, and erected their dwellings, their barracks, and even their church, deep within these forests. And I could picture the savage exultation of the long-oppressed, tortured, and enslaved Indians when, at last, they squared accounts and, massacring the Spaniards to the last man, destroyed every vestige of the Dons’ work.
No wonder, I thought, that the Doraks maintained an endless vigil and prevented all white men from rediscovering Tisingal! Gold and the white man’s greed for wealth have always been the curse of the Indians, and I was thankful that the secret was so well and so effectively guarded. My only regret was that I had no camera. I had not brought it with me when I left Polu’s home, for I thought I was merely accompanying the King on a hunting-trip.
And now Polu was becoming nervous. He was impatiently urging me to go, meanwhile peering furtively about him, searching the surrounding jungle as if in fear of stealthy, hostile savages. Perhaps it was pure imagination, or perhaps the King’s fears were contagious. At any rate, I felt that we were being watched, that unseen eyes were upon us, and that I stood very close indeed to death. So, with a last glance at the mute guardians of the old mine, I turned, and, in Polu’s footsteps, threaded my way along the indistinguishable trail that led back to the domains of my silent companion.
At last we emerged from the jungle with the King’s house in view, and instantly I halted in amazement. Gathered in a little knot before the thatched hut were half-a-dozen wild-looking, naked savages!
Who were they? Had the hostile Doraks swept down on the Shayshans to demand satisfaction for the King’s action in betraying the secret of Tisingal to a stranger? Before I could ask a question, or utter a word, however, they caught sight of us, and, in the twinkling of an eye, had vanished!
Oddly enough Polu did not seem at all surprised or disturbed. He could not or would not understand my queries, and merely grinned amiably as we hurried across the few rods of open grassland to his palace.
Then I understood. Seated in the house were the Shayshans the King’s courier had summoned. They were wild-faced, shockheaded, shy-looking tribesmen, but each and all garbed in ragged shirts and much-patched trousers. At sight of the white man they had hurriedly transformed themselves from untamed savages to semi-civilized Indians—at least outwardly.
Not until much later did I learn the real facts, however. When I was leaving for my long and thrilling trip downstream Polu, with a twinkle in his keen eyes, revealed the great secret. The Shayshans and the Doraks were one and the same people! A Jekyll and Hyde tribe—peaceful, quiet, friendly, and with an external veneer of civilization, or wild, savage, and hostile, as the conditions called for, the Shayshans were the sole guardians of the lost mine!

The End

No comments:

Blog Archive

Countries we have visited

About Me

My photo

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.