Saturday, 12 April 2014
The Lost Mine -Part 2 from 1952
Now with perhaps 400 of Verrill's stories included in this blog, we are beginning to exhaust the 'easy' finds. This story as is mentioned below, has twice appeared in The Wide World magazine which was published in the
UK and . The
illustrations are different in the two versions and the end point of 'part 1' is
different in each edition. Link to Part 1 just below./drf USA
The Lost Mine -Part 2
By A. Hyatt Verrill
from The Wide World magazine, July 1952, Vol.109. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, April 2014.
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 Tisingal, and before long he found himself involved in some very strange experiences. We originally published this story in 1929. The first instalment described the start of Mr. Verrill’s upriver journey and his meeting with various people who told him of the existence of a mysterious native “king,” whom, with the aid of an Indian guide called
Chico, he determined to
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, 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; our short stay had evidently 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
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 our guide, we were
No one but an Indian would have dreamed any human beings were 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 which rushed towards us from three thatched huts. As we reached the largest of these the Comisario himself appeared. A dignified-looking, keen-faced Indian, he was—much to my surprise and momentary disappointment—clad in a 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; 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 earthern olla was boiling, 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 arrival, and
Chico informed me that the sphinx-faced Comisario had been aware of our approach
for the past four days. How he had received the news our guide 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 did not appear at all enthusiastic over my
proposed visit to his king.
Under the influence of presents to himself and family, however, he presently unbent, and not only gave his official permission for
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
During the remainder of the day we rested, and I made good use of my time by acquiring a lengthy list of Shayshan words, with the result that I became convinced 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 cranky 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
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 along 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 stream in full flood. Then it would fill the bed from bank to bank, a distance of nearly half a mile; and the water-worn bluffs and rounded boulders on either side showed that the torrent must 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 waters 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 during the rainy season.
If current tradition and history were true, and Tisingal actually lay somewhere in this wild, untamed land, then super-human 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 exhausted and tortured men had died along the route, and how many millions in precious metal had been carried down this selfsame river to enrich the coffers of the King of Spain or to fall into the hands of the dare-devil buccaneers who lay in wait for the gold-laden galleons.
A NIGHTMARE JOURNEY
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 worked 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, crept, and wormed our way through cavern-like interstices. To portage our stores necessitated Herculean efforts.
No living man could force his way for a hundred yards with a load on his back or shoulders; every bundle 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. The river-bed in front 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!
Chico and his
fellow-tribesmen merely grinned, as, calmly and deliberately, they hauled their
canoes out of the water, began packing the contents of the boats into portable
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 likewise 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,
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 then, 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.
Chico explained, 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 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, he 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, built upon posts several feet above the earth, and 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, and the 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 stood calabashes and baskets of provisions, and three or four hammocks. Squatted near the hearth were several women and girls, while baby princes and princesses, completely naked, played and rolled about like brown kittens.
THE SHAYSHAN KING
The king himself reclined in a hammock. 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 mountainside high above the rushing stream.
“Once,” he said, raising his hand towards 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 throughout the mountains, miles apart. But, 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, bringing in such of their possessions as they were willing to trade.
My theory that the Shayshans were of Maya stock and perhaps the oldest of existing Central American tribes was 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 Shayshans’ bows were designed to be bent round side outwards, thus differing from the bows of other races. Apart from their bows, 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 reluctant to answer, professing the greatest dread of them, although claiming to be at peace with all his neighbours.
Learning that 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 retinue evaded the question. I felt certain they were trying to keep something from me, and as I puzzled over this I remembered Señor 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.
I AM PUZZLED
Was there, after all, some truth in the rumours? Could it be that the wily chieftain 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 and incredibly rich mine which countless men have sought in vain and whose history is one of tragedy, mystery, and romance.
The most adroit and roundabout questioning, however, failed to elicit 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?
Eventually, 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 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 too many oily proa-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; 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 towards the sombre green mountains, their sides still streaked with shreds of the night mist, their shadows purple and 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 mountain through a misty, penetrating drizzle. Mile after mile I followed Polu into the shadows of the vast, impenetrable 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 snakelike, 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?
THE GUNS OF TISINGAL!
Then, while my mind was still a chaos of sensations, Polu, with furtive glances 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 European 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 nearby, 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 my mind. 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 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 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 intruders 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 Indians!
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 white 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 were 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 the long and laborious 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 long-lost mine!
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- 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.