"To-morrow we Disappear into the
I will not bore those whom this narrative may reach by an account
of our luxurious voyage upon the Booth liner, nor will I tell of
our week's stay at Para (save that I should wish to acknowledge
the great kindness of the Pereira da Pinta Company in helping us
to get together our equipment). I will also allude very briefly
to our river journey, up a wide, slow-moving, clay-tinted stream,
in a steamer which was little smaller than that which had carried
us across the Atlantic. Eventually we found ourselves through
the narrows of Obidos and reached the town of Manaos. Here we
were rescued from the limited attractions of the local inn by
Mr. Shortman, the representative of the British and Brazilian
Trading Company. In his hospital Fazenda we spent our time until
the day when we were empowered to open the letter of instructions
given to us by Professor Challenger. Before I reach the surprising
events of that date I would desire to give a clearer sketch of my
comrades in this enterprise, and of the associates whom we had
already gathered together in South America. I speak freely, and
I leave the use of my material to your own discretion, Mr.
McArdle, since it is through your hands that this report must
pass before it reaches the world.
The scientific attainments of Professor Summerlee are too well
known for me to trouble to recapitulate them. He is better
equipped for a rough expedition of this sort than one would
imagine at first sight. His tall, gaunt, stringy figure is
insensible to fatigue, and his dry, half-sarcastic, and often
wholly unsympathetic manner is uninfluenced by any change in
his surroundings. Though in his sixty-sixth year, I have never
heard him express any dissatisfaction at the occasional hardships
which we have had to encounter. I had regarded his presence as an
encumbrance to the expedition, but, as a matter of fact, I am now
well convinced that his power of endurance is as great as my own.
In temper he is naturally acid and sceptical. From the beginning
he has never concealed his belief that Professor Challenger is
an absolute fraud, that we are all embarked upon an absurd
wild-goose chase and that we are likely to reap nothing but
disappointment and danger in South America, and corresponding
ridicule in England. Such are the views which, with much
passionate distortion of his thin features and wagging of his
thin, goat-like beard, he poured into our ears all the way from
Southampton to Manaos. Since landing from the boat he has
obtained some consolation from the beauty and variety of the
insect and bird life around him, for he is absolutely
whole-hearted in his devotion to science. He spends his days
flitting through the woods with his shot-gun and his
butterfly-net, and his evenings in mounting the many specimens
he has acquired. Among his minor peculiarities are that he is
careless as to his attire, unclean in his person, exceedingly
absent-minded in his habits, and addicted to smoking a short
briar pipe, which is seldom out of his mouth. He has been upon
several scientific expeditions in his youth (he was with
Robertson in Papua), and the life of the camp and the canoe is
nothing fresh to him.
Lord John Roxton has some points in common with Professor
Summerlee, and others in which they are the very antithesis to
each other. He is twenty years younger, but has something of the
same spare, scraggy physique. As to his appearance, I have, as I
recollect, described it in that portion of my narrative which I
have left behind me in London. He is exceedingly neat and prim
in his ways, dresses always with great care in white drill suits
and high brown mosquito-boots, and shaves at least once a day.
Like most men of action, he is laconic in speech, and sinks
readily into his own thoughts, but he is always quick to answer a
question or join in a conversation, talking in a queer, jerky,
half-humorous fashion. His knowledge of the world, and very
especially of South America, is surprising, and he has a
whole-hearted belief in the possibilities of our journey which is
not to be dashed by the sneers of Professor Summerlee. He has a
gentle voice and a quiet manner, but behind his twinkling blue
eyes there lurks a capacity for furious wrath and implacable
resolution, the more dangerous because they are held in leash.
He spoke little of his own exploits in Brazil and Peru, but it
was a revelation to me to find the excitement which was caused by
his presence among the riverine natives, who looked upon him as
their champion and protector. The exploits of the Red Chief, as
they called him, had become legends among them, but the real
facts, as far as I could learn them, were amazing enough.
These were that Lord John had found himself some years before in
that no-man's-land which is formed by the half-defined frontiers
between Peru, Brazil, and Columbia. In this great district the
wild rubber tree flourishes, and has become, as in the Congo, a
curse to the natives which can only be compared to their forced
labor under the Spaniards upon the old silver mines of Darien.
A handful of villainous half-breeds dominated the country, armed
such Indians as would support them, and turned the rest into
slaves, terrorizing them with the most inhuman tortures in order
to force them to gather the india-rubber, which was then floated
down the river to Para. Lord John Roxton expostulated on behalf
of the wretched victims, and received nothing but threats and
insults for his pains. He then formally declared war against
Pedro Lopez, the leader of the slave-drivers, enrolled a band of
runaway slaves in his service, armed them, and conducted a
campaign, which ended by his killing with his own hands the
notorious half-breed and breaking down the system which he represented.
No wonder that the ginger-headed man with the silky voice and the
free and easy manners was now looked upon with deep interest upon
the banks of the great South American river, though the feelings
he inspired were naturally mixed, since the gratitude of the
natives was equaled by the resentment of those who desired to
exploit them. One useful result of his former experiences was
that he could talk fluently in the Lingoa Geral, which is the
peculiar talk, one-third Portuguese and two-thirds Indian, which
is current all over Brazil.
I have said before that Lord John Roxton was a South Americomaniac.
He could not speak of that great country without ardor, and this
ardor was infectious, for, ignorant as I was, he fixed my
attention and stimulated my curiosity. How I wish I could
reproduce the glamour of his discourses, the peculiar mixture
of accurate knowledge and of racy imagination which gave them
their fascination, until even the Professor's cynical and
sceptical smile would gradually vanish from his thin face as
he listened. He would tell the history of the mighty river so
rapidly explored (for some of the first conquerors of Peru
actually crossed the entire continent upon its waters), and yet
so unknown in regard to all that lay behind its ever-changing banks.
"What is there?" he would cry, pointing to the north. "Wood
marsh and unpenetrated jungle. Who knows what it may shelter?
And there to the south? A wilderness of swampy forest, where
no white man has ever been. The unknown is up against us on
every side. Outside the narrow lines of the rivers what does
anyone know? Who will say what is possible in such a country?
Why should old man Challenger not be right?" At which direct
defiance the stubborn sneer would reappear upon Professor
Summerlee's face, and he would sit, shaking his sardonic head
in unsympathetic silence, behind the cloud of his briar-root pipe.
So much, for the moment, for my two white companions, whose
characters and limitations will be further exposed, as surely as
my own, as this narrative proceeds. But already we have enrolled
certain retainers who may play no small part in what is to come.
The first is a gigantic negro named Zambo, who is a black
Hercules, as willing as any horse, and about as intelligent.
Him we enlisted at Para, on the recommendation of the steamship
company, on whose vessels he had learned to speak a halting English.
It was at Para also that we engaged Gomez and Manuel, two
half-breeds from up the river, just come down with a cargo
of redwood. They were swarthy fellows, bearded and fierce,
as active and wiry as panthers. Both of them had spent their
lives in those upper waters of the Amazon which we were about
to explore, and it was this recommendation which had caused Lord
John to engage them. One of them, Gomez, had the further
advantage that he could speak excellent English. These men were
willing to act as our personal servants, to cook, to row, or to
make themselves useful in any way at a payment of fifteen dollars
a month. Besides these, we had engaged three Mojo Indians from
Bolivia, who are the most skilful at fishing and boat work of all
the river tribes. The chief of these we called Mojo, after his
tribe, and the others are known as Jose and Fernando. Three white
men, then, two half-breeds, one negro, and three Indians made up
the personnel of the little expedition which lay waiting for its
instructions at Manaos before starting upon its singular quest.
At last, after a weary week, the day had come and the hour.
I ask you to picture the shaded sitting-room of the Fazenda St.
Ignatio, two miles inland from the town of Manaos. Outside lay
the yellow, brassy glare of the sunshine, with the shadows of the
palm trees as black and definite as the trees themselves. The air
was calm, full of the eternal hum of insects, a tropical chorus
of many octaves, from the deep drone of the bee to the high,
keen pipe of the mosquito. Beyond the veranda was a small
cleared garden, bounded with cactus hedges and adorned with
clumps of flowering shrubs, round which the great blue butterflies
and the tiny humming-birds fluttered and darted in crescents of
sparkling light. Within we were seated round the cane table,
on which lay a sealed envelope. Inscribed upon it, in the jagged
handwriting of Professor Challenger, were the words:--
"Instructions to Lord John Roxton and party. To be opened at
Manaos upon July 15th, at 12 o'clock precisely."
Lord John had placed his watch upon the table beside him.
"We have seven more minutes," said he. "The old dear is very
Professor Summerlee gave an acid smile as he picked up the
envelope in his gaunt hand.
"What can it possibly matter whether we open it now or in seven
minutes?" said he. "It is all part and parcel of the same system
of quackery and nonsense, for which I regret to say that the
writer is notorious."
"Oh, come, we must play the game accordin' to rules," said Lord
"It's old man Challenger's show and we are here by his good will,
so it would be rotten bad form if we didn't follow his instructions
to the letter."
"A pretty business it is!" cried the Professor, bitterly.
"It struck me as preposterous in London, but I'm bound to say
that it seems even more so upon closer acquaintance. I don't
know what is inside this envelope, but, unless it is something
pretty definite, I shall be much tempted to take the next down-
river boat and catch the Bolivia at Para. After all, I have
some more responsible work in the world than to run about
disproving the assertions of a lunatic. Now, Roxton, surely
it is time."
"Time it is," said Lord John. "You can blow the whistle."
He took up the envelope and cut it with his penknife. From it
he drew a folded sheet of paper. This he carefully opened out
and flattened on the table. It was a blank sheet. He turned
it over. Again it was blank. We looked at each other in a
bewildered silence, which was broken by a discordant burst of
derisive laughter from Professor Summerlee.
"It is an open admission," he cried. "What more do you want?
The fellow is a self-confessed humbug. We have only to return
home and report him as the brazen imposter that he is."
"Invisible ink!" I suggested.
"I don't think!" said Lord Roxton, holding the paper to the light.
"No, young fellah my lad, there is no use deceiving yourself.
I'll go bail for it that nothing has ever been written upon
"May I come in?" boomed a voice from the veranda.
The shadow of a squat figure had stolen across the patch of sunlight.
That voice! That monstrous breadth of shoulder! We sprang to our
feet with a gasp of astonishment as Challenger, in a round, boyish
straw-hat with a colored ribbon--Challenger, with his hands in his
jacket-pockets and his canvas shoes daintily pointing as he walked--
appeared in the open space before us. He threw back his head, and
there he stood in the golden glow with all his old Assyrian
luxuriance of beard, all his native insolence of drooping eyelids
and intolerant eyes.
"I fear," said he, taking out his watch, "that I am a few
too late. When I gave you this envelope I must confess that I
had never intended that you should open it, for it had been my
fixed intention to be with you before the hour. The unfortunate
delay can be apportioned between a blundering pilot and an
intrusive sandbank. I fear that it has given my colleague,
Professor Summerlee, occasion to blaspheme."
"I am bound to say, sir," said Lord John, with some sternness
voice, "that your turning up is a considerable relief to us, for
our mission seemed to have come to a premature end. Even now I
can't for the life of me understand why you should have worked it
in so extraordinary a manner."
Instead of answering, Professor Challenger entered, shook hands
with myself and Lord John, bowed with ponderous insolence to
Professor Summerlee, and sank back into a basket-chair, which
creaked and swayed beneath his weight.
"Is all ready for your journey?" he asked.
"We can start to-morrow."
"Then so you shall. You need no chart of directions now, since
you will have the inestimable advantage of my own guidance.
From the first I had determined that I would myself preside over
your investigation. The most elaborate charts would, as you
will readily admit, be a poor substitute for my own intelligence
and advice. As to the small ruse which I played upon you in the
matter of the envelope, it is clear that, had I told you all my
intentions, I should have been forced to resist unwelcome
pressure to travel out with you."
"Not from me, sir!" exclaimed Professor Summerlee, heartily.
"So long as there was another ship upon the Atlantic."
Challenger waved him away with his great hairy hand.
"Your common sense will, I am sure, sustain my objection and
realize that it was better that I should direct my own movements
and appear only at the exact moment when my presence was needed.
That moment has now arrived. You are in safe hands. You will
not now fail to reach your destination. From henceforth I take
command of this expedition, and I must ask you to complete your
preparations to-night, so that we may be able to make an early
start in the morning. My time is of value, and the same thing
may be said, no doubt, in a lesser degree of your own. I propose,
therefore, that we push on as rapidly as possible, until I have
demonstrated what you have come to see."
Lord John Roxton has chartered a large steam launch, the Esmeralda,
which was to carry us up the river. So far as climate goes, it
was immaterial what time we chose for our expedition, as the
temperature ranges from seventy-five to ninety degrees both
summer and winter, with no appreciable difference in heat.
In moisture, however, it is otherwise; from December to May is
the period of the rains, and during this time the river slowly
rises until it attains a height of nearly forty feet above its
low-water mark. It floods the banks, extends in great lagoons
over a monstrous waste of country, and forms a huge district,
called locally the Gapo, which is for the most part too marshy
for foot-travel and too shallow for boating. About June the
waters begin to fall, and are at their lowest at October
or November. Thus our expedition was at the time of the dry
season, when the great river and its tributaries were more or
less in a normal condition.
The current of the river is a slight one, the drop being not
greater than eight inches in a mile. No stream could be more
convenient for navigation, since the prevailing wind is
south-east, and sailing boats may make a continuous progress to
the Peruvian frontier, dropping down again with the current.
In our own case the excellent engines of the Esmeralda could
disregard the sluggish flow of the stream, and we made as rapid
progress as if we were navigating a stagnant lake. For three
days we steamed north-westwards up a stream which even here, a
thousand miles from its mouth, was still so enormous that from
its center the two banks were mere shadows upon the distant skyline.
On the fourth day after leaving Manaos we turned into a tributary
which at its mouth was little smaller than the main stream.
It narrowed rapidly, however, and after two more days' steaming
we reached an Indian village, where the Professor insisted that
we should land, and that the Esmeralda should be sent back to Manaos.
We should soon come upon rapids, he explained, which would make its
further use impossible. He added privately that we were now
approaching the door of the unknown country, and that the fewer
whom we took into our confidence the better it would be. To this
end also he made each of us give our word of honor that we would
publish or say nothing which would give any exact clue as to the
whereabouts of our travels, while the servants were all solemnly
sworn to the same effect. It is for this reason that I am
compelled to be vague in my narrative, and I would warn my readers
that in any map or diagram which I may give the relation of places
to each other may be correct, but the points of the compass are
carefully confused, so that in no way can it be taken as an actual
guide to the country. Professor Challenger's reasons for secrecy
may be valid or not, but we had no choice but to adopt them,
for he was prepared to abandon the whole expedition rather than
modify the conditions upon which he would guide us.
It was August 2nd when we snapped our last link with the outer
world by bidding farewell to the Esmeralda. Since then four days
have passed, during which we have engaged two large canoes from
the Indians, made of so light a material (skins over a bamboo
framework) that we should be able to carry them round any obstacle.
These we have loaded with all our effects, and have engaged two
additional Indians to help us in the navigation. I understand
that they are the very two--Ataca and Ipetu by name--who
accompanied Professor Challenger upon his previous journey.
They appeared to be terrified at the prospect of repeating it,
but the chief has patriarchal powers in these countries, and
if the bargain is good in his eyes the clansman has little
choice in the matter.
So to-morrow we disappear into the unknown. This account I am
transmitting down the river by canoe, and it may be our last word
to those who are interested in our fate. I have, according to
our arrangement, addressed it to you, my dear Mr. McArdle, and I
leave it to your discretion to delete, alter, or do what you like
with it. From the assurance of Professor Challenger's manner--and
in spite of the continued scepticism of Professor Summerlee--I
have no doubt that our leader will make good his statement, and
that we are really on the eve of some most remarkable experiences.
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