WHEN in the neighbourhood of the Girau Falls we returned to a camp known as 22, which was merely a couple of huts, the station of two English surveyors, who had with them a small party of Bolivians. The Bolivian frontier was then but a little distance to the south-west. We rested for a day there, and planned to make a journey of ten miles across country, to the falls of the Caldeirao do Inferno. By doing so we should save the wearying return ride along the track to the Rio Jaci-Parana, for at the Caldeirao a launch was kept, and in that we could shoot the rapids and reach the camp on the Jaci two days earlier. Some haste was necessary now, for my steamer must be nearing her sailing time. And again, I agreed the more readily to the plan of making a traverse of the forest because it would give me the opportunity of seeing the interior of the virgin jungle away from any track. Though I had been so long in a land which all was forest I had not been within the universal growth except for little journeys on used trails. A journey across country in the Amazon country is never made by the Brazilians. The only roads are the rivers. It is a rare traveller who goes through those forests, guided only by a compass and his lore of the wilderness. That for months I had never been out of sight of the jungle, and yet had rarely ventured to turn aside from a path for more than a few paces, is some indication of its character. At the camp where we were staying I was told that once a man had gone merely within the screen of leaves, and then no doubt had lost, for a few moments, his sense of direction of the camp, for he was never seen again.
The equatorial forest is popularly pictured as a place of bright and varied colours, with extravagant flowers, an abundance of fruits, and huge trees hung with creepers where lurk many venomous but beautiful snakes with gem-like eyes, and a multitude of birds as bright as the flowers; paradise indeed, though haunted by a peril. Those details are right, but the picture is wrong. It is true that some of the birds are decorated in a way which makes the most beautiful of our temperate birds seem dull; but the toucans and macaws of the Madeira forest, though common, are not often seen, and when they are seen they are likely to be but obscure atoms drifting high in a white light. About the villages and in the clearings there are usually many superb butterflies and moths, and a varied wealth of vegetation not to be matched outside the tropics, and there will be the fireflies and odours in evening pathways. But the virgin forest itself soon becomes but a green monotony which, through extent and mystery, dominates and compels to awe and some dread. You will see it daily, but will not often approach it. It has no splendid blossoms; none, that is, which you will see, except by chance, as by luck one day I saw from the steamer's bridge some trees in blossom, domes of lilac surmounting the forest levels. Trees are always in blossom there, for it is a land of continuous high summer, and there are orchids always in flower, and palms and vines that fill acres of forest with fragrance, palms and other trees which give wine and delicious fruits, and somewhere hidden there are the birds of the tropical picture, and dappled jaguars perfect in colouring and form, and brown men and women who have strange gods. But they are lost in the ocean of leaves as are the pearls and wonders in the deep. You will remember the equatorial forest but as a gloom of foliage in which all else that showed was rare and momentary, was foundered and lost to sight instantly, as an unusual ray of coloured light in one mid-ocean wave gleams, and at once goes, and your surprise at its apparition fades too, and again there is but the empty desolation which is for ever but vastness sombrely bright.
One morning, wondering greatly what we should see in the place where we should be the first men to go, Hill and I left camp 22 and returned a little along the track. It was a hot still morning. A vanilla vine was in fragrant flower somewhere, unseen, but unescapable. My little unknown friend in the woods, who calls me at odd times--but I think chiefly when I am near a stream--by whistling thrice, let me know he was about. Hill said he thinks he has seen him, and that my little friend looks like a blackbird. On the track in many places were objects which appeared to be long cups inverted, of unglazed ware. Picking up one I found it was the cap to a mine of ants, the inside of the clay cup being hollowed in a perfect circle, and remarkably smooth. A paca dived into the scrub near us. It was early morning, scented with vanilla, and the intricacy of leaves was radiant. Nowhere in the screen could I see a place through which it was possible to crawl to whatever was behind it. The front of leaves was unbroken. Hill presently bent double and disappeared, and I followed in the break he made. So we went for about ten minutes, my leader cutting obstructions with his machete, and mostly we had to go almost on hands and knees. The undergrowth was green, but in the etiolated way of plants which have little light, though that may have been my fancy. One plant was very common, making light-green feathery barriers. I think it was a climbing bamboo. Its stem was vapid and of no diameter, and its grasslike leaves grew in whorls at the joints. It extended to incredible distances. We got out of that margin of undergrowth, which springs up quickly when light is let into the woods, as it was there through the cutting of the track, and found ourselves on a bare floor where the trunks of arborescent laurels grew so thickly together that our view ahead was restricted to a few yards. We were in the forest. There was a pale tinge of day, but its origin was uncertain, for overhead no foliage could be seen, but only deep shadows from which long ropes were hanging without life. In that obscurity were points of light, as if a high roof had lost some tiles. Hill set a course almost due south, and we went on, presently descending to a deep clear stream over which a tree had fallen. Shafts of daylight came down to us there, making the sandy bottom of the stream luminous, as by a lantern, and betraying crowds of small fishes. As we climbed the tree, to cross upon it, we disturbed several morphos. We had difficulties beyond in a hollow, where the bottom of the forest was lumbered with fallen trees, dry rubbish, and thorns, and once, stepping on what looked timber solid enough, its treacherous shell collapsed, and I went down into a cloud of dust and ants. In clearing this wreckage, which was usually as high as our faces, and doubly confused by the darkness, the involutions of dead thorny creepers, and clouds of dried foliage, Hills got at fault with our direction, but reassured himself, though I don't know how--but I think with the certain knowledge that if we went south long enough we should strike the Madeira somewhere--and on we went. For hours we continued among the trees, seldom knowing what was ahead of us for any distance, surviving points of noise intruding again after long in the dusk of limbo. So still and nocturnal was the forest that it was real only when its forms were close. All else was phantom and of the shades. There was not a green sign of life, and not a sound. Resting once under a tree I began to think there was a conspiracy implied in that murk and awful stillness, and that we should never come out again into the day and see a living earth. Hills sat looking out, and said, as if in answer to an unspoken thought of mine which had been heard because there was less than no sound there, that men who were lost in those woods soon went mad.
Then he led on again. This forest was nothing like the paradise a tropical wild is supposed to be. It was as uniformly dingy as the old stones of a London street on a November evening. We did not see a movement, except when the morphos started from the uprooted tree. Once I heard the whistle call us from the depths of the forest, urgent and startling; and now when in a London by-way I hear a boy call his mate in a shrill whistle, it puts about me again the spectral aisles, and that unexpectant quiet of the sepulchre which is more than mere absence of sound, for the dead who should have no voice. This central forest was really the vault of the long-forgotten, dank, mouldering, dark, abandoned to the accumulations of eld and decay. The tall pillars rose, upholding night, and they might have been bastions of weathered limestone and basalt, for they were as grim as ancient and ruinous masonry. There was no undergrowth. The ground was hidden in a ruin of perished stuff, uprooted trees, parchments of leaves, broken boughs, and mummied husks, the iron globes of nuts, and pods. There was no day, but some breaks in the roof were points of remote starlight. The crowded columns mounted straight and far, almost branchless, fading into indistinction. Out of that overhead obscurity hung a wreckage of distorted cables, binding the trees, and often reaching the ground. The trees were seldom of great girth, though occasionally there was a dominant basaltic pillar, its roots meandering over the floor like streams of old lava. The smooth ridges of such a fantastic complexity of roots were sometimes breast high. The walls ran up the trunk, projecting from it as flat buttresses, for great heights. We would crawl round such an occupying structure, diminished groundlings, as one would move about the base of a foreboding, plutonic building whose limits and meaning were ominous and baffling. There were other great trees with compound boles, built literally of bundles of round stems, intricate gothic pillars, some of the props having fused in places. Every tree was the support of a parasitic community, lianas swathing it and binding it. One vine moulded itself to its host, a flat and wide compress, as though it were plastic. We might have been witnessing what had been a riot of manifold and insurgent life. It had been turned to stone when in the extreme pose of striving violence. It was all dead now.
But what if these combatants had only paused as we appeared? It was a thought which came to me. The pause might be but an appearance for our deception. Indeed, they were all fighting as we passed through, those still and fantastic shapes, a war ruthless but slow, in which the battle day was ages long. They seemed but still. We were deceived. If time had been accelerated, if the movements in that war of phantoms had been speeded, we should have seen what really was there, the greater trees running upwards to starve the weak of light and food, and heard the continuous collapse of the failures, and have seen the lianas writhing and constricting, manifestly like serpents, throttling and eating their hosts. We did see the dead everywhere, shells with the worms at them. Yet it was not easy to be sure that we saw anything at all, for these were not trees, but shapes in a region below the day, a world sunk abysmally from the land of living things, to which light but thinly percolated down to two travellers moving over its floor, trying to get out to their own place.
Late in the afternoon we were surprised by a steep hill in our way, where the forest was more open. Palms became conspicuous on the slopes, and the interior of the sombre woods was lighted with bright and graceful foliage. The wild banana was frequent, its long rippling pennants showing everywhere. The hill rose sharply, perhaps for six hundred feet, and over its surface were scattered large stones, and stones are rare indeed in this land of vegetable humus. They were often six inches in diameter, and I should have said they were waterworn but that I had seen them in situ at one camp, where they occurred but little below the surface in a friable sandstone, the largest of them easily broken in the hand, for they were but ferrous concretions of quartz grains. After exposure to the air they so hardened that they could be fractured only with difficulty. We kept along the ridge of the hill, finding breaks in the forest through which, as through unexpected windows, we could see, for a wonder, over the roof of the forest, looking out of our prison to a wide world where the sun was declining. In the south-west we caught the gleam of the Madeira, and beyond it saw a continuation of the range of hills on which we stood.
In the low ground between the hill range and the river the forest was lower, and was so tangled a mass that I doubted whether we could make a way through it. We happened upon a deserted Canpuna village, three large sheds, without sides, each but a ragged thatch propped on four legs. The clearing was just large enough to hold them. I could find no relics of the forest folk about. Damp leaves were thick on the floor of each shelter. But it was lucky we found the huts, for thence a trail led us to the river. We emerged suddenly from the forest, just as one goes through a little door into the open street. We were on the bank of the Madeira by the upper falls of the Caldeirao. It was still a great river, with the wall of the forest opposite, just above which the sunset was flaming, so far away that its tree trunks were but vertical lines of silver in dark cliffs. A track used by the Bolivian rubber boatmen led us down stream to the camp by the lower falls.
It was night when we got to the three huts of the camp, and the river could not be seen, but it was heard, a continuous low thundering. Sometimes a greater shock of deep waters falling, an orgasm of the flood pouring unseen, more violent than the rest, made the earth tremulous. Men held up lanterns to our faces, and led us to a hut. It was but the usual roof of leaves. We rested in hammocks slung between the posts, and I ached in every limb. But here we were at last; and there is no more luxurious bed than a hammock, yielding and resilient, as though you were cradled on air; and there is no pipe like that smoked in a hammock at night in the tropics after a day of toil and anxiety in a dissolving heat, for the heat makes a pipe bitter and impossible; but if a tropic night is cool and cloudless it comes like a benediction, and the silence is a peace that is below you and around, and as high as the stars towards which your face is turned. The ropes of the hammock creaked. Sometimes a man spoke quietly, as though he were at a great distance. The sound of the water receded, was heard only as in a sleep, and it might have been the loud murmur of the spinning globe, heard because we had left this world and had leisure for trifles in a securer world apart.
In the morning, while they prepared the little steam launch for its journey down the rapids, I had time to climb about the smooth granite boulders of the foreshore below the hut. A rock is so unusual in this country that it is a luxury when found. The granite was bare, but in its crevices grew cacti and other plants with fleshy leaves and swollen stems. Shadowing the hut was a tree bearing trumpet-shaped flowers, and before the blossoms humming birds were hovering, glowing and evanescent morsels, remaining miraculously suspended when inserting their long bills into the flowers, their little wings beating so rapidly that the air seemed visible and radiant about them. Another tree here interested me, for it was Bates Assacu, the only one I saw. It was a large tree, with palmate leaves having seven fingers. Ugly spines studded even its brown trunk.
I looked out on the river dubiously. A rocky island was just off shore, crowned with trees. Between us and the island, and beyond, the waters heaved and circled, evidently of great depth, and fearfully disturbed and swift. It looked all its name, the Caldeirao do Inferno--hell's cauldron. There was not much white and broken water. But its surface was always changing, whirlpools forming and revolving, then disappearing in long wrenched strands of water. Sometimes a big tree would leap out of the water, as though it had travelled upwards from the bottom, and then would vanish again.
We set out upon it, with an engineman and two half-breeds, and went off obliquely for mid-stream. The engineman and navigator was a fair-haired German. If the river had been sane and usual I should have had my eyes on the forest which stood along each shore, for few white men had ever looked upon it. But the river took our minds, and never in bad weather in the western ocean have I seen water so full of menace. Yet below the falls it was silent and unbroken. It was its smooth swiftness, its strange checks and mysterious and deep convulsions, as though the river bed itself was insecure, the startling whirlpools which appeared without warning, circling depressions on the surface in which our launch would have been but a straw, which shocked the mind. It was stealthy and noiseless. The water was but an inch or two below our gunwale. We saw trees afloat, greater and heavier than our midget of a craft, shooting down the gently inclined shining expanse just as we were, and express; and then, as if an awful hand had grasped them from below, they were pulled under, and we saw them no more; or, again, and near to us and ahead, a tree bole would shoot from below like an arrow, though no tree had been drifting there. The shores were far away.
The water ahead grew worse. The German crouched by his little throbbing engine, looking anxiously--I could see his fixed stare--over the bows. We were travelling indeed now. The boat, in a rapid tremor, and oscillating violently, was clutched at the keel by something which coiled strongly about us, gripped us, and held us; and the boat, mad and terrified, in an effort to escape, made a circuit, the water lipping at her gunwale and coming over the bows. The river seemed poised a foot above the bows, ready to pour in and swamp us. The German tried to get her head down stream. Hills began tearing at his ammunition belt, and I stooped and tugged at my boot laces. . . .
The boat jumped, as if released. The German turned round on us grinning. "It ees all right,', he said. He began to roll a cigarette nervously. "We pull it off all right," said the German, wetting his cigarette paper. The boat was free, dancing lightly along. The little engine was singing quickly and freely.
The Madeira here was as wide as in its lower reaches, with many islands. There were hosts of waterfowl. We landed once at a rubber hunter's sitio on the right bank. Its owner, a Bolivian, and his pretty Indian wife, who had tattoo marks on her forehead, made much of us, and gave us coffee. They had an orchard of guavas, and there, for it was long since I had tasted fruit, I was an immoderate thief, in spite of a pet curassow which followed me through the garden with distracting pecks. The Rio Jaci-Parana, a black-water stream, opened up soon after we left the sitio. The boundary between the clay-coloured flood of the Madeira and the dark water of the tributary was straight and distinct. From a distance the black water seemed like ink, but we found it quite clear and bright. The Jaci is not an important branch river, but it was, at this period of the rains, wider than the Thames at Richmond, and without doubt very much deeper. The appearance of the forest on the Jaci was quite different from the palisades of the parent stream. On the Madeira there is commonly a narrow shelf of bank, above which the jungle rises as would a sheer cliff. The Jaci had no banks. The forest was deeply submerged on either side, and whenever an opening showed in the woods we could see the waters within, but could not see their extent because of the interior gloom. The outer foliage was awash, and mounted, not straight, but in rounded clouds. For the first time I saw many vines and trees in flower, presumably because we were nearer the roof of the woods. One tree was loaded with the pendent pear-shaped nests of those birds called "hang nests," and scores of the beauties in their black and gold plumage were busy about their homes, which resembled monstrous fruits. Another tree was weighted with large racemes of orange-coloured blossoms, but as the launch passed close to it we discovered the blooms were really bundles of caterpillars. The Jaci appeared to be a haunt of the alligators, but all we saw of them was their snouts, which moved over the surface of the water out of our way like rubber balls afloat and mysteriously propelled. I had a sight, too, of that most regal of the eagles, the harpy, for one, well within view, lifted from a tree ahead, and sailed finely over the river and away.
That night I slept again in my old hut at the Jaci camp, and with Hill and another official set off early next morning for the construction camp on Rio Caracoles, which we hoped to reach before the commissary train left for Porto Velho. At Porto Velho the "Capella" was, and I wished, perhaps as much as I have ever wished for anything, that I should not be left behind when she departed. I knew she must be on the point of sailing.
My two companions had reasons of their own for thinking the catching of that train was urgently necessary. In our minds we were already settled and safe in a waggon, comfortable among the empty boxes, going back to the place where the crowd was. But still we had some way to ride; and, I must tell you, I was now possessed of all I desired of the tropical forest, and had but one fixed idea in my dark mind, but one bright star shining there; I had turned about, and was going home, and now must follow hard and unswervingly that star in the east of my mind. The rhythmic movements of the mule under me-only my legs knew he was there--formed in my darkened mind a refrain: get out of it, get out of it.
And at last there were the huts and tents of the Caracoles, still and quiet under the vertical sun. No train was there, nor did it look a place for trains. My steamer was sixty miles away, beyond a track along which further riding was impossible, and where walking, for more than two miles, could not be even considered. The train, the boys told us blithely, went back half an hour before. The audience of trees regarded my consternation with the indifference which I had begun to hate with some passion. The boys naturally expected that we should take it in the right way for hot climates, without fuss, and that now they had some new gossip for the night. But they should have understood Hill better. My tall gaunt leader waved them aside, for he was a man who could do things, when there seemed nothing that one could do. "The terminus or bust!" he cried. "Where's the boss?" He demanded a handcart and a crew. I thought he spoke in jest. A hand-cart is a contrivance propelled along railway metals by pumping at a handle. The handle connects with the wheels by a crank and cogs through a slot in the centre of the platform, and you get five miles an hour out of it, while the crew continues. For sixty miles, in that heat, it was impossible. Yet Hill persisted; the cart was put on the metals, five half-breeds manned the pump handle, three facing the track ahead, two with their backs to it. We three passengers sat on the sides and front of the trolley. Away we went.
The boys cheered and laughed, calling out to us the probabilities of our journey. We trundled round a corner, and already I had to change my cramped position; fifty-eight miles to go. We sat with our legs held up out of the way of the vines and rocks by the track, and careful to remember that our craniums must be kept clear of the pump handle. The crew went up and down, with fixed looks. The sun was the eye of the last judgment, and my lips were cracked. The trees made no sign. The natives went up and down; and the forest went by, tree by tree.
My tired and thoughtless legs dropped, and a thorn fastened its teeth instantly in my boots, and nearly had me down. The trees went by, one by one. There was a large black and yellow butterfly on a stone near us. I was surprised when no sound came as it made a grand movement upwards. Then, in the heart of nowhere, the trolley slackened, and came to a stand. We had lost a pin. Half a mile back we could hardly credit we really had found that pin, but there it was; and the men began to go up and down again. Hill got a touch of fever, and the natives had changed to the colour of impure tallow, and flung their perspiration on my face and hands as they swung mechanically. The poor wretches! We were done. The sun weighed untold tons.
But the sun declined, some monkeys began to howl, and the sunset tempest sprang down on us its assault, shaking the high screens on either hand, and the rain beat with the roll of kettle-drums. Then we got on an up grade, and two of the spent natives collapsed, their chests heaving. So I and the other chap stood up in the night, looked to the stars, from which no help could be got, took hold of the pump handle like gallant gentlemen, and tried to forget there were twenty miles to go. Away we went, jog, jog, uphill. I thought that gradient would not end till my heart and head had burst; but it did, just in time.
We gathered speed on a down grade. We flew. Presently the man with the fever yelled, "The brake, the brake!" But the brake was broken. The trolley was not running, but leaping in the dark. Every time it came down it found the metals. A light was coming towards us on the and the others prepared to jump. I could not even see that light, for my back was turned to our direction, and I could not let go the flying handle, else would all control have gone, and also I should have been smashed. I shut my eyes, pumped swiftly and involuntarily, and waited for doom to hit me in the back. The blow was a long time coming. Then Hill's gentle voice remarked, "All right, boys, it's a firefly."
. . . I became only a piece of machinery, and pumped, and pumped, with no more feeling than a bolster. Shadows undulated by us everlastingly. I think my tongue was hanging out. . . .
Lights were really seen at last. Kind hands lifted us from the engine of torture; and I heard the remembered voice of the Skipper, "Is he there? I thought it was a case."
. . . . .
That night of my return a full moon and a placid river showed me the "Capella" doubled, as in a mirror, and admiring the steamer's deep inverted shape I saw a heartening portent--I saw steam escaping from the funnel which was upside down. A great joy filled me at that, and I turned to the Skipper, as we strode over the ties of the jetty. "Yes. We go home to-morrow," he said. The bunk was super-heated again by the engine room, but knowing the glad reason, I endured it with pleasure. To-morrow we turned about.
Yet on the morrow there was still the persistence of the spacious idleness which encompassed us impregnably, beyond which we could not go. The little that was left of the fuel in the holds went out of us with dismal unhaste. The Skipper and the mates fumed, and the Doctor took me round to see the "Capella's" pets, so that we might fill up time. A monkey, an entirely secular creature once with us, had died while I was away. It was well. He had no name; Vice was his name. There were no tears at his death, and Tinker the terrier began to get back some of his full and lively form again after that day when, in a sudden righteous revolution, he slew, and barbarously mangled, the insolent tyrant of the ship. The monkey had feared none but Mack, our red, blue and yellow macaw, a monstrous and resplendent fowl in whose iron bill even Brazil nuts were soft.
But we all respected Mack. He was the wisest thing on the ship. If an idle man felt high-spirited and approached Mack to demonstrate his humour, that great bird gave an inquiring turn to its head, and its deliberate and unwinking eyes hid the rapid play of its prescient mind. The man stopped, and would speak but playfully. Nobody ever dared.
When Mack first boarded the ship, a group of us, gloved, smothered him with a heavy blanket and fastened a chain to his leg. He knew he was overpowered, and did not struggle, but inside the blanket we heard some horrible chuckles. We took off the blanket and stood back expectantly from that dishevelled and puzzling giant of a parrot. He shook his feathers flat again, quite self-contained, looked at us sardonically and murmured "Gur-r-r" very distinctly; then glanced at his foot. There was a little surprise in his eye when he saw the chain there. He lifted up the chain to examine it, tried it, and then quietly and easily bit it through. "Gur-r-r!" he said again, straightening his vest, still regarding us solemnly. Then he moved off to a davit, and climbed the mizzen shrouds to the topmast.
When he saw us at food he came down with nonchalance, and overlooked our table from the cross beam of an awning. Apparently satisfied, he came directly to the mess table, sitting beside me, and took his share with all the assurance of a member, allowing me to idle with his beautiful wings and his tail. He was a beauty. He took my finger in his awful bill and rolled it round like a cigarette. I wondered what he would do to it before he let it go; but he merely let it go. He was a great character, magnanimously minded. I never knew a tamer creature than Mack. That evening he rejoined a flock of his wild brothers in the distant tree-tops. But he was back next morning, and put everlasting fear into the terrier, who was at breakfast, by suddenly appearing before him with wings outspread on the deck, looking like a disrupted and angry rainbow, and making raucous threats. The dog gave one yell and fell over backwards.
We had added a bull-frog to our pets, and he must have weighed at least three pounds. He had neither vice nor virtue, but was merely a squab in a shady corner. Whenever the dog approached him he would rise on his legs, however, and inflate himself till he was globular. This was incomprehensible to Tinker, who was contemptuous, but being a little uncertain, would make a circuit of the frog. Sitting one day in the shadow of the box which enclosed the rudder chain was the frog, and we were near, and up came Tinker a-trot all unthinking, his nose to the deck. The frog hurriedly furnished his pneumatic act when Tinker, who did not know froggie was there, was close beside him, and Tinker snapped sideways in a panic. Poor punctured froggie dwindled instantly, and died.
I could add to the list of our creatures the anaconda which was found coming aboard by the gangway but that a stoker saw him first, became hysterical, and slew the reptile with a shovel; there were the coral snakes which came inboard over the cables and through the hawse pipes, and the vampire bats which frequented the forecastle. But they are insignificant beside our peccary. I forgot to tell you the Skipper never made a tame creature of her. She refused us. We brought her up from the bunkers where first she was placed, because the stokers flatly refused her society in the dark. She was brought up on deck in bonds, snapping her tushes in a direful way, and when released did most indomitably charge all our ship's company, bristles up, and her automatic teeth louder and more rapid than ever. How we fled! When I turned on my vantage, the manner of my getting there all unknown, to see who was my neighbour, it was my abashed and elderly captain, who can look upon sea weather at its worst with an easy eye, but who then was striving desperately to get his legs (which were in pyjamas) ten feet above the deck, in case the very wild pig below had wings.
After the peccary was released we could not call the ship ours. We crept about as thieves. It was fortunate that she always gave warning of her proximity by making the noise of castanets with her tusks, so that we had time to get elevated before she arrived. But I never really knew how fast she could move till I saw her chase the dog, whom she despised and ignored. One morning his valiant barking at her, from a distance he judged to be adequate, annoyed her, and she shot at him like a projectile. Her slender limbs and diminutive hooves were those of a deer, and they became merely a haze beneath her body, which was a flying passion. The terrified dog had no chance, but just as she closed with him her feet slipped, and so Tinker's life was saved.
Her end was pitiful. One day she got into the saloon. The Doctor and I were there, and saw her trot in at one door, and we trotted out at another door. Now, the saloon was the pride of the Skipper; and when the old man tried to bribe her out of it--he talked to her from the open skylight above --and she insulted him with her mouth, he sent for his men. From behind a shut door of the saloon alley way we heard a fusilade of tusks in the saloon, shrieks from the maddened dog, uproar from the parrots, and the hoarse shouts of the crew. The pig was charging ten ways at once. Stealing a look from the cabin we saw the boatswain appear with a bunch of cotton waste, soaked in kerosene, blazing at the end of a bamboo, and the mate with a knife lashed to another pole. The peccary charged the lot. There broke out the cries of Tophet, and through chaos champed insistently the high note of the tusks. She was noosed and caged; but nothing could be done with the little fury, and when I peeped in at her a few days later she was full length, and dying. She opened one glazing eye at me, and snapped her teeth slowly, game to the end.
. . . . .
March 6.--It was reported at breakfast that we sail to-morrow. The bread was sour, the butter was oil, the sugar was black with flies, the sausages were tinned and very white and dead, and the bacon was all fat. And even the awning could not keep the sun away.
March 7.--We got the hatches on number four hold. It is reported we sail to-morrow.
March 8.--The ship was crowded this night with the boys, for a last jollification. We fired rockets, and swore enduring friendships with anybody, and many sang different songs together. It is reported that we sail to-morrow.
March 9.--It is reported that we sail to-morrow.
March 10.--The "Capella" has come to life. The master is on the bridge, the first mate is on the forecastle head, the second mate is on the poop, and the engineers are below. There are stern and minatory cries, and men who run. At the first slow clanking of the cable we raised wild cheers. The ship's body began to tremble, and there was thunder under her counter. We actually came away from the jetty, where long we had seemed a fixture. We got into mid-stream--stopped; slowly turned tail on Porto Velho. There was old man Jim, diminished on the distant jetty, waving his hat. Porto Velho looked strange again. Away we went. We reached the bend of the river, and turned the corner. There was the last we shall ever see of Porto Velho. Gone!
The forest unfolding in reverse order seemed brighter, and all would have been quite well, but the fourth engineer came up from his duty, and fell insensible. He was very yellow, and the Doctor had work to do. Here was the first of our company to succumb to the country.
. . . . .
There were but six more days of forest; for the old "Capella," empty and light as a balloon, the collisions with the floating timber causing muffled thunder in her hollow body, came down the swift floods of the Madeira and the Amazon rivers "like a Cunarder, at sixteen knots," as the Skipper said. And there on the sixth day was Para again, and the sea near. Our spirits mounted, released from the dead weight of heat and silence. But I was to lose the Doctor at Para, for he was then to return to Porto Velho, having discharged his duty to the "Capella's" company. The Skipper took his wallet, and we went ashore with him, he to his day-long task of clearing his vessel, and we for a final sad excursion. Much later in the day, suspecting an unnameable evil was gathering to my undoing, I called at the agent's office, and found the Skipper had returned to the ship, that she was sailing that night, and, the regulations of Para being what they were, it being after six in the evening I could not leave the city till next morning. My haggard and dismayed array of thoughts broke in confusion and left me gibbering, with not one idea for use. Without saying even good-bye to my old comrade I took to my heels, and left him; and that was the last I saw of the Doctor. (Aha! my staunch support in the long, hot and empty time at the back of things, where were but trees, bad food, and a jest to brace our souls, if ever you should see this--How!--and know, dear lad, I carried the damnable regulations and a whole row of officials, the Union Jack at the main, firing every gun as I bore down on them. I broke through. Only death could have barred me from my ship and the way home.)
Next morning we were at sea. We dropped the pilot early and changed our course to the north, bound for Barbados. Though on the line, the difference in the air at sea, after our long enclosure in the rivers of the forest, was keenly felt. And the ship too had been so level and quiet; but here she was lively again, full of movements and noises. The bows were at their old difference with the skyline, and the steady wind of the outer was driving over us. Before noon, when I went in to the Chief, my crony was flat and moribund with a temperature at 105 degrees, and he had no interest in this life whatever. I had added the apothecary's duties to those of the Purser, and here found my first job. (Doctor, I gave him lots of grains of quinine, and lots more afterwards; and plenty of calomel when he was at 98 again. Was that all right?)
The sight of the big and hearty Chief, when he was about once more, yellow, insecure, and somewhat shrunken, made us dubious. Yet now were we rolling home. She was breasting down into a creaming smother, the seas were blue, and the world was fresh and wide all the way back. There was one fine night, as we were climbing slowly up the slope of the globe, when we lifted the whole constellation of the Great Bear, the last star of the tail just dipping below the seas, straight over the "Capella's" bows, as she pitched. Then were we assured affairs were rightly ordered, and slept well and contented.
. . . . .
Late one afternoon we sighted Barbados. The sea was dark and the light was golden. The island did not look like land. It was a faint but constant pearl-coloured cloud. The empty sky came down to the dark sea in bright walls which had but a bloom of azure. Overhead it was day, but the sea was fluid night. Above the island was a group of cirrus, turned to the setting sun like an audience of intent faces. Near to starboard was a white ship, fully rigged, standing towards the island with royals set, and even a towering main skysail. Tall as she was, she looked but a multiple cloud which had dropped from the sky, and had settled on the dark sea, and over it was drifting in a faint air, buoyant, but unable to lift. We overhauled that stately ship. She was reflecting the day-fall from the white rounds of her many sails. She was regal, she was paramount in her world, and the sun seemed to be watching her, and shining solely for her illustrious progress. The clarity and the peace of it was in us as we leaned against the rail, watching Barbados grow, and watching that exalted ship. "This is all right," said the Chief.
We were coming to the things we knew and understood. In the island near us were men, quays, and shops. This evening had a familiar and friendly look. Barbados at last! There would be something to eat, too, and we kept talking of that. Do you know what good bread and butter tastes like? Or mealy baked potatoes? Or fruit from which the juice runs when you bite? Or crisp salads? Not you; not if you haven't lived for long on tinned stuffs, bread which smelt like vinegar, and butter to which a spoon had to be used.
To the door of the saloon alley way we saw the steward come, and begin to swing his bell. "Tea ho!" said the mate. "Keep it," said the Chief. "I know it. Sardines and hash. Not for me. We shall get some grub in the morning. Oranges and bananas, boys. I'm tired of oil. My belt is in by three holes."
When the sun once touched the sea it sank visibly, like a weight. Night came at once. We passed a winking light, and soon ahead of us in the dark was grouped a multitude of lower stars. That was Bridgetown. Those stars opened and spread round us, showing nothing of the wall of night in which they were fixed. Well, there it was. We could smell the good land. We should see it in the morning. We had really got there.
The engines stopped. There was a shout from the steamer's bridge and a thunderous rumbling as the cable ran out, and then a remarkable quiet. The old man came sideways down the bridge ladder with a hurricane lamp, and stood with us, striking a light for his cigar. "Here we are, Chief,', he said. "What about coals in the morning?" The night was hot, there was no wind, and as we sat yarning on the bunker hatch another cluster of stars moved in swiftly together, came to a stand near us, and a peremptory gun was fired. That was the British mail steamer.
We looked at her with awe. We could see the toffs in evening dress idling in the glow of her electric lights. What a feed they had just finished! But the greatest wonder of her deck was the women m white gowns. We could hear the strange laughter of the women, and listened for it. That was music worth listening to. Our little mob of toughs in turns used the night glasses on those women, and in a dead silence. There were some kiddies, too.
We were looking at the benign lights of the island and trying to make out what they meant. The sense of our repose, and the touch of those warm and velvet airs, and the scent of land, were like the kindness and security of home. "I know this place," drawled Sandy. "I was here once. Before I went into steam I used to come out to the islands, when I was a young 'un. I made two voyages in the 'Chocolate Girl.' She was my first ship. She was a daisy, too. Once we lifted St. Vincent twenty-five days out of Liverpool. That was going, if you like. If old Wager--he was the old man of the 'Chocolate Girl'--if he could only get a trip in a ship like this, like an iron street with a factory stack in the middle! But he can't. He's dead. He had the 'Mignonette,' and she went missing among the Bahamas. There's millions of islands in the Bahamas. They're north of this place. You couldn't visit all those islands in a lifetime.
"If you ask me, some of the islands in these seas are very funny. There's something wrong about a few of them. They're not down in the chart, so I've heard. One day you lift one, and you never knew it was there. 'What's that?' says the old man. 'Can't make that place out.' Then he reckons he's found new land, and takes his position. He calls it after his wife, and cables home what he's done. The next thing is a gunboat goes there and beats about and lays over the spot, but she doesn't find no island. The gunboat cables home that the merchant chap was drunk or something, and that he steamed over the spot and got hundreds of fathoms. They're always so clever, in the navy. But I've heard some of these islands are not right. You see one once, and nobody ever sees it again.
"I knew a man, and he was marooned on one of those islands. He sailed with me afterwards on one of the Blue Anchor steamers to Sydney. One time he was on a craft out of Martinique for Cuba. She was a schooner of the islands, and fine vessels they are. You'll see a lot about us in the morning. This man's name was Moffat--Bill Moffat. His schooner had a mulatto for a master, and that nigger was a fool and very superstitious, by all accounts. They ran short of water, and it's pretty bad if you fall short of water in these seas. Off the regular routes there's nothing. You might drift for weeks, and see nothing, off the track.
"Then they sighted an island. The mulatto chap pretended he knew all about that island. He said he had been there before. But he was a liar. It was only a little island, like some trees afloat. They came down on it, and anchored in ten fathoms and waited for daylight.
"Next morning some wind freshened off shore, and Moffat takes a nigger and rows to the beach. There was only a light swell breaking on the coral, and landing was easy. Moffat told the nigger to stay by the boat while he took a look round. There was a bit of a coral beach with a pile of high rocks at the ends of it, like pillars each side of a door-step. What was inside the island Moffat couldn't see, because at the back of the beach was a wood. He said he heard a sound like a bird calling, but he reckoned there wasn't a soul in that place. The schooner was riding just off. He turned and was crunching his way up the coral with the idea of looking for a way inside. He got to the trees, and then heard the nigger shout in a fright. The black beggar was pushing out the boat. He got in it too, and began rowing back to the schooner as if somebody was coming after him.
"Moffat yelled, and ran down to the surf, but the nigger kept right on. There was Moffat up to his knees in the water, and in a fine state. The boat reached the schooner-and now, thinks Moffat, there'll be trouble. Do you know what happened though? For a little while nothing happened. Then they began to haul in her cable. She up-anchored and stood out. That's a fact. Bill told me he felt pretty sick when he saw it. He didn't like the look of it. He watched the schooner turn tail, and soon she found more wind and got out of sight past the island, close-hauled. He watched her dance past one of the piles of rocks till there was nothing but empty sea behind the rock. Then his eye caught something moving on the rock. Something moved round it out of his sight. He never saw what it was. He wished he had.
"Well, he had a pretty bad time. He couldn't find anyone on the island, in a manner of speaking. But somebody was always going round a corner, or behind a tree. He caught them out of the tail of his eye. He said it was enough to get on a man's nerves the way that thing always just wasn't there, whatever it was. 'Curse the goats,' Bill used to say to himself.
"One day Bill was strolling round figuring out what he could do to that mulatto when he met him again, and then he found a sea cave. He went in. It was a silly thing to do, because the way in was so low that he had to crawl. But the cave was big enough inside for a music-hall. The walls ran up into a vault, and the water came up to the bottom of the walls nearly all round. The water was like a green light. A bright light came up through the water, and the reflections were wriggling all over the rocks, making them seem to shake. The water was like thick glass full of light. He could see a long way down, but not to the bottom. While he was looking at it the water heaved up quietly full three feet, and the reflections on the walls faded. Then he saw the hole through which he had crawled was gone. 'Now, Bill Moffat, you're in a regular mess,' he says to himself.
"He dived for the hole. But he never found that way out, and the funny thing was he couldn't come to the top again. Bill saw it was a proper case that time, and no more Sundays in Poplar. He was surprised to find that the deeper he went the thinner the water was. It was thin and clear, like electric light. He could see miles there, and down he kept falling till he hit the bottom with a bang. It scared a lot of fishes, and they flew up like birds. He looked up to see them go, and there was the sun overhead, only it was like a bright round of green jelly, all shaking. Bill found it was dead easy to breathe in water that was no thicker than air, so he got up, brushed the sand off, and looked round. A flock of fishes flew about him quite friendly, and as beautiful as Amazon parrots. A big crab walked ahead, and Bill thought he had better follow the crab.
"He came to a path which was marked with shells, and at the end of the path he saw the fore half of a ship up-ended. While he was looking at it, somebody pushed the curtains from the hatchway, and came out, and looked at him. 'Good lord, it's Davy Jones,' said Bill to himself.
"'Hullo, Bill,' said Davy. 'Come in. Glad to see you, Bill. What a time you've been.'
"Moffat said that Davy wasn't a decent sight, having barnacles all over his face. But he shook hands. 'You're hand is quite cold, Bill,' said Davy. 'Did you lose your soul coming along? You nearly did that before, Bill Moffat. You nearly did it that Christmas night off Ushant. I thought you were coming then. But not you. But here you are at last all right. Come in! Come in!'
"Bill went inside with Davy. There was sea junk all over the place. 'I find these things very handy, old chap,' said Davy to Bill, seeing he was looking at them. 'It's good of you to send them down, though I don't like the iron, for it won't stand the climate. See that old hat? It's a Spanish admiral's. I clap it on, backwards, whenever I want to go ashore.'
"So they sat down, and yarned about old times, though Bill told me that Davy seemed to remember people after everybody else had forgotten them, which was confusing. 'Oh, yes,' Davy would say, 'old Johnson. Yes. He used to talk of me in a rare way. He was a dog, was Johnson. I've heard him, many a time. But he's changed since his ship came downstairs. He's a better man. He's not so funny as he was.'
"Then they had a pipe, and after a bit things began to drag. 'Come into the garden, Bill,' said Davy. 'Come and have a look round.'
"All round the garden Bill noticed the nameboards of ships nailed up. Some of the names Bill knew, and some he didn't, being Spanish. 'What do you think of my collection?' said Davy. 'Ever seen as fine a one? I lay you never have!'
"Then they came to a door. 'Come in,' said Davy. 'This is my locker. Ever heard of my locker?'
"Bill said it was pretty dark inside. Just light enough to see. But there was only miles and miles of crab-pots, all set out in rows, with a label on each. 'What do you think of that lot, Bill?' asked Davy. 'I shall have to get larger premises soon.' Bill choked a bit, for the place smelt stale and seaweedy. 'What's in the crab-pots, Davy?' said Bill.
"'Souls!' said Davy. 'But there's a lot of trash, though now and then I get a good one. Here, now. See this? This is a fine one, though I mustn't tell you where I got it. And people said he hadn't got one. But I knew better, and there it is.'
"But Bill couldn't see anything in the pots. He could only hear a rustling, as if something was rubbing on the wicker, or a twittering. At last Davy came to a new pot. 'Do you know who's in this one, Bill,' he said. But Bill couldn't guess. 'Well, Bill, it's your soul, and a poorer one I never see. It was hardly worth setting the pot for a soul like that.' Then Davy began to shake the pot, and soon got wild. 'Here, where the deuce has that soul gone,' he said, and put his ear to the bars. Then he put the pot down and made a rush at Bill, to get it back; but Bill jumped backwards, got through the door, ran through the house, grabbed the admiral's cocked hat, and clapped it on backwards. Then he shot out of the water at once, and found himself on the rocks outside the cave, with the cocked hat still on his head. He's kept that hat ever since, and money wouldn't buy it."
. . . . .
When I woke next morning it was like waking to a great occasion. The tropic sun was blazing outside. The day seemed of a superior quality. An old negress shuffled by my cabin door, through which was a peep the town across the harbour, and she had some necklaces of shells strung on one skinny black arm and carried a basket of oranges on the other. I jumped up, and bought all the oranges. A boat came to our gangway and some of us went ashore. I don't know what a man feels like who is released one fine day from imprisonment into the stream of his fellows, but I should think he is first a little stunned, and afterwards becomes like a child's balloon in a breeze. The people we had met in the Brazils never laughed; and I myself had always felt that there we had been watched and followed unseen, that something was there, watching us, waiting its time, knowing well it could get us before we escaped.
We were at last outside it and free. The anchorage of Bridgetown seemed anarchic, after our level sombre experience, for the sea was a green light, flashing and volatile, with white schooners driving upon it, negroes shouting and laughing over the bulwarks, or frantically hauling on the sheets. The rushing water was crowded with leaping boats, all gaudily painted; and even the sunshine, moving rapidly on quivering white sails and the white hulls buoyantly swinging, was a kind of shaking laughter. Our negro boatmen sang as they rowed, when they were not swearing at other boatmen. The world had got wine in its head. We went to the Ice House, and bought English beer. (Oh, the taste of beer!) In the brisk and sunny streets there were English women, cool, dainty, a little haughty, their dresses smelling of new linen, and they were looking in at shop windows. We had got our feet down on home pavements, and the streets had the newness and sparkle of holiday. "Hi, cabby!" He drove us along coral roads, under cocoanut palms, and there were golden hills (hills once more!) one way, and on the other hand was a beach glowing like white fire, with a sea beyond of a blue that was ultimate, profound, and as tense and as still as rapture. We came to a hotel where there was stiff napery, with creases in it, on a breakfast table. There was a silver coffee-pot. There was sweet-smelling and crusty bread, butter in ice, and new milk. There was a heaped plate of fruit. There was a crystal jug filled with cold water and sunshine, and it threw a wavering light on the damask. We had some of everything. We ate for more than an hour, steadily. A man could not have done it alone, and without shame. There was one superior lady tourist, with grey curls on her checks and a face like doom, and she sent for the manager, and asked if we were to breakfast there again. She wanted to know. The Chief begged me, as the youngest of the party, to go over and kiss her. But I pointed out that, seeing where we had come from, and what we had suffered, it was the plain duty of any really dear old soul to come over and kiss us on a morning like that.
. . . . .
In the afternoon we were aboard again, waiting for the Skipper to return with the new orders. To what part of the world would the power in Leadenhall Street now consign us? Sandy thought New Orleans; but we could rule that out, for there was no cotton just then. Pensacola was more likely, the Chief said, with a deck cargo of lumber for Hamburg. That guess made the crowd glum. Winter in the Atlantic, she rolling her heart out, and the timber that was level with the engine-room casing groaning and straining at every roll--to dwell on that prospect was to feel a cold draught out of the Valley of Shadows.
Two nigger boys were overside, diving for corns. You threw a coin--Brazil's nickel muck, a handful worth nothing--and it went below oscillating, as though sentiently dodging the contorted and convulsive figure of the boy diving after it. The transparency of the fathoms was that of a denser air. When the sea was still, at the slack of the tides, this tropic anchorage was not like water. You did not look upon it, but into it, being hardly aware of its surface. It was surprising to see our massive iron plates stand upright in it. We were still an ugly black bulk, as we were on the ditch water of Swansea, but our sea wagon had lost its look of squat heaviness. Even our iron ship was transmuted, such was the lift and radiance of Barbados and its sea, into the buoyancy of the unsubstantial stuff of that scene about us, the low hills of greenish gold so delicate under the sky of malachite blue that you doubted whether mortals could walk there. Bridgetown was between those hills and the sea, a cluster of white cubes, with inconsequential touches of scarlet, orange, and emerald. Beneath our keel was a boy who might have been flying there.
On one side of the town was a belt of coral beach. It was a-fire, and the palms above the beach, with their secretive villas, and the green-gold hills beyond, floated on that white glow. The sea below the beach was an incandescent green; it might have been burning though contact with the island. Then the sea spread down to us in areas of opaque violet and blue, till in the neighbourhood of the ship it became transparent and was but a denser atmosphere. You, in the hard and bitter north, on the exposed summit of the world where Polaris glitters in the forehead of a frozen god, hardly know what young and luscious stuff this earth is, where the constant sun and tepid rains and salt air have preserved its bloom and flush of abounding life.
There came the Skipper's boat, he in his shore-going white ducks and Panama hat in the stern sheets, his wallet in his hand. He knew that we all looked at him with assumed indifference, when he stepped among us on deck. That was his time to show he was the ship's master. He feigned that we were not there. He turned to the chief mate: "All ready, Mr. Brown?" "All ready, sir." Then the master walked slowly, knowing our eyes were on his back, to his place aft, first going in to speak to the Chief. The Chief came out some minutes after. "Tampa, boys," said he. "Florida for phosphate, then home."
That evening we were on our way, and turned inwards through the line of the Caribbees, passing between the islands of St. Lucia and St. Vincent, high purple masses of rock, St. Lucia's mass ascending into cones. The Skipper had been to most of the West Indian islands, and remembered them, while I listened. We stood at the chart-room door, watching the islands across the evening seas. The sun, just above the sharply dark rim of ocean, touched the sea, and sank. A thin paring of silver moon had the sky to itself. I went into the chart-room; and the old man who, grim and sour as you might think him, mellows into confidential friendliness when he has you to himself, spread his charts of the Spanish Main under the yellow lamp, which was a slow pendulum as she rolled, and he put his spectacles on his lean brown face, talked of unfrequented cays, and of the negro islands, and debated which route we should take.
The fourth morning at breakfast-time, was a burning day, with a sky almost cloudless, and a slow sea which had the surface of its rich blue deeps shot with turquoise lights, while fields of saffron gulf-weed stained it; and we had, close over our port bow, the most beautiful island in the world. It is useless to deny it, and to declare you know a better island. Can't I see Jamaica now? I see it most plain. It descends abruptly from the meridian, pinnacles and escarpments trembling in the upper air with distance and delicate poise, and comes down in rolling forests and steep verdant slopes, where facets of bare rock glitter, to more leisurely open glades and knolls; and then, being not far from the sea, drops in sheer cliffs to where the white combers pulse. It is a jewel which smells like a flower. The "Capella" went close in till Port Antonio under the Blue Mountains was plain, and though I could see the few scattered houses, I could not see the narrow ledges where men could stand in such a steep land. We crawled over the blue floor in which that sea mountain is set, and cruised along, feeling very small, under the various and towering shape. For long I watched it, declaring continually that some day I must return. (And that is the greatest compliment a traveller on his way home can pay to any spot on earth.)
It faded as we drew northwards. Over seas to the north was a long low stratum of permanent cloud, and beneath it was the faint presentiment of Cuba. Still we were in the spell of the very halcyon weather of old tales, with the world our own, though once this day there was a great rain burst, and the "Capella" was lost in falling water, her syren blaring. We neared the Cuban coast by the Isle of Pines, a pallid desert shore, apparently treeless and parched. The next morning we came to the western cape of the island, rounding it in company with a white island schooner, its crew of toughs watching us from her shadeless deck; and changed our course almost due north.
Now we were in the Gulf of Mexico, and soon upset its notoriously uncertain temper, for a "norther" met us and piped till it was a full gale, end-on, and it kicked up a nasty sea which flung about the empty "Capella" like a band-box. There was a night of it. Towards morning it eased up, and I woke to a serene sunrise, and found we were in the pale green water of coral soundings, with the Floridan pilot even then standing in to us, his tug bearing centrally on its bridge a gilded eagle with rampant wings. In a little while we were fast to the quarantine quay at Mullet Island, detained as a yellow fever suspect. The medical officers boarded us, ranged amidships the "Capella's" crowd from the master down, and put in the mouth of each of us a thermometer; and so for a time we stood ridiculously smoking glass cigarettes. One stoker was put aside, for he had a temperature. Then into the cabins, and the saloon, the forecastle, and into the holds, were put gallipots of burning sulphur, and the doors were closed. We became a great and dreadful stench; and I went ashore.
There was a deserted beach of comminuted shells, its glare as bright as snow in sunshine. It was littered with the relics of old wrecks, with sea rubbish, and the carapaces of crabs. Beyond the beach was a calcareous desert, with a scrub of palmetto and evergreen, and patches of flowering coreopsis and blue squills. Hidden by the scrub were shallow lagoons. It is hard to tell the sea from the land in warm and aqueous Florida, for sea and land so invade each other's dominions. Water and land were asleep in the sun. I was alone in the island, and sat in a decaying boat by the shore of a lagoon where nothing moved but the little crabs playing hide and seek in the moist crevices of the boat, and the pelicans which sat round the interminable flat shores. Sometimes the pelicans woke, and yawned, and fanned the heat with great slow wings.
In the early afternoon we were allowed to proceed to Tampa, which we reached in three hours; and there we came once more to the press of the busy and indifferent world. The muddle of roofs and steeples of a great city were about us, and men met us and talked to us, but they had no leisure for interest in the wonders of the strange land from which we had come, and would not have cared if afterwards we were going to Gehenna. We made fast under a new structure of timber and iron which was something between a flour mill and the Tower of Babel, for it was wan and powdered, and full of strange noises; and it had a habit of eating, in a mechanical way, an interminable length of railway trucks, wagon after wagon, one every minute. A great weariness and yearning filled me that night. The strangulating fumes of the sulphur clung to all the cabin, and puffed in clouds from the pillow when I changed sides; for the wagons clanked and banged till daylight. I sat up and beat my breast, and swore I would leave her and go home. The next morning that inexplicable structure beside us began from many mouths to vomit floods of powdered phosphate into us, and the "Cappella," in and out, turned pale through an almost impalpable dust. Everybody took bronchitis and cursed Tampa and its phosphate.
I spoke to the Skipper and the Chief about it, and they agreed that nobody would stop with her now, who could leave her; but that yet was I no pal to desert them. What about them? They had yet to see her safe across the most ruthless of seas at a time when its temper would be at its worst; and what about them? Though they admitted that, were they in my case, they would certainly take the train to New York, and catch there the fastest steamer for England. Then come with me to the British Consul like an honest man, said I to the captain, and get me off your articles.
The three of us left her, I for the last time. I turned upon the "Capella," and the boys stood leaning on her taffrail watching me; and I am not going to put down here what I felt, nor what the lads cried to me, nor what I said when I stood beneath her counter, and called up to them. We came to a corner by a warehouse, and I turned to look upon the "Capella" for the last time.
Tampa, the noisy city about us, was rawly new, most of its site but lately a shallow lagoon, and one of its natives, the ship's agent who was entertaining us at lunch, did not fail to impress that enterprise and industry upon us with great earnestness. Tampa was a large, hasty, makeshift standing of depôts, railway sidings, cigar factories, wharves, and huge elevators which could load I forget how many thousands of tons of bulk cargo into a steamer in twelve hours, as though she were an iron bucket under a pump. A town spontaneous unexpected and complete, with a hurrying population in its sidewalks, pushing to secure foothold in life, and not a book-shop there, and no talk but in its saloons and commercial exchanges. We went into many of those saloons, the Skipper, and the Chief, and the late Purser, shaking hands for the last time in each, and then dropping into another to recall old affairs; and shaking hands finally again, and so to the next bar.
That night I was alone in Tampa, with a torrent of urgent affairs surging past. I could not find the railway station. Standing at a corner, outside a tobacconist's shop, a huge corridor train shaped among the lights of the street, trundled down the centre of the roadway, then edged close to the sidewalk, bumping past a row of shops as casually as a tram for a penny journey, and stopped just where I stood with a hand-bag wondering how I was to get to New York. New York was a thousand miles away. The train was but a mere episode of the open street, and I could not feel it bore out the promise of my railway vouchers. This train, a row of lighted villas in motion, came down the roadway, out of nowhere, while carts and women with market baskets waited for it to pass, stopped outside a tobacconist's shop, and the light of the shop window illuminated a round of a huge wheel which stood higher than my head. The wheel came to rest upon an abandoned newspaper. A negro was passing me, and I stopped him. "Noo Yark? Step aboard right now!" His word was all I had to go upon that this train would take me to the precise point in a continent I did not know. A struggle for existence eddied fiercely round the train, and assuming it was the right train, and I missed it--it was an unbearable thought! The train had to be mounted. It was like climbing a wall; but I would have cast my luggage, scaled more than walls, and dealt conclusively with any obstruction if the way home left me no other choice. The traveller who has been in the wilds and has lived with the barbarous, though he has not allowed his thoughts to look back there, yet he knows something of that eagerness which dumb things feel when he turns about. I took my train on trust, as one does so many things in the United States, found we should really get to New York, in time, and lay listening to the beat of the flying wheels beneath my berth; tried to count their pulse, and fell asleep.
There were some more days and nights, and all the passengers of the earlier stages of the journey had passed away. Then the train slowed through imperceptible gradations, and stopped. I thought a cow was on the line. But the negro attendant came to me and told me to get out. This was New York. Outside there was a street in the rain, the stones were deep with yellow reflections, and some cabmen stood about in shiny capes. No majestic figure of Liberty met me. A cab met me, on a rainy night.
. . . . .
It was on one of those huge liners, and the steward told him they would reach Plymouth in the morning. He was packing up his things in his cabin. England to-morrow! The things went into his trunks in the lump, with a compressing foot after each. It did not matter. All the clothes were in ruins. The only care he took was with the toucans brilliant skins, the bundle of arrows, the biscuit tins full of butterflies--they would excite the Boy--and the barbaric Indian ornaments for Miss Muffet and the Curly Nob; how their eyes would shine. His telegram from Plymouth would surprise them. They did not know where he was.
But he knew, when they did not, that there was but one more day to tick off the calendar to complete the exile. He had turned back that day to the earlier pages of the diary and found some illuminating entries; "Gone," or "That's another," were written across some spaces which otherwise were blank. It was curious that those cryptic entries recalled the hours they stood for more vividly to his mind than those which had happenings minutely recorded. He threw the diary into a trunk; the long job was finished.
The sunshine all that day was different from the well remembered burning weight of the tropics. It was a frail and grateful spring warmth, and the incidence of its rays was happy and illuminating, as though the light had only just reached the world, and so things looked just discovered and interesting. A faint silver haze hung upon a pallid sea, and the slow smooth mounds of water were full of fugitive glints and flashes. You hardly knew the sea was there. The mist was the luminous nimbus of a new world, a world not yet fully formed, for it had no visible bounds. Night came, and a nearly full moon, and the only reality was the stupendous bulk of the liner. She might have been in the clouds, herself a dark cloud near the moon, with but rumours of light in the aerial deeps beneath. It seemed another of the dreams. Would he wake up presently to the reality of the forest, with the sun blazing on the enamel of its hard foliage?
He wanted some assurance of time and space. He would stay on deck till the first sign came of England. So he leaned motionless for hours on the rail of the boat-deck, gazing ahead, where the outlook remained as unshapen as it had since he left home. Far on the port bow appeared the headlight of a steamer.
He watched that light. This, then, was no dream sea. Others were there. But was it a headlight? . . . No!
The Bishop's! England now!
The steward came again, peeping through his curtain, and said, "Plymouth, sir!" and turned on the glow lamp, for it was not yet dawn. There was an early breakfast laid in the saloon; but he went on deck. The liner had hardly way on her; the water was but uncoiling noiselessly alongside. There were shapes of hills near, with villas painted on them, but so bluish and immaterial was all that it might have rippled like the flat water, being but a flimsy background which could be easily shaken. The hills drew nearer imperceptibly, grew higher. A touch of real day gave a hill-top body; and there was a confident shout from somebody unseen in plain English. The vision grounded and got substance. Not only home, but spring in Devon.
From the train window the countryside in the tones and flush of the renascence absorbed him. He went from side to side of the carriage. What was most extraordinary was the sparsity and lowness of the trees and bushes, the fineness of the growth. The outlines of the trees could be seen, and they crouched so near to the ground and were so very meagre. The colours were faint enough to be but tinted mists. The biggest of the trees were manageable, looked like toys. The orderly hedges, the clean roads, the geometrical patterns of the fields, gave him assurance once more of order and security. Here was law again, and the permanence of affairs long decided upon. He closed his eyes, sinking into the cushions of the carriage as though the arms under him were proved friendly and could be trusted. . . .
The slowing of the train woke him. They were running into Paddington. He got his feet fair and solid on London before the train stopped, and looked into the crowd waiting there. A flushed youngster ran towards him out of a group, then stopped shyly. He caught The Boy, and held him up. . . . Here again was the centre of the world.