When we halted for lunch my men were in a shocking condition. I could not quite understand what had happened. Most of them seemed to suffer from violent internal inflammation accompanied by high fever.
In order to make things as easy as possible for them I once more rearranged the loads that afternoon, abandoning six hundred rifle cartridges, several tins of hyposulphite of soda, other chemicals, all the developing trays, etc., for my photographic work, and a number of valuable trinkets I had collected. Much to my sorrow I had also to abandon the geological collection, which was too heavy to be carried any farther. Then I had to abandon all the books which were necessary for working out my astronomical observations, such as Norrie's Navigation and The Nautical Almanac, and all possible articles which were not absolutely necessary.
After I had gone to the great trouble of unpacking everything in order to make the loads lighter, I was surprised to discover, a few minutes later, that the men had appropriated most of the stuff and shoved it back in their loads—in order, perhaps, to sell it when they got to Manaos.
I said nothing, as it suited me very well. I should have gladly repurchased the things from them on the way. One man opened a tin of powdered hyposulphite and, believing it to be powdered sugar, proceeded to pour it down his throat. Had I the bad habit of making puns, I should say that I just saved him in time from being "fixed" for good. As it was he swallowed some, and became very ill indeed for some hours.
We luckily killed a big mutum and two monkeys before leaving that camp, but my men were so ill that they left them on the ground, saying they had not the strength to carry them so that we might eat them for dinner. Well knowing what was in store for us, I proceeded to carry the huge bird (much larger than a big turkey) and one of the monkeys (as big as a child three years old) upon my shoulders.
It was all I could do to struggle along under the heavy load, as I already carried upon my person some 24 lb. in weight of gold, silver, other moneys, and instruments, while on my shoulders hung a weight of some 40 lb. Add to that the big bird and the monkey, and altogether the weight was certainly not less than 90 lb. I was simply smothered under it.
We suffered a good deal that day from lack of water and from the intense heat. There seemed to be no air in the forest, and our breathing was heavy. Each time a man fell down and refused to go on I had to put down my load, go to his assistance and persuade him to get up again. It was a most trying experience.
After going some eight hours without finding a drop of water, our throats absolutely parched with thirst, we luckily came upon some solveira trees, which, when incised, exuded most excellent milk—only, of course, it dropped down tantalizingly slowly, while we were cruelly thirsty, especially my men in their feverish state. It was curious to see them all clinging to the tree with their mouths applied to the wounds in order to suck the milk.
Some way farther on we came across some rubber trees—which fact made us joyful, as we knew water would then be near. In fact, a kilometre beyond, water of a deep reddish yellow colour was found in a streamlet 10 m. wide, flowing north.
We halted on the western bank. We had been cutting through the forest the entire day. My men were simply exhausted. I, too, was glad when I put down the bird and the monkey—particularly as they had a pungent odour, quite typical of wild animals of Brazil, which affected my nose for some hours afterwards. Also they were covered with parasites, which caused violent itching on my neck and shoulders, on which they had been resting.
I had marched all the time, compass in hand, next to the man who with the large knife opened the way through the forest. We had travelled all day—cutting, cutting all the time—and by the evening we had gone about 10 kil.—that is to say, at the rate of a little over 1 kil. an hour.
The yellow water of the stream—it looked just like strong tea, and tasted of everything in the world except water—had not a beneficial effect upon my men. For some reason of their own the men, who seldom took a bath in the clean rivers, insisted on bathing in those coloured waters, which, I might also add, were just then almost stagnant in that particular section of the stream.
Personally, I had taken out a large cup full of water before they had gone to bathe, and avoided drinking again; but my men drank that water, made dirtier by their immersion and the use of soap—my soap, too!
The next morning all had excruciating headaches. Their legs dangled, and they did not seem to be able to stand on them. Only the Indian—Miguel—seemed to have any strength left. He was a nasty-looking individual, always sulky and pensive as if under some great weight upon his conscience. Miguel and I walked in front, he with a big knife opening the way in the forest for the others to come behind.
Just before leaving camp on September 1st I had gone some distance up the yellow stream in order to get a last drink in case we found no other water that day. The Indian, who was supposed to know the forest well, knew nothing whatever, and always misled me whenever I asked for information.
A few minutes after we had left, I was seized with violent shivers, my teeth chattered, and I felt quite as frozen as if I had suddenly dropped in the Arctic regions. Evidently I had been poisoned by the water. I collapsed under my load, and for some moments I could not get up again. Although I had spent all my time and energy helping everybody else to get up when in difficulty, not one of my men came near me to unfasten the loads from my shoulders or help me to get up on my legs again. They merely squatted a little way off when they saw that I had collapsed, and proceeded to roll up their cigarettes and smoke.
True, I did not let my men suspect that I was very ill. After a few minutes I struggled up once more under my heavy load and asked the men to come along. I had been seized with such a violent attack of fever that my strength seemed to have vanished all of a sudden, my limbs quivering in a most alarming way. I carried a clinical thermometer on my person. My temperature was 104 deg. F. From ten o'clock in the morning until three in the afternoon the attack of fever was so acute that several times I fell down. My men, who were in a pitiable condition that day, collapsed, now one, now another, although their loads were less than half the weight of mine, each man carrying about 40 lb. We marched until four o'clock that afternoon, but only covered a distance of 6 kil. in that entire day. Two of the men had abandoned their loads altogether, as they could not carry them any farther. What vexed me considerably was that they had discarded my valuable things in preference to leaving the great weight of rubbish of their own which they insisted on carrying, such as looking-glasses, combs, brushes, a number of old clothes in shreds, and the heavy hammocks, which weighed not less than 20 lb. each.
We found water in a streamlet which formed a marsh. There my men insisted on making camp. It was a most unhealthy spot. Ill as I was, I endeavoured to induce them to come on a little farther and see if we could improve on that halting-place. Miguel, the Indian, who had slightly scratched his finger, now refused to cut the picada any longer, as he said the pain was intense. It was only by giving him a present of money that I had succeeded in leading the man on until we reached the marsh.
Curiously enough, the man X, who was the champion rascal of the crowd, proved himself that day to be the best of the whole lot. He even went back with me to try and recover some of the most important things from the loads which the men had abandoned some 2 kil. before we had made our camp.
As we stumbled along we could not even lean against the trees to have a little rest, as most of them had thousands of horizontal thorns of great length sticking out all around them. Innumerable thorns were upon the ground. Our feet were full of them. I looked all the time where I was putting my feet, but sometimes the thorns were hidden under masses of dried foliage, and they were so long and so strong that they went clean through the sides of my shoes.
The last blow came to me that evening, when my men informed me that we had no food whatever left. All that remained of our three months' provisions were six tins of sardines and one tin of anchovies. That was all. My men made no secret of having thrown away everything as we came along. The sugar, for which they had a perfect craving, they had eaten, consuming in the last two days the entire supply of 30 lb., which had remained until then. It was then that I understood the cause of the internal inflammation from which they all suffered. They were greatly excited, and demanded the balance of their money, not wishing to come on any more; they wanted to fall back on the River Tapajoz and go home. There was a riot. They threatened to shoot me if I insisted on their coming on.
Just then a big black monkey appeared upon a tree, inquisitively watching our doings. The man X shot it. A moment later a big jaho was brought down, also by the man X, who was the best shot of the party. My men were never too ill to eat. They immediately proceeded to skin the poor monkey and pluck the feathers from the bird, in order to prepare a hearty meal. But they complained that they had no feijao, and no coffee after their dinner. When we started a few days before we had a supply of 40 lb. of coffee.
Feasting on the meat did not seem to be a good remedy for internal inflammation and fever. The next morning my men were really in a precarious condition. I saw that it was out of the question for them to continue. Personally, I would certainly not go back. I came to an understanding with them that I would leave sufficient ammunition for them to shoot with, as there seemed to be plenty of game in that particular part of the forest. We would divide equally what provisions we had—that is to say, three tins of sardines for each party. I would also give them sufficient money for one of them, or two, to fall back on the river and purchase provisions for the entire party. I made them promise that they should remain in charge of my baggage, most of which I would leave with them at that spot, while I, with two men, would go right across the forest as far as the Madeira River, where I would endeavour to get fresh men and new provisions.
The men agreed to this. As I could not trust any of them, I took the precaution to take along with me all my notebooks and the maps I had made of the entire region we had crossed, four hundred glass negatives which I had taken and developed, a number of unexposed plates, a small camera, my chronometer, one aneroid, a sextant, a prismatic compass, one other compass, and a number of other things which were absolutely necessary. The rest of the baggage I left at that spot. I begged the men to take special care of the packages. All I asked of them was to prop them up on stones so that the termites and ants should not destroy my possessions, and to make a shed with palm leaves so as to protect the packages as much as possible from the rain. The men promised to do all this faithfully. We drew lots as to who were to be the two to accompany me on the difficult errand across the virgin forest. Fate selected Filippe the negro and Benedicto, both terribly ill.
We had no idea whatever what the distance would be between that point and the Madeira River. It might take us a few days to get there; it might take us some months. All the provisions we of the advance party should have to depend upon were the three tins of sardines and the tin of anchovies—the latter had remained in our possession when we tossed up as to which of the two parties should have it. The Indian Miguel was induced at the last moment to come also, and with him came the carrier his friend.
Early on September 2nd I was ready to start, and roused poor Filippe and Benedicto, who were in a shocking state. Without a word of farewell from the men we left behind, and for whom we were about to sacrifice our lives perhaps, we started on our dangerous mission. The Indian Miguel and myself walked in front, cutting the way all the time, while I held my compass in hand so as to keep the correct direction west. Considering all, we marched fairly well.
It was curious to note how difficult it was for men to travel in a straight line while cutting a way through the forest. I noticed that the Indian, when cutting his way through, using the knife in his right hand, would gradually veer to the right, so that if you let him go long enough he would describe a regular circle and come back to his original starting-point. If he cut the way with the left hand, the tendency would be to keep to the left all the time until he had described a circle that way. That was not characteristic of that man only, but of nearly all the men I met in Brazil when making a picada. It was therefore necessary to keep constant watch with the compass so that the deviation should be as small as possible during the march.
We had gone but a short distance from camp when we came to a streamlet of the most delicious water. I had suffered a great deal from thirst the day before. We had been so poisoned by the yellow water of the stream that I did not like to try more experiments at the marsh where my men insisted on making camp. So that now I really enjoyed a good drink of the limpid water. That day we found too much water. On going 1 kil. farther, about 4 kil. from camp, we found another wider and equally delicious streamlet, 2 m. wide. All the streams we met flowed in a northerly direction.
We walked and walked the entire day, until 6 p.m., covering a distance of 26 kil. The Indian Miguel worried me the whole day, saying that cutting the picada was heavy work and he could not go on, as his finger was hurting him, and the pay he received—L1 sterling a day—was too small for the work he had to do. I had to keep constant watch on him, as he was a man of a slippery nature, and I did not know what he might do from one moment to another. Also he said we were simply committing suicide by trying to go through the virgin forest, as we should meet thousands of Indians who would attack us, and we had no chance of escape. I needed this man and his companion to carry my sextant and the unexposed photographic plates, some two hundred of them, which were of considerable weight.
That night, when we made camp, Miguel shot a fine jacu (Penelope cristata), and we had a meal. Soon after a regular downpour came upon us, making us feel most uncomfortable. At about eight o'clock, however, the rain stopped. With a great deal of trouble we were able to light a fire, while the wet leaves of the trees kept on dropping water on us and making a peculiar rustling noise on the carpet of dead foliage on the ground.
By the light of that fire a weird and almost tragic scene took place. Miguel came up to me, and said in a dramatic tone that for the sake of his wife and children I must let him go back, as we were marching to sure death. If I did not let him go back ... here he took his forehead between his hands—"God help me!" he said, and he burst into tears. He said he did not wish for his pay, as he had not fulfilled his contract. Whatever he had on his person he was willing to give me if I would only let him go back. I said I wished him to keep all his possessions, and as he did not wish to go along with me I would certainly let him go back the next morning. He would then also receive the pay according to the time he had been with me. Miguel went back near the fire, where he cried for some time. Accustomed to deal with Brazilians, I perceived that Miguel thought my promises too good to be true.
When leaving the last camp I had improvised for myself a kind of hammock with some straps and a waterproof canvas sheet which I had cut out of one of my tents. I was lying in that hammock thinking, when I saw Miguel get up, and, screening his eyes with his hand, look fixedly my way. I pretended to be asleep.
Miguel—who, by the way, was a Christian—took the dagger from his waist and walking to a large tree scratched a cross upon its bark. Then, sticking the knife with force into the tree, he clasped his hands over its handle, and bent his head over it, muttering some prayers. Twice—perhaps thinking he was being observed—he turned round towards me, and when he did so the expression on his face, lighted by the flickering flame, was really ghastly.
He prayed for some ten minutes, then, with the dagger in his hand, he walked cautiously towards my hammock. He was within 3 metres of me when I jumped up, seizing Filippe's rifle, which I had placed by my side in the hammock. With the butt I struck the Indian a violent blow in the chest.
He stumbled back, dropped his knife and went down on his knees touching my feet with his trembling hands and begging my pardon. Again came more sobs and tears; again more entreaties to be discharged. I got up and confiscated his rifle and all his cartridges, as well as the knife, then sent him to his hammock to sleep. The next morning I would see what I could do.
I saw clearly that it was no use taking on a man like that, who added to my other trials somewhat of a mental strain. The next morning, before sunrise, we were up again. I gave Miguel and his friend their full salaries up to date and sent them back. I handed him his rifle and cartridges, which were his own possessions, but I kept the knife as a memento.
Even when treating men generously in Brazil you had always to beware of treachery. I told Miguel and his friend to walk straight ahead and not turn round. I warned Miguel not to unsling his rifle from his shoulders until he had walked half a league. If he did while still in sight of me I would put a bullet through him. I said it and I meant it.
Benedicto and Filippe show Courage—Confronted with a Mountainous Country—Steep Ravines—No Food—Painful Marches—Starving—Ammunition rendered useless by Moisture—The "pros" and "cons" of Smoking—A Faint Hope—A Forged Tin which should have contained Anchovies—Curious Effects of Starvation upon the Brain—Where Money is of no Avail—Why there was Nothing to eat in the Forest—The Sauba Ants—Sniffed by a Jaguar—Filippe tries to commit Suicide.
THE departure of those two men added much to our troubles. I had to abandon at that spot all the unused photographic plates, my sextant and a large prismatic compass, half the supply of cartridges we had taken with us, a pair of extra shoes, and a number of other things. With our reduced loads we made an early start, Filippe that day behaving very bravely.
"Never mind," said he; "if all the others are afraid, I am not. I will follow you anywhere. After all, nothing can happen to us worse than death. You have always behaved kindly to me, and I will never abandon you."
Both Filippe and Benedicto were still poorly, but the violent exertion of the previous day had done them good and their condition seemed to have slightly improved.
We started once more across the virgin forest, directing our steps due west. Filippe this time undertook to open the picada, while I, compass in hand, marched directly behind him, Benedicto following me. Filippe, who was unaccustomed to go through the forest, was even worse than Miguel for keeping the correct direction. If I had let him go, he would have described circle after circle upon himself instead of going in a straight line.
From that point our march across the forest became tragic. Perhaps I can do nothing better than reproduce almost word by word the entries in my diary.
We ate that morning what little there remained of the mutum we had shot the previous evening. Little we knew then that we were not to taste fresh meat again for nearly a month from that date.
During September 3rd we made fairly good progress, cutting our way through incessantly. We went that day 20 kil. We had no lunch, and it was only in the evening that we opened the last of the three small boxes of sardines, our entire dinner consisting of three and a half sardines each.
On September 4th we were confronted, soon after our departure, with a mountainous country with deep ravines and furrows, most trying for us owing to their steepness. We went over five ranges of hills from 100 to 300 ft. in height, and we crossed five streamlets in the depressions between those successive ranges.
Filippe was again suffering greatly from an attack of fever, and I had to support him all the time, as he had the greatest difficulty in walking. Benedicto had that day been entrusted with the big knife for cutting the picada.
We went some 20 kil. that day, with nothing whatever to eat, as we had already finished the three boxes of sardines, and I was reserving the box of anchovies for the moment when we could stand hunger no longer.
On September 5th we had another very terrible march over broken country, hilly for a good portion of the distance, but quite level in some parts.
The man Benedicto, who was a great eater, now collapsed altogether, saying that he could no longer carry his load and could not go on any farther without food.
The entire day our eyes had roamed in all directions, trying to discover some wild fruit which was edible, or some animal we might shoot, but there was the silence of death all around us. Not a branch, not a leaf was moved by a living thing; no fruit of any kind was to be seen anywhere.
Our appetite was keen, and it certainly had one good effect—it stopped Filippe's fever and, in fact, cured it altogether.
The two men were tormenting me the whole day, saying they had no faith in the compass: how could a brass box—that is what they called it—tell us where we could find feijao? It was beyond them to understand it. They bemoaned themselves incessantly, swearing at the day they had been persuaded to come along with me and leave their happy homes in order to die of starvation in the forest with a mad Englishman! And why did we go across the forest at all, where there was no trail, when we could have gone down by the river on a trading boat?
On September 6th it was all I could do to wake up my men. When they did wake, they would not get up, for they said the only object in getting up was to eat, and as there was nothing to eat there was no use in getting up. They wanted to remain there and die.
I had to use a great deal of gentle persuasion, and even told them a big story—that my agulha or needle (the compass) was telling me that morning that there was plenty of feijao ahead of us.
We struggled on kilometre after kilometre, one or another of us collapsing under our loads every few hundred metres. We went over very hilly country, crossing eight hill ranges that day with steep ravines between. In fact, all that country must once have been a low tableland which had been fissured and then eroded by water, leaving large cracks. At the bottom of each we found brooks and streamlets of delicious water. Of the eight rivulets found that day one only was fairly large. It fell in little cascades over rock. We could see no fish in its waters.
The forest was fairly clean underneath, and we had no great difficulty in getting through, a cut every now and then with the knife being sufficient to make a passage for us. I had by that time entirely given up the idea of opening a regular picada, over which I could eventually take the men and baggage I had left behind.
We found that day a palm with a bunch of small nuts which Benedicto called coco do matto; he said they were delicious to eat, so we proceeded to cut down the tall palm tree. When we came to split open the small cocos our disappointment was great, for they merely contained water. There was nothing whatever to eat inside the hard shells. We spent some two hours that evening cracking the cocos—some two hundred of them—each nut about the size of a cherry. They were extremely hard to crack, and our expectant eyes were disappointed two hundred times in succession as we opened every one and found nothing whatever to eat in them.
We were beginning to feel extremely weak, with a continuous feeling of emptiness in our insides. Personally, I felt no actual pain. The mental strain, perhaps, was the most trying thing for me, for I had no idea when we might find food. I was beginning to feel more than ever the responsibility of taking those poor fellows there to suffer for my sake. On their side they certainly never let one moment go by during the day or night without reminding me of the fact.
On September 7th I had the greatest difficulty in getting the men out of their hammocks. They were so exhausted that I could not rouse them. We had had a terrific storm during the night, which had added misery to our other sufferings. Innumerable ants were now causing us a lot of damage. Filippe's coat, which had dropped out of his hammock, was found in the morning entirely destroyed. Those miniature demons also cut the string to which I had suspended my shoes in mid-air, and no sooner had they fallen to the ground than the ants started on their mischievous work. When I woke up in the morning all that remained of my shoes were the two leather soles, the upper part having been completely destroyed.
Going through the forest, where thorns of all sizes were innumerable, another torture was now in store for me. With pieces of string I turned the soles of the shoes into primitive sandals; but when I started on the march I found that they hurt me much more than if I walked barefooted. After marching a couple of kilometres, my renovated foot-gear hurt me so much in going up and down the steep ravines that I took off the sandals altogether and flung them away.
That day we went over eleven successive hill ranges and crossed as many little streamlets between them. My men were terribly downhearted. We had with us a Mauser and two hundred cartridges, but although we did nothing all day long but look for something to kill we never heard a sound of a living animal. Only one day at the beginning of our fast did I see a big mutum—larger than a big turkey. The bird had never seen a human being, and sat placidly perched on the branch of a tree, looking at us with curiosity, singing gaily. I tried to fire with the Mauser at the bird, which was only about seven or eight metres away, but cartridge after cartridge missed fire. I certainly spent not less than twenty minutes constantly replenishing the magazine, and not a single cartridge went off. They had evidently absorbed so much moisture on our many accidents in the river and in the heavy rain-storms we had had of late, that they had become useless.
While I was pointing the gun the bird apparently took the greatest interest in my doings, looked at me, stooping down gracefully each time that the rifle missed fire, singing dainty notes almost as if it were laughing at me. The funny part of it all was that we eventually had to go away disappointed, leaving the bird perched on that very same branch.
As the days went by and we could find nothing to eat, my two men lost their courage entirely. They now refused to suffer any longer. They said they had not the strength to go back, so they wanted to lie down and die. Many times a day did I have to lift them up again and persuade them gently to come on another few hundred metres or so. Perhaps then we might find the great river Madeira, where we should certainly meet traders from whom we could get food.
Filippe the negro was a great smoker. He had brought some tobacco with him, and he had so far smoked all the time. He said that as long as he had a cigarette in his mouth he did not feel the pangs of hunger quite so much.
Since my return to civilization I have been constantly told by smokers that if I had been a smoker too I might have suffered less than I did. Now let me tell you what happened to smoker Filippe when his tobacco came to an end on that painful march. Filippe became a raving lunatic, and in a fit of passion was about to stick right through his heart the large knife with which we cut our way through the forest. I had quite a struggle in order to get the knife away from him, and an additional strain was placed upon my mind by keeping a constant watch on the knife so that it could not be used for suicidal purposes.
Poor Benedicto, who was of a less violent nature, from morning to night implored to be killed. The two together moaned and groaned incessantly, and accused me a hundred times a day of taking them there on purpose to die. They certainly made me feel the full and heavy weight of our tragic position. The mental strain of leading along those two poor fellows was indeed much more trying to me than the actual lack of food.
In order to save as much as possible of the baggage we carried, I promised Filippe and Benedicto a considerable present of money if they were able to take the stuff until we reached the Madeira River.
Late in the afternoon of September 7th, as we were on a high point above the last range of hills met that day, a large panorama opened before us, which we could just see between the trees and foliage of the forest.
To obtain a full view of the scenery it was necessary to climb up a tree. I knew well that we could not yet have reached the river we were looking for, but perhaps we were not far from some large tributary of the Madeira, such as the Secundury.
Climbing up trees in the Brazilian forest was easier said than done, even when you possessed your full strength. So many were the ants of all sizes which attacked you with fury the moment you embraced the tree, that it was not easy to get up more than a few feet.
When we drew lots as to whom of us should climb the tree, Benedicto was the one selected by fate. Benedicto was certainly born under an unlucky star; when anything nasty or unpleasant happened to anybody it was always to poor Benedicto. After a lot of pressing he proceeded to go up the tree, uttering piercing yells as every moment great sauba ants bit his arms, legs or body. He was brave enough, and slowly continued his way up until he reached a height of some 30 ft. above the ground, from which eminence he gave us the interesting news that there were some high hills standing before us to the west, while to the north-west was a great flat surface covered by dense forest.
No sooner had Benedicto supplied us with this information from his high point of vantage than we heard an agonising yell and saw him spread flat on the ground, having made a record descent.
Filippe and I, although suffering considerably, were in fits of laughter at Benedicto, who did not laugh at all, but pawed himself all over, saying he must have broken some bones. When I proceeded to examine him I found upon his body over a hundred sauba ants clinging to his skin with their powerful clippers.
Aching all over, poor Benedicto got up once more. I put the load upon his back and we resumed our journey, making a precipitous descent almost a pic down the hill side. Our knees were so weak that we fell many times and rolled down long distances on that steep incline. At last we got to the bottom, rejoicing in our hearts that we had no more hills to climb, as I had made up my mind that I would now march slightly to the north-west, so as to avoid the hilly region which Benedicto had discovered to the west.
My men had an idea that the great river we were looking for must be in that plain. For a few hours they seemed to have regained their courage. We heard some piercing shrieks, and we at once proceeded in their direction, as we knew they came from monkeys. In fact we found an enormously high tree, some 5 ft. in diameter. Up on its summit some beautiful yellow fruit stared us in the face. Four tiny monkeys were busy eating the fruit. Benedicto, who had by that time become very religious, joined his hands and offered prayers to the Virgin that the monkeys might drop some fruit down, but they went on eating while we gazed at them from below. We tried to fire at them with the Mauser, but again not a single cartridge went off. Eventually the monkeys dropped down the empty shells of the fruit they had eaten. With our ravenous appetite we rushed for them and with our teeth scraped off the few grains of sweet substance which remained attached to the inside of the shells. We waited and waited under that tree for a long time, Filippe now joining also in the prayers. Each time a shell dropped our palates rejoiced for a few moments at the infinitesimal taste we got from the discarded shells. It was out of the question to climb up such a big tree or to cut it down, as we had no strength left.
We went on until sunset; my men once more having lost heart. Brazilians lose heart very easily. At the sight of small hills before them, a steep descent, or a deep river to cross, they would lie down and say they wanted to remain there and die. Filippe and Benedicto did not carry more than 20 lb. each of my own baggage, but their hammocks weighed some 20 lb. each, so that their loads weighed altogether about 40 lb.
We went on, crossing five more streamlets that afternoon, of which one, 2 m. wide, had beautifully limpid water. We nevertheless went on, until eventually after sunset we had to camp near a stream of filthy water. We did not mind that so much, because, contrary to the popular idea that while you are starving you require a great deal of water, I found that during those days of starvation both my men and myself hardly ever touched water at all. Personally I am accustomed to drink only with my meals, and as I had no meals at all I never had the slightest wish to drink. My men, however, who while on the river, for instance, when we had plenty of food, drank perhaps twenty times a day from the stream, now that they were starving only seldom touched the water, and when they did, only in very small quantities. I do not suppose that my men during the entire period of starvation drank on an average more than a wineglass of water a day. Personally I know that I never drank more than half a tumbler or less in the twenty-four hours during that time. Under normal circumstances I drink about a quart of water a day. The water, I may say, was plentiful all the time, and, barring a few occasions, such as on that particular night, most excellent.
As we had now been four entire days without eating anything at all, I thought it was high time to open the valuable tin of anchovies—the only one in our possession. We had a terrible disappointment when I opened the tin. I had purchased it in S. Manoel from Mr. Barretto. To our great distress we discovered that instead of food it contained merely some salt and a piece of slate. This was a great blow to us. The box was a Brazilian counterfeit of a tin of anchovies. How disheartening to discover the fraud at so inopportune a moment! I had reserved the tin until the last as I did not like the look of it from the outside. We kept the salt—which was of the coarsest description.
On September 8th we were slightly more fortunate, as the country was flatter. I was steering a course of 290 deg. b.m. (N.W.). I found that farther south we would have encountered too mountainous a country.
We crossed several streamlets, the largest 3 m. wide, all of which flowed south. We had no particular adventure that day, and considering all things, we marched fairly well—some 20 kil. Towards the evening we camped on a hill. When we got there we were so exhausted that we made our camp on the summit, although there was no water near.
On September 9th, after marching for half an hour we arrived at a stream 15 m. wide, which I took at first to be the river Secundury, a tributary of the Madeira River. Near the banks of that stream we found indications that human beings had visited that spot—perhaps the Indians we had heard so much about. The marks we found, however, were, I estimated, about one year old. Although these signs should have given us a little courage to go on, we were so famished and exhausted that my men sat down on the river bank and would not proceed. By that time we had got accustomed even to the fierce bites of the ants. We had no more strength to defend ourselves. In vain we strained our eyes all the time in search of wild fruit. In the river we saw plenty of fish; we had a fishing-line with us, but no bait whatever that we could use. There are, of course, no worms underground where ants are so numerous. We could not make snares in the river, as it was much too deep. So we sat with covetous eyes, watching the fish go by. It was most tantalising, and made us ten times more hungry than ever to be so near food and not be able to get it.
It is curious how hunger works on your brain. I am not at all a glutton, and never think of food under ordinary circumstances. But while I was starving I could see before me from morning till night, in my imagination, all kinds of delicacies—caviare, Russian soups, macaroni au gratin, all kinds of refreshing ice-creams, and plum pudding. Curiously enough, some days I had a perfect craving for one particular thing, and would have given anything I possessed in the world to obtain a morsel of it. The next day I did not care for that at all, in my imagination, but wanted something else very badly. The three things which I mostly craved for while I was starving were caviare, galantine of chicken, and ice-cream—the latter particularly.
People say that with money you can do anything you like in the world. I had at that time on my person some L6,000 sterling, of which L4,000 was in actual cash. If anybody had placed before me a morsel of any food I would gladly have given the entire sum to have it. But no, indeed; no such luck! How many times during those days did I vividly dream of delightful dinner and supper parties at the Savoy, the Carlton, or the Ritz, in London, Paris, and New York! How many times did I think of the delicious meals I had had when a boy in the home of my dear father and mother! I could reconstruct in my imagination all those meals, and thought what an idiot I was to have come there out of my own free will to suffer like that. My own dreams were constantly interrupted by Benedicto and Filippe, who also had similar dreams of the wonderful meals they had had in their own houses, and the wonderful ways in which their feijaozinho—a term of endearment used by them for their beloved beans—had been cooked at home by their sweethearts or their temporary wives.
"Why did we leave our feijaozinho"—and here they smacked their lips—"to come and die in this rotten country?"
All day I heard them talk of feijaozinho, feijaozinho, until I was wearied to distraction by that word—particularly as, even when starving, I had no desire whatever to eat the beastly stuff.
The negro Filippe and Benedicto were really brave in a way. I tried to induce them all the time to march as much as we could, so as to get somewhere; but every few moments they sat or fell down, and much valuable time was wasted.
In a way it was amusing to watch them—poor Benedicto particularly, who every few minutes would take out a little pocket looking-glass to gaze at his countenance.
"Am I not thin?" he would ask me a dozen times a day. "I have never been so thin before. If I had not come with you I should not be so thin. It is all because we have no food that I am so thin.... If I had not met you I would never have been so thin!"—and so on all day.
I reminded him that when we were travelling on the river he had complained of baling the water out of the canoe and preferred to travel overland; now that we were travelling overland he had a new complaint to make. It was quite unreasonable. He was not the only one to get thin; we were all getting thin.
Benedicto greatly objected to carry the 15 lb. weight of glass negatives, but he did not mind at all carrying a lot of useless things of his own, which weighed an extra 20 lb. or so!
Since my return I have been constantly asked why, when we were starving, we did not eat the grass in the forest; why we did not feed on the leaves or roots of the trees? If we could find no fruit, why did not we eat monkeys or birds or other animals? why did not we dig for worms and feed on them?
As I have already stated, there were no worms in the forest because of the ants, which allow no insect to be underground near the surface. As for the grass, it takes no very intelligent person to see that it cannot exist under the trees of the tropical forest. If a few blades of grass are to be found on the edge of streamlets it does not follow that you can eat them. That grass is usually poisonous. The same may be said of the leaves and roots of trees, even admitting that you could reach the former—which is not the case, as the leaves are usually at a great height upon the trees, and when you are starving you have not the strength to climb up. It also follows that where there is no edible fruit there can be no birds or monkeys, as animals generally have enough sense not to settle where there is nothing to eat.
Again, even allowing that some rare trees, the fruit of which was edible, were to be found, it does not do to lose sight of the fact that you may be passing under that tree at the season when it is not bearing fruit, as fruit-trees, even in tropical countries, do not always bear fruit at a time to suit the convenience of the passing traveller.
As I have said, the country we were traversing was there hilly and rocky, and we were cutting across the headwaters of numerous tributaries, first of the Tapajoz River, then of the Madeira River—the tiny watercourses, most of them only a few inches wide, descending in numerous successive small cascades over rocks—therefore no fish was to be found. When we did find it in the big rivers we had no way to catch it.
It then again follows, concerning the country between great rivers, that where there is no fish, no game, no fruit, no vegetables, and no possible way of cultivating the land, there can be no inhabitants. That was why the great Brazilian forest in that region was uninhabited by human beings.
It was rather pathetic, looking back on those days, to think of the small cooking pot I carried during that time of starvation in hopes that we might find something to cook. Its weight was not great, but it was a cumbersome thing to carry, as it dangled about and caught in all the vegetation.
As the days went by and our strength got less and less every hour, I decided not to cut the forest any more, but to go through without that extra exertion. As I could not trust my men with the big knife, I had to carry it myself, as occasionally it had to be used—especially near streams, where the vegetation was always more or less entangled.
That evening (September 9th) we had halted at sunset—simply dead with fatigue and exhaustion. The sauba ants had cut nearly all the strings of Filippe's hammock; while he was resting peacefully on it the remainder of the strings broke, and he had a bad fall. He was so exhausted that he remained lying on the ground, swarming all over with ants and moaning the whole time, having no strength to repair the hammock.
When Filippe eventually fell into a sound slumber I had a curious experience in the middle of the night. I was sleeping in my improvised hammock, when I felt two paws resting on my body and something sniffing in my face. When I opened my eyes I found a jaguar, standing up on its hind paws, staring me straight in the face. The moment I moved, the astonished animal, which had evidently never seen a human being before, leapt away and disappeared.
I find that people have strange ideas about wild animals. It is far from true that wild beasts are vicious. I have always found them as gentle as possible. Although I have seen nearly every wild beast that it is possible for man to see in the world, I have never once been attacked by them, although on dozens of occasions I have come into close contact with them. I invariably found all wild animals—except the African buffalo—quite timid and almost gentle, unless, of course, they have been worried or wounded. These remarks do not apply to wild animals in captivity.
On September 10th—that was the seventh day of our involuntary fast—we had another dreary march, again without a morsel of food. My men were so downhearted that I really thought they would not last much longer. Hunger was playing on them in a curious way. They said that they could hear voices all round them and people firing rifles. I could hear nothing at all. I well knew that their minds were beginning to go, and that it was a pure hallucination. Benedicto and Filippe, who originally were both atheists of an advanced type, had now become extremely religious, and were muttering fervent prayers all the time. They made a vow that if we escaped alive they would each give L5 sterling out of their pay to have a big mass celebrated in the first church they saw.
They spoke in a disconnected way, and looked about in a dazed condition, alternating hysterical laughter with abundant tears. After Filippe's tobacco had come to an end he had become most dejected, all the time wishing to commit suicide.
"What is the use of more suffering?" he exclaimed fifty times a day. "Let me die quickly, as I can stand the pain no more!" Then all of a sudden his eyes would shine, he would prick up his ears, crying: "We are near people!—we are near people! I can hear voices! Let us fire three shots" (the signal all over Central Brazil of an approaching stranger or of help required), "so that people can come to our assistance!"
That was much easier said than done, because none of our cartridges would go off. We had one box of matches left. We had taken several boxes of them, but Filippe had used them all in lighting his cigarettes, and we had only one left, which I guarded with much care. To please my men we lighted a big fire, and in it we placed a number of cartridges so that they should explode. In fact some of them actually did explode, and my men strained their ears in order to discover responding sounds. But no sounds came, although they imagined they could hear all kinds of noises.
At this place I abandoned the few cartridges we had, as they were absolutely useless. They were Mauser cartridges which I had bought in Rio de Janeiro, and it is quite possible that they were counterfeits.
Taking things all round, my men behaved very well, but these were moments of the greatest anxiety for me, and I myself was praying fervently to God to get us out of that difficulty. My strength was failing more and more daily, and although I was suffering no actual pain, yet the weakness was simply appalling. It was all I could do to stand up on my legs. What was worse for me was that my head was still in good working order, and I fully realised our position all the time.
The country we were travelling over was fairly hilly, up and down most of the time, over no great elevations. We passed two large tributaries of the main stream we had found before, and a number of minor ones. The main stream was strewn with fallen trees, and was not navigable during the dry season. The erosion of the banks by the water had caused so many trees to fall down across it that no canoe could possibly go through.
I noticed in one or two places along the river traces of human beings having been there some years before.
In the afternoon we again wasted much energy in knocking down two palm-trees on the summit of which were great bunches of coco do matto. Again we had a bitter disappointment. One after the other we split the nuts open, but they merely contained water inside shells that were much harder to crack than wood. My craving for food was such that in despair I took two or three sauba ants and proceeded to eat them. When I ground them under my teeth their taste was so acidly bitter that it made me quite ill. Not only that, but one sauba bit my tongue so badly that it swelled up to a great size, and remained like that for several days. The entire genus of the Sauba (Oecodonia cephalotes) ant is typical of tropical South America. The largest Sauba is about an inch long, and possesses powerful scissor-like clippers, with which it can destroy any material, such as leather, cloth, paper or leaves, in a very short time. Their method of work is to cut up everything into circles. I remember one day dropping on the ground a pair of thick gloves. When I went to pick them up I found them reduced to a heap of innumerable little discs—each as large as a sixpenny coin. It is with those powerful clippers that the Saubas, having climbed in swarms up a tree, proceed to despoil it of its foliage. The work is done in a systematic way, each ant quickly severing one leaf and carrying it down, banner-like, vertically above its head, tightly held between its strong mandibles.
It is this habit of the Saubas which has brought upon them the Brazilian name of Carregadores, or carriers. One sees everywhere in that country long processions of those destructive insects, each individual marching along quickly with its green vegetable banner, sometimes eight or ten times its own size and weight. In many cases the Saubas working aloft cut the leaves and drop them on the ground, where other carriers are waiting to convey them away. So numerous are the Saubas that in the forest one can hear distinctly the incessant rustling sound of their clippers at work. The Saubas use the leaves in order to construct thatched waterproof roofs over the domes and turrets at the entrances of their extensive subterranean galleries, which would otherwise become flooded during the torrential rains prevalent in those latitudes. The roofs are constructed with wonderful skill, each leaf being held in its place by granules of earth. The galleries, of immense length and much ramified, are often as much as 10 to 15 cm. in diameter. The entrances to them are usually kept blocked, and are only opened when necessary. Above ground the Saubas make wonderful wide roads, thousands of which can be seen everywhere in the forest, and upon which endless processions go by day and night. The workers of the Saubas can be divided into three orders not very clearly defined, as units of intermediate grades are constantly met. The largest of those workers possess extraordinarily massive, double-humped heads, highly polished in the case of members which are visible on the surface, and dull and hairy in the giant fellows which spend their lives within the subterranean passages. These hairy Saubas display a single frontal eye—not found in any of the other Saubas, and, as far as I know, in no other kind of ant. They never come to the surface except when attacks are made upon the galleries. Great excitement is shown in the colonies when the winged ants, of extra large size—especially the females—start out on their errand of propagating the race.
The workers with polished heads—fierce-looking brutes—do very little actual work, but seem to be the superiors and protectors of the smaller workers. In every case the body of all orders of Saubas is solidly built, with the thorax and head protected by spikes.
Much as I disliked the Saubas for the endless trouble and suffering they inflicted upon me, I could not help admiring their marvellous industry and energy. No agriculture is possible where the Saubas are to be found, and even where they do not exist in Central Brazil, if agriculture were started they would soon invade the territory and destroy everything in a short time. Foreign plants do not escape. No way has been found yet of extirpating them.
Benedicto and the Honey—Constantly collapsing from Exhaustion—A Strange Accident—Finding a River—People's Mistaken Ideas—Sixteen Days of Starvation—An Abandoned Hut—Repairing a Broken-down Canoe—Canoe founders—A Raft constructed of Glass
ON September 11th we had another terrible march, the forest being very dense and much entangled along the stream. We had great trouble in getting through, as there were many palms and ferns, and we had no more strength to cut down our way. We came to a big tree, which was hollow inside up to a great height, and round which were millions of bees.
Benedicto, who was a great connoisseur in such matters, said that high up inside the tree there must be honey. The bees round that tree were unfortunately stinging bees. We drew lots as to who should go inside the tree to get the honey. It fell to Benedicto. We took off most of our clothes and wrapped up his head and legs so that he might proceed to the attack. The job was not an easy one, for in the first reconnaissance he made with his head inside the tree he discovered that the honey must be not less than 20 ft. above the ground, and it was necessary to climb up to that height inside the tree before he could get it. In order to hasten matters—as Benedicto was reluctant in carrying out the job—I tried my hand at it, but I was stung badly by hundreds of bees behind my head, on my eyelids, on my arms and legs. When I came out of the tree I was simply covered with angry bees, which stung me all over. So I told Benedicto that, as Fate had called upon him to do the work, he had better do it.
Benedicto was certainly very plucky that day. All of a sudden he dashed inside the tree and proceeded to climb up. We heard wild screams for some minutes; evidently the bees were protecting their home well. While Filippe and I were seated outside, smiling faintly at poor Benedicto's plight, he reappeared. We hardly recognized him when he emerged from the tree, so badly stung and swollen was his face, notwithstanding the protection he had over it. All he brought back was a small piece of the honeycomb about as large as a florin. What little honey there was inside was quite putrid, but we divided it into three equal parts and devoured it ravenously, bees and all. A moment later all three of us were seized with vomiting, so that the meagre meal was worse than nothing to us.
We were then in a region of innumerable liane, which hung from the trees and caught our feet and heads, and wound themselves round us when we tried to shift them from their position. Nearly all the trees in that part had long and powerful spikes. Then near water there were huge palms close together, the sharp-edged leaves of which cut our hands, faces and legs as we pushed our way through.
A violent storm broke out in the afternoon. The rain was torrential, making our march extremely difficult. It was just like marching under a heavy shower-bath. The rain lasted for some three hours. We crossed one large stream flowing west into the Secundury, and also two other good-sized streamlets.
We had a miserable night, drenched as we were and unable to light a fire, the box of matches having got wet and the entire forest being soaked by the torrential storm. During the night another storm arrived and poured regular buckets of water upon us.
On September 12th we drowsily got up from our hammocks in a dejected state. By that time we had lost all hope of finding food, and no longer took the trouble to look round for anything to eat. We went on a few hundred metres at a time, now Benedicto fainting from exhaustion, then Filippe, then myself. While one or another was unconscious much time was wasted. Marching under those conditions was horrible, as either one or other of us collapsed every few hundred metres.
Another violent storm broke out, and we all lay on the ground helpless, the skin of our hands and feet getting shrivelled up with the moisture.
My feet were much swollen owing to the innumerable thorns which had got into them while walking barefooted. It was most painful to march, as I was not accustomed to walk without shoes.
We went only ten kilometres on September 12th. We crossed two small rivers and one large, flowing west and south, evidently into the Secundury.
On September 13th we had another painful march, my men struggling along, stumbling and falling every little while. They were dreadfully depressed. Towards the evening we came to a big tree, at the foot of which we found some discarded shells, such as we had once seen before, of fruit eaten by monkeys. My men and I tried to scrape with our teeth some of the sweet substance which still adhered to the shells. We saw some of the fruit, which was fit to eat, at a great height upon the tree, but we had not the strength to climb up or cut down that enormous tree.
All the visions of good meals which I had had until then had now vanished altogether on that tenth day of fasting, and I experienced a sickly feeling in my inside which gave me an absolute dislike for food of any kind. My head was beginning to sway, and I had difficulty in collecting my ideas. My memory seemed to be gone all of a sudden. I could no longer remember in what country I was travelling, nor could I remember anything distinctly. Only some lucid intervals came every now and then, in which I realised our tragic position; but those did not last long, all I could remember being that I must go to the west. I could not remember why nor where I intended to come out.
Everything seemed to be against us. We were there during the height of the rainy season. Towards sunset rain came down once more in bucketfuls and lasted the entire night, the water dripping from our hammocks as it would from a small cascade. We were soaked, and shivering, although the temperature was not low. I had my maximum and minimum thermometers with me, but my exhaustion was such that I had not the strength to unpack them every night and morning and set them.
We crossed two streamlets flowing west. Benedicto and Filippe were in such a bad way that it was breaking my heart to look at them. Every time they fell down in a faint I never knew whether it was for the last time that they had closed their eyes. When I felt their hearts with my hand they beat so faintly that once or twice I really thought they were dead. That day I myself fainted, and fell with the left side of my face resting on the ground. When I recovered consciousness some time later, I touched my face, which was hurting me, and found that nearly the whole skin of my cheek had been eaten up by small ants, the lower lid of the eye having suffered particularly. A nasty sore remained on my face for some two months after that experience, the bites of those ants being very poisonous.
Bad as they were, there is no doubt that to a great extent we owed our salvation to those terrible ants. Had it not been for them and the incessant torture they inflicted on us when we fell down upon the ground, we should have perhaps lain there and never got up again.
I offered Benedicto and Filippe a large reward if they continued marching without abandoning the precious loads. Brazilians have a great greed for money, and for it they will do many things which they would not do otherwise.
On September 14th we made another most painful march of 20 kil., again up and down high hills, some as much as 300 ft. above the level land of that country, and all with steep, indeed, almost vertical, sides, extremely difficult for us to climb in our exhausted condition. We saw several streamlets flowing west. When evening came we had before us a high hill, which we ascended. When we reached the top we just lay upon the ground like so many corpses, and, ants, or no ants biting us, we had not the energy to get up again. Once more did the rain come down in torrents that night, and to a certain extent washed the ants from our bodies.
My surprise was really great the next morning when I woke up. I felt myself fading away fast. Every time I closed my eyes I expected never to open them again.
On September 15th we made another trying march, collapsing under our loads every few hundred metres. My men were constantly looking for something to eat in all directions, but could find nothing. Benedicto and Filippe were now all the time contemplating suicide. The mental strain of perpetually keeping an eye on them was great.
We were sitting down, too tired to get up, when Filippe amazed me considerably by the following words, which he spoke in a kind of reverie:
"It would be very easy," he said, "now that you have no more strength yourself, for us two to get the big knife and cut your throat. We know that you have a big, big sum of money upon you, and if we robbed you we would be rich for ever. But we do not want to do it. It would not be much use to us, as we could not get out of the forest alone. I believe we shall all die together, and all that money will go to waste."
Filippe said this in quite a good-natured manner. The two poor fellows were so depressed that one had to forgive them for anything they said.
As the river seemed to describe a big loop, I had left it three days before, seeing plainly by the conformation of the country that we should strike it again sooner or later. We were marching once more by compass. My men, who had no faith whatever in the magnetic needle, were again almost paralysed with fear that we might not encounter the stream again. A thousand times a day they accused me of foolishness in leaving the river, as they said it would have been better to follow its tortuous course—notwithstanding the trouble we had in following it, owing to the dense vegetation near the water—rather than strike once more across country. They were beginning to lose heart altogether, when I told them I could see by the vegetation that we were once more near the water. Anybody accustomed as I am to marching through the forest could tell easily by the appearance of the vegetation some miles before actually getting to a stream.
I reassured my companions, saying that within a few hours we should certainly meet the "big water" again. In fact, not more than half an hour afterwards we suddenly found ourselves once more on the large stream—at that point 70 metres wide.
My men were so amazed and delighted that they embraced me and sobbed over my shoulders for some time. From that moment their admiration for the compass was unbounded; they expected me to find anything with it.
With gladdened hearts we followed the stream again, Benedicto and Filippe shouting at the top of their voices for help in case anybody were near. But they called and called in vain. We listened, but not a sound could be heard, except perhaps that of a crashing tree in the forest—a sound very familiar when marching across Brazil.
The right bank of the Secundury river was high, not less than from 30 to 40 ft., and extremely steep, formed of alluvial deposits with a thick surface layer of decayed vegetation, making a soft carpet. Two small tributary streams had cut deep grooves in the soft earth. In our weak condition we had the greatest trouble in going down the almost vertical banks and climbing up again on the other side.
On September 16th we followed the river once more, crossing three tributaries, the largest of which was 4 m. wide. The forest was beautifully clean underneath, just like a well-kept park. The stems of the trees were as clean as possible up to a great height, the foliage forming a regular roof over us through which little light and only exhausted air penetrated.
Although we could find nothing whatever to eat, my men were not so depressed that day, as they expected to find some living people sooner or later. I did not like to disappoint them, although the fact that we could find no signs of human creatures having recently gone through that region showed me plainly that we were yet far away from salvation.
Another formidable rainstorm came down upon us in the morning, the water descending in regular sheets. We were so exhausted that we did not care for anything any more. Whether we got wet or dry was quite immaterial to us.
I was so conscious of my utmost exhaustion that I felt I could not now last much longer under that heavy strain. Every fifty or a hundred metres I collapsed under my load, and had the greatest struggle to get up on my feet again. Those marches were most tragic, my men being, if possible, in a worse condition than me, they, too, collapsing every few steps. Thus in a day we each collapsed dozens of times. That was the thirteenth day we had had no food whatever, barring perhaps a grain of salt from the fraudulent anchovy tin, which I had preserved in a piece of paper.
I felt no actual pain, only great emptiness in my inside, and a curious feeling of nausea, with no wish whatever to eat or to drink. Although water was plentiful we hardly touched it at all—only a few drops to moisten our feverish lips. That fact interested me greatly, as it was absolutely contrary to people's notions of what happens when you are starving. All I experienced was indescribable exhaustion. I felt myself gradually extinguishing like a burnt-out lamp.
Benedicto and Filippe had dreadful nightmares during the night, and occasionally gave frantic yells. That night Filippe all of a sudden startled us crying out for help; a moment later he collapsed in a faint. When he recovered I asked him what was the matter; he said in a dazed way that there were people all round us bringing plenty of food to us—an hallucination which was soon dispelled when he returned to his senses.
On September 17th we had another painful march without finding a grain of food to eat. Again we started our day with a severe thunderstorm, the water coming down upon us in bucketfuls. Benedicto and Filippe were fervently praying the Almighty to strike them down by lightning so as to end the daily torture.
The strain of leading those fellows on was getting almost too much for me. The greatest gentleness had to be employed, as an angry word would have finished them altogether, and they would have laid down to die.
The rain came down in such torrents that day, and we were so soaked, that we had to halt, we three huddling together to try and protect ourselves under the waterproof sheet which I used at night as a hammock. When we went on I noticed a cut in a tree which had been made some years before. I soon discovered the tracks which had been followed by the person who had made that cut, and soon after I discovered another mark of a knife upon another rubber tree. Evidently somebody had been there prospecting. We followed the ancient track for some distance in a most winding way—those marks, I judged, having been made about four years before.
My men were depressed to the utmost degree when, on following the track of the stranger, we discovered the spot on the river where he had evidently once more got into his canoe and gone. One more hope of salvation shattered!
Curiously enough, upon that fourteenth day of starving my strength got up again to a certain extent, although I still had no wish whatever to eat; but my head began to swim with a strange sensation as if the trees of the forest were tumbling down upon me. The impression was so vivid that several times I fell in trying to avoid what I thought was a tree falling upon me.
The swaying of my head seemed to get worse and worse all that day, until the unpleasant sensation of the forest closing in and overwhelming me became intolerable.
In the evening we came in for another storm, the rain being torrential through nearly the entire night. During the day I had had the optical illusion of trees falling upon me. During the night I had the real thing. The upper part of the tree to which I had tied my hammock came down with a terrific crash during a heavy gust of wind, and just missed my head by a few inches. As it was it tore down my hammock with me inside it, and I received a bump that I shall not forget in a hurry.
We certainly seemed to have no luck whatever on that fateful expedition! Aching all over, soaked right through, water dripping down my hands, nose and hair like so many little fountains, I proceeded to tie my hammock to another tree, while poor Filippe and Benedicto, who had been caught in the foliage and branches of the falling tree, were trying to disentangle themselves from their unpleasant position. The tree had fallen because it had been eaten up internally by ants. When it came down upon us they simply swarmed over us, and bit us all over for all they were worth. I have no wish whatever to have another such miserable night.
On September 18th we lost the whole morning owing to the torrential rain which continued. We had not the strength to go on.
Now that Filippe and Benedicto had absolute faith in my compass, I had again left the river where it described a big turn toward the south-west, and it was not until two o'clock that afternoon that I struck the big stream once more and we followed its right bank.
To our great delight we came to a small clearing where some years before mandioca had been cultivated. We threw down our loads at once and proceeded to search for roots. To our great joy we found one small root, about as big as a small carrot. We made a fire. Oh! the anxiety in lighting up that fire, as we only had eight matches left, and they had got damp.
Filippe, who was the expert in striking matches, was entrusted with the job. Alas! he struck and struck time after time the first match against the box until its head was worn off altogether, and no flame was produced. With some anxiety we watched the second match having a similar fate.
The men said that the root we had found was of wild mandioca, and if we ate it raw we should certainly all die, but if roasted properly over a flame it lost some of its poisonous qualities. We all had our eyes fixed on that root, and felt the happiest of mortals, as if the most expensive banquet had all of a sudden been placed before us. It was a great relief when Filippe struck the third match and it actually produced a flame. We lighted a fire, roasting the valuable root upon it.
Benedicto, who was the culinary expert, roasted the root until it was nearly carbonized, and by the time he took it out of the flame we had each of us left for our share a section of its fibrous core not larger than a well-smoked cigarette stump.
We devoured that luxurious meal in haste. It tasted as bitter as aloes. No sooner had I eaten it than I felt extremely ill, my men also experiencing a similar sensation. Benedicto was the first one to vomit painfully and cough violently; then came my turn, then Filippe's. So our first meal was not much of a success.
The little strength we had seemed now to have disappeared altogether. We lay helpless upon the bank of the river, unable to move. Once or twice Filippe shouted for help, thinking that our voices might be heard, but no answer ever came to our cries.
Eventually we proceeded once more along the right bank of the river, when we perceived on the opposite bank an abandoned hut. The river at that point was 70 m. wide, from 4 to 5 ft. deep, with a fairly strong current. We decided to cross over and see if perhaps by chance some food had been abandoned in the hut. It was already evening, and we were so exhausted that we did not dare to cross the stream, especially as Filippe and Benedicto could not swim.
The next day, September 19th, we proceeded to ford the stream, having scarcely the strength to keep erect, especially in the middle of the river with the water up to our necks. We were carrying our loads on our heads, so that they should not get wetter than possible. My negatives were fortunately in air-tight cases, or else they certainly would have been destroyed altogether on that disastrous march across the forest.
We got safely to the other side. The bank was very high. A broken-down canoe had been left on the shore. We worked many hours trying to mend her so that we could proceed down the river. But we wasted the entire day, working feverishly for six or seven hours, trying to stop up great holes as big as my fist, one sleeve of my coat being used for the purpose, and replacing a plank at her stern which was missing.
When we at length summoned our last atom of strength to launch her, she immediately filled with water and went to the bottom like a piece of lead. That was the end of the canoe. We had not the strength to float her again.
Building a raft was impossible, as no wood was found that floated. In reconnoitring round the hut, to our great joy we discovered some caju and some guyaba trees; also some more roots of mandioca now become wild.
That was our sixteenth day of fasting, and it can well be imagined how quickly we devoured what little unripe fruit was hanging from the trees. Once more we tried the experiment of cooking the mandioca roots. We had now only five matches left. It was curious to note with what care we prepared dried wood and leaves so that no chance would be lost in getting a flame. Fortunately the first match struck did its work well, and we soon had a big fire inside the hut, on which we roasted the mandioca.
As I have explained elsewhere, the fruit of the caju has an outward nut which has highly caustic properties, and is deadly poisonous to eat uncooked but quite edible when roasted. After eating all the fruit we kept those nuts and put them on the fire; in the evening we sat down to what seemed to us a luxuriant meal.
We had not patience to wait for the caju nuts to be properly roasted. When I ate them my nose, lips, tongue and fingers became badly burned by their caustic juice. No sooner had we eaten that meal than we all became violently ill. I dropped down unconscious, rejecting everything and quantities of blood besides. I must have been unconscious many hours, after which I slept soundly till the sun was well up in the sky, when I found myself resting on the ground with a pool of blood by my side. Poor Filippe and Benedicto were also in a bad way.
On the front of that hut on a piece of board was written "El Paraiso" (Paradise), the name of that place. It was not exactly my idea of Heaven.
Our first meals were worse than no meals at all. We felt in such a plight that we lay helpless upon the floor of the hut, quite unable to move, so exhausted were we. In turning my head around I discovered ten large demijohns, some 21/2 ft. high and about 2 ft. in diameter, of thick green glass. They were the usual demijohns—garaffons, as they are called—used all over Brazil for "fire-water." I at once conceived the idea of using them as floats in the construction of a raft.
My men grinned contemptuously at the idea when I mentioned it to them. They said that all was over. It was no use trying to get away. The Almighty wanted us to die, and we must only lie there and await our end, which was not far off. Benedicto struggled to his knees and prayed to the Almighty and the Virgin, sobbing bitterly all the time.
I struggled up on my feet and proceeded to carry the big vessels to the river bank, where I intended to construct the raft. The effort to take each heavy bottle those few metres seemed almost beyond me in my exhausted state. At last I proceeded to strip the floor of the hut, which had been made with split assahy palms (Euterpe oleracea L.), in order that I might make a frame to which I could fasten the bottles. With a great deal of persuasion I got Filippe and Benedicto to help me. The long pieces of assahy were too heavy for our purpose, and we had the additional trouble of splitting each piece into four. It was most trying work in our worn-out condition. Then we had to go into the forest and collect some small liane, so that we could tie the pieces together, as we had no nails and no rope.
On September 20th, again without food—for we had eaten up all the fruit the previous day—we worked from morning till night in building the raft. Unfortunately, Benedicto stumbled against one of the bottles, which was on the edge of the river; it rolled down the steep bank and floated quickly down stream, and we saw it disappear, unable to go and recover it. So only nine bottles were left.
I made the raft of a triangular shape, with two parallel diagonal rows of three bottles each at a distance of 3 ft. apart; then one set of two bottles. One single garaffon formed the bow of the raft. Naturally I stopped up the necks of the bottles, so that no water should get inside.
While I was constructing the raft I was all the time wondering whether it would have a sufficient floating capacity to carry us three men and our baggage.
When the raft was finished we placed two parallel pieces of assahy from one end to the other, on which we could sit astride, with our legs dangling in the water.
The lassitude with which we did our work and tore down part of the hut in order to build that raft, our only way of salvation, was too pitiful to watch. We absolutely had no strength at all. When we pulled the liane to fasten together the different pieces of palm wood we were more exhausted than if we had lifted a weight of 200 lb. As it was, we could not fasten the pieces of wood properly, and when the raft was finished it was indeed a shaky affair.
By sunset on September 20th the raft—strengthened by sundry knots all over—was ready to be launched. I was more proud of her than if I had built a Dreadnought. There we all sat by the side of her, my men looking at her in a sceptical way, saying that it was just as well, perhaps, to try and die drowned instead of dying of starvation.
We took a last glance around to see if we could discover some other fruit or something to eat, but we found nothing. We postponed the launching of our vessel—which I named the Victory—until the next morning, as had she perchance had an accident that night—accidents at night seem so much worse than in the daytime—it would have been too severe a blow for us, from which we never could have recovered.
My feet were in such a terrible condition—so full of thorns, so swollen with numberless jiggers which had bored channels under my nails and under the soles—that I really felt I could not walk another step. If that raft did not float I knew that we were lost for good.
The entire night I could not sleep, speculating on whether the raft would float or not. As far as I could judge, she seemed to me to have just capacity enough to keep afloat with all of us on board.
The Launching of the Glass Raft—Accidents—The Raft sinking—Saved—Our First Solid Meal—Its Consequences—The Canuma and Secundury Rivers—Marching Back across the Forest to the Relief of the Men left behind—A Strange Mishap—A Curious Case of Telepathy
ON September 21st my men had a great discussion. Their courage failed altogether, as they said they had never before seen a boat of that kind, made of glass bottles, and that, even allowing that she would float at all, if we struck a rock where should we be? They declared that, tired as they were, they preferred to go on struggling on foot through the forest rather than get drowned. With his peculiar reasoning, Benedicto said that it was bad enough to die of starvation, but to die of starvation and get drowned as well was too much for him!
It was decided that we should first of all try whether the raft would bear our weight or not. If she did, we would sail in her. If she did not, I would navigate her and they might go on foot.
It was a moment of great excitement and suspense when we launched the Victory. You should have seen the faces of Benedicto and Filippe when she floated on the water as gracefully as a duck. I got on her, and with a punting pole went half-way across the river and back again.
Filippe and Benedicto, who had hardly recovered from their astonishment, professed that it was the cleverest thing they had ever seen, and no Brazilian ever would have had such a brilliant idea. They were now anxious to get on board.
First Filippe came and sat himself in front of me, and I saw with some concern the raft sink down considerably into the water. When Benedicto also entered, the framework of our vessel absolutely disappeared under water and only the short necks of the bottles showed above the surface. As we sat astride on the narrow longitudinal platform we were knee-deep in water. We took another small trip in mid-stream, and then decided that we would put the baggage on board and start at once on our journey down the river.
I went back for the baggage and rolled it all up in the waterproof hammock, then fastened it with pieces of liane to the stern of the raft. Filippe and Benedicto fastened their own things also. Having made ourselves some primitive-looking paddles with the bottom of a small empty barrel we had found, which we attached to two sticks, we made ready to start.
Filippe and I had already got on board, when Benedicto appeared with a huge punting pole he had cut himself in case we might need it. He was excited over the prospect of having no more walking to do. When he got near he jumped on board so clumsily that the already too heavily laden raft turned over and we were all flung into the water—there 7 ft. deep. When I came to the surface again I just managed to pull the craft ashore and then proceeded to save Benedicto and Filippe, who were struggling in the water, which was too deep for them.
This mishap was unfortunate. My chronometer got full of water and stopped; the aneroids, the camera, all were injured beyond repair. Much to my distress, I also discovered that the watertight cases, which had been knocked about so much of late, had let the water through before I had time to turn the raft the right way up and pull out of the water the baggage which was fastened to it. The four hundred developed negatives had all got soaked. My note-books, too, were drenched through.
Another heavy task was before me now, in order to save all that valuable material. It was to spread everything to dry thoroughly in the wind before it could be packed again.
Filippe and Benedicto were so scared that on no account, they said, would they go on board that raft again. The accident occurred at about nine o'clock in the morning; by one or two o'clock in the afternoon everything was dry and carefully repacked.
We decided to make a fresh start. My feet were so swollen, and with hardly a patch of skin left on them, that I could walk no more. It was agreed that Filippe and Benedicto should go on walking along the left bank as much as possible, while I alone, with the baggage, navigated the river. We would keep in touch by occasional shouts.
I got along pretty well, floating down with the current; but paddling and punting were most difficult, the raft being almost impossible to steer. On several occasions I had narrow escapes, just avoiding striking dangerous rocks—particularly going down a small corrideira.
After I had gone about two kilometres I was so exhausted that I called to Filippe to come on board again. Eventually—and I must say that I admired his courage—he came on board, and the two of us proceeded quite well down the stream, one paddling, the other punting.
We got into a small rapid, where the current was strong. We were unfortunately thrown violently against some rocks, the central bottles of our raft receiving a hard knock. One of them cracked badly. I was quite perplexed when my eye caught sight of the radiations in the glass caused by the impact. Then my ear began to notice the sound of the trickling of water getting inside the bottle. With positive concern, as the garaffon was gradually filling, I saw the raft getting a bad list to port.
The broken garaffon was behind Filippe's back, and he could not see it. He was constantly asking me whether something had gone wrong, as he seemed to feel the water getting higher and higher up his body.
"Is the ship not sinking?" he asked every two minutes. "I now have water up to my waist."
"No, no, Filippe! Go on. It is all right!" were the words with which I kept on urging him.
The cracked bottle had got almost entirely filled with water, and we had such a bad list that the steering became most difficult. Two or three times again we were thrown by the current against other rocks, and another bottle had a similar fate.
"We are sinking, are we not?" shouted Filippe.
"No, no!" said I. "Go on!"
As I said those words it suddenly seemed to me that I heard voices in the distance. Was it Benedicto calling to us? Filippe and I listened. Surely there was somebody singing! We fancied we heard several voices. Had Benedicto met somebody in the forest?
"Benedicto! Benedicto!" we shouted out to him. "Have you found men?"
"No!" came the answer from Benedicto.
All of a sudden Filippe, whose eyes had been scanning the river in front of him, gave a violent jerk which nearly capsized the raft, exclaiming:
"Look! look! There is a canoe!"
"It is a rock," said I, as I screened my eye to look on the dazzling water, upon which the sun glittered so that it was almost impossible to perceive anything. But, sure enough, as I strained my eyes a second time, I saw something move, and a moment later I heard voices quite distinctly.
Filippe's joy and mine was intense when we perceived that not only one boat, but two—three canoes were approaching.
We had already travelled some eight kilometres on our raft when we came close to the boats we had observed. Their crews stood up in them, rifles in hand, as we floated down. I shouted that we were friends. Eventually they came to our help, their amazement being curious to watch as they got near us—they being unable to understand how we could float down the river merely by sitting on the surface. By that time the raft was almost altogether submerged. When they took us on board, and a portion of the raft came to the surface again, the amusement of those crews was intense.