It was a rather desperate business. I don’t think that I am a particularly brave man. I have an Irish imagination which makes the unknown and the untried more terrible than they are. On the other hand, I was brought up with a horror of cowardice. I dare say that I could throw myself over a precipice if my courage were questioned, and yet it would surely be pride and fear, rather than courage. I answered as careless as I could that I was ready to go. Some further remark of Lord Roxton’s about the danger only made me irritable.
“Talking won’t make it any better,” said I. “Come on.”
I rose from my chair and he from his. Then with a little chuckle of laughter, he patted me two or three times on the chest, finally pushing me back into my chair.
“All right, sonny,” said he. I looked up in surprise.
“I saw Jack Ballinger myself this morning. He blew a hole in the skirt of my kimono, but we got a jacket on him, and he’s to be all right in a week. I hope you don’t mind… You see I look on this South American business as a very serious thing, and if I have a companion with me I want a man I can rely on.[39 - to rely on smb – положиться на кого-либо] So you came well out of it. Tell me, can you shoot?”
“About average Territorial standard.”
“Good Lord! As bad as that? But you’ll need to hold your gun straight in South America, for we may see some queer things before we get back.”
He crossed to an oaken cupboard, and as he threw it open I saw a rich collection of guns.
“I see…” said he. “Now, here’s something that would do for you.”
He took out a beautiful brown-and-silver rifle.
“Sharply sighted, five cartridges to the clip.[40 - Sharply sighted, five cartridges to the clip. – Прицел абсолютно точный, магазин на пять патронов.] You can trust your life to that.” He handed it to me and closed the door of his oak cabinet.
“By the way,” he continued, coming back to his chair, “what do you know of this Professor Challenger?”
“I never saw him till today.”
“Well, neither did I. It’s funny we should both sail under the orders from a man we don’t know. His brothers of science don’t seem to like him.”
I told him shortly my experiences of the morning, and he listened intently. Then he drew out a map of South America and laid it on the table.
“I believe every single word he said was the truth,” said he, earnestly, “America is the richest, most wonderful bit of earth upon this planet. But people don’t know it yet. Well, when I was up there I heard some stories of the same kind… traditions of Indians with something behind them. The more you knew of that country, the more you would understand that anything was possible… ANYTHING. There are just some narrow water-lanes along which folk travel, and outside that it is all darkness. There are fifty-thousand miles of water-way running through a forest that is very near the size of Europe. Why shouldn’t something new and wonderful lie in such a country? And why shouldn’t we be the men to find it out? Besides, there’s a risk in every mile of it. Give me the great waste lands and a gun and something to look for that’s worth finding. I’ve tried war and aeroplanes, but this hunting of prehistoric beasts is a brand-new sensation!” Lord Roxton said, laughing with delight.
We had a long talk that evening. I left him seated, oiling the lock of his favorite rifle, while he still laughed at the thought of the adventures which awaited us. It was clear to me that I could not in all England have found a cooler head or a braver spirit.
That night, tired after the wonderful happenings of the day, I sat late with McArdle, the news editor, explaining to him the whole situation. It was agreed that I should write home full accounts of my adventures in the shape of successive letters to McArdle, and that these should either be edited for the Gazette as they arrived, or held back to be published later, according to the wishes of Professor Challenger.
And now my patient readers, I can address you directly no longer. From now onwards it can only be through the paper which I represent. In the hands of the editor I leave this account of the events which have led up to one of the most remarkable expeditions of all time, so that if I never return to England there shall be some record as to how the affair came about.
Let me draw one last picture before I close the notebook… It is a wet, foggy morning in the late spring; a thin, cold rain is falling. Three figures are walking to the ship. In front of them a porter pushes a trolley with trunks, wraps, and gun-cases. Professor Summerlee, a long, melancholy figure, walks with drooping head, as one who is already sorry for himself. Lord John Roxton steps briskly, and his face beaming. As for myself, I am glad to have these days of preparation behind me. Suddenly there is a shout behind us. It is Professor Challenger, who had promised to see us off. He runs after us.
“No thank you,” says he; “I don’t want to go aboard. I have only a few words to say to you. I beg you not to imagine that I am in any way indebted to you for making this journey. I would have you to understand that it is a matter of perfect indifference to me, and I refuse to entertain the most remote sense of personal obligation. My directions for your instruction and guidance are in this sealed envelope. You will open it when you reach a town which is called Manaos, but not until the date and hour which is marked upon the outside. Have I made myself clear? Mr. Malone, I demand that you give no particulars as to your exact destination, and that nothing be actually published until your return. Good-bye, sir. You have done something to change my feelings for the profession to which you unhappily belong. Good-bye, Lord John. You may congratulate yourself upon the hunting-field which awaits you. And good-bye to you also, Professor Summerlee. If you are still capable of self-improvement, you will surely return to London a wiser man.”
So he turned upon his heel, and a minute later I could see his short figure as he made his way back to his train. Well, we are well down Channel now. God bless all we leave behind us, and send us safely back.
Tomorrow We Disappear into the Unknown
I will not tell in every detail our voyage, nor will I tell of our week’s stay at Para. I will also mention very briefly our river journey, up a wide, slow-moving stream, in a steamer which was little smaller than that which had carried us across the Atlantic. Finally we reached the town of Manaos. Here we spent our time until the day when we were empowered to open the letter of instructions given to us by Professor Challenger. Before I reach the surprising events of that date I would desire to give a clearer sketch of my companions. I speak freely and leave the use of my material to you, Mr. McArdle, since this report must pass through your hands before it reaches the world.
Professor Summerlee turned out to be better equipped for the expedition than one would imagine at first sight. His tall, gaunt figure is insensible to fatigue. Though in his sixty-sixth year, I have never heard him express any dissatisfaction at the hardships which we had. In temper he is naturally acid and sceptical. From the beginning he has never doubted that Professor Challenger is an absolute fraud, that we are likely to get nothing but disappointment and danger in South America and ridicule in England. However, since landing from the boat he has found consolation[41 - to find consolation – найти утешение] in the beauty and variety of the insect and bird life around him, for he is absolutely whole-hearted in his devotion to science. He spends his days in the woods with his shot-gun and his butterfly-net, and his evenings in examining the many specimens he has caught. He has been on several scientific expeditions in his youth, and the life of the camp and the canoe is nothing new to him.
Lord John Roxton is twenty years younger, but has something of the same spare physique as Professor Summerlee. Like most men of action, he is laconic in speech, and sinks readily into his own thoughts, but he is always quick to answer a question or join in a conversation, talking in a half-humorous fashion. His knowledge of the world, and very especially of South America, is surprising, and he has a whole-hearted belief in the possibilities of our journey. He has a gentle voice and a quiet manner, but behind it hides a capacity for furiousity and pitiless resolution. He spoke little of his own visits in Brazil and Peru, but I was very much amazed to find the excitement among the natives, who looked at him as their champion and protector. The deeds of the Red Chief, as they called him, had become legends among them.
These were that Lord John had found himself some years before in that no-man’s-land somewhere between Peru, Brazil, and Columbia. In this great a handful of villainous half-breeds dominated the country, turned the natives into slaves, terrorizing them with the most inhuman tortures in order to force them to gather the india-rubber, which was then floated down the river to Para. Lord John Roxton made the stand for[42 - to make the stand for smb – выступить в защиту кого-либо] the victims, and received nothing but threats and insults. He then formally declared war against the leader of the slave-drivers, armed the natives, and conducted a campaign, which ended by his killing with his own hands the notorious half-breed and breaking down the system which he represented.
One useful result of his former experiences was that he could talk fluently in the Lingoa Geral, which is the peculiar talk, one-third Portuguese and two-thirds Indian, which is current all over Brazil.
I have said before that Lord John Roxton was obsessed with South America. He could not speak of that great country without admiration. Even the Professor’s cynical and sceptical smile would gradually vanish from his thin face as he listened. He would tell the history of the mighty river so rapidly explored, and yet so unknown in regard to all that lay behind its ever-changing banks.
“What is there?” he would cry, pointing to the north. “Wood and jungle. Who knows what it may shelter? And there to the south? A wilderness of dark forest, where no white man has ever been. The unknown is up against us on every side. Who will say what is possible in such a country? Why should old man Challenger not be right?” And the stubborn sneer would reappear on Professor Summerlee’s face, and he would sit, shaking his head in unsympathetic silence, smoking his pipe.
So much, for the moment, for my two white companions. But already we have enrolled certain retainers who may play no small part in what is to come. The first is a gigantic negro named Zambo, who is a black Hercules, as willing as any horse, and about as intelligent. We enlisted him at Para as he spoke English a little bit. There we also took Gomez and Manuel, two half-breeds,[43 - a half-breed – метис] as active and wiry as panthers. Both of them had spent their lives in those upper waters of the Amazon which we were about to explore, that was the reason Lord John decided to engage them. One of them, Gomez, had the further advantage that he could speak excellent English. These men were willing to act as our personal servants, to cook, to row, or to make themselves useful in any way at a payment of fifteen dollars a month. Besides these, we had hired three Mojo Indians from Bolivia, who are the most skilful at fishing and boat work of all the river tribes. The chief of these we called Mojo, after his tribe, and the others are known as Jose and Fernando. So three white men, two half-breeds, one negro, and three Indians made up the personnel of the little expedition which lay waiting for its instructions at Manaos before starting on its quest.
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