Carmen Ariza Part 99
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"For, instead of not believing anything, you firmly believe in the presence and power of evil. It is just those very people who boast that they do not believe in anything who believe most thoroughly in evil and its omnipotence and omnipresence."
Yes, even the animals which she saw about her were but the human mind's concepts of G.o.d's ideas--not real. Adam had named them. In the Bible allegory, or dream, the human, mortal mind names all its own material concepts.
The days wore on with dull regularity. From the rippling Tiguicito, which they reached choking with thirst and utterly exhausted, they dropped down again to the Boque, where they established camps and began to prospect the Molino company's "near-mines," as Harris called them after the first few unsuccessful attempts to get "colors" out of the barren soil. At certain points, where there seemed a more likely prospect, they remained for days, until the men, under Rosendo's guidance, could sink pits to the underlying bedrock. Such work was done with the crudest of tools--an iron bar, wooden sc.r.a.pers in lieu of shovels, and wooden _bateas_ in which the men handed the loosened dirt up from one stage to another and out to the surface. It was slow, torturing work. The men grew restive. The food ran low, and they complained.
Then Harris one evening stumbled upon a tapir, just as the great animal had forded the river and was shambling into the bush opposite. He emptied his rifle magazine into the beast. It fell with a broken hip, and the men finished it with their _machetes_.
Its hide was nearly a half inch in thickness, and covered with _garrapatas_--fierce, burrowing vermin, with hooked claws, which came upon the travelers and caused them intense annoyance throughout the remainder of the journey.
Then Reed shot a deer, a delicate, big-eyed creature that had never seen a human being and was too surprised to flee. Later, Fidel Avila felled another with a large stone. And, finally, monkeys became so plentiful that the men all but refused to eat them any longer.
Two weeks were spent around the mouth of the Tiguicito and the Boque canon. Then Reed gave the order to advance. The little party shouldered their packs and began the ascent of the ragged gorge. For days they clambered up and down the jagged walls of the cut, or skirted its densely covered margin. Twice Harris fell into the brawling stream below, and was fished out by Rosendo, his eyes popping, and his mouth choked with uncomplimentary opinion regarding mountain travel in the tropics. Once, seizing a slender vine to aid him in climbing, he gave a sudden lurch and swung out unexpectedly over the gorge, hundreds of feet deep. Again Rosendo, who by this time had learned to keep one eye on the ground and the other on the irresponsible Harris, rescued him from his perilous position.
"Why don't you watch where you are going?" queried the laughing Carmen.
"I might," sputtered Harris, "if I could keep my eyes off of you."
Whereat Carmen pursed her lips and told him to reserve his compliments for those who knew how to appraise them rightly.
They camped where night overtook them, out in the open, often falling asleep without waiting to build a fire, but eating soggy corn _arepa_ and tinned food, and drinking cold coffee left from the early morning repast. But sometimes, when the fatigue of day was less, they would gather about their little fire, chilled and dripping, and beg Carmen to sing to them while they prepared supper. Then her clear voice would ring out over the great canon and into the vast solitudes on either hand in strange, vivid contrast to the cries and weird sounds of the jungle; and the two Americans would sit and look at her as if they half believed her a creature from another world. Sometimes Harris would draw her into conversation on topics pertaining to philosophy and religion, for he had early seen her bent and, agnostic that he was, delighted to hear her express her views, which to him were so childishly impossible. But as often he would voluntarily retire from the conflict, sometimes shaking his head dubiously, sometimes muttering his impatience with a mere child whose logic he, despite his collegiate training, could not refute. He was as full of philosophical theories as a nut with meat; but when she asked for proofs, for less human belief and more demonstration, he hoisted the white flag and retired from the field. But his admiration for the child became sincere. His respect for her waxed daily stronger. And by the time they had reached the great divide through which the Rosario fell, he was dimly aware of a feeling toward the beautiful creature who walked at his side day after day, sharing without complaint hards.h.i.+p and fatigue that sorely taxed his own endurance, that was something more than mere regard, and he had begun to speculate vaguely on a possible future in which she became the central figure.
At Rosario creek they left the great canon and turned into the rugged defile which wound its tortuous course upward into the heights of the _Barra Princ.i.p.al_. They were now in a region where, in Rosendo's belief, there was not one human being in an area of a hundred square miles. He himself was in sore doubt as to the ident.i.ty of the _quebrada_ which they were following. But it tallied with the brief description given him by Don Nicolas. And, moreover, which was even more important, as they began its ascent there came to him that sense of conviction which every true son of the jungle feels when he is following the right course. He might not say how he knew he was right; but he followed the leading without further question.
Up over the steep talus at the base of the canon wall they clambered, up into the narrowing _arroyo_, cutting every foot of the way, for the _macheteros_ were now no longer keeping ahead of them--the common danger held the band united. Often they believed they discovered traces of ancient trails. But the jealous forest had all but obliterated them, and they could not be certain. In the higher and drier parts of the forest, where they left the creek and followed the beds of dead streams, slender ditches through which the water raced in torrents during the wet season, they were set upon by countless swarms of bees, a strange, stingless variety that covered them in a buzzing, crawling ma.s.s, struggling and fighting for the salt in the perspiration which exuded from the human bodies. Harris swore he would cease to eat, for he could not take even a mouthful of food without at the same time taking in a mult.i.tude of bees.
Often, too, their _machetes_ cut into great hornet nests. Then, with the shrill cry, "_Avispas_!" Rosendo would tear recklessly through the matted jungle, followed by his slapping, stumbling companions, until the maddened insects gave up the chase. Frequently they walked into huge ant nests before they realized it, sometimes the great _tucanderas_, so ferociously poisonous. "Ah, senores,"
commented Rosendo, as he once stopped to point out the marvelous roadway cut by these insects for miles straight through the jungle, "in the days of the Spaniards the cruel taskmasters would often tie the weak and sick slaves to trees in the depths of the forest and let these great ants devour them alive! Senores, you can never know the terrible crimes committed by the Spaniards!"
"And they were Christians!" murmured Harris, eying Carmen furtively.
But she knew, though she voiced it not, that the Spaniard had never known the Christ.
Night was spent on the summit of the divide. Then, without further respite, Rosendo urged the descent. Down through ravines and gullies; over monster bowlders; waist deep through streams; down the sheer sides of gorges on natural ladders formed by the hanging _mora_ vines; skirting cliffs by the aid of tangled and interlaced roots of rank, wet vegetation; and then down again into river bottoms, where the tenacious mud challenged their every step, and the streams became an interminable mora.s.s, through which pa.s.sage was possible only by jumping from root to root, where the gnarled feeders of the great trees projected above the bottomless ooze. The persecution of the _jejenes_ became diabolical. At dawn and sunset the raucous bellow of the red-roarer monkeys made the air hideous. The flickering lights of the forest became dismally depressing. The men grew morose and sullen. Reed and Harris quarreled with each other on the slightest provocation.
Then, to increase their misery, came the rain. It fell upon them in the river bottoms in fierce, driving gusts; then in sheets that blotted out the forest and wet their very souls. The heavens split with the lightning. The mountains roared and trembled with the hideous cannonade of thunder. The jungle-matted hills ran with the flood. An unvaried pall of vapor hung over the steaming ground, through which uncanny, phantasmagoric shapes peered at the struggling little band.
Again the sun burst forth, and a fiery vapor seethed above the moist earth. The reek of their damp clothing and the acrid odor of the wet soil increased the enervation of their hard travel. Again and again the peevish Harris accused Rosendo of having lost the way. The old man patiently bore the abuse. Reed chided Harris, and at length quarreled violently with him, although his own apprehension waxed continually greater. Carmen said little. Hour after hour she toiled along, floundering through the bogs, fording the deeper streams on Rosendo's broad back, whispering softly to him at times, often seizing and pressing his great h.o.r.n.y hand, but holding her peace. In vain at evening, when gathered about the damp, smudging firewood, Harris would bring up to her the causes of her flight. In vain he would accuse the unfortunate Alcalde, the Bishop, the soldiers. Carmen refused to lend ear to it, or to see in it anything more than a varied expression of the human mind. Personality was never for a moment considered. She saw, not persons, not things, but expressions of thought in the phenomena which had combined to urge her out of her former environment and cast her into the trackless jungle.
At length, one day, when it seemed to the exhausted travelers that human endurance could stand no more, Rosendo, who had long been straining his ears in the direction straight ahead, announced that the singing noise which floated to them as they descended a low hill and plunged into a thicket of tall lush gra.s.s, undoubtedly came from the river Tigui. Another hour of straining and plunging through the dense growth followed; and then, with a final effort, which manifested in a sort of frenzied rush, the little band emerged suddenly upon the east bank of the crystal stream, glittering and s.h.i.+mmering in the bright morning sun as it sang and rippled on its solitary way through the great jungle.
The men threw off their packs and sprawled full length upon the ground. Rosendo pointed across the river.
"La Colorado," he said, indicating what the Americans at length made out to be a frame house, looming above the high gra.s.s. "And there,"
pointing to the north, "is _Pozo Cayman_, where the trail begins that leads to La Libertad."
That night, as they lay on the rough board floor of the house at La Colorado, Rosendo told them the story of the misguided Frenchmen who, years before, had penetrated this wild region, located a barren quartz vein, then floated a company and begun developments. A considerable colony settled here. The soil was fertile; the undeveloped country ceaselessly rich in every resource, the water pure and sparkling, and abounding in fish. The climate, too, was moderate and agreeable. It seemed to the foreigners a terrestrial paradise. But then came the insidious fever. It crept out of the jungle like a thief in the night.
One by one the Frenchmen fell sick and died. Panic seized upon them.
Those unafflicted fled--all but one. He remained to protect the company's property. But he, too, fell a victim to the plague. One day, as he lay burning upon his bed, he called feebly to his one remaining servant, the native cook, to bring him the little package of quinine.
She hastened to comply; but, alas! she brought the packet of strychnine instead, and soon he, too, had joined his companions in that unknown country which awaits us all. The old woman fled in terror; and the evil spirits descended upon the place. They haunt it yet, and no man approaches it but with trembling.
Reed and Harris listened to the weird story with strange sensations.
The clouds above had broken, and the late moon streamed through the night vapor, and poured through the bamboo walls of the house. The giant frogs in the nearby creek awoke, and through the long night croaked their mournful plaint in a weird minor cadence that seemed to the awed Americans to voice to the s.h.i.+mmering moon the countless wrongs of the primitive Indians, who, centuries before, had roamed this marvelous land in happy freedom, until the Spaniard descended like a dark cloud and, with rack and stake, fastened his blighting religion upon them.
A day's rest at La Colorado sufficed to revive the spirits of the party and prepare them for the additional eight or ten hour journey over boggy mora.s.s and steep hill to La Libertad. For this trip Rosendo would take only the Americans and Carmen. The _cargadores_ were not to know the nature of this expedition, which, Rosendo announced, was undertaken that the Americans might explore for two days the region around the upper Tigui. The men received this explanation with grunts of satisfaction.
Trembling with suppressed excitement, oblivious now of fatigue, hunger, or hards.h.i.+p, Reed and Harris followed the old man that day over the ancient, obliterated trail to the forgotten mine of Don Ignacio de Rincon. They experienced all the sensations of those who find themselves at last on the course that leads to buried treasure.
To Harris, the romance attaching to the expedition obliterated all other considerations. But Reed was busy with the practical end of it, with costs, with the problems of supplies, of transportation, and trail. Carmen saw but one vision, the man in far-off Simiti, whose ancestor once owned the great mine which lay just ahead of them.
When night fell, the four stood, silent and wondering, at the mouth of the crumbling tunnel, where lay a rusted shovel bearing the scarce distinguishable inscription, "I de R."
Two weeks later a group of natives, sitting at a feast of baked alligator tail, at the mouth of the Amaceri, near the dirty, straggling riverine town of Llano, rose in astonishment as they saw issuing from the clayey, wallowing Guamoco trail a staggering band of travelers, among them two foreigners, whose clothes were in shreds and whose beards and unkempt hair were caked with yellow mud. With them came a young girl, lightly clad and wearing torn rope _alpargates_ on her bare feet. The heat was descending in torrents. From the neighboring town floated a brawling bedlam of human voices. It was Sunday, and the villagers were celebrating a religious _fiesta_.
"_Compadres_," said Rosendo, approaching the half-intoxicated group.
"The boat--which way?"
One of the group, his mouth too full to speak, pointed in expressive pantomime up-stream. Rosendo murmured a fervent "_Loado sea Dios_,"
and sank upon the ground.
"It will be down to-morrow--to-day, perhaps," gurgled another of the rapidly recovering feasters, his eyes roving from one member to another of the weird-looking little band.
"Lord Harry!" exclaimed Harris, as he squatted upon the damp ground and mopped his muddy brow. "I'm a salamander for heat, that's certain!"
"Senor," said Rosendo, addressing Reed, "it would be well to pay the men at once, for the boat may appear at any time, and it will not wait long."
While the curious group from the village crowded about and eagerly watched the proceedings, Reed unstrapped his pack and drew out a bundle of Colombian bills, with which he began to pay the _cargadores_, according to the reckoning which Rosendo had kept. As the last man, with a grunt of satisfaction, received his money, Harris exclaimed: "And to think, one good American dollar is worth a bushel of that paper stuff!"
The words were scarcely out of his mouth when a shrill whistle came echoing down the river. A cloud of smoke above the distant treetops heralded the approach of the steamer. The little party had escaped a wait of a month in the drenching heat of Llano by the narrow margin of an hour.
Rosendo hastened to Reed and drew him aside. He tried to speak, but words failed him. Reed took his hand. "I understand, my friend," he said gently. "Have no fear. The mine is all I had antic.i.p.ated. My wife and I will care for the girl until we hear from you. And we will keep in touch with you, although it will take two months for a letter to reach us and our reply to get back again to Simiti. The development company will be formed at once. Within six months you may expect to see the work started. It is your fortune--and the girl's."
Carmen drew close to Rosendo. "Padre, I am coming back to you--yes?"
"_Cierto, chiquita_!" The old man would not permit himself to say more. The girl had known for some time that he was not to accompany her to the States, and that she should not see Ana in Cartagena. To this she had at length accustomed herself.
In a few minutes the lumbering boat had swung around and thrown out its gang plank. A hurried embrace; a struggle with rus.h.i.+ng tears; another shriek from the boat whistle; and the Americans, with Carmen standing mute and motionless between them, looked back at the fading group on sh.o.r.e, where Rosendo's tall figure stood silhouetted against the green background of the forest. For a moment he held his arm extended toward them. Carmen knew, as she looked at the great-hearted man for the last time, that his benediction was following her--following her into that new world into which he might not enter.
Reed lifted the silent, wondering, big-eyed girl from the d.i.n.key train which pulled into Cartagena from Calamar ten days later, and took her to the Hotel Mariana, where his anxious, fretting wife awaited. Their boat had hung on a hidden bar in the Cauca river for four interminable, torturing days.
On the day that Carmen arrived in Cartagena, Rosendo staggered down the Guamoco trail into Simiti. On that same momentous day the flames of war again flared up throughout the country. The Simiti episode, in which the President had interfered, brought Congress to the necessity of action. A few days of fiery debate followed; then the noxious measure was taken from the table and hastily enacted into a law.
But news travels slowly in Latin America, and some time was required for this act of Congress to become generally known. The delay saw Carmen through the jungle and down to the coast. There Reed lost no time in transacting what business still remained for him in Cartagena, and securing transportation for his party to New York.
Carmen Ariza Part 99
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Carmen Ariza Part 99 summary
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