« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
curve of undulating waves of mountain. Looking upon them thus, a man might almost imagine that some giant sea had been petrified in a moment of seismic fury, its billows fixed for all time in the contortions of their mighty upheaval.
An hour passes, during which bearings are taken by compass of all the mountains of which the Sâkai can furnish or invent names, for the Europeans, after the manner of their kind, are making a rough map of the unknown land; and when at length the whole party has gathered itself together on the summit, and has had time to recover its breath, the descent into the Benighted Lands is begun. It is accomplished in a very short time, the expedition sitting down for the most part and slipping, tumbling, sliding, falling through the brushwood, down the steep face of the hill from terrace to terrace and from hogsback to hogsback. At last the plain is reached, and after marching down a tiny trickle of rivulet for an hour, a camp is formed in the heart of the forest, and huts of palmleaves are erected. Stiff limbs are washed in the stream; fires are lighted; the grateful odour of cooking food pervades the air. The insects in the jungle around chant a glad song; fuel cracks and splutters; there is a musical hum of speech from the clusters of Malays about the fires; then food is eaten with a hunter's appetite, and blissful sleep falls upon the tired men before the darkness is two hours old.
camp will wake once more; the
At four in the morning the fidence which does not even
dream of being shaken. The sole anxiety of this time of travel is borne by the white men, who count the daily rations jealously, and work out long sums showing the number of days to come during which food will still be plentiful. The babbling waters of the rivulets, rushing downwards from the mountains to meet larger streams, keep the journeyers company by day, hush them to sleep by night with a song insistent and monotonous, provide a footpath through the thickest portions of the jungle, and by their increasing volume indicate the gradual approach to navigable rivers.
The wild forest-land, uninhabited even by Sâkai, is still round the expedition, a narrow horizon limiting their vision, when at last the war-party makes its way to the banks of a broad but shallow river, the borders of which are covered with mighty ngĕram trees hanging out over the water, and a dense fringe of graceful bamboos. Loads are stacked quickly on a sandbank in mid-stream, and all the natives set to work with axe and wood-knife to fell the bamboos, to strip them of leaves, to cut them into lengths of about twenty feet each, and to fashion from them light rafts, each capable of bearing two or three men and their loads and supplies. All day long the note of the blades telling loudly upon the hollow stems rings out, and by nightfall the task is completed, and the rafts, moored to the bank by means of slender lines of green rattan, rock lazily in the wash of the current.
Next day the expedition moves forward once more; but the time of dreary travail, of plodding on foot through dense forest, is past. Down the long and shining reaches of this unexplored river, through places which, since the beginning of the world, have been hidden so jealously from the prying eyes of strangers, the long flotilla glides smoothly in a straggling line. The eternal forest has the air of standing aside to let the intruders pass, with a flutter of green draperies, as though it were loath to soil its garments by contact with creatures of so puny a breed. The waters of the river tearing over their shingle-beds, hurling themselves headlong down boulder-set falls and rapids, dancing around the rafts with a soft lapping sound in the calm, sun-gilt reaches, shaking a glistening mane of golden splash and ripple as they run, seem to the travellers like the embodiment of some wild steed broken for the first time to bit and saddle, now galloping furiously in panic, now striving to unseat its rider, again prancing light-heartedly despite its unwonted burden. The solemnity, the mystery of untouched Nature, grips the white men's hearts. Their presence with their train of noisy natives in the heart of these temples of solitude and silence seems an incongruity, a profanation, an indecency. At one point, as the leading raft rounds a sharp bend, a herd of the mighty wild bison, the bulls measuring nineteen and twenty hands at the shoulder, are come upon suddenly, standing knee
deep in the shallows with dripping muzzles. For an instant the bull who is the leader of his clan stares at the adventurers, sniffing the man-fouled air with nose thrust upwards: then, with a torrent of angry snortings, voicing the protest of the jungle, the herd splashes back to the shore, plunges into the forest, and is lost to sight among the crackling underwood. The natives watch the bearers of so much red beef disappear with longing eyes; but orders have been given that no shots are to be fired, for the white men do not know how near they may be to a village, and the report of an explosion might prematurely warn the inhabitants of the Benighted Lands of the coming of the expedition.
These are the distinctive features about this journey, the total ignorance of all as to what may lie ahead, as to the distance which must be traversed, the dangers and difficulties which must be encountered, the obstacles which must be surmounted before inhabited country is reached. It adds an excitement, an interest, a curious feeling of alert expectancy, to each mile of unknown river. And the surprises are plentiful. Here and there great flights of rapids are encountered, where men are forced to lighten the rafts of their burdens and to lower them by long lines of rattan into the seething foamwaves between the black granite boulders, whence they emerge shattered and bruised into the smooth waters below. At one point the whole of the first
flotilla has to be abandoned at the head of a succession of impassable waterfalls down which the river leaps and plunges for a distance of five miles, and the men of the expedition, bearing their burdens on their backs, are obliged to limp and hurry along the banks, which are smothered in great beds of jělátang, the fearful Malayan stinging-nettle. At the foot of these falls a fresh set of rafts has to be fashioned, and the second fleet moves onward
once more to discover new difficulties, new dangers, new obstructions.
As the river broadens, increasing in volume with each tributary stream that empties its waters from the hills on either hand, the jungle stands farther and farther apart, and the white men make acquaintance with heat such as is not to be experienced by any one who has not used a raft under a tropical sun. The numerous fallen trees which beset the passage, under or over which the rafts have to be dragged, render the construction of even the frailest awning an impossibility, and the slowness of the pace at which the flotilla moves forward with the tug of the current causes the men to be roasted as though they hung upon a spit which had ceased to revolve. As the sun climbs above the ramparts of forest it lashes down pitilessly upon the creeping rafts; the sheer walls of jungle seem to focus the burning sun-glare upon the tiny thread of open river; the waters, running with a sleepy murmur of indistinct sound, catch the
beams and refract their heat blindingly; not a breath of wind stirs in all these silent places; and when a passing glimpse of distant mountaintops is caught, they are seen to dance and shimmer giddily in the heat-haze. Whenever by the chance movement of a limb a piece of loose clothing is tightened suddenly against a white man's skin, the contact with the sun-baked cloth burns painfully. The glare from the water, striking upwards under the brims of hats, is more torturingly fierce and insistent than the heat of the sun itself. Men feel as though their very brains were grilling; their eyes ache and smart; their skin, wherever it is exposed to the air, feels taut and rough, is tender to the touch, and parched to a dryness as of fever. Those of the white men who are not already sun-tanned to invulnerability, are burned a raw red colour, not the enriching and beautifying hues of the south of Europe, but the ugly, crude flaying of tropical sunburn,—which leaves behind it swollen water blisters, patches of scalded flesh, and a rough peeling surface.
But the white men's worst grievance is the diet. Daily they sit confronting their plates of dry rice with the chillies and salt-fish which are designed to render it palatable, making use of language which is not in the dictionary. They cannot swallow the stuff in sufficient quantities to adequately support life; the dry clots stick in their gullets chokingly; and after a few mouthfuls they are full-fed, though they remain as famished
with hunger as before the mocking meal. As they sprawl upon their mats in camp when the day's toil is over, they talk of little save food. They speak of meat and bread with voices which are almost lachrymose in their sentimentality; they frame menus of impossible dinners, to be devoured hereafter at their clubs in London when the time has come to celebrate the memory of the expedition; and they fall asleep to dream of feasts and banquets, and wake to find the morning rice lying untemptingly at their elbows. It is trial more sore than folk in England can well imagine; but never once do these men repent themselves that they are with the expedition. The excitement, the joy of the Elizabethan adventurers is theirs; the glamour, the intoxication of the Unknown is upon them, as daily they press forward into new lands, untrodden by their fellows. Who can say what hidden marvels may await their coming? The kingdom of the Sleeping Beauty was not more mysterious than is this remote country, which has slumbered on through the centuries undisturbed by the noise and progress of the restless West. Now the veil is about to be lifted, the interminable trance broken, the "long-pent stream of life released. Even in the extremity of their hunger the wayfarers would not lightly barter a birthright so precious for the most savoury mess of pottage!
The first village in the Benighted Lands,-a cluster of little huts, half hidden in groves
of palm- and fruit-trees, perched upon a shoulder of rising ground, with the river running below, -the first place tenanted by human beings which the travellers have seen for weeks. The adventurers land a quarter of a mile above the spot where the scouts report it to be situated, and surround it before its inhabitants are aware of their coming. Suddenly, so it seems to the terrified villagers, a mob of armed men drops down out of the heavens, for within living memory no one has come to them from the wilderness which lies up - stream, their leaders are pale-faced folk, who must belong to that strange white breed of which legends have reached even this remote place together with tales of ogres, giants, and penniless princesses told in the torchlight by the wandering minstrels, the "soothers of care. A panic seizes the people and spreads like wildfire. Leaving all that they possess, they make for the jungle, barely waiting to carry their screaming women and children with them; but the strangers are everywhere, heading them back, so they crowd together in the centre of the village, cowering miserably, patiently expectant of death. A handful of the old raidersthe men who had joined the rebel chiefs in their abortive raid into British territory-are found and captured; but no one of the leading warriors is there. The Resident has hoped that they would select this village as their city of refuge, secure in the belief that the journey by the unknown route is a thing impossible for the white men,
and expecting danger only from below. Over and over again he has told himself that this would be luck too good for realisation; but unconsciously he has built upon the hope, and now his castle in the air has crumbled and fallen. By means of that mysterious agency, the native telegraph, the news of his coming will spread broadcast over the Benighted Lands, the rebels will be warned of his approach, his difficult task will be rendered a thousand times more difficult of accomplishment, and the labour and the travail of his fellows across the wastes of forest are things suffered in vain. With the sense of the limitless vastness of the jungle through which the expedition has passed fresh upon him, the idea of finding the lurking-place of a band of men hidden therein seems all at once to be a desperate impossibility, a folly, a madness.
More days pass, spent in rafting down the great river, days and nights flecked with little incidents, trials, adventures, excitements. One day the capsizing of the commissariat raft puts the whole party back abruptly upon a rice diet; on another occasion three rifles are lost at a dangerous place, and half a day is spent in diving for them before they are recovered. One evening the white men, having pressed on too far ahead of their people, find the darkness upon them when they are still separated from their supper by 500 yards of furious, rock-beset river. It is a desperate place, a narrow passage down which the waters