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Chapter 17 THE CAPO—INTERRUPTIONS—GRAMPUS AND MARMOSET—CANOEING IN TH_OODS—A NIGHT ON A FLOATING ISLAND

  • There is a peculiar and very striking feature in the character of the grea_mazon, which affects the distinctive appearance of that river and materiall_lters the manners and customs of those who dwell beside it. This peculiarit_s the periodical overflow of its low banks; and the part thus overflowed i_alled the _Gapo_. It extends from a little above the town of San-tarem up t_he confines of Peru, a distance of about seventeen hundred miles; and varie_n width from one to twenty miles: so that the country when inundated assume_n many places the appearance of an extensive lake with forest trees growin_ut of the water; and travellers may proceed many hundreds of miles in thei_anoes without once entering the main stream of the river. At this time th_atives become almost aquatic animals. Several tribes of Indians inhabit th_apo; such as the Purupurus, Muras; and others. They build small movable hut_n the sandy shores during the dry season, and on rafts in the wet The_ubsist on turtle, cow-fish, and the other fish with which the river abounds,
  • and live almost entirely in their canoes; while at night they frequently slin_heir hammocks between the branches of trees and sleep suspended over the dee_ater.
  • Some of the animals found in the Gapo are peculiar to it, being attracted b_he fruit-trees which are found growing only there. The Indians assert tha_very tree that grows in the Gapo is distinct from all those that grow i_ther districts; and when we consider that these trees are submerged for si_onths every year, till they are tall enough to rise above the highest water-
  • level, we may well believe their constitution is somewhat different from thos_hat are reared on ordinary ground. The Indians are wonderfully expert i_inding their way among the trackless mazes of the Gapo, being guided by th_roken twigs and scraped bark that indicate the route followed by previou_ravellers.
  • Owing to this sudden commencement of the rainy season, the old trader resolve_o return to a small village and there spend several months. Martin and Barne_ere much annoyed at this; for the former was impatient to penetrate furthe_nto the interior, and the latter had firmly made up his mind to visit th_iamond mines, about which he entertained the most extravagant notions. He di_ot, indeed, know in the least how to get to these mines, nor even in whic_irection they lay; but he had a strong impression that as long as h_ontinued travelling he was approaching gradually nearer to them, and he ha_o doubt whatever that he would get to them at last. It was, therefore, wit_o small degree of impatience that they awaited the pleasure of their sabl_aster, who explained to them that when the waters reached their height h_ould proceed.
  • Everything comes to an end, even a long story. After many weeks had passe_lowly by, their sojourn in this village came to an end too. It was a dul_lace, very dull, and they had nothing to do; and the few poor people wh_ived there seemed to have very little or nothing to do. We will, therefore,
  • pass it over, and resume our narrative at the point when the old trade_nnounced to Barney that the flood was at its height and they would no_ontinue their journey. They embarked once more in their old canoe with thei_oods and chattels, not forgetting Marmoset and Grampus, whose friendshi_uring their inactive life had become more close than ever. This friendshi_as evidenced chiefly by the matter-of-course way in which Grampus permitte_he monkey to mount his back and ride about the village and through the woods,
  • where dry places could be found, as long as she pleased. Marmoset was fonde_f riding than walking, so that Grampus had enough to do; but he did not pu_imself much about. He trotted, walked, galloped, and lay down, when, an_here, and as often as he chose, without any reference to the small monkey;
  • and Marmoset held on through thick and thin, and nibbled nuts or whatever els_t picked up, utterly regardless of where it was going to or the pace at whic_t went. It was sharp, though, that small monkey, sharp as a needle, and ha_ts little black eyes glancing on all sides; so that when Grampus dashe_hrough underwood, and the branches threatened to sweep it off, it ducked it_ead; or, lying flat down, shut its eyes and held on with all its teeth an_our hands like a limpet to a rock. Marmoset was not careful as to he_ttitude on dog-back. She sat with her face to the front or rear, just as he_ancy or convenience dictated.
  • After leaving the village they travelled for many days and nights through th_apo. Although afloat on the waters of the Amazon, they never entered the mai_iver after the first few days, but wound their way, in a creeping, serpentin_ort of fashion, through small streams and lakes and swamps, from which th_ight was partially excluded by the thick foliage of the forest. It was _trange scene that illimitable watery waste, and aroused new sensations in th_reasts of our travellers. As Barney said, it made him "feel quite solemn-lik_nd eerie to travel through the woods by wather."
  • The canoe was forced under branches and among dense bushes, till they got int_ part where the trees were loftier and a deep gloom prevailed. Here th_owest branches were on a level with the surface of the water, and many o_hem were putting forth beautiful flowers. On one occasion they came to _rove of small palms, which were so deep in the water that the leaves wer_nly a few feet above the surface. Indeed they were so low that one of the_aught Martin's straw-hat and swept it overboard.
  • "Hallo! stop!" cried Martin, interrupting the silence so suddenly that Grampu_prang up with a growl, under the impression that game was in view; an_armoset scampered off behind a packing-box with an angry shriek.
  • "What's wrong, lad?" inquired Barney.
  • "Back water, quick! my hat's overboard, and there's an alligator going to sna_t up. Look alive, man!"
  • In a few seconds the canoe was backed and the straw-hat rescued from it_erilous position.
  • "It's an ill wind that blows nae guid, as the Scotch say," remarked Barney,
  • rising in the canoe and reaching towards something among the overhangin_ranches. "Here's wan o' them trees that old black-face calls a maraja, wit_ome splendid bunches o' fruit on it. Hould yer hat, Martin; there's more no_nough for supper anyhow,"
  • As he spoke a rustling in the leaves told that monkeys were watching us, an_armoset kept peeping up as if she half expected they might be relations. Bu_he moment the travellers caught sight of them they bounded away screaming.
  • Having gathered as much fruit as they required, they continued their voyage,
  • and presently emerged into the pleasant sunshine in a large grassy lake, whic_as filled with lilies and beautiful water-plants, little yellow bladder-
  • worts, with several other plants of which they knew not the names; especiall_ne with a thick swollen stalk, curious leaves, and bright blue flowers. Thi_ake was soon passed, and they again entered into the gloomy forest, an_addled among the lofty trunks of the trees, which rose like massive column_ut of the deep water. There was enough of animal life there, however, t_muse and interest them. The constant plash of falling fruit showed that bird_ere feeding overhead. Sometimes a flock of parrots or bright blue chatterer_wept from tree to tree, or atrogon swooped at a falling bunch of fruit an_aught it ere it reached the water; while ungainly toucans plumped clumsil_own upon the branches, and sat, in striking contrast, beside the lovel_ompadours, with their claret-coloured plumage and delicate white wings.
  • Vieing with these birds in splendour were several large bright-yellow flower_f the creeping-plants, which twined round the trees. Some of these plants ha_hite, spotted, and purple blossoms; and there was one splendid species,
  • called by the natives the flor de Santa Anna—the flower of St. Ann—whic_mitted a delightful odour and was four inches in diameter.
  • Having traversed this part of the wood, they once more emerged upon the mai_tream of the Amazon. It was covered with water-fowl. Large logs of trees an_umerous floating islands of grass were sailing down; and on these sa_undreds of white gulls, demurely and comfortably voyaging to the ocean; fo_he sea would be their final resting-place if they sat on these logs an_slands until they descended several hundreds of miles of the great river.
  • "I wish," said Martin, after a long silence, during which the travellers ha_een gazing on the watery waste as they paddled up stream—"I wish that w_ould fall in with solid land, where we might have something cooked. I'_esperately hungry now; but I don't see a spot of earth large enough for _osquito to rest his foot on."
  • "We'll jist have to take to farhina and wather," remarked Barney, laying dow_is paddle and proceeding leisurely to light his pipe. "It's a blissin' we'v_ot baccy, any how. Tis mesilf that could niver git on without it."
  • "I wish you joy of it, Barney. It may fill your mouth, but it can't stop you_unger."
  • "Och, boy, it's little ye know! Sure it stops the cravin's o' hunger, an_apes yer stumick from callin' out for iver, till ye fall in with somethin' t_te."
  • "It does not seem to stop the mouth then, Barney, for you call out for gru_ftener than I do; and then you say that you couldn't get on without it; s_ou're a slave to it, old boy. I wouldn't be a slave to anything if I coul_elp it."
  • "Martin, lad, ye're gittin' deep. Take care now, or ye'll be in mettlefeesic_oon. I say, ould black-face,"—Barney was not on ceremony with the ol_rader,—"is there no land in thim parts at all?"
  • "No, not dis night,"
  • "Och, then, we'll have to git up a tree and try to cook somethin' there; fo_'m not goin' to work on flour and wather. Hallo! hould on! There's an island,
  • or the portrait o' wan! Port your helm, Naygur! hard aport! D'ye hear?"
  • The old man heard, but, as usual, paid no attention to the Irishman's remarks;
  • and the canoe would have passed straight on, had not Barney used his bow-
  • paddle so energetically that he managed to steer her, as he expressed it, b_he nose, and ran her against a mass of floating logs which had caught firml_n a thicket, and were so covered with grass and broken twigs as to have ver_uch the appearance of a real island. Here they landed, so to speak, kindled _mall fire, made some coffee, roasted a few fish, baked several cakes, an_ere soon as happy and comfortable as hungry and wearied men usually are whe_hey obtain rest and food.
  • "This is what I call jolly," remarked Barney.
  • "What's jolly?" inquired Martin.
  • "Why _this_ , to be sure,—grub to begin with, and a smoke and a convanien_nooze in prospect,"
  • The hopes which Barney cherished, however, were destined to be blighted, a_east in part. To the victuals he did ample justice; the pipe was delightful,
  • and in good working order; but when they lay down to repose, they wer_ttacked by swarms of stinging ants, which the heat of the fire had driven ou_f the old logs. These and mosquitoes effectually banished sleep from thei_ye-lids, and caused them to reflect very seriously, and to state to eac_ther more than once very impressively, that, with all their beauties an_onders, tropical lands had their disadvantages, and there was no place lik_he "ould country," after all.