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.