"That, of course, explains it.
Let me see; you have given me your promise that my confidence will be respected?
That confidence, I may say, will be far from complete.
But I am prepared to give you a few indications which will be of interest.
In the first place, you are probably aware that two years ago I made a journey to South America—one which will be classical in the scientific history of the world?
The object of my journey was to verify some conclusions of Wallace and of Bates, which could only be done by observing their reported facts under the same conditions in which they had themselves noted them.
If my expedition had no other results it would still have been noteworthy, but a curious incident occurred to me while there which opened up an entirely fresh line of inquiry.
"You are aware—or probably, in this half-educated age, you are not aware—that the country round some parts of the Amazon is still only partially explored, and that a great number of tributaries, some of them entirely uncharted, run into the main river.
It was my business to visit this little-known back-country and to examine its fauna, which furnished me with the materials for several chapters for that great and monumental work upon zoology which will be my life's justification.
I was returning, my work accomplished, when I had occasion to spend a night at a small Indian village at a point where a certain tributary—the name and position of which I withhold—opens into the main river.
The natives were Cucama Indians, an amiable but degraded race, with mental powers hardly superior to the average Londoner.
I had effected some cures among them upon my way up the river, and had impressed them considerably with my personality, so that I was not surprised to find myself eagerly awaited upon my return.
I gathered from their signs that someone had urgent need of my medical services, and I followed the chief to one of his huts.
When I entered I found that the sufferer to whose aid I had been summoned had that instant expired.
He was, to my surprise, no Indian, but a white man; indeed, I may say a very white man, for he was flaxen-haired and had some characteristics of an albino.
He was clad in rags, was very emaciated, and bore every trace of prolonged hardship.
So far as I could understand the account of the natives, he was a complete stranger to them, and had come upon their village through the woods alone and in the last stage of exhaustion.
"The man's knapsack lay beside the couch, and I examined the contents.
His name was written upon a tab within it—Maple White, Lake Avenue, Detroit, Michigan.
It is a name to which I am prepared always to lift my hat.
It is not too much to say that it will rank level with my own when the final credit of this business comes to be apportioned.
"From the contents of the knapsack it was evident that this man had been an artist and poet in search of effects.
There were scraps of verse.
I do not profess to be a judge of such things, but they appeared to me to be singularly wanting in merit.
There were also some rather commonplace pictures of river scenery, a paint-box, a box of colored chalks, some brushes, that curved bone which lies upon my inkstand, a volume of Baxter's
'Moths and Butterflies,' a cheap revolver, and a few cartridges.
Of personal equipment he either had none or he had lost it in his journey.
Such were the total effects of this strange American Bohemian.
"I was turning away from him when I observed that something projected from the front of his ragged jacket.
It was this sketch-book, which was as dilapidated then as you see it now.
Indeed, I can assure you that a first folio of Shakespeare could not be treated with greater reverence than this relic has been since it came into my possession.
I hand it to you now, and I ask you to take it page by page and to examine the contents."
He helped himself to a cigar and leaned back with a fiercely critical pair of eyes, taking note of the effect which this document would produce.
I had opened the volume with some expectation of a revelation, though of what nature I could not imagine.
The first page was disappointing, however, as it contained nothing but the picture of a very fat man in a pea-jacket, with the legend,
"Jimmy Colver on the Mail-boat," written beneath it.
There followed several pages which were filled with small sketches of Indians and their ways.
Then came a picture of a cheerful and corpulent ecclesiastic in a shovel hat, sitting opposite a very thin European, and the inscription:
"Lunch with Fra Cristofero at Rosario."
Studies of women and babies accounted for several more pages, and then there was an unbroken series of animal drawings with such explanations as
"Manatee upon Sandbank,"
"Turtles and Their Eggs,"
"Black Ajouti under a Miriti Palm"—the matter disclosing some sort of pig-like animal; and finally came a double page of studies of long-snouted and very unpleasant saurians.
I could make nothing of it, and said so to the Professor.
"Surely these are only crocodiles?"
There is hardly such a thing as a true crocodile in South America.
The distinction between them——"
"I meant that I could see nothing unusual—nothing to justify what you have said."