The deep peace of this strange waterway was unbroken by any sign of man.
"No Indian here.
Too much afraid. Curupuri," said Gomez.
"Curupuri is the spirit of the woods," Lord John explained.
"It's a name for any kind of devil.
The poor beggars think that there is something fearsome in this direction, and therefore they avoid it."
On the third day it became evident that our journey in the canoes could not last much longer, for the stream was rapidly growing more shallow. Twice in as many hours we stuck upon the bottom.
Finally we pulled the boats up among the brushwood and spent the night on the bank of the river.
In the morning Lord John and I made our way for a couple of miles through the forest, keeping parallel with the stream; but as it grew ever shallower we returned and reported, what Professor Challenger had already suspected, that we had reached the highest point to which the canoes could be brought.
We drew them up, therefore, and concealed them among the bushes, blazing a tree with our axes, so that we should find them again.
Then we distributed the various burdens among us—guns, ammunition, food, a tent, blankets, and the rest—and, shouldering our packages, we set forth upon the more laborious stage of our journey.
An unfortunate quarrel between our pepper-pots marked the outset of our new stage.
Challenger had from the moment of joining us issued directions to the whole party, much to the evident discontent of Summerlee.
Now, upon his assigning some duty to his fellow-Professor (it was only the carrying of an aneroid barometer), the matter suddenly came to a head.
"May I ask, sir," said Summerlee, with vicious calm, "in what capacity you take it upon yourself to issue these orders?"
Challenger glared and bristled.
"I do it, Professor Summerlee, as leader of this expedition."
"I am compelled to tell you, sir, that I do not recognize you in that capacity."
Challenger bowed with unwieldy sarcasm.
"Perhaps you would define my exact position."
You are a man whose veracity is upon trial, and this committee is here to try it.
You walk, sir, with your judges."
"Dear me!" said Challenger, seating himself on the side of one of the canoes.
"In that case you will, of course, go on your way, and I will follow at my leisure.
If I am not the leader you cannot expect me to lead."
Thank heaven that there were two sane men—Lord John Roxton and myself—to prevent the petulance and folly of our learned Professors from sending us back empty-handed to London.
Such arguing and pleading and explaining before we could get them mollified!
Then at last Summerlee, with his sneer and his pipe, would move forwards, and Challenger would come rolling and grumbling after.
By some good fortune we discovered about this time that both our savants had the very poorest opinion of Dr. Illingworth of Edinburgh.
Thenceforward that was our one safety, and every strained situation was relieved by our introducing the name of the Scotch zoologist, when both our Professors would form a temporary alliance and friendship in their detestation and abuse of this common rival.
Advancing in single file along the bank of the stream, we soon found that it narrowed down to a mere brook, and finally that it lost itself in a great green morass of sponge-like mosses, into which we sank up to our knees.
The place was horribly haunted by clouds of mosquitoes and every form of flying pest, so we were glad to find solid ground again and to make a circuit among the trees, which enabled us to outflank this pestilent morass, which droned like an organ in the distance, so loud was it with insect life.
On the second day after leaving our canoes we found that the whole character of the country changed.
Our road was persistently upwards, and as we ascended the woods became thinner and lost their tropical luxuriance.
The huge trees of the alluvial Amazonian plain gave place to the Phoenix and coco palms, growing in scattered clumps, with thick brushwood between.
In the damper hollows the Mauritia palms threw out their graceful drooping fronds.
We traveled entirely by compass, and once or twice there were differences of opinion between Challenger and the two Indians, when, to quote the Professor's indignant words, the whole party agreed to "trust the fallacious instincts of undeveloped savages rather than the highest product of modern European culture."
That we were justified in doing so was shown upon the third day, when Challenger admitted that he recognized several landmarks of his former journey, and in one spot we actually came upon four fire-blackened stones, which must have marked a camping-place.
The road still ascended, and we crossed a rock-studded slope which took two days to traverse.
The vegetation had again changed, and only the vegetable ivory tree remained, with a great profusion of wonderful orchids, among which I learned to recognize the rare Nuttonia Vexillaria and the glorious pink and scarlet blossoms of Cattleya and odontoglossum.
Occasional brooks with pebbly bottoms and fern-draped banks gurgled down the shallow gorges in the hill, and offered good camping-grounds every evening on the banks of some rock-studded pool, where swarms of little blue-backed fish, about the size and shape of English trout, gave us a delicious supper.
On the ninth day after leaving the canoes, having done, as I reckon, about a hundred and twenty miles, we began to emerge from the trees, which had grown smaller until they were mere shrubs.
Their place was taken by an immense wilderness of bamboo, which grew so thickly that we could only penetrate it by cutting a pathway with the machetes and billhooks of the Indians.
It took us a long day, traveling from seven in the morning till eight at night, with only two breaks of one hour each, to get through this obstacle.
Anything more monotonous and wearying could not be imagined, for, even at the most open places, I could not see more than ten or twelve yards, while usually my vision was limited to the back of Lord John's cotton jacket in front of me, and to the yellow wall within a foot of me on either side.
From above came one thin knife-edge of sunshine, and fifteen feet over our heads one saw the tops of the reeds swaying against the deep blue sky.
I do not know what kind of creatures inhabit such a thicket, but several times we heard the plunging of large, heavy animals quite close to us.
From their sounds Lord John judged them to be some form of wild cattle.