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The Sea and the Jungle

The Sea and the Jungle
Title: The Sea and the Jungle
Release Date: 2011-08-26
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 26 March 2019
Count views: 33
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Published, 1920,



All Rights Reserved


First Printing, October, 1920

Second Printing, September, 1921


Being the narrative of the voyage of the trampsteamer Capella from Swansea to Para in theBrazils, and thence 2000 miles along the forestsof the Amazon and Madeira Rivers to the SanAntonio Falls; afterwards returning to Barbadosfor orders, and going by way of Jamaicato Tampa in Florida, where she loaded forhome. Done in the years 1909 and 1910.



The author is indebted to the editors of theEnglish Review, the Pall Mall Magazine, theMorning Leader, and the Yorkshire Observer,for permission to incorporate such parts of thisnarrative as appeared first in their publications.






Though it is easier, and perhaps far better, not tobegin at all, yet if a beginning is made it is therethat most care is needed. Everything is inherentin the genesis. So I have to record the simplegenesis of this affair as a winter morning afterrain. There was more rain to come. The sky waswaterlogged and the grey ceiling, overstrained, hadsagged and dropped to the level of the chimneys.If one of them had pierced it! The danger wasimminent.

That day was but a thin solution of night. Youknow those November mornings with a low, corpse-whiteeast where the sunrise should be, as thoughthe day were still-born. Looking to the dayspring,there is what we have waited for, there the end ofour hope, prone and shrouded. This morning ofmine was such a morning. The world was veryquiet, as though it were exhausted after tears. Beneatha broken gutter-spout the rain (all the nighthad I listened to its monody) had discovered a nestof pebbles in the path of my garden in a Londonsuburb. It occurs to you at once that a Londongarden, especially in winter, should have no placein a narrative which tells of the sea and the jungle.2But it has much to do with it. It is part of theheredity of this book. It is the essence of this adventureof mine that it began on the kind of daywhich so commonly occurs for both of us in theyear’s assortment of days. My garden, on such amorning, is a necessary feature of the narrative,and much as I should like to skip it and get to sea,yet things must be taken in the proper order, andthe garden comes first. There it was: the blackeneddahlias, the last to fall, prone in the field wheredeath had got all things under his feet. My pleasauncewas a dark area of soddened relics; the battalionsof June were slain, and their bodies in themud. That was the prospect in life I had. Howwas I to know the Skipper had returned from thetropics? Standing in the central mud, which alsowas black, surveying that forlorn end to devotedhuman effort, what was there to tell me the Skipperhad brought back his tramp steamer from the landsunder the sun? I knew of nothing to look forwardto but December, with January to follow. Whatshould you and I expect after November, but thenext month of winter? Should the cultivators ofLondon backs look for adventures, even thoughthey have read old Hakluyt? What are the Americasto us, the Amazon and the Orinoco, Barbadosand Panama, and Port Royal, but tales that aretold? We have never been nearer to them, and nowknow we shall never be nearer to them, than thathill in our neighbourhood which gives us a broadprospect of the sunset. There is as near as we canapproach. Thither we go and ascend of an evening, like3Moses, except for our pipe. It is all theescape vouchsafed us. Did we ever know the chainto give? The chain has a certain length—we knowit to a link—to that ultimate link, the possibilitiesof which we never strain. The mean range of ourchain, the office and the polling booth. What aradius! Yet it cannot prevent us ascending thathill which looks, with uplifted and shining brow, tothe far vague country whence comes the last of thelight, at dayfall.

It is necessary for you to learn that on my way tocatch the 8.35 that morning—it is always the 8.35—therecame to me no premonition of change. Noportent was in the sky but the grey wrack. I sawthe hale and dominant gentleman, as usual, whoarrives at the station in a brougham drawn by twogrey horses. He looked as proud and arrogant asever, for his face is as a bull’s. He had the usualbunch of scarlet geraniums in his coat, and thestationmaster assisted him into an apartment, andhis footman handed him a rug; a routine as stableas the hills, this. If only the solemn footmanwould, one morning, as solemnly as ever, hurl thatrug at his master, with the umbrella to crash afterit! One could begin to hope then. There was thepale girl in black who never, between our suburband the city, lifts her shy brown eyes, benedictoryas they are at such a time, from the soiled book ofthe local public library, and whose umbrella has losthalf its handle, a china nob. (I think I will writethis book for her.) And there were all the otherswho catch that train, except the young fellow with4the cough. Now and then he does miss it, using forthe purpose, I have no doubt, that only form ofrebellion against its accursed tyranny which wehave yet learned, physical inability to catch it.Where that morning train starts from is a mystery;but it never fails to come for us, and it never takesus beyond the city, I well know.

I have a clear memory of the newspapers as theywere that morning. I had a sheaf of them, for it ismy melancholy business to know what each is saying.I learned there were dark and portentousmatters, not actually with us, but looming, eachalready rather larger than a man’s hand. If certainthings happened, said one half the papers, ruinstared us in the face. If those thing did not happen,said the other half, ruin stared us in the face.No way appeared out of it. You paid your half-pennyand were damned either way. If you paid apenny you got more for your money. Bodinggloom, full-orbed, could be had for that. There wasyour extra value for you. I looked round at myfellow passengers, all reading the same papers, andall, it could be reasonably presumed, with fore-knowledgeof catastrophe. They were indifferent,every one of them. I suppose we have learned, withsome bitterness, that nothing ever happens but privatefailure and tragedy, unregarded by our fellowsexcept with pity. The blare of the political megaphones,and the sustained panic of the party tom-toms,have a message for us, we may suppose. Wemay be sure the noise means something. So doesthe butcher’s boy when the sheep want to go up a5side turning. He makes a noise. He means something,with his warning cries. The driving uproarhas a purpose. But we have found out (not theywho would break up side turnings, but the peoplein the second class carriages of the morning train)that now, though our first instinct is to start in apanic, when we hear another sudden warning shout,there is no need to do so. And perhaps, havingattained to that more callous mind which allows usto stare dully from the carriage window thoughwith that urgent din in our ears, a reasonable explanationof the increasing excitement and flushedanxiety of the great Statesmen and their fuglemenmay occur to us, in a generation or two. Give ustime! But how they wish they were out of it, theywho need no more time, but understand.

I put down the papers with their calls to socialrighteousness pitched in the upper register of thetea-tray, their bright and instructive interviewswith flat earthers, and with the veteran who istopically interesting because, having served onemaster fifty years, and reared thirteen children onfifteen shillings a week, he has just begun to drawhis old age pension. (There’s industry, thrift, andsuccess, my little dears!) One paper had a columnaccount of the youngest child actress in London,her toys and her philosophy, initialed by one of ouryounger brilliant journalists. All had a society divorcecase, with sanitary elisions. Another containedan amusing account of a man working hisway round the world with a barrel on his head.Again, the young prince, we were credibly informed6in all the papers of that morning, did stopto look in at a toy-shop window in Regent Streetthe previous afternoon. So like a boy, you know,and yet he is a prince of course. The matter couldnot be doubted. The report was carefully illustrated.The prince stood on his feet outside thetoy shop, and looked in.

To think of the future as a modestly long seriesof such prone mornings, dawns unlit by heaven’slight, new days to which we should be awakenedalways by these clamant cockcrows bringing to ournotice what the busy-ness of our fellows had accomplishedin nests of intelligent and fruitful chinaeggs, was enough to make one stand up in the carriage,horrified, and pull the communication cord.So I put down the papers and turned to the landscape.Had I known the Skipper was back frombelow the horizon—but I did not know. So I mustgo on to explain that that morning train did stop,with its unfailing regularity, and not the least hintof reprieve, at the place appointed in the Schedule.Soon I was at work, showing, I hope, the righteager and concentrated eye, dutifully and busilyclimbing the revolving wheel like the squirrel; except,unluckier than that wild thing so far as Iknow, I was clearly conscious, whatever the speed,the wheel remained forever in the same place.Looking up to sigh through the bars after a longspin there was the Skipper smiling at me.

I saw an open door. I got out. It was as thoughthe world had been suddenly lighted, and I couldsee a great distance.7

We stood in Fleet Street later, interrupting thetide. The noise of the traffic came to me fromafar, for the sailor was telling me he was sailingsoon, and that he was taking his vessel an experimentalvoyage through the tropical forests of theAmazon. He was going to Para, and thence upthe main stream as far as Manaos, and would thenattempt to reach a point on the Madeira river nearBolivia, 800 miles above its junction with thegreater river. It would be a noble journey. Theywould see Obydos and Santarem, and the foliagewould brush their rigging at times, so narrow wouldbe the way, and where they anchored at night thejaguars would come to drink. This to me, and Ihave read Humboldt, and Bates, and Spruce, andWallace. As I listened my pipe went out.

It was when we were parting that the sailor, whois used to far horizons and habitually deals withaffairs in a large way because his standards in hisown business are the skyline and the meridian, putto me the most searching question I have had toanswer since the city first caught and caged me.He put it casually when he was striking a matchfor a cigar, so little did he himself think of it.

“Then why,” said he, “don’t you chuck it?”

What, escape? I had never thought of that. Itis the last solution which would have occurred tome concerning the problem of captivity. It is acredit to you and to me that we do not think of ourchains so disrespectfully as to regard them as anythingbut necessary and indispensable, thoughsometimes, sore and irritated, we may bite at them.8As if servitude fell to our portion like squints, parentspoor in spirit, green fly, reverence for oursocial superiors, and the other consignments fromthe stars.

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