The Devil-Tree of El Dorado. A Romance of British Guiana - Frank Aubrey - ebook

The Devil-Tree of El Dorado. A Romance of British Guiana ebook

Frank Aubrey

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Frank Aubrey was a pseudonym of Francis Henry Atkins (1847-1927), who contributed widely to the pre-science fiction pulp magazines, writing at least three Lost-World novels along with much else. The first and most successful of the three was „The Devil Tree of El Dorado: A Romance of British Guiana”, which capitalized on the contemporary interest in the Roraima Plateau lying athwart the disputed border between Venezuela and the British colony; Monella, the mysterious giant who leads Europeans to their goal, turns out to be the 2000 year old ex-king of all they now survey, and a kind of Wandering Jew.

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Contents

PREFACE. SHALL RORAIMA BE GIVEN UP TO VENEZUELA?

I. "WILL NO ONE EXPLORE RORAIMA?"

II. MONELLA

III. THE JOURNEY FROM THE COAST

IV. THE FIRST VIEW OF RORAIMA

V. IN THE DEMONS' WOOD

VI. THE MYSTERIOUS CAVERN

VII. THE CANYON WITHIN THE MOUNTAIN

VIII. ALONE ON RORAIMA'S SUMMIT

IX. VISION OR REALITY?

X. IN SIGHT OF EL DORADO

XI. ULAMA, PRINCESS OF MANOA

XII. A PRELIMINARY SKIRMISH

XIII. A KING'S GREETING

XIV. DAKLA

XV. MARVELS OF MANOA

XVI. LEONARD AND ULAMA

XVII. THE FIGHT ON THE HILLSIDE

XVIII. THE LEGEND OF MELLENDA

XIX. HOPES AND FEARS

XX. THE MESSAGE OF APALANO

XXI. THE GREAT DEVIL-TREE

XXII. SMILES AND TEARS

XXIII. THE DEVIL-TREE BY MOONLIGHT

XXIV. TRAPPED!

XXV. IN THE DEVIL-TREE'S LARDER!

XXVI. CORYON

XXVII. ON THE DEVIL-TREE'S LADLE!

XXVIII. RALLYING TO THE CALL

XXIX. "THOU ART MY LORD MELLENDA!"

XXX. A TERRIBLE VENGEANCE!

XXXI. THE SON OF APALANO!

XXXII. THE TREE'S LAST MEAL

XXXIII. THE LAST OF THE GREAT DEVIL-TREE

XXXIV. A MARRIAGE AND A PARTING

XXXV. JUST IN TIME!

XXXVI. THE END

PREFACE. SHALL RORAIMA BE GIVEN UP TO VENEZUELA?

The Indians of British Guiana pronounce this word Roreema.

SHALL Roraima be handed over to Venezuela? Shall the mysterious mountain long known to scientists as foremost among the wonders of our earth–regarded by many as the greatest marvel of the world–become definitely Venezuelan territory?

This is the question that hangs in the balance at the time these words are being written, that is inseparably associated–though many of the public know it not–with the dispute that has arisen about the boundaries of British Guiana.

Ever since Sir Robert Schomburgk first explored the colony at the expense of the Royal Geographical Society some sixty years ago, Roraima has remained an unsolved problem of romantic and fascinating interest, as attractive to the ‘ordinary person’ as to the man of science. And to those acquainted with the wondrous possibilities that lie behind the solution of the problem, the prospect of its being handed over to a country so little worthy of the trust as is Venezuela, cannot be contemplated without feelings of disappointment and dismay.

This is not the place in which to give a long description of Roraima. It will suffice here to say that its summit is a table-land which, it is believed, has been isolated from all the rest of the world for untold ages; no wilderness of ice and snow, but a fertile country of wood and stream, and, probably, lake. Consequently it holds out to the successful explorer the chance–the probability even–of finding there hitherto unknown animals, plants, fish. In this respect it exceeds in interest all other parts of the earth’s surface, not excepting the polar regions; for the latter are but ice-bound wastes, while Roraima’s mysterious table-land lies in the tropics but a few degrees north of the equator.

Why, then, it may be asked, have our scientific societies not exhibited more zeal in the solving of the problem presented by this strange mountain? Why is it that unlimited money can, apparently, be raised for expeditions to the poles, while no attempt has been made to explore Roraima? Yet, sixty years ago, the Royal Geographical Society could find the money to send Sir Robert Schomburgk out to explore British Guiana–indeed, it is to that fact that we owe the discovery of Roraima–but nothing has been done since. Had the good work thus begun been followed up, we should to-day have been able to show better reason for claiming Roraima as a British possession. But, as the writer of the article in the Spectator quoted on page 3 says, “we leave the mystery unsolved, the marvel uncared for.” This article is commended to the perusal of those interested in the subject, as also are the following books, which give all the information at present available, viz.–Mr. Barrington Brown’s ‘Canoe and Camp Life in British Guiana,’ and Mr. Boddam-Whetham’s ‘Roraima and British Guiana.’ Mr. Im Thurn’s ‘Among the Indians of British Guiana’ should also be mentioned, since it contains references to Roraima, though the author did not actually visit the mountain, as in the case of the first named.

As an illustration of the confusion and uncertainty that prevail as to the international status of this unique mountain, it may be mentioned that in the map of British Guiana which Sir Robert Schomburgk drew out for the British Government, it is placed within the British frontier. But in the map of the next Government explorer, Mr. Barrington Brown–‘based,’ he says, ‘upon Schomburgk’s map’–it is placed just inside the Venezuelan boundary; and no explanation is given of the apparent contradiction. Again, another authority, Mr. Im Thurn (above referred to), Curator of the Museum at Georgetown (the capital of the colony), in his book says that Roraima “lies on the extreme edge of the colony, or perhaps on the other side of the Brazilian boundary.” These references show the obscurity in which the whole matter is at present involved.

Apart, however, from the special interest that surrounds Roraima owing to the inaccessible character of its summit, it is of very great geographical importance, from the fact that it is the highest mountain in all that part of South America, i.e., in all the Guianas, in Venezuela, and in the north-east part of Brazil. Indeed, we must cross Brazil, that vast country of upwards of three million square miles, to find the nearest mountains that exceed in height Roraima. Consequently, it forms the apex of the water-shed of that part of South America; and it is, in fact, the source of several of the chief feeders of the great rivers Essequibo, Orinoco and Amazon. Schomburgk, in pointing this out, dwelt strongly upon the importance of the mountain to British Guiana, and insisted that its inclusion within the British boundary was a geographical necessity.

Mr. Barrington Brown says the mountain can only be ascended by means of balloons (see article previously referred to on page 3); and Mr. Boddam-Whetham came to the same conclusion.

Finally, Sir Robert’s brother, Richard Schomburgk, a skilled botanist, who had visited almost all parts of Asia and Africa in search of orchids and other rare botanical productions, tells us that the country around Roraima is, from a botanical point of view, one of the most wonderful in the world. “Not only the orchids,” he says, “but the shrubs and low trees were unknown to me. Every shrub, herb and tree was new to me, if not as to family, yet as to species. I stood on the border of an unknown plant zone, full of wondrous forms which lay as if by magic before me... Every step revealed something new.” (‘Reisen in Britisch Guiana,’ Leipzig, vol. ii., p. 216.)

Are our rulers, in their treatment of the question, bearing these facts sufficiently in mind? Are they as keenly alive as are the Venezuelans to the importance of Roraima? If they are, there is no sign of it; for while, in the Venezuelan statements of their case, there are lengthy, emphatic, and repeated references to the importance of Roraima, on the English side–in the English press even–there is scarcely a word about it.

From these observations it will be seen that there is reason to fear we may be on the point of allowing one of the most scientifically interesting and geographically important spots upon the surface of the globe to slip out of our possession into that of a miserable little state like Venezuela, where civil anarchy is chronic, and neither life nor property is secure.

One of the avowed objects of this book, therefore, is to stimulate public interest, and arouse public attention to the considerations that actually underlie the ‘Venezuelan Question,’ as well as to while away an idle hour for the lovers of romance.

It has been suggested that, if it is too late to retain the wonderful Roraima as exclusively British–and to effect this it would be well worth our while to barter away some other portion of the disputed territory–then an arrangement might be come to to make it neutral ground. Standing, as it does, in the corner where the three countries–Brazil, Venezuela and British Guiana–meet, it is of importance to all three, and, no doubt, in such an endeavour, we should have the support of Brazil as against Venezuela.

*     *

*

With regard to the oft-discussed question of the situation of the traditional city of Manoa, or El Dorado–as the Spaniards called it–most authorities, including Humboldt and Schomburgk, agree in giving British Guiana as its probable site. We are told that it stood on an island in the midst of a great lake called ‘Parima’; but no such lake is now to be found in South America anywhere near the locality indicated. An explanation of the mystery, however, is afforded by the suggestion that such a great lake, or inland sea, almost certainly existed at one time in precisely this part of the continent; in that case what are now mountains in the country would then have been islands.

Indeed, most of British Guiana lies somewhat low, and it is estimated that if the highlands were to sink two thousand feet the whole country would be under water–the mountain summits excepted–and there would then be only ‘a narrow strait’ between the Roraima range and the Andes. In this great supposed ancient lake the group of islands now represented by mountain summits might well have been the home of a powerful and conquering race–as is to-day Japan with its group of more than three thousand islands–and Roraima, as the highest, and therefore the most easily defensible, may very well have been selected as their fastness, and the site of their capital city.

Schomburgk thus states his speculations upon the point, in his book on British Guiana, page 6:–

“The geological structure of this region leaves but little doubt that it was once the bed of an inland lake which, by one of those catastrophes of which even later times give us examples, broke its barriers, forcing for its waters a path to the Atlantic. May we not connect with the former existence of this inland sea the fable of the lake Parima and the El Dorado? Thousands of years may have elapsed; generations may have been buried and returned to dust; nations who once wandered on its banks may be extinct and exist no more in name; still, tradition of Parima and the El Dorado survived these changes of time; transmitted from father to son, its fame was carried across the Atlantic and kindled the romantic fire of the chivalric Raleigh.”

*     *

*

As a natural sequence to the foregoing arises the inquiry, What sort of people were those who inhabited this island city, or who ‘wandered on the banks’ of the great lake? Here much is to be learned from the recent discoveries of the Government of the United States who, of late years, have devoted liberal sums to pre-historic research. The money so expended has been the means of unearthing evidence of a startling character–relics of a former civilisation that existed in America ages before the time of its discovery by Christopher Columbus. The Spaniards, as we know, found races that were white, or nearly so; but these later discoveries go to show that long anterior to these–at a time, in fact, probably coeval with what we call the Egyptian civilisation–America was peopled with a white race fully as cultured, as advanced in the sciences, and as powerful on their own ground as the ancient Egyptians; and as handsome in personal appearance–if some of the heads and faces on the specimens of pottery may be accepted as fair examples–as the ancient Greeks.

It has long been known that America possesses extraordinary relics of a former civilisation in what are known as the great ‘earthworks,’ which are still to be seen scattered about in many parts of the continent, and which, as vast engineering works, challenge comparison with the pyramids themselves. But now discovery has gone much further; bas-reliefs and pottery have been found that set forth with marvellous fidelity many minute details concerning this pre-historic people–their personal appearance, and their ornaments and habiliments; the style of wearing the hair and the beard; and other particulars that can be appreciated only by inspection and study of the reduced facsimiles lately printed and issued by the Government of the United States.

Many of them relate to the custom of human sacrifice which, as most people are probably aware, prevailed largely in America when the Spaniards first landed there; though few, perhaps, know the terrible extent to which it was carried. Prescott tells us that few writers have ventured to estimate the yearly number of victims at less than twenty thousand, while many put it as high as fifty thousand, in Mexico alone! If we consider that the lowest of these estimates represents an average of some four hundred a week, or nearly sixty a day, such figures are appalling! And now we learn, beyond the possibility of a doubt, that the same practices obtained in America in times that must have been ages before the Spanish conquest, and, judging by the frequency of the representations of such things in these old bas-reliefs, as extensively. In these sculptures we can see the very shape of the knives used; the form of the plates or platters on which severed heads of victims were placed, and other such details; and in a certain series we are enabled to note the curious point, that, while the officiating priests always wear full beards, the victims appear to have usually possessed no hirsute adornments, or to have ‘shaved clean,’ as we term it. It may be added that these ancient white people seem to have been a totally different race from those the Spaniards found on the continent; and that between the two there is believed to have been a gap lasting for many ages, during which the country was overrun by Indian or other barbaric hordes; though how or why this came about is one of those mysteries that will probably never be unravelled.

*     *

*

In conclusion, I have to acknowledge my indebtedness to the writers whose books of travel I have named for the information I have made use of; as well as to express a hope that the writer of the review in the Spectator will regard with indulgence the liberties I have taken with his admirable article. I am sanguine enough to believe, however, that I shall have the sympathy and good wishes of all these in the endeavour here made to arouse public attention to the real meaning and importance of the ‘Venezuelan Question’; and to add to the number of those who feel an interest in the future status and ultimate exploration of the mysterious Roraima. I wish also to express my thanks to Messrs. Leigh Ellis and Fred Hyland, the artists to whom the illustrations were entrusted, for the thought and care they have bestowed upon the work, and the successful manner in which they have carried out my conceptions.

For the rest–if objection be taken to the accounts of the mountain and what is to be found on its summit given by the characters in my story–I desire to claim the licence of the romance-writer to maintain their accuracy–till the contrary be proved. If this shall serve to stimulate to renewed efforts at exploration, so much the better, and another of my objects in writing the book will thereby have been attained.

Frank Aubrey.

I. “WILL NO ONE EXPLORE RORAIMA?"

The Indians of British Guiana pronounce this word Roreema.

BENEATH the verandah of a handsome, comfortable-looking residence near Georgetown, the principal town of British Guiana, a young man sat one morning early in the year 1890, attentively studying a volume that lay open on a small table before him. It was easy to see that he was reading something that was, for him at least, of more than ordinary interest, something that seemed to carry his thoughts far away from the scene around him; for when, presently, he raised his eyes from the book, they looked out straight before him with a gaze that evidently saw nothing of that on which they rested.

He was a handsome young fellow of, perhaps, twenty-two years of age, rather tall, and well-made, with light wavy hair, and blue-grey eyes that had in them an introspective, somewhat dreamy expression, but that nevertheless could light up on occasion with an animated glance.

The house stood on a terrace that commanded a view of the sea, and, in the distance, white sails could be seen making their way across the blue water in the light breeze and the dazzling sunlight. Nearer at hand were waving palms, glowing flowers, humming insects and gaudily-coloured butterflies–all the beauties of a tropical garden. On one side of him was the open window of a sitting-room that, shaded, as it was, by the verandah, looked dark and cool compared with the glare of the scorching sun outside.

From this room came the sounds of a grand piano and of the sweet voice of a girl singing a simple and pathetic ballad.

At the moment the song ceased a brisk step was heard coming up the path through the garden, and a good-looking young fellow of tall figure and manly air made his way to where the other still sat with his eyes fixed on vacancy, as one who neither sees nor hears aught of what is going on about him.

“Ha, Leonard!” the new-comer exclaimed, with a light laugh, “caught you dreaming again, eh? In another of your reveries?”

The other roused himself with a start, and looked to see who was his visitor.

“Good-morning, Jack,” he then answered with a slight flush. “Well, yes–I suppose I must have been dreaming a little, for I did not hear you coming.”

“Bet I guess what you were dreaming about,” said the one addressed as Jack. “Roraima, as usual, eh?”

Leonard looked a little conscious.

“Why, yes,” he admitted, smiling. “But,” he continued seriously, “I have just been reading something that set me thinking. It is about Roraima, and it is old; that is to say, it is in an old number of a paper bound up in this book that a friend has lent me. I should like to read it to you. Shall I?”

“All right; if I may smoke the while. I suppose I may?” And the speaker, anticipating consent, pulled out a pipe, filled and lighted it, and then, having seated himself on a chair, crossed one leg over the other, and added, “Now, then, I am ready. Fire away, old man.”

And Leonard Elwood read the following extract from the book he had been studying:–

“Will no one explore Roraima, and bring us back the tidings which it has been waiting these thousands of years to give us? One of the greatest marvels and mysteries of the earth lies on the outskirt of one of our colonies, and we leave the mystery unsolved, the marvel uncared for. The description given of it (with a map and an illustrated sketch) in Mr. Barrington Brown’s ‘Canoe and Camp Life in British Guiana’ (one of the most fascinating books of travel the present writer has read for a long time) is a thing to dream of by the hour. A great table of pink and white and red sandstone, ‘interbedded with red shale,’ rises from a height of five thousand one hundred feet above the level of the sea, two thousand feet sheer into the sapphire tropical sky. A forest crowns it; the highest waterfall in the world–only one, it would seem, out of several–tumbles from its summit, two thousand feet at one leap, three thousand more on a slope of forty-five degrees to the bottom of the valley, broad enough to be seen thirty miles away. Only two parties of civilised explorers have reached the base of the table–Sir Robert Schomburgk many years ago, and Mr. Brown and a companion in 1869–each at different spots. Even the length of the mass has not been determined–Mr. Brown says from eight to twelve miles. And he cannot help speculating whether the remains of a former creation may not be found at the top. At any rate, there is the forest on its summit; of what trees is it composed? They cannot well be the same as those at its base. At a distance of fifteen hundred feet above sea-level the mango-tree of the West Indies, which produces fruit in abundance below, ceases to bear. The change in vegetation must be far more decided where the difference is between five thousand and seven thousand feet. Thus for millenniums this island of sandstone in the South American continent must have had its own distinct flora. What may be its fauna? Very few birds probably ascend to a height of two thousand feet in the air, the vulture tribe excepted. Nearly the whole of its animated inhabitants are likely to be as distinct as its plants.

Since then Roraima has been visited by two or three other travellers; but their accounts have added little to our knowledge. They entirely confirm Mr. Brown’s statements as to its inaccessibility. (See Preface.)

“Is it peopled with human beings? Who can tell? Why not? The climate must be temperate, delicious. There is abundance of water, very probably issuing from some lake on the summit. Have we here a group of unknown brothers cut off from all the rest of their kind?

“The summit, Mr. Brown says, is inaccessible except by means of balloons. Well, that is a question to be settled on the spot, between an engineer and a first-rate ‘Alpine.’ (What is the satisfaction of standing on the ice-ridge of the Matterhorn, or crossing the lava-wastes of the Vatna-J÷kull, compared to what would be the sensation of reaching that aerial forest and gazing plumb down over the sea of tropical verdure beneath, within an horizon the limits of which are absolutely beyond guessing?)

“But put it that a balloon is required, surely it would be worth while for one of our learned societies to organise a balloon expedition for the purpose. No one can tell what problems in natural science might not be elucidated by the exploration. We have here an area of limited extent within which the secular variation of species, if any, must have gone on undisturbed, with only a limited number of conceivable exceptions, since at least the very beginning of the present age in the world’s life. Can there be a fairer field for the testing of those theories which are occupying men’s minds so much in our days? And if there be human beings on Roraima, what new data must not their language, their condition, contribute for the study of philologers, anthropologists, sociologists?

“One more wonder remains to be told. The traveller speaks of two other mountains in the same district which are of the same description as Roraima–tables of sand-stone rising up straight into the blue–one larger than (though not as high as) Roraima itself. It is only because of their existence, and because, for aught that appears, they may be equally inaccessible with Roraima, that one does not venture to call Roraima the greatest marvel and mystery of the earth!”

“What is that taken from?” asked Jack Templemore when the reader had put down the book.

“It is from the Spectator. I say, Jack, what a chance for an explorer! Fancy people spending their money and risking their lives in exploring an icy, cold, miserable, desolate region, like the Arctic Circle, when there is a wondrous land here in the blue skies–yet no wilderness of ice and snow–waiting to be won; and no one seems to trouble about it! I do wish you would do as I have so often suggested–set out with me upon an expedition and let us see whether we cannot solve the secret of this mysterious mountain. You have the leisure now, and I have the money. Dr. Lorien and his son are now on their way back from near there; if they can undertake the journey, so could we. Besides, it is not as though we were novices at this kind of travel; we have been on short trips to the interior times enough.”

This article appeared in the Spectator of April 1877.

Jack Templemore looked dubious. He was, it is true, used to roughing it in the wild parts of South America. He had been trained as an engineer, and, for some years–he was now twenty-eight–had been engaged in surveying or pioneering for new railways in various places on the Continent. His father having lately died and left him and his mother very poorly off, he was now somewhat anxiously looking about for something that would give him permanent occupation, or the chance of making a little money. He and Leonard Elwood were great friends; though they were, in many respects, of very different characters. Elwood was, essentially, of a romantic, poetic temperament; while Templemore affected always a direct, practical, matter-of-fact way of looking at things, as became an engineer. He was dark, tall and sturdily built, with keen, steady grey eyes, and a straight-forward, good-humoured manner. Both were used to hunting, shooting, and out-door sports, and, as Elwood had just said, they had had many short hunting trips into the interior together. But these had been in previous years, since which, both had been away from Georgetown. Templemore, as above stated, had been engaged in railway enterprises, Elwood had gone to Europe, where, after some time spent in England, during which his father and mother had both died, he had travelled for a while ‘to see the world,’ and finally had come out again to Georgetown to look after some property his father had left him. On arrival he had gone at first to an hotel, but some old friends of his parents, who lived on an estate known as ‘Meldona,’ had insisted upon his staying with them for a while. Here he found that his old friend Jack Templemore was a frequent visitor, and it was an open secret that Maud Kingsford, elder of the two daughters of Leonard’s host, was the real attraction that brought him there so constantly.

Now Jack Templemore, as has been said, was more practical-minded than Leonard. He had not shrunk from the hardships and privations of wild forest life when engaged upon railway-engineering work, when there had been something definite in view–money to be made, instruction to be gained, or promotion to be hoped for. But he did not view with enthusiasm the idea of leaving comfortable surroundings for the discomforts of rough travel, merely for travel’s sake, or upon what he deemed a sort of wild-goose chase. He had carefully read up all the information that was obtainable concerning the mountain Roraima, and had seen no reason to doubt the conclusions that had been come to by those who ought to know–that it was inaccessible. Of what use then to spend time, trouble, money–perhaps health and strength–upon attempting the impossible?

So Jack Templemore argued, and, be it said, there was the other reason. Why should he go away and separate himself for an indefinite period from his only surviving parent and the girl he loved best in the world, with no better object than a vague idea of scrambling up a mountain that had been pronounced by practical men unclimbable?

Thus, when Leonard appealed to him on this particular morning, merely because he had come across something that had fired his enthusiasm afresh, Jack did not respond to the proposal with the cordiality that the other evidently wished for.

“I don’t mind going a short trip with you, old man,” Jack said presently, “for a little hunting, if you feel restless and are a-hungering after a spell of wandering–a few days, or a week or two, if you like–but a long expedition with nothing to go upon, as it were, seems to me only next door to midsummer madness.”

Leonard turned away with an air of disappointment, and just then Maud Kingsford, who had been playing and singing inside the room, stepped out.

Leonard discreetly went into the house and left the two alone, and Maud greeted Jack with a rosy tell-tale flush that made her pretty face look still more charming. In appearance she was neither fair nor dark, her hair and eyebrows being brown and her eyes hazel. She was an unaffected, good-hearted girl, more thoughtful and serious, perhaps, than girls of her age usually are–she was twenty, while Stella, the younger sister, was between eighteen and nineteen–and had shown her capacity for managing a home by her success in that line in their own home since her mother’s death a few years before. The practical-minded Jack, who had duly noted this, saw in it additional cause for admiration; but, indeed, it was only a natural outcome of her innate good sense. She now asked what her lover and Leonard had been talking of.

“The usual thing,” was Jack’s reply. “He’s mad to go upon an exploring expedition; thinks we could succeed where others have failed. It’s so unlikely, you know. Now, if he would only look at the thing practically––”

Maud burst into a merry laugh.

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