This is the full text of the novel, in one file. The print version (originally entitled "Stephen's Passion" is available from Micah Publications, 255 Humphrey St., Marblehead, MA 01945, www.micahbooks.com Roberta's other fiction includes: Orestes in Progress, Justice My Brother, A View of Toledo, Solomon's Wisdom, Autobiography of a Revolutionary: Essays on Animal and Human Rights, and Bodmin 1349.
Micah Publications also publishes Jewish vegetarian and animal rightsbooks, such as: The Jewish Vegetarian Year Cookbook, Vegetarian Judaism--A Guide for Everyone, and Haggadah for the Liberated Lamb. For a full list with descriptions, see www.micahbooks.comDedication
For my husband -- listener, advisor, fellow journeyer.
Back cover text
The Martyrdom of Stephen Werner is a religious allegory about Christians, Jews, and others, based upon a true story of a Passion play among Yucatan Indians, as reported in National Geogaphic. The locale here is the boundary between Guiana and Brazil, in a place on the atlas designated "area of dispute."
"...a voyage back in psace, in teime, and to an ealier mythos which substitutes itself insistently for history.... What Stephen encounters in the jungle, along with heat, bugs, and the oppressive sense of unseen presence can be compared with what happens in The Heart of Darkness and in Typee.... it is always surprising that the fulfillment of a gradually revealed pattern is so satisfying, even in its agony." Ellen Ferber
"Roberta quickly and deftly immerses us in another time, another place -- like Penelope Fitzgerald. But at the same time, like Conrad, she imbues that exotic setting with religious and spcyhological implications and involes us passionately in the fate of her hero." Richard Seltzer
"Guiana is a countrey that hath yet her Maydenhead, never sackt, turned, nor wrought, theface of the earth hath not been torne, nor the vertue and salt of the soyl spent by manurance, the graves have not been openedfor gold, the mines not broken with sledges, nor their images puld down out of their temples. It hath never been entred by any armies or strength, and never conquered or possessed by any Christian prince. . . ."
Sir Walter Raleigh, The Discoveries of Guiana
"So Man in his unreconciled drama stands where the future can never be ground however sensible the spray that broods like Spirit over the Fall. Once the essence is broken the inter-connection remains unplanted. At the end of the trail thefirst deception happens. . . ."
Wilson Harris, The Spirit of The Fall
". . . the violation of cultures was the hidden reality of history itself . . ."
Wilson Harris, Tumatumari
An archeological map of South America reveals two small interesting items of information, one predictable, the other uncanny as archeological facts sometimes are: (e.g. carving of Moosehead found on rock in the Sahara). The predictable item of information is that carbon dating of ice age relics in the area of Fells Cave, southern tip of South America, indicates the presence of man in this "remote 11 region in 9,000 B.C. But what was Fells Cave remote from in 9,000 B.C.? Geographical relationships are spinoffs from time.
On the other hand, the uncanny item is that at Nazca, not far from Machu Picchu, but a very long distance from Fells Cave, among the usual geometric shapes and animal effigies of an "unknown prehistoric" people, was found etched into the gravel straight lines, some of which were five miles long - begging the question of what manner of men draw straight lines on a road five miles long?
Over on the Atlantic side, around the area of the three Guianas, a resource map shows people, goods, wealth and society huddled along the coast. Going inland, the population falls dramatically from people to practically nil. The social configurations metamorphose from city to town to village to trading station, from ranch to mission, to the straggling dozen of a dying tribe to an isolated hut.
Happy the coastal people! All good fortune comes to them with the traders: shops, botanical gardens, libraries, cinemas, schools and bourbon. So they regard gold-diggers, ranchers and wanderers into the Interior with wit, derision, or blankly. They know that civilization is carried in a sea breeze, history laps at shorelines. Take the strip of coast from Venezuela to French Guiana. The names are tickets to yesterday's fireworks: San Jose de Amacuro, Morawhanna, Charity, Georgetown, New Amsterdam, Nieuw Nickerie, Paramaribo, Nieuw Amsterdam, Devil's Island, Remire and Regina. Civilization, as somebody said, comes out of the barrel of a gun. Precisely why people like Stephen Werner and Peter van de Groot jumped at the chance to go inland. Their professions happily combined with the philosophical need to put their souls to the native grindstone. Up to now their hardships amounted to doing without women, which is practically the foundation of early Christianity. Hanky panky with the tribal women was not good professional ethics.
A distinguished gap in modern efficiency is that some inland country out here is still unexplored, perhaps unexplorable, some boundary lines are still up for grabs. On a map of South America, if you place your finger on the northcentral by northeastern tip of Brazil, just north of the equator, between Guyana or what was British Guiana and Surinam or what was Dutch Guiana, there is a piece of geographical nonentity labeled "area in dispute." We are going there.
The International Geographic Study Commission approached Stephen with a proposal to map out the area in an accompanying expedition with the anthropologist, Peter van de Groot. Though Peter had not been in this area before (few white man had; that's why he was going) this would be his fourth trip into regions of the Amazon and his knowledge of Northern Brazilian territory was deemed invaluable. To the I.G.S.C. Stephen and Peter looked like a winning team.
Stephen was blonde, long-legged, lanky, in his late twenties, and smoked tiparillos. He was blessed with an unexpectedly benign disposition, the unpredictable outcome of a frenetic past and present good fortune. Given the situation where he was accompanying an older and more experienced explorer, he easily allowed him to take the leadership.
Peter was of middle height, in his late thirties, a bit overweight, with a pleasant, round, Dutch burgher face. Civilization he accepted with grace as a necessary evil along with religion. Publicly he was a pleasant man. Provoked, he could be unexpectedly acerbic. Then the sharpness of the expert to whom humility was not natural surfaced. It was a minor problem of temperament, if not of philosophy. He had dark, hairy arms and preferred cigars. He had divided his time during the last ten years between field work and teaching, and had published two books on Amazonian tribes, one of which had already been referred to as a classic. On this trip he left behind an elderly Dutch mother, a wife and three blonde children, ages ten, eight and six.
Stephen left behind quarrelling parents, a married sister, a younger brother, two girlfriends named Joanne and Mimi, and a friend in the Bronx. The jungle was a switch in territory for him . Up to now he had done most of his surveying work on Arctic islands and on the Scottish coast. He had done undergraduate work at the University of Buffalo and graduate work at the University of Chicago. From Buffalo and Chicago it was a natural hop to the Arctic circle and the furthest-most tip of Scotland.
Obsessed by riverbends and shorelines, driven into exotic frenzies by straight and curved lines, wondering where they go and even why they go (in the jungle, they mostly go nowhere, seen from the perspective of nine thousand years), he wanted to do something more about lines and curves than think about them. Coming from a line of soldiers, teachers, tradesmen, a medieval love poet in fourteenth century Spain, a cabinetmaker, a rabbi, a postman, and some more teachers, cartography was a professional innovation for him. Though, in fact, both Stephen's and Peter's people had travelled similar routes from Holland to South Africa, from South Africa to Brooklyn and from Brooklyn to the suburbs. The van de Groots moved to Long Island when Peter was eight. Stephen grew up along the beaches of Brooklyn, drawing maps in the sand of cities legendary and real, tracing visions in lines and circles that disappeared each day with the tide. It didn't matter. Being obsessed and a child, he could do the same thing over and over. Lines enclosed space. His desk globe bedeviled him. The need for containment made him into a wanderer.
Not so the Spaniards who appeared on the coast in 1529 with four
hundred men and fifty horses. When asked why they run so
hard, they are said to have answered that Spaniards suffer from a
disease that only gold could cure. El Dorado lay on the
shores of a lake in Guyana, rumored to have been founded by
Manco-Inca, brother of Atahuallpa, who fled Peru after it fell to
the Spaniards. Manco-Inca is said to have escaped across the
Corderillas into Guyana, bringing with him civilization and the
pursuit of the Spaniards. They were told magnificent tales
tribal chief who anointed himself with an odoriferous resin and gilded his body with gold dust before he set out in a canoe from the shores of Manoa across a lake into whose depths he deposited gold, emeralds and other precious metals before submerging himself in a baptismal rite. The contiguity of gold and religion was too much for the Spaniards who were famous for both. They left behind them legends of courage and accounts of cruelty that brought tears of rage to the eyes of Sir Walter Raleigh.
He was the last who came to Guyana in search of El Dorado. After him come sober traders, ranchers, missionaries, the colonists, plantation owners, slaves, Africans, east Indians, Chinese, coolies and Creoles, sugar and manganese experts, chemists and herbalists financed by pharmaceutical companies, botanists and naturalists on research grants. Most follow the routes of the conquistadores and Elizabethan explorers. Whatever there is of sociological density in the Interior drifts in a southwesterly direction, along the Essequibo River and across the benign Rupunini savannahs. Most travellers take the route from the Atlantic down the Essequibo and then follow the Cuyuni River in the northwest, or in the central district the Mazaruni and Potaro Rivers which take you through the Potaro Gorge to Kaietur Falls or to Mt. Roraima, the site of the Resurrection massacre and The Lost World of Conan Doyle.
An occasional explorer strikes out towards the southeast, down the Courantyne River on the border between Guyana and Surinam, or takes the Essequibo to the Onoro River and then goes eastward to the New River which rises in the Sierra Accarai on the borders of Brazil. Like the Amazon, mother of South American rivers, all these waters are infested with pirani and sharks, and are dull-yellow or muddy in color. They carry the silt of the Interior, decayed lillies and roots of ancient trees, segments of shoreline that fall in at floodtime. Somewhere in the region of the source of the New River is a mountain range that connects the Accarai and the Carawaimi. It is called Ouangouwai, or Mountains of the Sun. The area is densely wooded, vegetation is luxurious. All is mostly virgin territory. Common knowledge and the municipal archives in Georgetown have it that, for all intents and purposes, the region is uninhabited.
Schomburgk came into the area in the 1840s. After came
anthropologists, perhaps six, in search of "lost" tribes, of which
there are many. In the jungle too groups of lost people
huddle together. Peter explored the country on the Brazilian
side three years before. This trip would give him the chance
to take up an old trail where he had left it off and to see the
other side of the
They caught a PanAm flight on Monday and on Tuesday landed in Georgetown. Everything they needed between Kennedy and Atkinson airports was carried in handbags: reading matter, maps, crossword puzzles, Stephen's tiparillos, a diary, Peter's notes on Amazon tribes, correspondence with Cyrus Mills, a tape recorder and cameras. The rest had been ordered or was gettable in Georgetown. Stephen stepped out of the airplane in chinos, a sweatshirt and canvas topped shoes. The tropical sun hit his gold-rimmed glasses. The month was almost April.
The coastline of Georgetown is four and a half feet below sea level during the spring tides. Canals carry off drainage water and a seawall protects the city from being inundated by the springtime ocean, which pleases the descendants of the Dutch. The British took over from them in 1796. They abolished slavery in 1834 and built an excellent cricket course. Buck Indians, Caribs, Chinese, east Indians, west Indians, Africans, Creoles, whites, Ackawoi Indians and descendants of the Dutch, the Spanish and Portugese salute the same flag.
Even before they checked into their hotel Stephen and Peter took a taxi to Cyrus Mills, near Cathedral Square, who was checking his watch just as his secretary peeped into his room. "Right," he said, peering over a stack of volumes. Tall, blonde, scholarly, ex-basketball player, he legged it over to the door. "Mills here," he said and held out his hand. Stephen and Peter grasped it. Their trail began here.
Seated, Mills tipped back his chair and said, "Let's see. The last time I was in New York was in 1968. Convention of something or other. I gave the Museum of Natural History a blowpipe to be used in case of attack by native New Yorkers." That joke over with, he straightened his chair and got down to business. The glasscases behind him, filled with Indian jewelry, blowpipes, neopenera ants (dead, of course), bespoke the curator and Minister of Interior, the country's storage tank of data on Indians, rainfall, missions, missionaries, snakes, kenaima, animism, recondite poisons, hallelujah sects, sugar yield, flora, fauna and cargo tonnage. The walls were lined with scenes from Guyanese life: Mt. Roraima, the Potaro-Konawaruk Road, the It6 Palm, a mission hut, Timehrei rocks on the Courantyne River, the seawall around Georgetown with musicians and strolling lovers, the Botanical Gardens, a picture of Mills and two companions in a jeep on the Rupununi Savannah, a picture of an Ackawoi Indian stringing a six foot arrow through a bow, a picture of an Indian and his wife, tongues outstretched, receiving the host, a picture of Mills,'beaming, his arm around a Makushi Indian boy in native dress, beaming.
"Shopping list," he waved a paper at them. "Everything you'll need in the way of rations and headache powder. You should be able to carry about a hundred pounds apiece along the trails. I've arranged for you to get most of what you'll need at Guiana Goods on Water Street." He rang a buzzer and told his secretary to bring in some drinks. He offered cigars. Peter took one. Stephen lit a tiparillo. Mills poured drinks and spread a map on his desk top. Stephen's instincts warmed, feeling for the super reality behind the wavy lines. Of course, he had drawn his own maps of the region, provisional ones, but necessary to get the sense of the area. He knew that on the trip surprise and discovery would predominate. The earth kept changing muchly.
They would take the Berbice into the Interior, to its source in the eastern spur of the Kanuku Mountains. They would cross the mountains and travel south by foot to New River, which was a distance of about twenty miles. They planned to navigate the river through the Mountains of the Sun to its source in the Accarai. Thus, they would approach the river from an unexplored direction. Assuming success, they would then travel along the spine of the Accarai to the Aramatau River, make their way down the Aramatau until it met with the Courantyne and return via this river, completing a circle which was, roughly, the perimeter of unexplored territory.
The trip should take four months, they would use between thirty and forty guides. The expedition was organized like the pony express. The steamship would take them up the Berbice to the terminus at Paradise, where they would pick up their first set of guides. Mills said, "They'll go with you as far as Via Sacre, an Arawak village on the Kurudini River. There's a small mission here called Ecce Homo. After that, there's fifty miles of cataracts and rapids between Via Sacre and Immanuel. The Indians who go out with you from Ecce Homo are expert at handling canoes and pulling them over falls. They'll go to the end of the river with you. Father Reuchlin runs a mission here for Wais-Wais, called Immanuel. We'll have a plane fly out a part of your rations there. It's always nice to get fresh supplies. Some of the guides may bring their wives along, but the women won't be any trouble. And if there are no women the men won't fuss. They can do without for. a long time. You're not likely to be bothered by anything but sharks, alligators, pirani, electric eels, bushmasters and false trails. Try not to fall into the river and swim where the Indians swim." He gave them a trade smile. "Once you get to New River, I don't know how far they'll go with you. Indians don't like to go into territory they're not familiar with, especially if they suspect kenaima. My advice is not to go on without competent guides. But I've known a fool or two in my lifetime obsessed with the next mile of trail." He felt he was saying this to Stephen, who was a blank to him. He knew Peter's work and had met him several times at conferences.
"What happened?" Stephen asked.
Mills floated blue eyes up towards him. "I wish 1 knew. We hate to have the jungle get a bad reputation for that sort of thing. But, hell, I got lost on the Manhattan Interchange and wandered in circles. People don't disappear in bush and jungle anymore than they do in big cities. When you get to Immanuel, Father Reuchlin will fill you in on any local jungle gossip. There's an unholy rumor that he's gone native, but keep any discoveries to yourselves. We like to keep jungle life peaceful. There's another mission at New River. Father Aigan. Runs a language center and four bed hospital. Try not to get snake bite or malaria until you reach him. Mission of the True Cross. Bush-pilot makes a trip there twice a year, drops down magazines and medicine. No landing field or we'd offer you a ride back at the end of June. But he'll unload your goods there for the return trip. If you don't hit any snags you should get to New River source by Easter. Father Aigan will be thrilled to see you. His wireless went on the blink three years ago." He stood up. "We're expecting you for dinner tomorrow night. My wife's throwing a party. As you go down the shopping list and get your gear in line, let me know if something is missing." Stephen opened his overnight bag and took out a rolled-up map. "A small gift from an admirer," he said.
Mills unrolled the map and smiled. It was ersatz 1625, complete with Dutch and French names that had since disappeared. Little figures of Quesada, Raleigh, Keymis and Harcourt marched across the map, planting flags and crosses. A pastiche of Renaissance history and medieval cosmology, Eden was located surely in the central district, an Ite palm to mark the place. Harcourt stood on the map where Issano meets the Mazaruni. But that was for dramatic effect. Transcribing the border from then to now, it was hard to tell where Harcourt had been. El Dorado could have been five hundred miles to the west. So could Harcourt. Mills was pleased. The map was done well, if picturesquely. He told Stephen that if he went in for archaic cartography there was a replica of Tatton's map, circa 1668 (or 1608) in. the hallway. "The original is in the British Museum, having served its term in settling a boundary dispute."
Stephen looked at it as they went out. Naturally, the differences between it and a modern map were mind boggling: a warning to wanderers and map makers. What you draw is what you get and what you got is what you were looking at, the products of scholars and conscientious draughtsmen like himself. He would have given a lot for the luxury of snorting with disrespect.
Mills carried Stephen's gift in his hand, rolled up with a
rubberband. He tapped Stephen's shoulder with it.
"Bring us up to date," he said. "Incidentally, it's dinner
jackets and black ties tomorrow night. If you're caught
short, go down to Redford's on Water Street. They rent
Stephen and Peter hit the sun-dazzled street. Stephen realized he was in the tropics and popped on his sun glasses. They caught a taxi and took it to the Hotel Prince Edward. The building was not regal, but loyal to its period. The lobby carpet was an import from Turkey, brass spittoons gave comfort to aging men sitting in highbacked chairs reading The London Times. Homey with a wide verandah mannered and comfortable the hotel wept: come home to the nineteenth century.
Stephen suffered a sudden attack of inertia, like a blow to the solar plexus. He crawled to his room and fell on his bed. Balls of sunlight popped in his eyes.
Peter's nerves were in better shape. But then he was no initiate to the tropics. He knocked on Stephen's door and gave him a sympathetic smile when he saw him stretched out on the brass bedstead. "Get a good night's sleep," he said, "tomorrow will be hectic. The party is probably in our honor. You may not know it, but we're a cultural event. I called a meatdealer in town. We can have a hundred pounds of smoked beef loaded on the boat at New Amsterdam. And I called Guiana Airways and made arrangements for delivery service."
"You're a good man, Charley Brown," Stephen said and dropped into sleep like a shot bird.
At four in the morning he dreamed that the moon was engorging the earth: a symptom of travel fatigue. He woke. A moon of elephantine size bore down on his window. He groaned and dozed and muttered to himself that he should pull down the blind and protect himself against moonstroke.
By five:forty-five the sun was shining. It rose out of the Atlantic and sent a shaft of steel light into the dark water. Pierced seagulls cried. Stephen felt saltspray on his lips, a taste of childhood. His mother held him by the hand lest he get lost in the crowd. He rose, disoriented and hurtled himself into a shower. It cleared his brain. By eight o'clock they were on Water Street, collecting gear and examining netting, hammocks, canvas and cutlasses. They picked up evening wear at Redford's and spent the afternoon sightseeing. The scent of frangipani was in the air. They wandered into the Botanical Gardens and the Parklands. Macaws, brilliant in blue and yellow, swung through baobabs from Africa, eucalyptus from Australia, native bamboos, sugar-cane palms and moras.
They wandered into Strabroek Market. Collages of culture: turbaned Indians argued and painted Indians ate fried plantain on a street corner. A laundress from the sub-Sahara carried a basket on her head, a Creole babe signalled for a taxi. Fat-assed lady shook her wares. A businessman hurried by. No contact of eyes. Women with orchids in their hair. Sexual smiles in the men's teeth. World in cinematic technicolor. The benignity of human rhythms. A parrot sat on a perch in the door of a shop and eyed them with harrowing intelligence. He looked as if he could recite the Gettysburg Address: culture is mongrelization.
They wandered into a residential section, white wooden houses,
balconies with iron lace-work, colonial architecture. Palm
trees pillared the streets. Victoria in the tropics.
Gardens blazed with bougainvilla, morning-glory, coraleta.
The flamboyante was in flower, the poinsettias desperately
carnelian. But more. The month was almost April.
The lily bloomed, pretentiously funereal.
Stephen was sapped by tropical intensity. Again he crawled to his hotel room to wait for his brain to stop reeling. He lay down on his bed and tried to reduce the scene to flat planes. The venetian blind on his window looked erotic like a dancing girl with a gold ring in her nose. A breeze blew and her belly rippled. He got up and showered. He felt better after he was dressed. The sight of his well-behaved blonde mustache and his tanned face framed by a white dinner jacket perked him up mightily.
Both looked in the pink of professional condition as they got into a taxi. They matched the scenery. Tropical twilight. Pink and white houses. Trees toppling everything. Rose scent everywhere. Oriental languor threatened ambition. A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and thou beside me in the wilderness. Stephen tattooed the poem in his head as he watched a pink moon rise over a cocoanut palm. The ocean growled erotically.
The first person he caught sight of as they entered Mills's house was a blonde girl in a kelly green dress. But she disappeared in the crowded rooms. Mills's wife came through the collector's jungle in ruby chiffon toward Stephen and Peter, a bleary glaze on her eyes. Her dress hung irrelevantly. She looked beset by the problem of housekeeping in a clutter of culture: walls decorated with feathered headdresses, carved gourds, stuffed snakes, Indian masks, sharks' teeth and a replica of the Aztec calendar.
The rooms were dense with people who drank rum and watched the canape trays go by. The races were mixed. Only the clergy stood out against the white dinner jackets. Stephen took note that there were young girls in the room, but he couldn't find the one in the kelly green dress. Mrs. Mills put her arms through theirs. "I must introduce you around. You're our guests of honor, you know." She laughed hopefully. "But maybe you'd like a drink first," and disappeared like a poltergeist.
"Van de Groot. Werner." Mills clapped them on the back. "How did the shopping go?"
"Good. Now, you can relax. You're the guests of honor, you know." He put a glass of rum in each of their hands. "Drink up. There'll be nothing to match this rum until you return. Haasl" He caught hold of a gentleman's jacket. "This is Professor van de Groot and Dr. Werner. Jack Haas. You can thank him for the rum." He held up his glass in salute.
"Excellent," Stephen murmured.
"Will replace Canadian and Irish whiskey," Mills winked.
"And French wines," Haas added.
Stephen caught sight of kelly green slipping through a terrace door.
A group gathered around them. They were very much the guests of honor. Peter accepted the fact. Older than Stephen, he accepted the homage that went with achievement. He managed his audience directorially. He was at his best when his pedagogic instincts were appealed to. What to do about the native peoples was everybody's concern. It was the humanitarian question of the era.
"You'll find," the lady next to Stephen said to him, "that people here hug the coast."
"Why is that?" he asked.
"Good heavens! What's in the jungle but trees and snakes."
The rum hit rock bottom and mixed with fragrance of frangipani. He said, "I would have thought that there would be better things to hug than a coast."
She was taken aback, but recovered and laughed. He stayed near her. Her perfume was excellent. Conversation everywhere else was intense and political. He was unfamiliar with the problems. A poet accused him of being miscreant in not knowing Indian dialects. Stephen said he knew no languages other than English and a few Scottish phrases. The poet abandoned him. Stephen surmised he had been insulted and wandered glumly about. He could not even share Peter's horseplay with a missionary. Father Rosacky preached the Second Coming, no smoking and monogamy. Stephen recalled Peter's A B C's of doctrinal feuds among the missionary sects. Peter attacked robustly. He assailed Father Rosacky on the issue of smoking, which the Indians love. Peter was an agnostic and had no patience with theological battles, but he only argued contra the idea that Christianity was a blessing when it threatened the Indian's right to smoke or be naked. In the city Christianity looked natural to him. It was when he met with it in the bush that he felt constrained to give as his professional judgment that the missionary might be invaluable, but he was a pain in the ass. Himself raised a Lutheran he had ceased to believe in the resurrection, heaven, hell, the trinity, the virgin birth. He admired Jesus, as who would not. He called to mind for him a type of heroism like keeping a stiff upper lip or, if you will something more literary, grace under pressure. The ideal was further elucidated in a chapter heading in his Sunday school book called Blood of Martyrs. From the crucifixion descended the history of martyrdom and Peter's moral scenario. His own life was a testing ground, the point of which had become lost in the assumptions of agnosticism.
Later, in college he learned that crucifixion had been common,
that in the year Jesus was crucified over two thousand men had
been crucified around the same hill. Dozens had been hung
nightly on the cross. Peter had a vision of Crucifixion
Hill: thousands of slaves, renegades, protesters, men who got in
the way of others, rotting on the wood, unknown. Jesus had
been lucky, being saved by the coming of the Sabbath from further
agony he had hung on the cross six hours; usually they hung for
three days. Jesus's death was not unique; it was common,
glory bought with less pain than the others had endured; but his
name had survived to verify the immorality of imperial
magnanimity: consciousness, of fate; the logic of events; discernment of personality, awareness of betrayal: friendship not enough to keep watch an hour, let alone save him; knowing this, avoiding nothing, kept faith with the crucified.
Circumspectly, Stephen meandered and found himself standing near the terrace doors. Breezes blew. Voices mingled with the ocean's surf. An electric shock told him that the girl in the kelly green dress was out there. An incredible desire overtook him. He wandered out, a glass of rum in his hand, conscious of his white dinner jacket and marvelous mustache, whistling Danny Boy.
She sat by a window, writing a letter by the dull light that came through the curtains.
Stephen stopped whistling. "Good God!" he thought. She had liquefying curves in the corners of her mouth and hair that fell, lay, looped, curled and caressed her shoulders.
She looked up at him. Her eyes were green. They matched her dress. Around the bend of the verandah couples whispered eternal truths. The moon lay on the ocean. Out in the distance, on the sea wall, a band played a lascivious rhumba. Stephen felt portentous.
"Dr. Werner?" she said.
"How'd you know?"
"You're the guest of honor." She stopped writing and smiled at him. His glass of rum fell from his hands and broke softly in the garden below. She was friendly, not at all what he would have thought a beautiful girl in a kelly green dress would be like.
"I envy you," she said. "What an exciting trip you're about to take." She was candid. When she spoke the curves in her mouth disappeared. It became less erotically burdensome, to his relief. She was forthright. Stephen decided to be casual and humble. "Actually, I'm scared. I've never been in the jungle before."
"You've never done jungle before?"
The phrasing was strange to him, but appealing. It struck his ear like an exotic bell. He answered in like manner. "No, I've done the Scottish coastline and islands, but never jungle. This should round out my education. I'm told the area has hardly been explored, practically uninhabited."
"Practically, but not altogether." She was proud to say it. He was curious. "Do you know something about it?" He felt awkward standing by the railing while she sat on a sofa. He did not know whether to move to her or to ask her to move to him.
"You plan to explore New River to its source," she said.
He was surprised by her information. He said, "How'd you know?" But he wanted to say, why don't you come over here where you can hear the ocean. It's raining moonlight out there.
"Cyrus Mills told me, I have something for you to give to Father Algan. "
Stephen had to think a moment to remember who he was. "He's the one at New River mission." His phrasing was unfortunate. She stiffened. "He's my father." His glasses smoked slightly. The line struck: funny, she doesn't look like a missionary's daughter. He looked about for his glass of rum and remembered that it had dropped into the garden. "Would you like a drink?" he asked.
"I don't drink," she said. He felt for his tiparillos in his pocket and remembered Peter's argument with Father Rosacky. He felt rudderless. "Eat?" he offered.
"Very well, " she said. It was primly put, but he was glad to take her by her bare arm and escort her to the buffet table. The atmosphere inside was less unnerving than the dark night where the scent from unseen gardens lay in ambush. She looked less intoxicating by wattage light, more part and parcel of the human race to which he belonged. He could even imagine her reading a newspaper or eating an apple. He introduced her to Peter who waved cheerily before attacking another missionary. "You've been into the Interior' then, " Stephen asked.
"Only part way. I spent six months with Father Reuchlin. Daddy was not too happy about this. He doesn't approve of Father Reuchlin's methods. He lets the Indians continue Hallelujah."
Stephen helped himself and her to a dish of prawns and tried to sort a note on the Hallelujah sect from his reading. Appendix B popped into his mind. Millenial cults among the Guyanese Indians. Hallelujah sect: a religious movement that sprang up among the Indians in the late nineteenth century. A Makushi Indian named Bichiwung who had been a servant in the house of a clergyman in Georgetown had learned the elements of Christianity. He had returned to the interior and taught them to an Ackawol Indian named Abel whom he had met in the savannah. Abel appointed himself prophet and became an evangelist. Soon the movement had leaders with names like Moses, Noah, and Christ. Bichiwung preached that the Indians would become whitefaced and inherit the white man's power if they became Christians. Though faced with persecution a remnant of adherents remain loyal. Their meetings continue under surreptitious circumstances. A signal goes out and they come together from isolated parts of the jungle. joined, they mostly dance and pray. Sometimes they drink a great deal of cassiri and smoke. The prawns were excellent. "That doesn't sound so terrible to me," Stephen said. She gave him a peculiar look. "It's antithetical to Christian belief." He strained for further elucidation. Introductory notes: moonstroke happens. It is common knowledge. The people worship no god. They make remedies from plaster of herbs. They can mimic the sound of any bird or animal. They can imitate cockney from a tape recorder. They know the secrets of ventriloquism and oral birth control and are good family people. Folks. They render the idea of justice as the vindictive spirit of kenaima. He wished he could say something that would entertain her for four months. "No doubt," he said, "then why did you stay?"
"Once out there I had no place to go. You can't exactly hop a bus when things go wrong. Besides, I plan to go into missionary work and Immanuel is a good place to get training."
He wavered between laughing and complimenting her.
"I have only another sentence to write and to sign my name," she said. "This is a letter for my father which I would be grateful if you would deliver."
He made a mock click with his heels and gave her his most endearing smile. "At your service."
Unembarrassed, she put the paper on the buffet table, surrounded by platters of candied yams, pineapple soaking in brandy, lobster swimming in cheese souffle. People stretched across her, waiters detoured around. She took a pen out of her evening bag and set to work as if she were at her desk. That's what I like, Stephen thought, a woman of conviction. "By the way, what's your name?" he said.
"Ursula." She licked the envelope closed and gave it to him.
It took four hours to go sixty miles by train from Georgetown to New Amsterdam. Stephen was disappointed in the scenery. It was tame and domestic: a flat land with men and women working in the rice fields. He wanted his tropics exotic, had expected that most of it, at least, would be of the Garden of Eden variety. The soot from the train dirtied his glasses and rolled on his tongue. The sky was overcast. Everything looked gritty, stained and watery. Flotsams of thought, like regarding the weather as a bad omen, floated into his mind: worries of a voyager.
By two in the afternoon they were aboard the Providence on the mouth of the Berbice River. Stephen paused on the gangplank, astounded. There was the jungle over his shoulder. All he had to do was to look upriver. A foul odor blew down from the Interior. He took his tiparillo out of his mouth. "What's that?"
"Probably a dead alligator," Peter, phlegmatic and professional, was reassuring. Stephen laughed. "Better a dead alligator than a live one."
The boat carried fifty passengers: a few porknockers or people looking for gold, ranchers, three clergymen, two nurses, farmers, and traders who had goods to sell at the various villages along the river. Chickens squawked in baskets, roosters strutted on the deck, some Africans spread out straw mats. As soon as the boat drew up its anchor a Guianese took out a guitar and entertained with Calypso songs, a woman got up to dance. One of the clergymen put his feet on a deckchair and read pocketbooks by Ray Bradbury unswervingly. The scene from the boat's deck took in the eighty foot tower of the Town Hall, a half mile of red roofed cottages flanked in the foreground by the steeples of the Anglican and Presbyterian churches. Stephen stuck his tiparillo in his mouth, set the telescopic on the Minolta and shot a picture of the view. The whistle blew and the boat began its trip through a hundred miles of overgrown coast. The river was narrow and yellow, clogged with fallen trees and dead fauna. A smell of decay, earthy, moistly tropical, hung in the air. Some hours later the boat dropped anchor forty-five miles inland at Fort Nassau. Peter came to the rail for, a sight of it, mainly jungle and a cemetery inhabited by snakes. "Once the seat of government for Berbice County." The inference was Ozymandian. Peter tilted the brim of his sunhat, clasped his hands on the ship's rail and beamed. "By the time this trip is over you'll have proper respect for the jungle."
Stephen took his novitiate condition good naturedly; "You really dig this stuff?"
"You will too. Give me one of those things." He pointed to Stephen's tiparillo. "Everyone who travels into the Interior does. You shed civilization. I don't mean," he leaned across for a light, "that you start running around in warpaint and loincloths. That's for nineteenth century novels. Tarzan is' dead, long may he stay buried. There's plenty of civilization out there," he pointed with the tiparillo at the shore, "but it isn't yours. Out there you have only a name and a profession, no tribe. When Makushi and Wais-Wais feud, it's not your fight. When Ackawol threatens kenaima and vengeance, you're safe. They mean some other fellow. Where else can you be so safe?" He laughed like a contented sow with a cigar in his round face. "I tell you, Stephen, alienation is a blessing. Don't knock it. The jungle's the safest place in the world. Four months in the bush and ten months back on the streets of New York and you'll start wondering what foundation you can tap for your next trip." He puffed on the cigarillo and looked like a suburbanite in a sunhat leaning on his back fence.
They were on their way again. The Calypso singer went from Calypso to dirty Calypso. A group brought out a steel band. Three women got up to dance. A baby played with Stephen's shoelaces, trying to figure out the magic of how they came untied. Bottles of rum and slabs of cheese got passed around. The porknockers, the clergymen, the nurses and Peter and Stephen ate hard boiled eggs. The Indians did not. Belly bolted at eating white man's food: sheep, goats, fowl, and fowl eggs: symbols of ingesting the conqueror. Easier to convert them than to get them to eat a chicken's egg. Preference was for reptiles' eggs, a basket of which lay covered on the boatdeck eyed censoriously by one of the clergymen. Reptiles' eggs outlawed by Seventh Day Adventists. Religion gets down to basic things like food and sex laws, artifacts and civilization. Emboldened by a breeze, the Calypso singer snapped his fingers at prohibitions and became a musical director. He led the group in songs. He clicked his fingers and kept the beat with his hips. With a look of love and lust on his face he beckoned to the crowd to inspire him. The women's teeth gleamed. The shoreline shimmered in aquamarine. The clergyman with the portfolio of Ray Bradbury snored in his deck chair. His neck turned red under the sun. Trees two hundred feet sprang up. Wallaba, mora, greenheart. Their trunks were mossy and slimy. The shoreline darkened. Lianas and vines twisted from the trees and made the view impenetrable.
In the jungle night comes to the terrain while there is still considerable daylight in the sky. The earth turns dark and wet while the sun still shines above the treetops. But one has to look two hundred feet up to see it.
Hollandia, Zeelandia, Oosterbeck, Dornboom, desolated plantations of a once confident future, slipped into the grey jungle as the boat went down the coast. Stephen noticed that Peter was squinting at a guidebook. He wondered if the Dutch names salivated in his soul and if he was checking them out. Local histories are sometimes surprising.
Canoes of Indians came out from rotting wharves and followed the boat like a school of fish. The people on deck shouted to them and tossed them packages of food. Regional custom. A hazy sun set over the tops of the high trees. Sounds were absorbed into the mossy earth. The tongues of snakes were stilled. The alligators lay on the banks and waited for night. Pirani swam soundlessly. The river was as yellow as mustard. Human life faded into the dark green. Here a voice on the boat rang out into nowhere, an arm floated up and the twilight swallowed it. The canoes of Indians fell away. The humidity mounted. The earth shrank into a wet, green ball. The river turned black.
The jungle loves the twilight. It celebrates it with a religious stillness that separates the forms of life: the white bell birds that sit in morning vines and the insects that crawl at night, the pink ibis that stands with outstretched neck and the alligator that slides into the dark river. When the ritual is over then the jungle, in its antique and justified renown, emerges.
They docked in a village called Noytgedacht. Peter explained that the word meant unexpected. They shared a hut and slept in hammocks and slung their goods in a basket over a rafter, as Peter advised. "You'll know why about three in the morning," he said.
It didn't take that long. As soon as Stephen tried to fall asleep he realized that the room was filled with living things. He heard them on the floor and on the walls. Startled, he heard them drop on to his netting.
"Tuck in well," Peter said. "If you leave a toe out it may be gone in the morning."
The sounds were barbarous: grinding, sucking gnawing, slithering. Red ants came out by night and set about the work of their civilization. Monkeys wept. Beetles crawled under their brittle primordial backs. Some whistled shrilly and rubbed their legs secretly beneath their shells. So thin, so small, negligent of man's nerves, the sound was grinding. Centipedes groped morbidly. The green parrot snake, unseen, circled the room. The vampire bat, legendary and real, hovered in the air. And the mosquito, symbol of man's defeat by little things, buzzed relentlessly.
In the distance, tigers, jaguars and wild horses, the tread of
heavy animals on branches, the bush cow, the wild hog screaming to
the night. And dogs barking everywhere. Finally, the
cry of the howler monkey, grossly heartbreaking: a cry of doom
that reaches into the marrow of the bones.
Stephen was desperate for a smoke, but man can't cope with the thought of putting his feet down into a mess of insect life. "You didn't tell me about this," he whispered hoarsely.
"About what?" Peter mumbled.
"This. All this humming and knocking and batting. Does it get better or worse the further into the Interior you go?"
"Stays about the same."
"Son of a bitch. Don't tell me you can sleep in this."
"Have to," Peter mumbled.
"The coast people are right."
"You heard me."
"That's dirty language, Stephen. You're not going to funk
No, he wasn't. But he never acquired Peter's appetite for the Interior, or the professional forebearance he was able to muster out of enthusiasm. Peter loved the jungle as a compensatory vision. Stephen came to love some of it. Peter never seemed to be uncomfortable and what Stephen found irritating about him was that he didn't like complaints, as if he thought they were signs of
In the morning things looked different. The humidity of the night was dissipated. Saman and mango trees curved along the river's coast in a rain of sunshine. A forest of slender bamboos stretched inland for miles. Birds, ruby, red, dark red and maroon flew between them. Where lilacs grew on vines butterflies alighted. Parrots screeched boorishly. The ibis stood upon a leg and looked trustingly about as the boat glided by. The sound of bell birds followed. Companeros. Stephen lit a tiparillo and beheld from the deck of the boat an orchidaceous land. They breakfasted on fried rice and bananas, grapes and yams. A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and thou. Ahl wilderness and Ursula in it.
Thinking of Ursula he turned from the rail and asked Peter why he thought she found the Hallelujah sect offensive.
"Hallelujah is an authochthonous version of Christianity. No room for missionaries in it. Puts them out business." Stephen smiled at Peter's professional self-righteousness. "What else?" he said.
"Why do you want to know?"
"In case I meet her in the woods and she quizzes me."
Peter shut a scaly eyelid. "She's not Rima, you know."
Stephen glowed. "She'll do."
Peter assumed the mantle of his experience. He puffed out a thoughtfully considered circle from his cigar and said, "Look here, my boy, don't carry a memory of her from out there to in here. just remember that in here memories grow bigger than life and get to seem like the real thing. They're up against a stasis."
Stephen smiled blandly. "I'm going to meet her father. I better get the thing straight."
"Straight?" Peter attacked. "Bichiwung went to heaven and God told him that white man's religion was old and used up. Hallelujah was the new thing. If the Indians were good and faithfully practiced their new religion, God would give them light, strength, and would protect them from their enemies, white man included. Indians insist Hallelujah came directly from God, His gift. So they cut connections and obligations to the missionaries. Can't teach them cross-cultural influences. Hallelujah preaches that only the Indians can go to heaven."
"As nationalistic as all that!"
"Can't say I blame the missionaries for wanting to see the thing buried. Must make a man's stomach turn to see a bunch of ingrates take over his territory."
Peter cut himself a slice of yam. "They believe that Jesus Christ was two people. One was good and one was bad. The good man was Jesus. The bad man was named Christ. There was a schism. Someone killed Bichiwung with kenaima. The followers of Abel vanquished the followers of Christ. Christ went down in defeat and Abel became the first Ackawoi prophet, He died in 1920, not too soon some think." He blinked up at him. "Think you're prepared for Father Aigan now?"
"How come Father Reuchlin lets them practice it?"
"I don't know. You can ask him when you see him." He stuffed the yam in his mouth. "But I can tell you it's feuds like this which keep the jungle hopping."
"Tell me more," Stephen said. Peter squinted at the
sunlight and offered Stephen a yam section.
"What do you want," he said, "a course in jungle theology?"
Stephen took the slice of yam and leaned over the rail of the boat. On the left bank the forest dwindled and rolling savannahs appeared. "Could be looking at the plains of Nebraska," he said. The view was that familiar. On the right were sand dunes, some a hundred feet high. In the distance the grass was dusty and stiff with heat. Beneath the blank blue sky the river was amber. An alligator's head lay on the bank, its rows of teeth a prize. Stephen ate his slice of yam and watched it. Everyone crowded to the rail. An Indian appeared between the trees. He took aim with his bow and struck accurately. The alligator's mouth clamped shut forever. Power turned off. Stephen's slice of yam fell into the river. The boat slid away from the scene.
They arrived in Paradise late in the afternoon. A storm was
blowing in. The shacks leaned towards each other for
comfort. The passengers on the boat dwindled to
thirty. Most would return with the steamer in the
morning. The clergyman with his bundle of Bradbury books and
a nurse disembarked. A group of Makushi children were there
to greet them. The clergyman kissed each one. The
nurse was new. He introduced her. The children shook
hands and gave her flowers. Their parents came
forward. One put his arm around the clergyman's neck and
wept. "Long time
no see," he cried. "We wait boat every week." The clergy poked his tongue into the corners of his mouth. "Long time no see, George," he said in a trembling voice. They gathered themselves together, boxes, steamer trunks, new supplies, books, games for the children, and disappeared into the dusty road.
Stephen and Peter hustled about, getting their equipment off the boat. A man came forward in a bushwanger hat. "Samuel McTaggart," he said. "Professor van de Groot and Dr. Werner?" They shook hands. "I have place ready for you."
"You got Cyrus Mills's message," Peter said.
"Indubitably." He smiled in striking fashion. He wore a loincloth, a khaki shirt and army boots from an army surplus store, and an I.D. bracelet. "You stay with me and wife. In morning I give you breakfast and guides. Now is time to rest and eat. Wife cook all day."
"What gives with Samuel McTaggart?" Stephen asked later.
Peter laughed, "Kind of jolts you, doesn't it. Probably took
the name from'some Scotsman he admired who gave him the I.D.
bracelet. The Indians like to keep their own names to
themselves." Peter pulled a leather belt around the camping
equipment. "If they don't take the name of some man they
like they take the name of a famous person, most often from the
Bible since that's usually the only book they know."
Sure enough in the morning Stephen was introduced to Jonathan, John, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Adam I and Adam II, and Jesse James. Each bowed and said, "I am very pleased to make your acquaintance. I will try to serve you to the utmost of my capacity." Thereafter the talk was in Indian dialect or pidgin English.
Samuel was chief guide and efficient at it. He ran the trading post in Paradise, which his wife and sons managed in his absence. Being a guide worked well for his business. The boat brought goods for his store: beads, fish hooks, cutlasses, sandals, mirrors, rope. He brought back from the Interior hammocks and baskets, herbs and artifacts. Peter went in the first canoe with Samuel, Adam and John. Stephen went in the second canoe with Abraham, Isaac and Jesse. Jacob, Adam II and Jonathan followed in the third canoe. The equipment was loaded into the canoes in the early morning under a cloudy sky. The river was choppy. It was filled with cold pirani, hona shark and electric eels. Stephen kept his hands well inside his canoe,
As soon as they took off, Abraham removed his pants and Jesse took off his shirt. Abraham was in his sixties. He was a grandfather and on his third wife. His torso was aging. He had a loose paunch over deeply buried muscles. He kept an unlit cigarette in his mouth all the while that he paddled, and he wore a necklace of seeds. Isaac's hair was cut short, an inch above the ears, straight and even all around. Itis chest was painted with geometric designs of which he was very proud. He flung off his shirt with every intention of showing off his body paint. Jesse smoked constantly. He kept a cigarette clenched between his teeth and looked like Jimmy Cagney. He wore a necklace of alligator teeth.
The men paddled for six hours without a stop. When they camped for lunch, Stephen learried they had gone twelve miles. "More current than we thought," Peter said. It was a phlegmatic observation. Jonathan killed an haimara with an arrow and they cooked the fish for lunch. Peter and Stephen had a few cans of beer along, but the guides drank paiwai. After lunch the canoeing became harder. The wind blew up, the current ran against them. The river narrowed to about thirty yards and ran swiftly. It was clogged with fallen branches. Quite a few times thev had to stretch out in the bottom of their canoes as it passed under a fallen tree. Once Stephen caught sight of a snake eyeing them from its perch on a low swinging branch as they passed under it. Everyone lay flat, Jesse's cigarette sticking up.
The rain started slowly. The tops of the trees waved delicately in the wind. Then the wind increased and the rain came down with a crash. Peter's canoe disappeared around a bend. Neither could Stephen see the canoe behind his. The river turned dark brown and fish, with wide, grinning teeth, jumped on the waves. The rain fell like an avalanche of pebbles. They dragged the canoe up on the bank and wrapped it in canvas. Abraham, Isaac and Jesse slung their hammocks from trees and pitched a tent of canvas over themselves. Stephen followed their example. They sat in their hammocks and ate cold rice and rations. Even Jesse's cigarette was wet. Abraham began a story. He lay back in his hammock for an hour and half sung, half recited an endless tale. Now and then lightning lit him up, the thunder drowned out his voice. The soaked forest hissed with steam. In a flash of lightning Stephen saw a pair of alien eyes behind Abraham's hammock. His hand went for his dagger, then it went for a tiparillo. But the wind kept blowing his light out. Abraham got out of his hammock and stood in front of him to block the wind. The wordless friendliness made Stephen ache. He offered tiparillos around. Jesse and Isaac took. Abraham declined. "I got religion," he said. He climbed back into his hammock and continued his story for another hour. At the end a voice said:
Yam section. Try again. Eyam section. Again, slower. Iamsurrection. Good. Again. I am the resurrection. Now, you've got it.
Stephen rolled out of his hammock. Isaac and Jesse were asleep. Abraham was asleep too, but he was still story-telling. But those weren't his words. "I am the resurrection and the life. I am, Sir, the resurrection and the life?" Lightning struck somewhere. A tree snarled. Stephen crawled to the canoe. He found the eythylene oil lamp and lit it with an unsteady hand. "Who's there?" he called. Abraham snored. Stephen swung the lamp around. The fish jumped in the river. Their teeth bit his light. The bank was loose beneath his feet. It slipped. He moved away and cast the light into the trees. The rain hissed everywhere. Abraham, Isaac and Jesse slept like the dead, but the voice said, "This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood." The voice was masterful now. Stephen shouted at it, a prolonged yell that bounced about the dark jungle like a beserk goat. The thunder answered. The voice said: "He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter. By his knowledge of death shall my righteous servant justify many." Stephen crawled through the jungle, swinging the lamp through every dark hole and shadow and licking rain from the ground. By luck, before his sanity came to an end, he stumbled into Peter's camp a quarter of a mile down the river. Samuel and Adam beamed at him. "Me good pupil," John said, "me learn good from missionary." He clicked off the tape recorder and grinned, pleased that he had had more of an audience than he had thought. The necklace of alligator teeth gleamed on his neck.
The banks on the way to Via Sacre were overgrown with mocco-mocco, a coarse long grass that grows fifteen feet high. The trees were far back now, but there was less view. The mocco-mocco on each side of the bank was a solid wall as the canoes slid between them. Occasionally a halocanaid butterfly slept on a blade of grass or flew by. The soul leaped, but the thing was past in no time. Stephen decided t ' o keep his camera ready around his neck. By mid-day they saw other canoes and knew they were near Via Sacre.
The Indians called out greetings to them. "Good day, sirs. Please make yourselves welcome at our village."
Their canoes went by swiftly. Flocks of canoes. The movement of a riverine people. The men grinned. Some had bone ornaments in their lips. Some were on their way to hunt peccary and carried bows and arrows. Women sat in the canoes and gave their men wifely, encouraging smiles. Some wore dresses around their arms or had them piled on top of their heads. Some carried babies and nursed them. One girl, unmarried, sat in a canoe and gleamed her teeth at Stephen's boat. Her breasts were still small and brown. She wore only her beaded queyu. She stood up unabashedly to show him her plump figure. He was not unaffected. Jesse and Isaac passed a joke between them. Isaac popped up a cigarette for her to take as their canoes slid by. She leaned across and took it. Her breast touched his hand. He stood up and flexed his chest muscles, rippling his designs at her. The boat got tippy. Stephen barked at him to control himself and to stay on course. Her boat was followed by a missionary in a canoe bearing down swiftly after the others. Two Indians paddled while he balanced himself standing. He carried a Bible and made the sign of the cross over Stephen's canoe as they went by. Stephen aimed his camera and shot a picture of him.
He dreamed of Ursula that night. She stood in a canoe and beckoned to him. Her belly was brown and her hair was blonde. An intoxicating queyu covered her parts beneath her navel. It had an elaborate design on it: a crossword puzzle with a cryptic message worked in beads: INRI. He leaned across to read it. She leaned away from him and fell out of the canoe. Her yellow hair streamed into the amber river.
In the morning they met the Reverend Newton, who had come recently to Via Sacre. He was a young man in his middle twenties, with a blonde, old-fashioned, cherubic face. Until he had arrived the spring before the place had been a deserted mission. Why? Nobody knew. Some said the Indians had killed a Jesuit missionary there a century ago. Reverend Newton, a member of the United Evangelist Church, relayed this with mischievous humor in his eyes. Some said there had been a massacre of the Indians for mysterious reasons. An unholy orgy, a recondite ritual. It was all buried beneath garbled tales and at any rate had happened a long time ago. Via Sacre was now becoming an oasis in the Interior, the healing scab over an old wound. Reverend Newton waved his arm around the Arawak village with its patches of farmed land, chickens, dogs and roosters. Anyone could see that the place's reputation was unjust. The scene was pastoral, if dusty. This was his first mission, but he was confident he would transform the place into an Eden. He said, with a beam of sunshine in his eyes and a tuft of blonde hair waving in the wind, "It is a land flowing with milk and honey. Let us all go up at once and possess it, for we are well able."
He directed them to take a walk about the area. He pointed out a hizh Lrrass-covered dune called Resurrection Mountain and recommended the view from there.
Peter said, when out of ear-shot, "Let's piously hope it didn't earn its name the way Resurrection Valley did." The topic embarrassed him. Stephen courteously did not press for details. He knew the outline. An Indian by the name of Awakaipu had preached the resurrection to the Indians, that if they died they would come back in three days' time with white skins, and if they had white skins and the white man's religion they would have his power. All the tribes sent a thousand Indians each. They met in the Kukenaam Valley at the foot of Mount Roraima. In the Middle Ages people who could read and write were considered to be magicians. In like and reverent spirit Awakaipu presented the Indians with little pieces of pages from The Times as amulets to carry them into the next world. Then with faith they clubbed, hacked and knifed each other to death. They died slowly, resisting help. Watchmen waited for these brethren to rise. Only the vultures appeared. After two weeks, the remnant went after Awakaipu.
They climbed a steep trail through dense mocco-mocco. Stephen kept his tiparillo clamped between his teeth and grasped the grass with his hands, climbing with bent knees. Halfway up, Peter said, "History of an idea from 33 A.D. to 1900. Preaching is a dangerous sport." Stephen did not comment.
On top of the dune, overlooking other dunes, was an old fort and
a church. The fort had been Dutch, the church had been
Lutheran. The fort still had a rusty cannon aimed at the
river below. Peter translated the Dutch words on it.
The church was made of prepared slabs of stone. It was
anybody's guess at what it took to get them there. Much
effort. The words, Ecce Homo, were carved into the arch over
the doorway. The room was small and moist and dark.
There were six benches. The altar was crumbling. A
colony of ants marched across it, bearing the body of a slain
warrior. A mural of Jesus on the cross in faded ochre was
painted on the wall. The plaster was peeling. In the
comers and on the molding cobwebs predominated. A bushmaster
snake lay curled beneath the mural. Stephen stopped at the
doorway. He saw the bushmaster and the bushmaster saw
him. Its tongue flicked with primitive malice. They
moved silently away and shut
Outside a wind blew. Below, the river ran brown beneath them. The view was bleak. The descent went down into a rocky valley where a ton of mountain stone had fallen. Vultures circled over it, searching for a moving rodent. Except for the fort and the church and this small clearing with its antiquated legend, the rest was jungle and stone.
When they came down Reverend Newton asked them how they liked the view up there. He had a particular affection for the place. He had set it aside, he told them, as a retreat. He clasped the Bible in front of him and said, "It is written ye shall seek the Lord in the desert and in the waste places." He grasped their hands in a farewell gesture and prayed that the Lord Jesus Christ watch over their journeying. Stephen squinted at the sun and bit off the end of his tiparillo.
Adam 1, John Jacob and Jonathan came only as far as Via Sacre. They were replaced by guides, Joshua, John Quincy Adams, a young boy of seventeen named David, and a newly married man named Solomon who brought his wife along. She turned out to be the daughter of Abraham's nephew's second wife. Though he had not known of her existence, not having known that his nephew's first wife had died, he was as pleased to see her as if he had been looking for her all his life. Her existence seemed to add to his stature and he took to strutting, his unlit cigarette hanging from his mouth. She sat shyly in the last canoe with a dog in her lap and never looked at the men. Stephen only wondered at the dog. He was getting used to the rest.
"This is the crew until we get to Immanuel?" he, said.
"This is it," Peter said.
For Stephen things remained the same. Abraham, Isaac and Jesse stayed in his canoe, which was fine with him. Their temperaments complimented one another. Jesse was withdrawn, even surly if provoked. He was a married man with several children. He had a patch of ground in Paradise where he raised yams, sweet potatoes and chickens. He was efficient, but responded slowly to polite conversation and always looked waspish when Isaac joked. Isaac was to be married when he came back from this trip. He had a good woman from his tribe picked out, he said, but now that he had seen this one at Via Sacre maybe he would change his mind. He put an edge of glitter to the idea that he was still free to choose that got on Jesse's nerves. Abraham ignored them. He was alert, but his muscles were going. His eye was still good. He could pick out a snake at fifty feet, and he was a seasoned traveller, reliable, not likely to scare easily. He and Samuel knew the river well, where there were inland trails and where there were rapids ahead.
Particularly, Abraham was valuable as a story-teller. Every night, in rain or under stars, Solomon and his wife, Adam II, David, Joshua, John Quincy Adams, Jesse, Isaac, all of them were rocked to sleep by Abraham's stories, partly sung, partly chanted, partly recited. The tradition rarely varied. At night they slung their hammocks, they built a fire, they ate their food, they smoked their cigarettes except for Abraham, and they lay back to listen to his tales.
Solomon and his wife set their hammocks apart from the others. If they stopped in mid-afternoon for a rest, he would build a canopy of palm leaves to shield her from the sun. Stephen asked them to pose for a picture. Solomon's wife put on a dress for the occasion. Solomon adorned his nostrils with a plumage of ostrich feathers. He twined his hair into a long braid and wrapped a vine through it. His chest expanded and he looked as kingly as his namesake. His wife looked tense and serious. She stared into the camera with conscientious, unblinking eyes. Sometimes they giggled at night, which interrupted Abraham's recitation and displeased him.
What he said, Stephen only knew from Peter. Abraham spoke in his native tongue when he gave a recital. Stephen learned that the stories were mostly about his tribe's history: slave raids by the Caribs, kidnappings of their women, wanderings in the jungle in retreat from the white man, wars they had fought with other tribes. When he could, Peter taped Abraham's voice, which delighted Abraham. He would dress for the occasion, put pants over his loincloth, put on a shirt and a string of jaguar's teeth. He knew that the speaking box went back to big cities. The thought of being heard by the high and the mighty of the world was very flattering and he was not beyond hamming it up.
The trip out from Via Sacre was not difficult at first. The current ran with them. The jungle was far away. For two days the view was of savannahs, sandhills of fine, white sand. Though they were travelling in the rainy season and the river was rising, it still kept its course. They came to a series of itabu where the river widens into lakes. The scene was bucolic. The shores were decorated with trees which bore chartreuse blossoms and yellow-green leaves. Cows lay on the banks under them and swished their tails. Birds sat on wide ferns on the water and were carried round and round by the current. Stephen made out the thatched roofs of huts above the high grass. Abraham told him it was a village of Wapisani Indians. "No got religion," he said. "They move far from mission. Disappear." He told them his mother's sister had married a Wapisani Indian and had disappeared for twenty years. One day she re-appeared. She said her husband had died and now she came back to get white man's religion so she could go to heaven to see him.
They stopped at the village. Children and dogs set up a shout. The paiman came down to greet them officially, but he knew only one or two English sentences. "Immanuel there," he pointed up the river. "No mission here." He ordered peccary roasted in honor of the guests. They ate foods tabooed at the missions: eggs gathered from the reptiles, the wild hog, labba, scaleless fish, and drank a great deal of cassiri. The paiman rolled cigarettes and offered them cautiously. They sat in the twilight and smoked.
Peter was generous and gallant. He gave gifts to the women, beads and mirrors. Children came to him like a bee to a flower. For them he had packets of salt, dearly loved by the Indians. The children nuzzled their mouths into it like deer at a salt-lick. They curled into his lap, little balls of aboriginal flesh smelling of grass and bush and brown tropical rivers. Their body incense could bring thoughts of doe-eyed Miriam standing in the river's reeds. Peter nuzzled the children's necks and sniffed the grassy oils from their heads. He -got Abraham to act as interpreter and ask the villagers if they would speak into his tape recorder. Abraham spoke first and let his voice be played back to demonstrate the benignity of the speaking box. The paiman sat crosslegged, smoked his cigarette and listened to Abraham intently. When Abraham was finished the paiman stood up. With a glitter in his eye he made a very long speech. Abraham told them that the paiman said that white man was very clever, he know how to put his voice in a box, but Wapisani Indian can put his voice into anvthing. The paiman then put on a mask of painted wood and with a leap gave them a demonstration of ventriloquism. Voices came from cows, sheep, roosters. They jumped out of the river. They flew from the tongues of birds. They leaped from the throats of dogs. They oozed like scent from the flowers. They escaped low, low, low from the ants on the ground. They dropped screeching from the mouth of a hawk and they soared from the setting sun. They descended from everywhere and came from all sides, from behind trees and leaves, from under stones and from Stephen's throat. Then the paiman took off his mask, looked contemptuously at the tape recorder and walked away.
In the morning the men from the village came to the river's edge to say goodbye. The young boys decorated themselves to have their pictures taken. They greased their hair and put white down feathers in it. A canoe party, with unembarrassed dismay over their departure, trailed them for a distance, their canoes filled with dogs and babies. The scene stayed in Stephen's mind for a long time. He took many pictures of it, but he never saw them developed. He looked back again and again, but within minutes you could not tell the huts from the grass. The village sank into the earth. The grass was so tall that as the third canoe came around a curve, the grass covered over the river with a yellow curtain.
Up ahead the landscape was different. For three days they swirled through cataracts and rapids. Oncejoshua fell out of his boat and scrambled in again an inch ahead of the snapping mouth of an alligator. He became sick over his narrow escape and vomited for an hour. At night he said that he had had enough. John Q. Adams and David were impressed with his arguments. Samuel challenged their integrity. He disciplined them verbally. Joshua quieted down. They went on, but the idea of insurrection was added to their load.
Frequently they had to build makeshift bridges and drag their equipment over cataracts and falls. Twice they were forced to go inland and carry the canoes on their heads, their equipment on their backs, while they cut a trail through matted courida. On those days in twelve hours of slashing, cutting and hacking, they journeyed two miles. The road to Immanuel was rougher than Stephen could have imagined. And always the fear of the bushmaster snake camouflaged in the roots and the vines haunted everyone. For this the dog was invaluable. He ran ahead and barked at every living thing except the smaller beasts that were depriving Stephen of his sanity. Ants feasted on his body, no matter how he pinned down his clothes. They got into his hunting boots and crawled under his socks. They got into the legs of his pants and inside his underwear. They crawled inside his ears. Flies and mosquitos rode on the sweatbeads that dropped from his face. Once he heard a buzzing and thought a wasp was sitting on his neck. It was a bushplane signalling to them. It swooped low. The pilot waved gaily to them and made a gesture that said, "Hey, crazy, man," and flew away.
Stephen hit his neck as if the wasp had been there and scanned the sky. "How about that?" he said. He picked up a clump of matted courida he had just hacked out of the earth and threw it into the air. The plane shook its tail at him.
Peter, unperturbed, sat on a rock and tried to set a battery in the tape recorder. His intrepidity didn't warm the cockles of Stephen's heart. Stephen could have followed Peter into hell out of admiration and faith in his grit alone, but it would never teach him to call hell heaven. Peter preached the Interior. If one suggested that it was less than one had expected, it was an indictment against the pedagogue himself. The gulf widened in their judgments about reality.
Not that there wasn't recompense, sights that could not be seen from any other vantage point. One had to cut through tangled roots or wander lost in a bamboo forest for the privilege of seeing the dance of the cock-of-rock.
One day, Solomon on bent knees, a finger to his lips to caution silence, waved them over to a clearing behind some granite boulders. There on a level patch of circular ground about three feet in diameter were nine male birds, each the size of a pouter pigeon. In color, flaming orange with yellow tails. They stood in a circle and performed a dance meant to be seen only by their coveted female. Solomon quietly pressed down a bush so that his wife could see them. Underneath the leaves stood the female bird, expectant, receiving the gift of the flaming plumage and the dance of the male birds. Never again would Stephen see such a sight. In captivity, they lose their color and do not dance.
They passed huge granite boulders overgrown with lichen and moss, but Abraham and Samuel knew what lay beneath the growth. Samuel drew pictures in the sand on the river's edge and pointed to the boulders that hung a hundred feet above them. Peter decided it was worth while to stop for the morning and investigate. Abraham and Isaac led the way. Isaac went up like a mountain goat. When they got to the top and scraped away the moss they saw legible drawings of hunters, boars, fishermen and hieroglyphics carved into the rock. Tumatumari, the rocks were called: sleeping rocks. Isaac was proud to discover that some of the designs were like those on his chest.
Peter asked how they knew the rocks were there. Samuel swung his arm to indicate the terrain. "All Indians know. In old days, Indians have big, big village here. Now is only rock left."
"How long ago was that?" The question was futile. The Indians do not reckon time. But Samuel wanted to be agreeable. He knew the white man's proclivity for answers. He scratched his head, shrugged his shoulders and said, "Eight, twelve, fifteen." Stephen made a drawing of the rock and tried to ascertain its location. He judged it to be about 4'20'. In three days' time he was more precise; the rock was a three days' 'ourney by canoe from Christmas cataract.
Schomburgk named it in 1835 because he spent Christmas there among the guides who brought him to the spot. Celebrating the holiday in a wilderness, Schomburgk made it a point to give his guides extra measures of rum and sugar.
Peter stood at the edge of the great, green fall and thought about Schomburgk in the jungle at Christmas. How agreeable it was, the conjunction of so many virtues: the indefatigable warrior-explorer retaining his religiousity so far from home among people who knew nothing of his traditions. Stephen stood next to Peter and peered over the fall with him, but Peter savored the anecdote privately. Stephen knew the place, having worked over all of Schomburgk's maps.
The Interior had its rewards, seas of floating gardens, pools of lillies, waterfalls that fell a hundred feet where white birds danced in the spray, puzzling trails that went nowhere, reminders of lonely heroism, footsteps that were still warm on the ground and beckoned the spiritually hungry. Peter, unlike Stephen, could anticipate them. He had been through the experience before. He was sure he would be justified. He simply ignored the going when it was rough or mindlessly monotonous. His stoicism rested on this: he found antinomous feelings intolerable and ignored the universe when it gave signs of arousing such. He loved virginal beauty and was prepared to pursue it. It reminded him of that perfection of nature which had been promised to him: the lillies toil not, neither do they spin.
For the next half week they made two miles a day. John Q. and Adam became sullen. They did not like the lack of progress. It meant falling rations, possibly hunger. Insurrection hung in the air. Jesse caught a fever and became useless. He couldn't paddle or carry his load. They put him in the third canoe where he lay -dn the bottom and moaned. Stephen was anxious and Peter was reassuring. Solomon and his wife took Jesse's place in Stephen's canoe and the dog came along. He sat on his mistress's lap and looked sharp-eyed.
For two days they moved through a shallow, swamp-like river
overgrown with bush. It was only ten yards wide. Ants,
centipedes and spiders sat on the grass and crawled on the surface
of the unmoving river. It was the end of the dry season and
the river had fallen to its lowest point. It was almost
entirely mud and almost impossible to trace its course. In
two weeks' time they had gone
fifty miles. Not an inch on a map, Stephen thought. The humidity rose from the ground. Nothing moved. Moisture, pressure and loneliness abounded.
Their canoes stuck in an alligator colony. Samuel and Peter held a discourse on the matter. Stephen took out a tiparillo and lit it. By this time he was indifferent to the centipedes and the ants and figured he had won his confidence badge. The dog yipped at the alligators as they slipped by, their eyes rotating in their heads. Stephen looked down at the red end of his tiparillo and reflected on love, fate, death and Ursula: how in hell's name had she made the trip?
"Trust a missionary to find a way," Peter said, "probably dropped from a plane."
An alligator winked at Stephen. Stephen tipped his tiparillo to him. The insouciance hit Peter wrong. Stoicism was one thing, levity was another. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" he called over.
"What you got in mind?"
"Get your gun and start shooting. If I think of something else I'll let you know." He picked up his rifle and shot to death one, two, three, six alligators. Their tails struck out against the sun, their teeth bit the foaming water. One head sank beneath Stephen's boat, its mouth grinning at him. The river turned red and foamed. Then it was quiet. They watched the river for a long time. Sweatbeads gathered on Abraham's neck. "O.K., get the boats on to dry land," Peter said.
"You got them all?" Stephen asked.
"In my opinion, yes."
Stephen looked at the foamy water. Nothing did move. He had a wi ld thought of what it would be like to gamble wrongly on Peter's judgment, but it was hard to beat his faith. He turned t Solomon, Abraham and Isaac. "Let's go," he said. Abraha scratched his ear and looked queerly at him, which turne Stephen sour. By now he knew the Indian's respect for safet Adventure, as a spiritual activity, was foreign to them. His orde stretched their confidence in him. "No, go, man," Abraha said. It's a bad sign when your guide contradicts you. Stephen bi the end of his tiparillo. "You heard what the boss man said."
Peter took off his sunglasses and wiped his brow on his sleeve. "Don't call me that," he said. The resentment came up from his toes. Stephen could not misunderstand. He said in a conciliate voice, "There's no telling what's underneath that brown water. Who's going to be the first man in, Peter? I won't ask my men."
Peter looked at the dog. Solomon's wife shrank away. Peter wiped his brow again. "Explain to her he'll be in no danger. We'll shoot anything that moves at it." Stephen did not envy Peter's leadership. He told Abraham to assure the girl that there would be no danger to the dog. She was not convinced. The men became argumentative. The water was still. They argued that that was on their side. Solomon suggested they could sit it out until it rained. Peter became impatient. His eyes snapped at the dog. Jesse got the cue. He popped up a cigarette and offered it to Solomon's wife, keeping a running conversation with her on the pros and cons of the matter. She reached for the cigarette. He grabbed the dog from her lap. Solomon moved to prevent him and fell out of the boat. Peter took aim and fired immediately. Solomon scrambled furiously for half a minute. Then his eyeballs turned upwards. Abraham reached for his outstretched hand. Peter fired a thousand times. Solomon disappeared from view. The grin of an alligator's head sank with him.
Twilight settled on the red water. The sky fell. The air turned wet and cold. Solomon's wife lay unconscious in the bottom of the canoe. Her dog rested in her lap.
They dropped anchor and sat it out until daylight. All night they heard the movement of animals. Pairs of green eyes, jaguars and tapirs, came to the water's edge and stared at them. Joshua whispered to the others that he had had enough, the water was possessed by spirits. Peter remembered that it was about here that Schomburgk's men refused to go further and had persuaded him to turn back. Not to go further now would be pointless. Peter lit a cigar, but they did not speak to each other. A rim of light in the east appeared, but the sky was heavy with rain. Hope stirred. Abraham looked up at the sky too. His face had aged through the night. "What say?" Stephen said. Abraham scanned the sky. "It rain byanby."
The only sign of regret that Peter gave was that he asked Stephen what Abraham had said.
They sat for half a day under a lead-colored sky. Joshua's whispering went on, though for the time being it was inconsequential. Not he nor anyone else was going to get out of the boats to look for an overland trail, though they were down to two days' worth of astronaut rations. Now and then an alligator went by.
The sun came and it went. It pulsed behind clouds. Once it even glowed. Stephen's spirits sank. Then the sun turned gray as if a tornado blew across its path, and the rainy season began. The rain fell for eight hours without stopping.
By night the river had risen enough to move them off the mudbank, but they waited for morning. By then the swamp was gone and the river had broadened to a hundred and fifty yards. The current moved with them, but they had only one day's supplies left. It did not matter how far they were from Immanuel. They could be five miles away around the bend of the river and it could take them a week to get there. Distance, Stephen had learned, was eccentric.
That night they camped along the muddy banks. Solomon's wife squatted on her knees and rubbed earth into her thighs and arms. Samuel and David built a platform in the river from which they tried to spear fish. They caught two, which cheered everyone. But in the morning, Joshua, Adam II, John Q. and Jesse were gone, along with what was left of their rations, four cutlasses, four hammocks, an assortment of other implements and Stephen's tiparillos. Samuel apologized for their behavior. He told them there was a path to the Essequibo from where they were which they must have taken. He hesitated. Then he said, "Is best we go too." Peter did not blink an eye. He put his arm around Samuel's neck and sai i ' "I think we've seen the worst, Samuel. I wouldn't tell you to go on if I didn't think we couldn't make it."
"No food," Samuel said.
"That's right," Peter said, "but it will be the same if we take the path to the Essequibo. No matter what direction we take we might not have food. But we know the river has fish. Who knows what we'll find if we go inland."
Doubt would have ended the trip. Peter was firm. He drained them of every drop of loyalty and faith that he could. Then he reminded them of their agreement: he would not pay unless they completed the trip.
Samuel and Abraham consulted each other about what to do. They talked openly about Peter and Stephen, weighing their merits and demerits, whether they were honorable leaders or not, whether they would be dishonorable if they deserted them, what it would do to the reputation of the guide business. Reluctantly Samuel and Abraham loaded what was left of the equipment into the two canoes, but it was clear that integrity had won out over conviction.
It took three days to reach Immanuel. Luck was with them. They were able to catch fish and on one evening David shot a duck with his arrow. It was to Peter's credit that they had gone beyond Schomburgk, a feat that would likewise find its way into a record. The mission lay around the bend of the river in the armpit of a cataract that spit them into the village.
It is one of the expectations of jungle travel that when you meet a white man in it he will have a story to tell about himself. What's he doing here? That's the question.
No such question surrounds the man living on 84th and Lexington. But be his guest for dinner in a palm -thatched benab in a Wais-Wais village at the source of the Berbice and the question hangs in the air like a bat from a tree. A tasty dinner, a bottle of rum and everyone is ready for a tale. Stephen and Peter were entertained that night in jungle style and treated to forty years of news by Father Reuchlin.
Samuel, Abraham, David and Isaac jumped from the canoes with relief. New guides surrounded Stephen and Peter with watchful eyes, sizing up their masters for the coming journey. James, the head guide, singled himself out. He was a long, stringy man with elongated muscles in his thighs and calves, long narrow feet and toes that dug the ground. His hair was straight, slickly oriental, cut even to the earline. He wore beaded armbands, a necklace of alligator teeth and a leather thong over his chest to carry arrows.
Within six minutes after their arrival, Samuel, Abraham, David and Isaac discovered relatives and friends, a cousin of a cousin married to a cousin, the second wife of an uncle who had run away with the brother of the husband of an aunt. Their connections seemed legionary and infinite and they gloried in them. They spent the first night drinking cassiri and knitting up old relationships. Roosters squawked under their feet and chickens ran in all directions like nervous news carriers. Three women took charge of Solomon's wife and led her away to ?- iiut. Father Reuchlin, pear-shaped, the nose and mouth of John XXIII, welcomed them and suggested they rest for the afternoon. On the whole, Stephen thought, looking up at the village of neat benabs and patches of cultivated ground, arrival was anticlimactic, considering the journey they had just mastered. Except that the benabs were roofed with palm leaves and some were open on two sides, the view could have been that of a village tucked into a fold of the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1749 with a sleepy river winding through it. No surprise on anyone's face that two canoes of men had traversed a river of alligators, sharks, electric eels and pirani and come jumping a cataract into their village. Precisely, it is the nature of jungle life to mix up the proportions of ordinary to extraordinary. At the end of the larger-than-life adventure is a village of earnest men and women raising turkeys, hunting dogs and yams. Immanuel was a small, very old civilization.
Besides, the bush pilot had already spread the news that they were coming, had given their location, etc., and had dropped via parachute some goodies, a note to Reuchlin that said, "Expect visitors for dinner," and a note from Mills to Peter and Stephen: "If you've come this far, congratulations! Carry on." Stephen and Peter were shown to the hut where their things were stored for them and where they would stay. There were tins of meat, dried fruit, medicine, lotions for insect bite, snakebite and arcane poisons, a can of apricot jam, a bottle of rum packed in absorbent cotton and palm leaves, three back issues of Playboy, a box of cigars and a box of tiparillos.
"Blessed are those who fly bush planes in the jungle," Peter said.
"Amen to that," Stephen said. He took out a tiparillo, lit it and took a deep drag. They unrolled their hammocks and hung them up. Peter lay down with two copies of Playboy for a pillow and blew smoke rings at the roof. Stephen hung up his camping mirror and looked into it. He had a blonde beard. The sight of it gave him great pleasure. "Son of a gun," he said to himself. He decided to leave it until he got back to the coast. "Wanna bathe?" he said to Peter.
"Why not?" He rolled luxuriously out of his hammock. They unpacked clean clothes and raced each other down to the river, found a private piece of shore where the Indian men swam, and jumped in, cigars and all.
Lianas looped from tree to tree. Gorlings and blue butterflies flew between them. A bald-headed cotinga called raucously, llmwaaar, myaaar, mwaaar." Stephen floated on his back and let paradise close over him. The Capparis trees, timekeepers of jungle life, broke out into their afternoon blossoms. The yellow river lightened. White buds appeared where there had been green trees. The four o'clock sun was kind.
Stephen and Peter rubbed each others' backs and returned through grassy lanes to their hut for a nap. Dark-skinned girls, naked to their belts, walked by, tending goats. Most were shy and nodded only formally. One was bold and flashed a smile. Her breasts were tiny, her nipples like brown berries, her belly soft. Stephen's heart leaped. Peter put a fatherly arm around his shoulder.
"You got any girlfriends back home?" he asked.
"A few," Stephen said, "why?"
"Do me a favor," Peter said, "when you get back marry one of them.
They sank into their hammocks. Peter was asleep in thirty seconds. Stephen tried to stay awake and read an issue of Playboy. The magazine dropped from his hands and he was asleep in five minutes. His hammock swayed voluptuously. Naturally, he dreamed of Ursula. She peered at him with yellow eyes over the bank of the yellow river. He ran across a meadow of Capparis blossoms. Goats ran with him. The white buds flowed in drifts before their feet. He reached the bank and knelt towards her and held the river in his arms. The goats drew their lips over their teeth and laughed soundlessly.
He woke, stood in the doorway to the hut and looked at the vi 'llage through her eyes. Women sat under their roofs and grated cassava roots. Babies crawled on the ground and poked fingers into the eyes of dogs. Hunting bows hung from the rafters, pots, woven plates, hammocks, baskets. What feeling for the deficiencies in their lives or aspirations for a spiritual one for them brought her here? Would he believe it was the word of God? Peter, of course, was familiar with the idea that the missionary and the church were co-created, evangelism and Christianity inseparable, like Christianity and western civ. You can't have one without the other. The missionary could be found anywhere, clinging like coral to a rock in the ocean or squatting like cactus in the desert. A universal religion has its logistical problems as well as its rewards. "The world is my parish." St. Peter's is small compared with that. Christianity moved out of the churchyard and followed the trail of Fray Matolinia with conquistador and explorer. How far back does the idea of wilderness go, anyway? As Stephen was to learn, its presence was religious before it was anthropological.
Stephen wondered as well how Father Reuchlin got to Immanuel. Mind could not conjure him in a canoe or lowering from a helicopter. There was nothing of the athletic missionary about him swinging axes, felling trees, building schoolhouses. His brow and 'aw heavy Germanic-Itallanate, no lean Francis or hungry Anthony, he looked homely, domestic and trustworthy.
Peter joined Stephen in the doorway. "Quiet town," he said. He suggested they get a guide and take a walk before dinner, "see what the suburbs look like." Stephen checked his camera for film. They found Isaac in a coy mood, sitting in the center of a circle of girls. When asked to accompany them, he leaned over his knees and said meanly, "Big feet in jungle." Peter took the cigar out of his mouth, annoyed, wet end soggy. "What's that supposed to mean?" Isaac grunted at his ignorance. "Feet in forest." He stood up and did a little dance to show his joy that his contract with Peter and Stephen had terminated just in time. "Whole village say feet in forest make kenaima." Then he sat down again. "You go New River alone. Me going to sit right here and be and listen for news of you." He laughed and stuck a cigarette in his mouth.
Stephen focused his camera on the girls. He spotted the bold one with the small breasts. "Smile," he said. "What do you make of it?" he said to Peter.
"Don't know. Let's find James and have a chat."
James sat squat-legged on the ground in front of his hut, putting a metal tip on an arrow. He confirmed Isaac's story. A week ago he had been in a hunting party and had seen the footprints, but he smiled. "No kenaima, " he said. He put a finger against his forehead to show that he thought kenaima was in the minds of simple men. Peter was alert. "Why aren't you afraid, James?" he said. James rattled loose a little cross he wore among his alligator teeth. "Me now Christian for two years." They persuaded him to drop what he was doing and guide them up a trail.
In five minutes they were out of Immanuel. The demarcation between village and jungle was that sudden. Stephen and Peter perceived that a small clearing was all that the Wais-Wais villagers could claim for security. Growth was abrupt and immense. The sun disappeared. It was a yellow blur two hundred feet up the column of a slimy trunk. There was a bad odor in the air. Vultures were flying downriver, their necks stretched to inhale the odor. Moss was so thick sounds were absorbed, their voices muffled. But everywhere was a sense of animals, bushcows, tapirs, hogs moving warily, rodents scurrying into holes. James loped through the thicket on the balls of his feet, his body bent from the waist over his long legs. The ground was green, spongey and unsavory. Within five minutes their shirts were wet. No river to guide them, the twenty miles overland to New River would be a different reality.
They found the first footprint six hundred yards from the village. It was long, narrow, delicate in shape, the toes prehensile-looking. Stephen took a dozen pictures of it. "What do you think?" he said.
Peter took the cigar out of his mouth. "Animal or man. So what else is new? In this case I'd prefer it to be an animal. If kenaima is suspected in the village we may lose our guides." And Peter was goddamned annoyed. For the first time Stephen saw that on his face: impatience with the native system; ambition thwarted by primitive pessimism. Peter said: "In a curious way James is right when he says it's in the mind. Kenaima makes sophisticated use of psychology. No simple matter of killing a man. First his soul is sucked out." He crouched down and blew some stray sand from the print. He instructed Stephen so that he would understand all the ramifications. "The avenger befriends his victim, shows him kindnesses, flatters him. It's when the victim least suspects his doom that the avenger strikes." He looked up. His eyes said: this may sound melodramatic but you better dig it, the situation could be grave. Nor was he assuaged b@ James's attitude. "A few years ago," he jerked his head surreptitiously in his direction, "he would have been paralyzed with terror. Now he's not only not afraid, he's indifferent." James stood by the trunk of a tree, dignified and unshaken, not even curious. It was impressive.
The lighting was not good. Stephen slipped a filter over the lens of the camera and jockeyed it in front of his eyes. "Is that good or bad?" he said.
Peter was not interested in making the trip out of Immanuel into a religious test. In the jungle he preferred the pagan's expertise. He shrugged his shoulders. "Conquest of fear is always good." He chewed the wet end of his cigar and tried to puzzle out the implications of the print, "but is it smart to be indifferent?" They examined the ground together for another hundred yards and in a sandy patch at the end of a growth of moss they found another print. Peter got up off his knees and wiped the sweat from his brow with his arm. "Welcome to kenaimaland, heartland of jungle life." It was not said with special anxiety because he was an outsider, and as an anthropologist it gave him a fruitful opportunity, except for the practical effects it might have on his guides. But neither did he say it with relish because no one likes a creepy situation.
It was the first topic of conversation that night, among a dozen others.
"So you've heard the village news," Father Reuchlin said. He looked massive in cassock and cap, and quite authentic. He had a remnant of reddish hair, but it was best to describe him as bald-headed. The forehead predominated. His homeliness was subversive. It made him look as if he lacked seriousness. His intelligence came as a surprise. Against a back wall stood a refectory table with a cross and a Bible on it. Also piles of notes, books, plants planted or uprooted, specimens of spiders and butterflies surviving in solutions. Books were scattered on the floor, piled in corners. The room seemed more dormitory than domicile, academia in disarray. A highboy and an embroidered sampler, God is Love, gave the room nostalgia and domesticity.
They came in out of a heavy rain, grateful that the hut was closed on four sides. "European man's obsession with privacy," Father Reuchlin said, welcoming them in. "In forty years I haven't learned to shake it, though I can shoot a bow and sleep in a hammock." They were embarrassed: he didn't look the type to do either. He surmised he was a curiosity. He wasn't offended. He allowed his comments to serve as introduction to himself. His smile was complex: apologetic, shrewd, and kindly. It had been six years since he had had guests for dinner. Ursula never did him the honor. Wouldn't sit at a table with his grand-daughter in the same room. Never said so. But he knew it. Not that Ursula was a racist. On the contrary, as she said: "If I were would I bother to Christianize them." It was him, the grand-daughter-maker she had objected to. Such verbal play was what had sent him to the jungle forty years ago in search of linguistic simplicities. For the most part the wilderness had restored him to native verbal innocence. Except for that incident with Ursula he forgot how unstable language is. He had no sense of irony, which would have cheapened his pessimism, and which kept him from getting cleverly crabbed. A further acquiescing smile said much: habits of adaptability were not dependable. Love bumped against the psychology of oneself. God is love and man is a bundle of nerves, kneejerks, neuroses, hangups, repulsions, retreats, psychic anathemas. Break, break theyself upon the stone of thyself. Father Reuchlin had two long creases in his cheeks that ran along the sides of his nose to below his lips. He waved his hand around the room as if he considered it an addiction. A four-sided house establishes a different relationship to the world than a two-sided house. Geometry gets to be psychological. Books were piled up for lonely seasons, the European impulse, the defense of the intellectual. Shelter was largely symbolic because any bushcow could have knocked the hut down. No protection against snakes and bats as Stephen could tell, spying out a few massive cobwebs in the corners with indescribable insects clutching the threads. A likewise indefinable shaggy dog panted in a corner, name of Barney. He had the head and coloring of a St. Bernard, the body of a Dalmatian and the ears of a cocker spaniel.
In spite of it all, the hut emanated a regal civility on a rainy night. A square table stood in the center. Candles were lit. Stephen and Peter tried not to show their curiosity about Father Reuchlin's adjustment or lack of it, their desire to trace the sutures between the civilizations. But Father Reuchlin was sensitive to anomalies, himself among others. Conscious of his role as host and guide through this little civilization he had made for himself, he said, "The dividing line is clothes, cigarettes and metal pots." He laughed. "One might have hoped for something more spiritual."
Three servants were there to wait on them. One was a young boy of fourteen who wore a loincloth, a khaki shirt, alligator teeth and a cross. It was his job to go from the hut to the outside somewhere and bring back platters of food. In deference to his guests Father Reuchlin had decided not to cook the meal over his earth stove which smoked on wet nights. Moreover, the hospitality was abundant. A middle-aged woman with oily black hair to her shoulders had the sharp-eyed look of chief housekeeper in an important establishment. As it turned out, she was the first wife to the paiman. Her pendulous breasts lay flat on her brown, boney rib cage. But conscious of her merits, status and sharp tongue she was indifferent to loss of beauty and youth. The third servant was the bold girl with the small breasts. She wore scarlet feather earrings. Stephen was delighted and alarmed. A topless dinner. Peter was right. When in the jungle, shed. She leaned over his shoulder and set down in front of him a whole fish, including the head and an orchid in its mouth. His shoulder burst into flame. Outside a nightbird sang a love song in the rain. Her proclivities were known to others. The paiman's wife pushed her with her hip.
"Pay attention," Peter said.
"To what?" Stephen sat up-
"Father Reuchlin thinks there are tribal movements out in the jungle, perhaps Ackawoi moving further into the interior."
Stephen scratched his beard. He wondered if the girl spoke English and if he looked impressive. Father Reuchlin paddled over to the highboy. "Besides the footprints, we've found these," he said. They were steel arrowheads, six inches long.
"No rude implement that," Peter said.
"One reason to believe the footprints are made by people on the move from coastal civilization. You have to buy these in a store. "
"The village seems convinced it's kenaima," Peter said.
Father Reuchlin sat down. "You know, they're usually right about those things."
"Does it mean someone in the village is marked. It must be hard for you to think that," Stephen said.
He smiled kindly to a naive comment. "Yes, I'd prefer not to think that. "
Stephen was surprised at his passive acceptance of a superstition. Father Reuchlin raised an unoffended eyebrow on behalf of his mission. "You think it's hocus pocus?" He had stopped reading articles about Indian life a generat' ion ago. Their authors were courteous, tolerant, sympathetic, but unbelievers. Belief created its own logic. What conversation could follow: Sir, I respect your right to believe in a virgin birth, but as for me; or, of course, you believe in evil spirits and we encourage you to do so. It's part of your Indian rights. It was natural that in living away from Europe for forty years he had spent time thinking about the civilization he had left. He had collected a few simple rules about it. One of them was that controversies are most meaningful to those who are asked to die for them. Some seek martyrdom, and some have it thrust upon them. Either way the event is an illuminating one. He discovered that one afternoon when he found an Ackawoi arrow sticking into his ribs and was made part of the tribal furies. Raids are always quick. Raiders have no respect for tribal boundaries and old agreements. The technique is ancient stealth. Without so much as the warning of a cracked branch, the Ackawoi stampeded into the village, left six dead and carried off seven. No one liked to think about what happened to these. He drew the arrow out of his ribs slowly. It took several years, thinking all the time how the feuds of the Indians strike everyone but the Indians as a form of philosophical entertainment, and that anything that died, except an evil human spirit, was sanctified by its agony. Given such egalitarian pessimism, inevitably he married: their past, their future, their tribal boundaries, their history. Their destiny being his, he suffered a loss of philosophical direction. He played with such puzzles as: Wyclif was burned posthumously for translating the Bible. Would that make sense to a Hindu? and if not, what does it mean? He took a helping of cassava pudding and put it on his plate. He said to Stephen, to put the matter in a sophisticated way: "The Indians believe that retaliation is a law of life. They see to it that it's carried out ritualistically. Sometimes I think that most of what the rest of the world calls justice is a variation on this.
But Peter was in a playful mood. The subject appealed to his sense of the macabre and he knew the subject so well. "It's all suitably gruesome," he said to Stephen, "just the sort of thing one expects from jungle justice, uncannily clever. The avenger never actually kills his victim, he provides the conditions for dying." His familiarity with jungle life allowed him to be playful with its clich6s. He said his bit with amusement, pedagogical and coy. "He drugs him and breaks his bones or rubs his pores with poison. He puts a piece of poisoned splinter through his tongue so that the victim cannot call for help or name his murderer, and so on and so on. "
Stephen had read Peter's text on the subject. As a matter of fact, some of the phrasing sounded familiar. But in the real situation he felt unprotected. He twirled the orchid in his hand. Peter said without conviction, "We're lucky to have James."
Father Reuchlin chuckled. "Occasionally Christianity comes in handy.
Keeping score of the losses and gains in Christianity was one of the aspects of Peter's trade, but he didn't tackle openly in the field. He recognized a helping hand. If it weren't for Immanuel they might still be floundering in an alligator swamp. Gratitude was graceful. He took olit a cigar and offered one to Father Reuchlin. He sniffed it generously, but returned it. "I'm not opposed on principle. I have bronchitis."
"The humidity here doesn't help that," Peter said. The tone was sympathetic. He was dependent upon Father Reuchlin for guides and for guidance in the matter.
"It only gets bad at night," Father Reuchlin said. "And then this being the rainy season I have to be careful." He thumped his chest and wheezed convincingly. The hazards of jungle life. He often asked himself if when Jesus said: Follow me, did he have in mind a foot trail in Guyana? "Send me a box when you get back to the coast. I'll save it for the dry season."
"Let me leave you a dozen," Peter said.
"No, no, you have a long trip ahead of you." His smile blended prescience and kindness. "If you haven't got religion a good cigar is useful for nerves, low spirits and homesickness." He put the tips of his fingers together. "When you get to the Mission of the True Cross - " He paused, he looked drowsy for a moment, he flicked a piece of dust from his cassock. "And I have no doubt you will get there Father Algan will be more instructive about doctrinaire matters than I can be. I tend to lose such arguments. My reputation is not good." His smile suggested something fatally complex. "Father Aigan will probably tell you that I have gone native. Whatever that means." He brushed the cap on hi@ head and straightened out the few red hairs. The gesture defined him. It said: I am an overweight, old man who likes to read books, collect butterflies and plants. Occasionally I create a hybrid. I know a little medicine and a great deal of theology, most of it casuistical, Which are my credentials for mingling my blood with theirs.
The servants stood behind their chairs holding trays heaped with pineapple, roasted meats, fish, sweet potatoes. The bold girl supported her tray against her waist. Atop the pineapples her breasts rested like cherries.
"You see," Father Reuchlin said. He waved a hand at
her. "My grand-daughter." Stephen's chin sank penitentially
on his chest. The question flew on to his plate.
"Would it be impertinent to ask?" "Not at all," Father Reuchlin
said, "we always do." And rightly so. "Mine is a dull
story." That was said out of politeness. Actually, the facts
never ceased to amaze him. "1935. In Bavaria,
in my small town of Schverlieben. I defended a Hebrew translation of the Bible." Peter raised an eyebrow. Not enough tinder in that to spark a man down a 'ungle trail. He suffered from the rational man's hubris. "How could that get anyone into trouble?" he said. Stephen knew enough not to react one way or the other.
Father Reuchlin clicked his teeth goodnaturedly. "The history of Christianity is the history of translations. I thought the Bible should be read in its native language. Plato in Greek, Virgil in Latin, Isaiah in Hebrew. I was accused of minimizing German." The drift was now clear. His grand-daughter sallied forth with the pineapples, going from plate to plate. Stephen took the top piece. "I was accused," Father Reuchlin said, "of minimizing German and maximizing Hebrew. I was accused of being unpatriotic."
"Absurd," Peter said.
Father Reuchlin gave him his best pontifical look and wagged a
finger at him. "You would have trouble making your way
through the thicket of men's souls. Reason is a bad
guide. I was
accused of worse things. I was accused of being in the pay of Jewish bankers. I was accused of spreading seditious ideas." The drift was very clear by now. He said, "I was accused of being Jewish. "
Stephen felt the floodlight on him. Center stage again, he thought. Peter said "absurd" again. Stephen passed up comment on that. It was too complicated in any language. The rain thundered on the roof. The paiman's wife set down a pot of steaming soup. Her breasts swung like emptied wineskins. Father Reuchlin sat back in his chair and succumbed to the 'oys and sorrows of reminiscing. "I was twenty-three. Bookish, badly bookish. Very fat and very bookish. It's a bad combination for a youth. Bound to get you in trouble." An irrelevant detail came to mind. He fished under his cassock and took out a watchfob. "I took that with me when I left. Bought it on a hiking trip through the Alps." He wound it up. "The Indians call it the tick tick thing from far away." He put it back in his pocket. "Still keeps remarkable time." He went back to eating his food.
Was he going to desert them in the middle of the tale?
"You left us hanging over a cliff," Peter said.
"Over the ministry, to be exact," Father Reuchlin said. "Yes, I was just wondering how to proceed." He looked up and smiled. "What to leave out and what to confess to. It doesn't all redound to my credit." His eyes clouded over in proof of this. But he went "My situation had become something of a cause celebre. I had been used to a monkish room, night-table, desk and bed. I found the publicity painful. My parents had died when I was twelve. An epileptic uncle raised me. He was a difficult person for his day. I'm afraid he left me with a permanent compulsion to withdraw. He was brilliant and moody, starved for companionship and afraid of people. We had in common books. We walked and we talked. He had theories about everything: how Hannibal had managed his elephants, why Napoleon kept his arm in his jacket, how the Red Sea had parted, why the Greeks had developed mathematics. He was a great wonderer. He spoke Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Chinese and Old English. He left me afflicted with a talent for language and the need to hear an idea in its original cadence; music and timing and rhythm and accent being part of an idea. One rainy night he died as he feared he would. A fit seized him while he was on his way home. He fell down, his head hit a rock, his nose and mouth sank into the puddle. He had always lived with this fear. I and a pastor were the only ones at the funeral. The town thought it was just as well he had met his end. Except for a milkmaid who watched from across the field. She brought us some wine to drink when the service was over.
Stephen and Peter knew the rest. Of course, he had fallen
in love with the milkmaid. Was she the reason for his
leaving? The candlelight shone on his embarrassed
face. He scrambled for a handkerchief under his
cassock. His head flipped back, fetching for a sneeze.
"The rainy season," he said breathlessly. "You must be
careful. The whole countryside seems to shift about." He
finally got out the sneeze. "We thought of fleeing. I
wanted to defend myself, free speech, freedom of translation,
Greek, Hebrew, scholarship, humanism, intelligence, reason,
history, wiisdom." He was rendered helpless by a twitch in his
nose. He said through a mucous-muffled voice, "I asked for a
trial. Some small translations I had made were burned.
My position at the university was attacked. Parents demanded
my removal. One night my room was broken into, and so
on. Well, trials take time. Mine was postponed from
one month to the next. An election interferred, a
demonstration, and so on. Nature, as you know, postpones
nothing." That's fate. Some things come on time, while
others don't. He blew his nose very hard. He didn't
concede loss of responsibility. He said he knew he had had a
choice between her and them, even as western civilization and the
birth of her baby raced to the finish line. "I have since
discovered the Indians have no word for such categories and I do
not miss them. In those days women in her position took
their lives. Here we defend ourselves against marauding
tribes, poisonous snakes and animals. The Indians do not
know what an evil idea is. You cannot explain it to
them. If you say it is like an evil spirit, they think it is
an enemy who makes kenaima. I have learned from them to
simplify my language." He succeeded in clearing his nose to his
satisfaction and folded up his handkercheif into a neat square and
put it away. "So I am here." He looked at Stephen.
"But why are you here? From Brooklyn, you said?" Stephen
nodded, but he thought: no one there holds a tray of pineapple
like your grand-daughter, He had an instant fantasy: a walk down Fifth Avenue with her, her queyu flapping against her brown thighs. Would she demand clothes? He would dissuade her. Would the police demand clothes? They would cheer. What would his mother say? The incontrovertible Gentile. She beamed white teeth at him. He looked at the fish on his plate. Its scales twinkled at him. Barney, the dog, got up and shook a cramped leg. His ears, limp as they were, went rigid. "He hears something," Father Reuchlin said. They listened too. The rain thundered on the thatched roof. "Amazing how it stays dr-y," Peter said. "Really quite serviceable," Father Reuchlin said. Peter said they would stay over only one more night. Father Reuchlin thought that was wise. They should move quickly before the rain dissolved all trailmarks. "Actually," he said, "you have no choice but to take converted Indians or not go."
"Just as well," Peter assured him, "since we hope to arrive by Easter time.". They stood up to leave. Peter smiled politely, having to accept the situation or cut bait. "Maybe God will watch over us.
Father Reuchlin inclined his head graciously. "No man can ask for more." The bold girl held the door open for them. Her doe-brown eyes were the color of her nipples. She held her head on a side and looked both bold and shy. The combination was too much for Stephen. His fluids rioted. The paiman's wife clouted her on the shoulder. Stephen heard a short canine yip. He didn't dare look back or offer to give comfort.
All night the rain pelted. Back in their hammocks, Peter said, "You wouldn't last a week."
"What do you mean by that?"
"You'd be running in a loincloth, married to some barebreasted girl."
"Well," Stephen said, enjoying the thought of it, "Father Reuchlin got trapped too."
"He still keeps his cassock on."
"I'm built better," Stephen said. He drifted into sleep on the sound of the village men playing flutes in the rain.
The sun came out in the morning, but mud was everywhere.
The goats stood in it kneedeep. The chickens lifted their
legs and shook them crossly. Stephen and Peter ate a quick
found their way to the palm-thatched church that looked like a wilderness tabernacle with a cross sticking out from its conical top. Vultures streaked across the lead-colored sky. The floor inside the church was earthen. There were a dozen benches, a table with a gold cross on it. Copies of the Bible, each one written in Indian dialect in Father Reuchlin's hand, were on every bench.
Solomon's wife sat on the first bench. She wore a dress. Her face looked blotchy and dreamy. Samuel, Abraham, David and Isaac sat with her. They looked misplaced, like forest animals in a parlor room: the moose raising his antlers under a chandelier. Abraham wore a plaid sports jacket over his loincloth and his jaguar teeth under his jacket. His aging chest was bare. The wrinkles looked very ancient, like those in the hide of an old elephant. Samuel wore pants and a shirt and two macaw feathers in his nose. Isaac and David had decorated their bodies with black paint and wore black eagle feathers on their shoulders. Some of the Indian women carried dresses on their heads piled like turbans, some had bones pierced through their lower lips. Father Reuchlin's granddaughter wore a blouse.
The room was humid. It smelled of damp human bodies, ceremonial oils and tropical feathers. It was earthen-floored and looked shabby like the hut of a poor revivalist group and exotic when the men moved and their plumes brushed their shoulders. The grass roof glistened with rain water. The room, the palm-thatched walls, the brown earth, the worn benches, smelled of moisture, spring rain, voluptuous, dreamy wetness, warm, wet bodies, attentive and pious.
No respecters of a service for the dead, the ants crawled across the floor, some so large they stood on hind legs and wriggled like a caterpillar. Stephen felt a suspicious itch inside his trouser leg. That, irrelevantly, made him feel morbid, being attacked privately. Father Reuchlin read: "And one of the scribes came and heard them questioning together, and knowing that he had answered them well, asked him, What commandment is the first of all? Jesus answered, The first one is, Hear, 0 Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, which is," Father Reuchlin said, giving into the temptation to stand in the thicket of original language, "the Shema." He looked at his congregation to see if they remembered a point he had made in the past. The men nodded their plumes. He went on: "And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might, which is to say V'ahavta et Adonoi Elohecha b'chol I'vavcha, U-vchal m'odecha, V'ho-u hadva-rim."
Reverberations sang in Stephen's head: the familiarity and the foreignness of a ritual language. It could be recalled in gaps of phrases and settings: a shul, a wedding, a funeral. Possessed thus by the holy the language dispossessed him. Father Reuchlin smiled paternally. He expected his congregation to be polite with his foibles. They were. They registered no change of attitude or expression in going from English to Hebrew. Stephen wondered if they noticed the difference. "And the second commandment," Father Reuchlin read, "is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these."
A drip had started in the conical roof. Father Reuchlin looked up at it with worn patience as if he saw, once again, for the millionth time, proof of the weakness of the world in which he lived. Then he went back to the Bible and read from Job:
"One dieth in his full strength,
Being wholly at ease and quiet;
His breasts are full of milk
And the marrows of his bones are moistened.
And another dieth in bitterness of soul,
And never tasteth of good.
They lie down alike in the dust,
And the worm covereth them."
The print moved off the page of Stephen's Bible. Ants marched across it, clung to the edge and dropped off one by one to the floor below. Stephen noticed a beetle on Father Reuchlin's nose. The pulpit was covered with insects. He nudged Peter's shoulder. "How long?" he whispered.
"Keep a stiff upper lip," Peter whispered back, "missionaries have incredible stamina." Father Reuchlin brushed the beetle from his nose. He blew on his Bible to clear it of insects. He nodded to a woman on the front bench. She stood up and sang a hymn in dialect. Stephen thought it was Rock of Ages, but he couldn't be sure. Solomon's wife shuffled her feet on the floor. Her hair was matted. Her thighs and her arms were covered with ashes.
"By night, on my bed, I sought him whom my soul loveth:
I sought him, but I found him not.
I said, I will arise now, and go about the city,
In the streets and in the broad ways.
I will seek him whom my soul loveth:
I sought him, but I found him not.
She stared dreamily at the earthen floor."
Outside, the sky was low with rain. It fell straight down. The grassy lanes became rivulets. The trunks of the trees were wet black. The vultures were barely visible in the gray sky. Stephen and Peter pulled their heads down between their shoulders and ran for their hut. Inconsequential habit in the jungle: ducking in out of the rain. The rest of the village walked as if they were in the sunshine. Inside the hut, Peter threw Stephen a towel. "Compulsion to dry yourself will have to be stifled," he laughed, "wet skin as natural to man as dry skin."
"Is that so?" Stephen said.
"That's so," Peter said, "better get used to it. We may have this all the way to New River."
Stephen stood in the doorway. "Do you know what the visibility is out there?"
Peter rubbed his scalp and wrapped the towel around his head. "Challenges and rain make man grow."
"If he survives them," Stephen said. He turned away from the doorway. "What happens to Solomon's wife now?"
Peter's reaction was unpredictable. He flung his towel at Stephen and said something about guilt being too heavy a load for their trip. "The first rule of jungle travel is to take only what you can use." He said he was going to find James and make sure the guides had their instructions for the morning. Stephen did not approach him on the subject again.
They ate dinner with Father Reuchlin. The paiman's wife and his granddaughter were there to help with the serving. His granddaughter wore a necklace of fragile bones. Stephen wondered if she wore it as a special sign for him, but he thought every move she made during the evening was a special sign and he was worn out with speculation. She served him and breathed on his neck. Was that accidental? They were leaving in the morning and he could not get her signals straight. Father Reuchlin filled them in on information about their guides. Timothy's mother had been a convert but his father had remained a pagan. Titus was a convert. Oswald had been born to two converted parents. Titus, Andrew and Oswald were married. Titus had a son. The guides would stay with them all the way because they wanted to see something of the world. Father Reuchlin smiled discreetly. He then suggested they watch some of the villagers celebrate Hallelujah. "A simple dance," he said, "nothing more." That was intended to correct coastal gossip. They finished dinner and followed him to a large hut in the center of the village. His granddaughter and the paiman's wife came along. The hut was crowded with about fifty men, women and children. They were of all ages. Some were young girls with breasts like plums, some were toothless grandmothers with skin sliding over the bones of their faces. Some were young men with smooth chests and brown muscles and black hair cut in the circular fashion. Some wore delicate down feathers in their oiled hair. Some wore necklaces of beads or white shells. There was a youngest child in the circle, a boy of four with a potbelly and a protruding umbilical cord, and there was the ancient man, a hundred and five at least, his gentle aboriginal face covered with a gray stubble.
When Father Reuchlin came in, a mood of gratitude possessed them. They looked at him with steady eyes and delicately dropped their chin in thanks for his appearance. They glanced momentarily at Peter and Stephen, sweeping them in as acceptable appendages of Father Reuchlin. His granddaughter and the paiman's wife took their places in the great circle. They held hands, they stood shoulder to shoulder. Someone chanted three notes. Then the circle moved solemnly. It moved with a simple, monotonous step, a tap behind the ankle and a step to the side. They moved without variation for an hour. They kept their eyes shut. They hummed. A voice from here or there wept out a song. "Hallelujah," they said when the song was over. Another voice moaned a heart-rending story. "Hallelujah," they said when it was over. They moved, their eyes shut, their hands clasped, their shoulders pressed together. Tears fell from their eyes. Someone broke into sobs. A voice cried. Its cries became agonizing. The tale was tragic behond endurance. It told of death and the loss of wives and children. It told of the great flights of the people searching for safety, fleeing the marauders. It told of the goodness of their husbands who went forth to search for another world. It told of the great death of thousands at the foot of Mt. Roraima, sacrificed to a terrible god. It told of the great fight between the followers of Jesus and the followers of Christ. It told of wars in heaven between good and bad deities and it told of wars on earth between good men and bad men. It told of the need for courage and heartwarmth. It told of the great yearning to be watched over by God. It told of how God gave to man the gifts of fire and rain, the labbaba, the cassava root and joy. The circle went around faster. The men, women and children kept their eyes shut. They spoke to the universe with closed eyes. They cried to it like to a mother. They said they were unprotected, they were children going in circles. Their feet tapped and crossed and fled over the ground. Their cries swelled through their bodies. Every face was wet, caught in a trance of mortal sadness. There was a louder cry. The circle was broken. The paiman's wife stood alone, gasping for breath. Her breasts shuddered on her chest. Her rib cage fluttered with cries. Someone else cried. It was a monkey. A leopard cried. A bushcow leaped into the air and wept. A dog howled. A sightless child bent to it and moaned. The room was filled with the crying of people and animals.
"Hallelujah," someone shouted.
They opened their eyes. They saw. They saw one another. joy. joy in the world. They were here together. "Hallelujah," they shouted. joy in the child and joy in the grandmother. joy in the girl who had plums and joy in the young man who ate. joy in the toothless woman who had food for tomorrow and joy in the old man who had his years. They were saved together. They were among the living. Hallelujah, they shouted. They laughed. They chirruped like birds. They congratulated one another on their good luck. Someone brought in a huge bowl of cassiri. They greeted one another formally and flocked around the bowl like people at a church social.
But Stephen was cheerless that night when he lay down to sleep. The circle went round in his head. It was he who stood in its center and cried. The sound of the rain was depressing. It brought to mind the hazards of his trip. It made him think of slipping hills and landslides, of a world continually shifting, of man without a footing anywhere. The rain, he thought, was worse than the insects.
The whole village walked with them in the morning to the beginning of the trail. The dogs, the goats and chickens too, of course. They walked to a narrow trail on the western side of the village, which led into a forest, which led up a mountain. That's how Immanuel ended.
Stephen asked Samuel, David, Isaac and Abraham to pose for pictures. Abraham wore his good jacket. David and Isaac posed with bow and arrow in their hands. Samuel arranged his square-shaped face to look dignified, but just as Stephen clicked the camera Isaac goosed him with an arrowpoint. Samuel's eyes hit the camera aghast. Abraham took charge of Isaac, and Stephen took the picture again. He took a picture of Peter in the center of James, Titus, Anthony, Simon, Timothy, Andrew and Oswald. Simon was small and wiry and had a hairy mole on his face. Titus was squat and bow-legged. Andrew and Timothy were slim youths, Oswald was muscular and fair-skinned. He had come from another tribe. So had Simon, who had drifted in from the coast fifteen years ago and knew how to read the Bible in ]Fnglish. He wore a gold cross. Stephen took a picture of Father Reuchlin. He looked into the camera like a goodwilled stranger, with wistful affection, a smiling passerby who knows he will never be heard from again. Stephen took pictures of all the villagers, focusing the camera until he singled out Father Reuchlin's granddaughter and got her in the center.
Now that Isaac was certain he was beyond danger of going as a guide he was in a good mood. He passed cigarettes out to everyone and forebore mention of the kenaima footprints. But there was a pointed, strained look on the faces of the others, a look of curiosity at this folly, a look which asked what manner of men went looking for trouble. Titus put a bone cross on his son's neck and they shook hands. Andrew's father embraced him and turned away. Father Reuchlin shook hands with each, with James and Titus, Anthony, Simon, Timothy, Andrew and Oswald and bid them be good men in the new world they were going to.
Father Reuchlin's granddaughter came forward and gave Stephen her necklace. "You wear," she said. He put it on. She curtsied profoundly. Abraham came forward to shake their hands. He fished out a package of cigarettes from the pocket of his jacket. "Hey, man," he said to Stephen, "you take."
After two hours of travelling, Immanuel was as far away as a place could be. They followed a trail twelve inches wide. Another two hours' climbing into the mountain and they were out in the open. From here until the top the mountain was granite, ferns and moss. They ascended for three days, most of the time in steady rain. Visibility was poor. They tied ropes around their waists to keep in touch with each other. James led, balancing one of the inflatable canoes on his head, followed by Andrew. Stephen and Peter were in the center, packs of equipment on their backs. Simon and Titus were behind. Anthony, Timothy and Oswald made up the rear, carrying the rest of the equipment, an inflatable canoe, tarpaulin, rifles and climbing boots. After three days, Stephen noticed that his muscles molded around the weight he carried.
Following James was an experience. His arms swung out from under his load and grabbed at fern clumps for balance, his toes dug steps into the moss. He climbed doubled-over, his back a sleek arch under his pack. He never hesitated, he only stopped. He pondered a move like a chess player, sure he would make one. His body, like Peter's will, conveyed rock confidence, though doubled up. The spiritual thrust came from the toes. Andrew, smaller, remained upright under his load, looking like a comic strip character with a hat too big for his head.
To find humor in the spectacle of themselves as they went up the mountain was superficially diverting. In reality, the mountain offended the spirit. It was mostly rock, an occasional rivulet from the rain, moss swamps, primitive fern patches as large as a small house. No shelter except for these. Where there was moss it was feet deep and wide, oozing with rainwater, swampy and lake-like. You walked into it and felt the earth slip out from underfoot. You sank in past your ankles and worried. It was novel ground, according to the archives in Georgetown, never trod on before. It wasn't even, Stephen realized, properly located on the maps.
They camped the first night in a growth of ferns and called it home. No hammocks. No trees to sling them from. The guides made camp by themselves, apart from Peter and Stephen, but everyone slept in a buddy system tied to a partner with a rope because the night was that black. James, Timothy, Andrew, the guides did not speak much. They were a silent, efficient group, psychologically streamlined. They ate little, almost subsisting, it seemed to Stephen, on soda crackers alone. Life narrowed to a twelve inch trail, ambition to climbing up against mountainhulk, pitting will against gravity and the ubiquitous desire of man to be dry when he's wet and to have light when he can't.
No reason for light up there. Without world, earth returns to its blackness. The first night Stephen's eye clung fiercely to a visible star until sleep knocked him out.
In the morning they discovered there was more life around them than they thought. The rocks were covered with spiders as large as teaplates, red ants an inch long, green beetles and sundry insects with mother-of-pearl wings. Death being utterly repellent these looked good to Stephen now. But he and Peter wore their high boots and gloves to grab at the rocks as they climbed. James and the others went barefooted, toes skirting sharp edges with historic precision.
They spotted the summit on the third day. It wasn't much to look at: a drab heap of boulder that came to a bald conclusion like a grim joke. But Peter, explorer-warrior, grinned at it through sunglasses and bushy beard. "Where no man has trod," he said: a fitting eulogy if theatrical. He did look as authentic as Hillary. Optimism contagious, they climbed for three hours and made good coverage. Even Oswald seemed to lose his muscular stolidness and take the mountain, figuratively speaking, like a gazelle, toes splayed to the ground like crabgrass. The rain stopped, which gave them an advantage in meeting future catastrophes. The sun glided behind the clouds. It never came out enough to dry them, but it did put in an appearance and they made it to the summit in time for the afternoon downpour.
This time it came with wind and thunder and lightning that split rocks. White lights ricocheted over the open spaces. Raindrops fell as big as hailstones. Nature keeps a power in reserve for the uninhabited places. Prehistoric man might well have decided God was angry with him for being there. That's why he stayed away from places like that, exposed mountaintops close to the source of all that skyey power. Grimly each man took an edge of the tarpaulin and spread it over himself, more to blot out the sight of the storm than with the hope of keeping dry. The rain thundered on top of them. They flattened themselves against rock. Water dripped from their faces. They could not call each other. Their voices could not be heard. Even James's chest muscles twitched when lightning hit the ground close by and snaked down the Mountainside. The noise deafened Stephen for about five minutes. He coped silently with his panic, wondering whether his hearing would return. Lord! Yes, call. Of what value is language if the storm that tears man's voice away is eternal? Simon fingered his cross. James tried the Bible. He propped it against his drawn-up knees. It was too dark under the tarpaulin to read and no one could have heard him. Anthony made the cross with his fingers on the ground. Peter sat stiff-legged, unmoving, bearing the responsibility for their being there, and waiting it out.
When the storm was over, James crawled out with Anthony and Simon, Titus and Andrew. They emerged like turtles from under a carapace of faith. James viewed the scene discreetly, but his eyes said that he had been tested and found adequate. Saved, they were vindicated, faith in faith justified. They huddled together to tell each other what it was like. The moment was theirs. They formed a community of the saved. James read to them from the Bible, the section where Jesus calms the storm on the sea. They felt the analogic pull at their souls. Thus too had Peter and Simon and Andrew in the boat quaked with terror because they were of little faith. But Jesus had calmed the winds and rebuked them. Salvation is the reward of faith. Simon kissed the cross around his neck. Timothy and Andrew drew in their lips with satisfaction. Their young eyes drained James of his message and said that faith was more powerful than truth, they would create an ontology out of willpower. Even Peter, who watched with professional courtesy, was impressed.
Stephen had an incredible desire for a dry shirt, even more than for any woman he had ever known. He thought of Ursula in Immanuel, of the fellowship of Simon and Anthony, Andrew and Titus, and Father Reuchlin an outcast in his own religion. Was there no home anywhere for anyone? And what was that homelessness compared to the homelessness of nine men on a granite mountaintop, of which he was one. Everything is relative, Stephen thought, fishing for a modern perspective and a cigarette, even the purpose of struggle and the meaning of death. He found the package of cigarettes Abraham had given him, offered them around and lit one. Only Peter took. The wind blew around them. Stephen sheltered the lighter in his hand and helped Peter to a light. They sat on the rocky ground and smoked. Peter's teeth chattered. Stephen looked at him with a raised eyebrow. Then, mercifully, they burst out laughing. Relief drooled from their mouths. Stephen's ears popped with sound. "What the hell," Peter said, "so this place will never become a tourist stopover. "
"So help me God," Stephen said, "I wish you could tell me what the hell I'm doing here."
Peter coughed delicately. "Don't you remember. This trip is going to make you a name in the profession."
The jokes were grim, but they clung to them. "Promise me," Stephen said, "when we get back don't make a big deal out of the alligators and the swamps. I mean let's play it cool as heroes, sophisticated jungle trekkers and sons of bitches."
But the cheerfulness dropped as the temperature went down to 30' with winds up to fifty miles per hour. Stephen lay under the tarpaulin and kept lighting cigarettes, clamping chattering teeth on them and hoping he wouldn't set fire to himself. Everyone else was asleep. It wasn't the thought of death that kept Stephen awake, but the thought of dying up there. His mind caught the refrain: unwept, unhonored and unsung. The place was not fit to live or die in. Cemeteries came to mind, sweetly domesticated tombstones, neatly planted, inscribed: Fannie and Aaron Goldberg, visited by mourners.
There are some deaths more forlorn than others, and one of them was on a mountaintop never crossed by man before, not even properly located on a map. That view of the matter spoke of an elemental isolation: that he ccould go through an experienc that might find no place in the spectrum of man's knowledge of the world. He lit, for the nineteenth time, a cigarette and noticed that the package was Camels. The golden animal grinned at him, hump and all. His familiarity here was ludicrous, as bad as remembering nights on the sands of Brighton, passing cigarettes around and whistling at the girls. Water draining down the oceanways from Europe. A babble of voices drowning in the surf. One leg athwart a female waist while the world roared over him. Sadness attacked him. He would always care for life: an epitaph. The thought startled him. Alert, he saw that the cigarette in his hand was down to a butt in his fingers. He crushed it out. "Shit, " he thought, eyelids drooping, "I'm hallucinating." He put the package away in his pocket. The goddamned camel winked at him.
With relief in the morning they surrendered to gravity and went downhill. Physically, the going was tougher, but the view got better. They slipped for hours. Their knees stiffened with the pain of walking crouched, fighting the inclination to fall. The rain pelted them. They grabbed at fernclumps for support. Stephen tried to enjoy the thought that they were the first men to cross the mountain. Heyl he would say to his first date when he got back home, guess what? The dialogue would be sterling. "What's the name of that mountain?" she would say.
"I have the privilege of naming it."
"Is that so? So whatareyacallingit?"
He stopped to take his glasses off. They were too wet to be useful. He lost his footing and slipped. One leg stuck in a mud-sucking holc. The other went down the mountainside. The stuck leg twisted around about forty-five degrees. He stifled verbalisms and sat down in the mud near the stuck leg to pull it out. A twisted ankle on a mountain trek is about as bad a piece of misfortune as a leaky boat in a stormy ocean. He saw that message in Peter's eyes: professional judgment, no patience with clumsy accidents. Everyone gathered around to give advice. The wind was blowing up. The sun glided behind black clouds like a shady dancer. Stephen stood up, leaned on Peter and started down, a one-legged hop around mud-holes. It was a bad arrangement. Titus agreed to carry him. His load was distributed between Oswald, Anthony and Timothy, and they started down the mountain again, Stephen on Titus's shoulders. He felt silly, a grown man being carried like that. Titus, bow-legged, walked like his Uncle Louie when he had carried Stephen on his shoulders, middle-aged, doggedly slumping into the ground. Stephen half expected Titus to say, "Ahoop, ahoop." But Titus went forward humorlessly.
Luckily they entered a bamboo forest and the ground firmed. No mud, but no greenery either. The trail, a wriggle in the ground, an illusion of direction, more often not seen than seen. Actually, they were following the sun and their noses. Nothing else around them but bamboo poles.
James stopped and examined the ground. An intellectual look glided into his eyes. He pointed at footprints. They were freshly made, the rain hadn't washed them away yet. Not single tracks either, like those found near Immanuel, but multiples of tracks and in multiples of sizes. They scurried through the bamboo forest, spread out in all directions, family groupings that spoke of flights of populations, of unknown peoples fleeing before them.
James told them stories of a wild bushman called the Massakruman. No one had ever seen him, but no one ever sees the wild bushman. Stephen took pictures of the tracks, which were destined to remain part of the world's large collection of inexplicable photos.
"Georgetown is in for a surprise," he said to Peter. "Where no man has trod except for Massakruman and company."
"Bosh," Peter said, or something like that, "they don't write books. "
They followed the tracks down, their curiosity exploding even at
the risk of death at the hands of a Gila monster, but they never
caught sight of him or it or them. Eventually some goats
Stephen scanned the country-side from the top of Titus's shoulders. Shadows flitted. Rodents ran between the bamboo trees, scurrying diagonally across the tracks. No respect paid to their significance. Men ran, left a record of their flight, and disappeared. Otherwise, the landscape was inhuman. Miles of bamboo forest, viewed from any direction, head rotating to the right or the left, visual rhythm reduced to the lines of a cage as large as from one's eyeballs to the horizon and over the hill and over the next hill and over the next for thirty-six hours. Soul-shrivelling monotony. Vision wavering on the astigmatic fringe causes vertigo. Stephen was nauseous.
They camped in the forest at night, which was both good and bad. Ground dry, for the first time in almost a week they ate cooked food and slung their hammocks under a sky full of stars and moon. Timothy, James, Anthony, the guides slept each wrapped in his hammock, rewarded for his faith by incorruptible stillness and dry air.
The bad part was that the moonlight doubled the lines, made carbon copies and flung them about everywhere. Linear shapes puffed against Stephen's eyeballs. Poles, spears, blowpipes, arrows. Angularity was oppressive. He craved the bend of a coastline. Homesickness plagued him. "How much longer?" he asked Peter.
Peter lay in his hammock and smoked a pipe, a luxury he had reserved for this time. They were finally in unscanned territory and he wanted to domesticate it. He poked his pipestem at the moon. "I would guess two more nights out before we hit New River . "
It wasn't a bad guess. The next day's trip was a descent into Paradise. Vegetation mounted. The forest grew greener and greener. By now Stephen was accustomed to the extremes of experience in jungle travel: one day hell and the next a lush heaven. Here a quadrille wren flipped its speckled breast between trees and sang a Mozart minuet. Unseen monkeys chirpped. A cotinga called pi-pi-yo, pi-pi -- yo. Emerald bees hummed past their ears and migrating yellow butterflies swung their color over the vines. They ate pineapples from the trees. This was the jungle benign. Once they caught sight of a pink flamingo wading in a stream. New River was an hour's walk away. Stephen was relieved for Titus's sake.
They were on the bank by nightfall. The rest of the way, blessedly, would be water travel. "Is all right," Titus said when Stephen thanked him, "me guide for you." Stephen understood that Titus felt that he had only done what his job asked of him, but it's hard to sit on a man's shoulders for two days and not feel either loathing or affection for him. Stephen felt affection.
The rest of the trip was without incident. All the way down into the Mountains of the Sun, called Ouangouwai by the Indians, the river lay inert under the trees. A green fungi covered its surface, moss-thick. Movement and sound were muffled. Occasionally a beetle sat on the fungi, or a yellow blossom from a tree fell on it. Occasionally there was a splash, a slicing of water. But it turned out to be an otter. Occasionally they spotted a snake, green and mottled, aloof on a high branch, but it remained poised in amazement, unaccustomed to human lines. Butterflies accompanied them. Sunshine moved everywhere. If they had a problem it was that they could not see beneath the surface of the water or into the jungle. The view was that green and dense. Snakes were obscured. Alligators were only a suggestion in the glide of the water.
Who would have thought that the last stretch of the trip would be the easiest? Peter sat in the first canoe with James, Oswald, Timothy and Andrew. Stephen followed, bad ankle stretched out, with Titus, Anthony and Simon. Only the dipping of paddles, hour after hour, was heard. A rodent stopped halfway up the trunk of a tree and eyed their passage. At first Peter and Stephen sat in their canoes with rifles ready at the shoulder. By the second day on the river the rifles were in their laps. Peter wore a bushwanger hat and puffed on his pipe, Stephen drew sketches of the river's coastline. Presumably (ah welll he said to himself) no one had gone down this stretch of it before. Skeptical, he looked for tracks along the shore. But when they camped no one went more than a few feet from the river, because the vegetation was that dense.
For four days the scene was that: inexhaustible. The river went on and on. It had no current, not even an eddy. It never varied. It was difficult to believe they were moving. Their senses became attentuated; their hearing was deadened, muffled with moss; their eyeballs sweated with heat and everything they looked at appeared watery and double.
This is the land of vanished cultures, Inca, Chimu, Mochica,
Chamaln, each an achievement. The earth is built on the
ruins of dead visions. The boat glides over buried
prophecies our minds no longer dream. Movement is a matter
of faith, and as their senses thinned they came to believe they
were moored. The river went on and on, and was still and
went on. Consider the Mayan
philosophy of time which created an eternity of the past as well as of the future and in their prophetic chants did not distinguish between them. Eternity is a past and future tense. So the river goes on and on because the jungle is lavish with its peace. Like religion. Langorously, lovingly, it stretches each experience beyond the presumption of reality. Its purpose is to give you more of the same until suffering seems like a reasonable alternative.
At night they slept under an immeasurable moon. Its light was everywhere. You could not hide from it. It encompassed the sky. It made a grotesquerie of poetic homage. It sucked at the earth. It drained Stephen of sight and ambition and erotic tendencies. He lay with an arm across his eyes. But the light crept in. He had the illusion that the earth had disappeared, that the light had shattered it, leaving only a black hole. He had the illusion that someone poured his soul into that black hole. He got up in the middle of the night, sweating. His leg was feverish. The moon had turned bronze. He put a jacket across his face to protect himself from the sight, but inside, deep within the cranium tissues of his brain the moon whispered that he was going to die.
Drinking water and rations fell low. Hunger and thirst, the internal clocks, stuck their tongues out at the green peace.
Peter adjusted better to a danger that confronted than to one that becalmed. He would know what to do in a storm-tossed boat, but with a green peace, with a river that looked the same whether one looked up or down it, that seemed to have no current, with banks that looked the same on either side and looked like yesterday's view, he experienced a touch of the bete noir of panic-stricken travellers: the suspicion that they were going in circles.
"Well?" He glanced over Stephen's shoulder at the drawings he made of the river. It had been a long trip, about two months by now. Curtness was not to be wondered at. Stephen sat under a tree, propped against its trunk, bad leg stretched out, sketching pad on his knee. Titus and Andrew were slinging hammocks for the night. James and Simon stalked the river to see if they could spot fish. Peter said, "Have any idea of how much further we have to go?" Stephen flipped his pencil, sign of impatience with silly question. He was still recovering from a bad night's sleep. "Nope. I can only tell you how far we've gone and that would be a rough guess."
"What's the matter? Can't you count?"
Stephen's gorge rose. It was sour to swallow it back down. He circled his tongue around his teeth and gums to moisten them. "I never prognosticate." He sidetracked an admonitory tone. Wisdom told him it had been a long trip. Peter was entitled to show some strain. Stephen even tried to smile, crinkle tired eyes in a bearded face and prevent a blowup. He had aged. He measured his comments, or tried to. "After all," he laughed wispily, "the future is in your hands as well as in mine."
It was not the right comment for Peter's nerves. He was not in a mood to have responsibility loaded on to his shoulders anymore than the given situation required. He walked away to join James and Simon and to see if they could solve the food problem for the evening.
They didn't. That night they drank as little water as they needed, and ate no supper.
The next day they watched the landscape for anything that moved that could be eaten. There was not so much as a ripple from a living thing. They glided for hours. Empty blue sky. Trees two hundred feet high, two thousand years old, their trunks thickened with moss that had felt the glide of cambrian reptiles. The mind balked at the view. Stephen had seen it before and before and before: paradise with a green slime. An insect crawled in his beard. What did he care?
Before sunset James spotted an otter. He stood soundlessly up in the canoe, toes steady, long legs balanced. He drew an arrow out from his quiver and took aim. The otter never heard the arrow until it hit his ear.
They cooked it that night. Everyone was glad of it except Stephen. Diet is psychological, sociological, historical. The otter's whiskers reminded him of his grandfather. They looked humane. Brought up on unadventurous food habits, lal7gely overcooked beef, undercooked liver, lamb, veal, his body, in communion with dead ancestors, rejected arcane foods. He hopped behind a tree and quietly vomited his portion of otter out. That, more than anything, snapped Peter's patience. Up to now he had generously regarded Stephen as exotic. He viewed him anthropologically, according to his training. But there's nothing exotic about vomiting out otter- Psychological quirkiness bad trait in jungle travel. Stephen's aberrations were troublesome.
Stephen naturally felt weak and eerie after he threw up. He wrapped a windbreaker around his shoulders and hopped down to the edge of the river, away from the others where the otter's head sat under a tree near the fire, watching while they cooked and ate its body. ."I'd rather be dead," Stephen thought. Of course, he didn't mean it, because he entertained himself with thoughts of Father Reuchlin's granddaughter. Would she eat otter? He fingered the necklace she had given him, but he could not recall her face to mind. It had become complex. The humidity rose visibly from the ground. Spiders flitted on the green surface of the river. Occasionally the fungi broke up and a wet, peaceful miasma rose from the bottom of the river. Stephen found repose in a trance. Immanuel was incomprehensibly distant. Its solemn men and women, dignified in dance, distinguished in sorrow, were gone forever. The girl with the bold smile faded beyond his psychological grasp. The necklace he wore reminded him, not of her face, but of a gesture of communication transmitted through generations from father to son to grandfather to her. He felt its delicate bones around his neck. They told him he was travelling into primitive depths.
He slept uncomfortably, dreaming he was in a mossy tomb, buried above ground, swaddled in moss under a tree, nailed to nature. He avoided the otter's head in the morning, ate three crackers and an astro ration for breakfast and got into the canoe.
They spotted the Mission of The True Cross by sunset. An Indian seemed, improbably, to be on the watch for them. But ubiquitous bush pilot must have dropped the news. Within seconds the village was gathered on the shore and Father Aigan was wading into the river to meet them, a setting sun blotting out the eyes behind his glasses, irongray hair cut in crewcut fashion, stiff as electrified wires, very lean, looking old by virtue of his gray hair and wrinkled forehead, looking young by virtue of his energy and the lean swing of his body. Hair and glasses gave him the look of the commanding schoolmaster, the kind who runs his own school because he knows what he wants, combines philosophy, administration, sports and theology, the kind the kids fear and respect and remember ever after as the ambiguous savior who had put them on the right path in life.
He had been a schoolmaster, in the Cotswold country in England. He had found it too tame. Captain Cook's soul drove him out. Schoolboys in rural England need Christianity, but Father Aigan felt propelled to go where he decided the need was greatest. Jesus Christ belonged to the world and the world belonged to Jesus Christ. No vain sentiment to him. He was not above hanging up mottoes in his office, such as: Christianity is an Adventure of the Spirit; Let Us Blaze A Trail to Heaven; or, The Compass of the Soul Points to God. He had a Victorian respect for edifying thoughts and these he loved, expressing as they did the compulsions of a universalist religion and his own passion for adventure. He had the soul of the missionary and sooner or later it was bound to put him on a freighter bound for anywhere and anything. He stayed five years in Georgetown, married, had a daughter, and began to move upstream, leaving behind him his family and a stririg of organized missions, each with a school, a church and a hospital. Sooner or later each mission became too tame. He sought an ultimate challenge. He moved further and further into the Interior, hunting the aboriginal Indian, the prehistoric mind unborn to Christian revelation to put the stamp of truth upon it. He was the sort of man about whom legends are told afterwards which mingle the believeable with the unbelievable and abound with caricature. After twenty-five years in the jungle, he still conducted services in Latin.
It was not to be expected that they would find a tidy world at the end of a trail that had been all but impenetrable, but they did. The men and women, tall, lean, angular, arrayed themselves along the bank for a ritual welcome with pride in their discipline and formality. They carried harpoons and arrows, iron-tipped. They wore tight strings around their arms and calves, which gave these muscles emphatic shapes. These are the Indians who live at the river's source, lovers of body-paint, carmine and blue-black, users of the blow-pipe, Ackawoi, nomadic, famed for kenaima power, lovers of jewelry made from bush-hogs' teeth. Butterflies, yellow and blue-mottled, danced above their heads. Sunshine dappled the ground. The effect was dazzling and paradoxical.
Titus, Oswald, James, Anthony, Andrew, Simon and Timothy pulled the canoes up on to dry land. They recognized Ackawoi and the Wais-Wais in them bolted, untrained by Father Reuchlin to such a military look. They went off by themselves to share a meal of crackers, not because they were hungry but to symbolize their communal apartness.
The welcome over, the Indians broke file and went back to their preparations for the Easter holiday. Stephen and Peter missed the charm of curiosity which other tribes had shown in them, the pawing, the communal chatter. The Mission of the True Cross was busy, organized, and unsentimental. The first task was to deal with Stephen's foot. By now it was swollen twice the size of the other. Father Aigan had him carried in a stretcher to the infirmary which struck Stephen as excessive, considering the fact that he had hopped along on it for a week. However - the old saying about gift horses. Father Aigan saw to his foot personally. He had tape, bandages, disinfectant. Within fifteen minutes he had Stephen's foot bandaged, had provided him with crutches and, with a long-legged stride, wet cassock flapping around his legs, was giving them a tour of the village.
It had an almost suburban regularity: rows of four-sided houses with a patch of swept earth in front of each. The streets were packed down into semi-paved lanes made of broken shells and pebbles which kept their shapes even in the wet season. Palm trees lined the streets. A large building in the center, which looked like a rectangular bungalow with a Mormon steeple, was the church. Behind it was Father Aigan's mission house, a moderately-sized bungalow built on piles, with a verandah and thatched roof. The inner eye, conditioned by a thousand travel posters of such views, completed the picture and put a traffic policeman in the cefiter in pith helmet, bermuda shorts and a whistle in his mouth.
Convenient too was the fact that the villagers were outside their homes, busy stirring pots of atol6 made from corn-meal mush and peyote, or squeezing dyes from plants to be used in body paint. The empirical eye swept along the muscle-striped backs of the men as they polished the metal tips of their spears, and the tattooed mouths of the women as they made animal puppets from straw and shells, observing how much they looked like an exhibit in the Museum of Natural History on Fifth Avenue. There was a morbid satisfaction in discovering that a thing was as you had thought it was and were ashamed to suggest that it might be just as the books said it was. Stephen struggled with a feeling of diffidence. Peter ignored the scene. He knew that tribes exhibited as much variety in their nature as individuals did. Some were friendly and some were not. Unlike the magician who always knew he'd pull a rabbit out of the hat, you couldn't tell what you would pull out of the jungle. The Ackawoi were indifferent to Stephen and Peter. The men polished their arrowheads, the women sat on their knees and mixed bowls of atol8 or painted easter eggs in blue and black. Stacks of manioc pancakes and small pyramids of eggs grew beside them.
Father Aigan's pace took them through the village in five minutes, a conditioning from his seminar days when his legs covered three blocks of concrete slab to the stride and he could make it to service without stepping on a crack. Slim of shoulder and hip, spare as the rapier, he moved spasmodically, dashing this way and that, eyes commenting, fingers pointing, chin nodding in approval or not. He was the schoolmaster whose glance glinting out from behind or above his glasses was everywhere, responsible for a world, responsible for a generation, for a civilization. A villager held up a straw doll in the shape of a crucifix for his approval. He nodded, blessed it with two fingers and moved on. He directed Peter's and Stephen's attention to the vats of dye, ashes, the straw dolls, the pancakes, the eggs, the spears. "Easter week," he said. "They prepare for a passion play." He nodded at a group of women, patted the head of a child and said, "more about this later." The remark intrigued; it conveyed a mystery. Peter tucked it into his brain for later investigation. For the moment he took in the village, the achievement of a mission at world's end.
"You've done an extraordinary job," he said. He said it too much in the manner of the polite guest, for Peter had seen many missions. What he meant as a special compliment for Father Aigan was that he had staked his claim further into the Interior than anyone else had. Peter admired fearlessness. Father Aigan snorted. Peter was disconcerted. His bon mot had failed. He said more diplomatically, turning the conversation closer to Father Aigan's interests. "Is it Easter already?"
But that inquiry hit Father Aigan unpleasantly too. He might have expected that if two anthropologists or whatever you call people who want to keep other people in their barbaric state had made their way to his mission they would be ignorant of fundamental matters.
Nevertheless, Peter's inquiry was innocent. He said, "Easter already? We must have lost track of time."
Father Aigan considered the problem from that angle. "A common experience in the jungle," he said, "for some." He gave Peter a small smile, a jerk of his mouth in the corner. "Schomburgk did not forget the day our Lord was born." He smiled crisply. There was no doubt he was ardent. He folded his hands into the sleeves of his cassock and walked along, cassock dry by now and showed them the main buildings of the mission. Pride, to which he was entitled, he suppressed. Disciplined control of a spastic energy and a stiff-necked humility marked him mostly. He was, believe it or not, both volcanic and quiescent. The Mission of The True Cross offered him a peak in spiritual adventure, but the view of the adventure was pastoral and domestic. The Truth in its everyday aspects was as dull as untruth. Father Algan had compressed his immense spiritual ambitions into the confines of a village of three hundred souls, most of whose problems concerned food, disease, marriage and babies. Revelation had become reduced to a quotidian dullness, but faith in a revelation of some kind as his personal destiny still possessed him. As soon as Stephen's identity was revealed to him, it mobilized the convergence of tendencies, spiritual and otherwise, and confirmed Father Algan in his sense of destiny.
In the village, thanks to him, there was a four bed hospital, a small schoolhouse with desk and chair and Latin textbooks, the church, a large hut for social affairs looking very much like the recreation center at a summer camp, a cemetery with pointed spikes set into the ground to mark off the area, graves marked by crosses. It was an intact world, his accomplishment bordered of course by the jungle, a semi-circular wall of trees, the boundary between life and death just behind the last row of houses and a contrast to the arboretum he had planted behind his hut: miniature palm trees pruned to look like candelabra; vines trained into geometric shapes, the Easter cactus lily grown from a slip imported from Brazil; small plants of orchids, lillies and poinsettias trained to make a sun-dial.
Stephen was impressed and said so, but if he thought Father Aigan would be flattered, he was mistaken. Father Aigan declined compliments. They diverted the soul. His manner warned them that he had contempt for those who trafficked in flattery. Stephen felt chastized and wistful.
They were invited to dinner and went to their hut to wash and
change their clothes. "Well," Stephen said, as they entered
the shaded room. There were cots with mattresses covered
"Now I am impressed," Peter admitted. He felt the thickness of the mattress. "Not straw either. You have to give him credit, but let's not tell him."
They talked about just how much credit they should give him. Peter dragged over his duffle bag of goods dropped by the bush pi 'lot, patted it and rummaged about for cigars. "Ah," he said, finding a box. He took one out, lit it up, looked at it with satisfaction and said, about Father Aigan's gutsiness, "Men have done as much and more for gold. Pizarro lived on roots for six months. "
Stephen thought that harsh, considering the cots, the bandages and the Latin textbooks. Peter said he knew of a dozen missionaries who had done as much, if not more: crossed the Irish Sea in a basket or lived on a rock and fed on snake eggs. Stephen had never met anyone like Father Aigan before, whose religious world was self-sustaining, total, military, and organized like a business with a credit and debit ledger, called virtues and vices. Up to now clergymen had come in two types for Stephen: intelligent and not intelligent.
Peter offered Stephen a puff on the cigar and carefully put it out. He knew it wouldn't do to smoke it in the village.
In like spirit, Father Aigan's hut was furnished with an eye towards keeping up the standards of civilization. He had three rooms: a bedroom, a dining room and a private chapel. Only a refectory t'able was in the chapel, of polished mahogany, and on it candlesticks and four crosses, one shaped from shells pressed into clay, one carved from bone, one in iron and one in stone, each pointing to a corner of the world. In his bedroom a cot and a dresser of the Spanish colonial period. In the dining room: his bookcases. A glance reflected his intellectual temperament: Aquinas, Kipling, Tennyson, The Reader's Digest, Augustine, t e Septuag nt, t' e Vulgate. A volume on vanished civilizations of South America shared shelf space with back issues of The Chri'stian Guz'de. Books by Prescott on the Incas, Hiram Bingham on the ancient Peruvians next to books on the missionary movement in the Arctic, the Tibet, the South Pole, China and the Carribean. If Stephen thought of the missionary movement it was in the terms in which Reverend Newton had presented it at Via Sacre: cherubic. That a history and a literature about the sub'ect existed illuminated the fact that Ursula was not eccentric but in the tradition. Which reminded him. He delivered her letter. Father Aigan unclasped his hands. He thanked Stephen for the letter and put it away in a pocket in his cassock. Peter and Stephen would not have minded his reading it, but Father Aigan had stricter ideas about propriety, had standards which had gone rigid in jungle environment. Balance being a summum bonum, who has it? He blew on his glasses, cleaned them, put them back on his face and bent to examine a photograph of Father Cary on the wall. "One of the few remaining," he said, admiration in his voice. "I'm lucky to have this one. He was an extraordinary man. Combined the souls of Captain Cook and St. Paul." A motto under the photograph read, "The World Is My Parish." Father Aigan read it. He straightened up, clasped hands behind his lean back, the schoolmaster driving home the point of the lesson with a bodily gesture. Conviction spoke through his stance. What pupil, knee-high, sitting under the metalrimmed, lean-bodied glance, would doubt the commandment. He pointed to another drawing, a missionary kneeling, cross in hand, reading the Gospel to the Indians. Underneath, an inscription: The Good Stranger. "An invisible army," Father Aigan said, "living far from the applause of civilization and yet one which has paved the way for civilization." Such rhetoric, he understood, now went flat in many countries. He showed his individual bent by ignoring ideological currents.
Peter was more interested in his collection of chronicles and archeological studies. Father Aigan was not flattered to have Peter think he had no prejudice in such matters. It was all the fashion now to pretend there was no such thing as barbarism and that a naked savage was the equal of a bishop. He ignored Peter's interests and bid them sit down, the servants were waiting.
The shadow of professional difference fell between them. Peter thought it best to clear it up. "Cyrus Mills told us you would be pleased if we arrived in time for Easter."
Father Aigan unfolded a linen napkin and put it on his knee. Candlelight glinted in his glasses. "Yes, this is Holy Week. As you probably know."
Told again, Peter felt, and was, rebuked. In self defense, he said again, "We seem to have lost track of time."
"Yes, easy to do in the jungle, " Father Aigan said again, but he refrained from the lecture. He had other things to say. He had savored a message for twenty years. Now come Stephen and Peter to carry it forth. He poured wine. They drank from wooden glasses. Stephen missed the sparkle of crystal. The wine, in his wooden goblet, looked blood brown. Father Aigan pulled his chair into the table, an irrelevant movement, an expression of energy for its own sake. Relevancy this: "You've come at a propitious time, he said. "The Ackawoi put on a passion play, part secret ritual of course, as the Indian mentality copes with these things." He paused, he eyed them: Stephen, Peter, Peter, Stephen. "When I arrived here twenty years ago I found them in possession of this play, versed in the Gospel, believers in the Resurrection, even able to speak some Latin."
He dropped his bomb: the discovery of Christian Ackawoi in a region presumed uninhabited. He had nursed the news for twenty years, shaped it with scholarship, much personal digging into the matter. Prepared to present it, a revelation from the jungle, his wireless went on the blink. Now come Peter and Stephen as messengers. Faith in the outcome, patience rewarded. Imperially now he withheld an explanation, deciding it would be good for Peter's and Stephen's souls to let the facts float in the atmosphere for a while. His nonchalance was generous. Peter almost jumped from his chair. He fell for the full house. "Are you telling me that you found these Indians with an autochthonous knowledge of the Gospels, a knowledge of Jesus Christ and the resurrection?"
Hot fish soup was served. Peter, a chasm of faith yawning before him, leaned back in his chair to let the servant set a bowl down. The smoke steamed his face. Stephen paid attention to the conversation: the servants were disappointing. They wore blouses and sported a row of small wooden spikes driven into their lower lips.
It pleased Father Aigan to have produced such a reaction in a man of science. The temptation seized him to let Peter flounder in faith, but he was an honest man. He dipped his spoon into his soupbowl and said regretfully, "They had been converted by Jesuits who came into the area in 1728. These Jesuits were murdered and their records were destroyed. As you know the Jesuits are now prohibited from setting up missions in Guyana." This last bit was added to acknowledge his reservations about jesuitical accomplishment, but he added charitably, "They left behind a handful of Indians in whom the seed of truth was planted. When I came upon them they had not seen a white man in more than two hundred years, yet they recognized me as sharing their kinship in Jesus Christ, our Lord." Seeking Stephen's gaze, Peter's eyelashes fluttered. It was not Father Aigan's nature to miss a fluttering eyelash, but as he recounted for them his arrival at True Cross twenty years ago he was swept by the memory of swirling down the river on a raft, expecting death in the snap of an alligator's mouth. "Imagine my surprise when instead I found a tribe versed in the Gospel, in Easter, faith in the crucifixion." Peering over his glasses, he smiled coyly at Peter. "I felt as you did." He fingered the cross on his bosom. "But I suffer no conflict between reason and faith. It did seem unreasonable to me, not that the truth had been revealed to them, but that they knew Latin." How he smiled. "How much can we expect of the Lord?"
Bit by bit Father Aigan told them how he had put together the story, had found the remains of an old missionary a half mile from the present one, even found the charred remains of a diary and a bill of sale for beads, one comb and a hand mirror. He came to the end of his tale. "The point of it is simple. God's will vindicated. Pizarro, Cortez, Almagro. Even an anthropologist would agree. The question of the survival of some cultures, and the disappearance of others. The heathen cultures had disappeared. The Ackawoi, clinging to their Christian faith, survived. Thus Pizarro executed Atahualpa with the blessings of the church and the knowledge that the hand of God was in the conquest. Valverde absolved him instantly." He concluded, "Need I doubt God's hand in directing you here
The question was a well intentioned mistake. Peter made another. He looked in Stephen's direction with fluttering eyes for a second time. This time Father Aigan got the point. He looked at Stephen with interest, decoding and unscrambling facial features, a nose, the cheekbones, the color of the eyes, into history. Stephen's beard screened much, but then the chin and the jawline were never important in such matters unless you were looking for Piltsdown man. The truth was revealed to Father Aigan. He removed his hand from Stephen's arm and said with crisp ardor, "Israel is ever dear to me." It was a sign of hospitality, the responsibility of a civilized man, but it made Stephen feel not at all at home, mostly as conspicuous as Neanderthal man on Fifth Avenue. Father Aigan had left England in 1939 before the Ecumenical movement had removed much of the spiritual onus from Stephen. He stood outside the several changes that had come to Christianity and gazed at Stephen like Leeuwenhok into the microscope for the first time, wondering what creature it was that moved under his lens. He recovered his balance and compensated for his discomfort by being magnanimous. This was after all his mission. He returned his hand to Stephen's arm and patted it, hoping to give him confidence. But something in Stephen went on trial. Pros and cons marched down the alleyways of his brain. Father Aigan said affably, "Israel, that millenial dream, belongs not only to you. It belongs to me, and I can assure you it is safe with me."
Hark: Israti: Izzy or Iz. His Uncle Goldberg's first name, his uncle Louie's second name, a first name, a surname, duplications found on tombstones with the star of David and the tree of life engraved on them. Israel, a family name, a birthday card made out in Uncle Louie's hand, a graduation check signed in the name of, a mortgage made out in the name of, interest paid to in the name of, a will made out in the name of, a civilization made out in the name of a word, a sound as familiar as smoked lox for breakfast or your favorite nighttime t.v. program. A personal monogram. A family crest: sign of the star on a field of cerulean blue. A household meaning. A household memory: Stephen on a winter night, pushki in hand, collecting money for the U. T. A. His mother's faith in Zionism, a detour around Russian communism, her road to the secular democracy, put him on a corner in Brooklyn in front of May's wedged in between the Salvation Army and Santa Claus, who gave him a dime to beat it and cut out of his territory. Stephen eyed the dime with frosty hunger. Temptation to go home was terrible. Toes wouldn't curl in his boots. Grown-ups looked huge. "Go ahead, take it," the jolly man said, "you jangle the tune of my bell." Stephen froze and took the dime. He sniffled. Icy tears ran down his face. Then he dropped the dime in the pushki and ran. Israel: a theological category to others. What Christian bears the name of Israel, first or last? in life or on a tombstone?
Father Aigan continued solicitous. He had a wealth of information at his fingertips. He offered it all. He quoted Isaiah, the psalms, Corinthians and John. Peter, diplomatically, said he would like to examine Father Aigan's ruins, using the possessive as agreeable condescension. And, in fact, who else was there to claim the ruins? Father Aigan said he would give him a map and a boxed lunch, but he warmly urged Stephen to rest the next day, his ankle being what it was. He put his hut at Stephen's disposal, said that the servants would see to his needs. He directed his attention to the volumes on Indian civilizations. It brought a sour taste to his mouth, which made his offer all the more gracious. Stephen bowed to his hospitality. The awkward moment over with, he was glad to be alive. Silly faux pas his showing up like this.
They retired early in deference to Father Aigan's habits. The village closed down at sunset. In the morning, Peter took James and Simon with him. They started off with a packed lunch of smoked meat and pancakes, and a map.
Stephen spent the morning writing, organizing his notes on the topography of the Interior. Once again time became calendrical I a spinoff from space, an aspect of geography. He pulled out from the back of his brain a point called Via Sacre and drew a line between that and another point called Immanuel. These points had dates, day of arrival, time spent in, activities engaged in. A true map, he perceived, was a projection of history. Topographical bumps, depressions and wavy lines standing for social forces. He was glad to have a cot and not a hammock. Synapse established between then and now via cot. Soon he would be home. His stomach swooped with homesickness. Not that he hadn't enjoyed the trip. But here he was, bad ankle propped on pillow in the middle of the jungle, spot not indicated on previous maps, a terra incognita. Leg a brown purple. Color suggestive of danger. Flashing red light over an exit sign. Helll Father Aigan had examined his leg in the morning and said it was doing fine. Diary entry: Stephen troubled. Leg took a turn for the worse during the night. "To be expected," Father Aigan said. "You had a nasty snap and you walked on it for a week." He was the voice of authority now, the doctor, the teacher, the pathfinder, the lawmaker, the agriculturalist, the fortbuilder, the herbalist, the healer. "In the jungle where we're going," Peter had said, "where there's a mission the missionary is supreme. He's the one who holds the civilization together out there. And just remember when you're at his mission vou're his guest. Ninety-nine percent of the time he doesn't approve of what you're doing and ninety-nine percent of the time you don't approve of what he's doing, but that doesn't mean we can't all be friends."
Stephen decided to throw doubt to the wind and hopped out of his cot. He brushed his hair and beard and settled the crutches under his armpits and hobbled over to Father Aigan's hut. It was empty, but he had been urged to make himself at home. "The amenities of civilization," Father Aigan had said. Stephen's eye roamed over his bookcase and his hand finally settled on Prescott's book on The Conquest of Peru, a nostalgic move in deference to Miss Odell, his grade six teacher. They had spent three days on the Incas and he had made a temple to the Sungod out of papier macho. Who would have thought (but, then, why not?) that seventeen years later he'd be standing near their territory: the imperial Romans of South America. Road system covered two thousand miles through desert, coastal country and Andes Mountains. Not built for the common people. They didn't possess the wheel, so what would they have done with a road? The army walked on it. The king walked on it. No other emperor, Asiatic, Babylonian or otherwise, not even Caesar, had such a road for his private use. It was the king's h'.ghway. His messengers used it. Up and down they went, organized like the pony express, bearing the king's message. In South America, B.C. (before Columbus) all roads led to Cuzco, the Inca capital, central office of a Pax Inca. To all those they conquered, Chanca, Tiahuanco, Chimu, they offered the historical choice of conversion or death and extended the hand of friendship and civilization. Which they were equipped to do, having the advantage of faith in the semi-divine nature of their origin and the belief that by their conquest they rescued the lesser breeds from barbarism. Their rule was benign but fin-n (except for those who resisted), a welfare system, despotic and kind, which is preferable to despotic. Their genius was in agriculture, engineering and legislation, creating a communistic-agricultural political system, combined with an oriental touch of Caesarism and concubinage and a Hebrew feeling for social welfare (the orphaned, the widowed, and the poor).
None of this was important to Pizarro. He was ready to tolerate anyone's feats: roads, suspension bridges exceeding two hundred feet, aqueducts five hundred miles long. The Spaniards could have lived with these achievements. If only the Incas hadn't had a religion they would have survived. At Cuzco, the Holy City, they built their temple to the Sun, called Coricancha or "Place of Gold." Worshippers of the sun, gold, sun's image on earth, called in Inca language, the tears wept by the sun, was to them spiritual material, God's holy metal, consecrated like wine, like the wafer, like holy water found where the holy worship, gold blessed their realm. The Andean mountains ran with it. Being God's gift, the Incas built their temple with it: a main building, several chapels, several smaller edifices were all contained, like Holy City anywhere, within a stone wall. On the western flank of the main temple was the deity (that is their deity, Godsun): a human countenance shooting gold in every direction, gathering in light, emanating light. Adoration could not be contained. The countenance was further engraved on a massive plate of gold and still further adorned with emeralds and precious stones. Surrounded by a multitude of golden ornaments shining in corners and niches, it hung there on the western wall, faced the east, magnified the rising sun, was a visual hosanna to God. (The Spanish soldiers sang when they saw it). Sungod suffered a mundane fate: awarded to one of Pizarro's soldiers in return for services rendered (like conquering the country) who lost the deity in a game of dice.
Heaven was further reflected upon earth. The pattern of the religious buildings included the main temple, Father Sun, surrounded by satellite chapels, Mother Moon built of silver plate, chapels to the stars, sisters of the Sun, chapels to those dread ministers of vengeance, Thunder and Lightning, and finally as in a dream of paradise, a chapel to the Rainbow with a manycolored arch that spanned the encircling walls. Virgins, as usual, were important. The Convent of Virgins was replaced by a church dedicated to the Holy Virgin.
Everywhere, as if strewn by wanton or pious (depending upon how you look at such doings) children, gold lay about on the floors, beaten gold, carved gold, utensils, plates, figurines, the work of an idolatrous people. Pizarro, like Zeus, hurled the cross at it. Twelve vases, not one smaller than those that decorate The Arabian Nights, stood filled with gold. Ewers, containers for holy water, pipes, conduits, all made of gold. The reservoir, the agricultural implements in the garden, the gardens decorated with gold figurines of animals, vegetables and fruit, the corn, the cassava, the pineapple, the lama with golden fleece.
Pizarro's spiritual bowels flew open: the contiguity of gold and religion. The Spaniards, famous for both, melted it down into ingots and shipped it back to Spain. There Ferdinand and Isabella, Defenders of the Faith, used it to cleanse the Iberian peninsula of the infidel. That's history: stealing from Atahualpa to give to Peter.
By 1630 you could not find a gold figurine in the graves of Peruvian citizens who buried their dead with the care, the glamour and the wealth of Egyptian pharoahs; who believed in an afterworld and that death was a journey home to the mansions of their Father, the Sun. Still imagining a benign death, they had equipped their graves with gifts for the journey. But their death was not benign. By 1630 the Inca Empire was a legend like the court of Agammenon; worse - relegated to the level of fancy like El Dorado. Their graves were tom open and not a gold figure remained as witness to their past.
And why not? What law in history says you cannot melt down one empire to shod the horseshoes of another? Onwardl is the hoarse cry of the conqueror-saviors. And they are always on the horizon, teeth gnashing, shoulders into the winds of progress, swords raised in a salute to destiny. With the cry of St. jago bringing death to all who will not march with them. For theirs is always the final empire, the universal empire, the spiritual empire. If you will not march with them, die. The historical choice: eternal salvation or death. Convert or die. You have no choice but to allow us to save you. Ours is the next rung on the spiritual ladder to success. The kingdom of heaven beckons. And, friend, the streets there are paved with precious stones and the throne of him who sits on the right hand of God is made of gold that stretches through eternity. Faith moves mountains. Your bowels will loosen at the sight of it.
Father Aigan stood in the doorway, hands clasped behind his back. "Ah, friend. I'm glad you have made yourself at home. What are you reading?"
"Prescott. On the Incas."
Father Aigan was a man of prejudices and heady commitments. It was not hard to step on his toes. He took it as a personal criticism that Stephen was reading Prescott, although he had invited him to do so. But that was last night. He perceived now that since Stephen's arrival he sought equanimity by making sacrifices of his own values. He decided to correct this for his conscience sake. "The past is a sentiment," he said. "Do not weep for Aztecs and Incas or other Indians any more than you weep for Babylonians and Romans." An afternoon rain began. Out of habit developed in clammy winter Cotswold country he rubbed his hands together and looked about for a fireplace. He felt cheerier as if he had found one, and said, "We on earth are the reflection of an eternal design." His candidness relieved him. He felt that Stephen, as an Israelite, would understand. So he spoke forcefully and Stephen would not contradict him. Stephen had no idea how to maneuver around his view of things, as indeed who would if one were to confront: "A fig for mathematics, faith is all." An intellectual tradition depends as much upon agreeableness as good manners do. Father Aigan perceived that Stephen was in trouble. He took sufficient courage from this to give the matter a lighter turn. "All you anthropologists are the same," he said.
Stephen did not mind Father Aigan's error. He was happy to be able to correct him simply. He slid the book he was reading back into place on the shelf and said, "I'm not an anthropologist, I'm a cartographer." It was a sensible statement, also revealing Stephen to Father Aigan more precisely, cartography being a medieval category. I might have guessed, Father Aigan said to himself, that Stephen being a Hebrew would not have been an anthropologist. Consequently, he asked him to join him for lunch. Stephen would not and could not decline. He propped 4is crutches against the wall and hopped over to the table. "How is the leg?" Father Aigan asked. "It's there," Stephen laughed. Father Aigan thought that was an odd response, but he entertained Stephen for an hour with stories, anecdotes and jungle gossip. He spoke about Guyanese politics, Brazilian poetry, technological advances in jungle clearing, the population problem, the problems of an economy based on sugar and cocoa, missions and missionaries (they skimmed past Immanuel and Father Reuchlin), the future of Latin America, the future of the world. Father Aigan revealed himself to be informed and urbane. Stephen reported that back to Peter. "In the jungle twenty years and he'd be at home in Paris tomorrow." Or Berlin or Damascus.
"A true cosmopolitan," Peter said. He knew the type. They showed up as colonists, adventurers, gold diggers, seamen and missionaries. They could be anywhere and were always at home, always British or Dutch or Spanish, no matter where they were.
After lunch, Father Aigan invited Stephen to go for a walk with him. "Ahl" he apologized, he had forgotten about his foot. "Still there?" he laughed, taking the modern idiom in stride. Stephen assured him it was doing well. He settled the crutches under his armpits. The servants cleared away the dishes. Father Aigan held the door open for him. The sun took Stephen by surprise. When he had last tuned into the weather it. was raining. He stopped to put on a pair of sunglasses. Father Aigan put his hands behind his back and said, "You know the eye accommodates itself to the sun."
Stephen got the point. He would not be thought corrupted by civilization. He slipped the glasses back into his pocket.
"You never see an Indian wearing sun glasses," Father Aigan said.
"I imagine that will come with the rest," Stephen said.
"Hopefully," Father Aigan said, "we will retain the virtues and screen out the vices. Do you know the parable of the wheat and the chaff?" Stephen had heard of it. Father Aigan repeated it for him. "It has never been the position of any missionary that the aboriginals were totally lacking in virtue. That idea is as foolish as the assertion that they are totally without vice." Stephen knew that meant Peter's views. He was glad he was not an anthropologist, but he regretted his foot. It throbbed and kept a froth of speculations bubbling in his brain. The sun was very hot. The village smelled of paint and ashes and soggy pancakes. Fires everywhere to make charcoal. "For the penitentes, " Father Aigan said. Puppets stuck into the ground on long sticks. Carvings of animals, the jaguar, the ocelot, the howler monkey, the otter. "For our procession," Father Aigan explained. Many of the villagers were already in their coats of body paint as encasing as armor. Only eyes and the outline of a loincloth, a white cross on a forehead or on a chin was visible. Stephen wondered if the body temperature increased or decreased when the body was dipped in paint. Would the color matter? The village was red and black. "To represent the forces of good and evil," Father Aigan said. Stephen's forehead was perspiring. His shirt was wet. Sweat made his beard itchy. The women sat on the ground and wove crucifixes from palm leaves and grass. "Props for our passion play," Father Aigan explained. Little straw dolls of Jesus and spears, gourds of red paint from the caraweere plant warmed in the sun. Stephen's foot throbbed. His tongue was dry. Four children came up to them, red painted bodies, pop bellies and smiles, little Jesus figures in their hands. "Our Lord is risen," they said. Father Aigan kissed them on the tops of their heads. Then breathing into their hair, he said, "Israel, that millenial dream belongs not only to the Jews, but to all mankind. It belongs to these Indian children."
Stephen was taken by surprise by the swift skip of Father Aigan's mind. He took the remark as a specious compliment. He felt singled out for a peculiar responsibility and robbed at the same time. On the whole, it gave him a sneaky feeling. Father Aigan's conversation became more intense, an oblation grounded in parables, allegory, scholarship, textual analysis, verse, chapter, psalm and text. He quoted Isaiah and John, the prophets on Jesus and Jesus on the prophets.
Stephen scarcely knew the Bible.
The sun, he remarked again to himself, was hot. His foot throbbed. A pulse of blood ran around his body and beat out time in his big toe. Tock, tock, tock, tock. The sun glinted metallically on the cornea of his right eye. The jungle in the distance looked cool and inviting. "Funny," he thought, "how you're never in the right place at the right time."
Father Aigan noticed he was uncomfortable. They stopped at a hut for a bowl of atold. "Our festival drink," he said. Stephen was grateful for the pause. "The Indians," Father Aigan said, "are brilliant herbalists. I will have them prepare an ointment for you." Stephen said that wasn't necessary. Father Aigan insisted. Stephen preferred to stick to his own prescriptions, but Father Aigan offered him the gift of a civilization. "I would be the first," he said, "to point out that God, who cares for all His children, endowed the Indians with the means of survival."
Sun-drained, Stephen hung over his crutches. "What of those who didn't survive?" Gingerly, suspecting Father Aigan would not like the reminder, he reminded him that more than ninety per cent of the aboriginal population of South America had disappeared since the white man came. "Why didn't their herbs help them?" he said. But Father Aigan took it well, even good humoredly. He diddled fingers at him. "It reminds me of the joke about the half glass of water and the optimist and the pessimist. After all, isn't it the remnant we're concerned with?"
The language was familiar, but Stephen felt not the shadow of a relationship between these villagers and himself, less than with any people he had met with on the trip. The women wore dresses and the men wore pants, but he couldn't assemble the parts of them. The spikes in the women's lips killed his fantasies. The sun glanced off the metal arrow tips laid row on row against the houses.
"Have you ever seen a hundred arrows shot into the air at once?" Father Aigan asked. Stephen had not. No opportunity for that in New York or Scotland. A bead of sweat gathered on his forehead and rolled slowly into his eye. Father Aigan, in a flight of compassion, clutched his arm. "Oh, Israel," he said, "Oh, Israel, who stoneth the prophets and killeth them that are sent unto her." He looked gloomily at the village. The children danced before him shaking their straw dolls. Their fathers polished their spears. "We have," he said, "an obligation to history.
Stephen's ears tingled. Dusty premonitions gathered in his brain. He looked gloomily at the village too. The village looked surprisingly meancing. Father Aigan's message sounded dire, and contradictory too considering the Incas and the Aztecs. Stephen felt very gloomy. He had only Uncle Louie who kept a jar of sand from Jerusalem to be poured into his grave when he died. He made a mental note to.3end Uncle Louie a card from Georgetown when he got back.
"I've fatigued you," Father Aigan said. "Not at all," Stephen said sturdily. They stood at Stephen's hut. Father Aigan searched his eyes. Stephen avoided contact. He pretended the sun smote his view. He blinked. His eyes watered. His strategy was to play for time, mend his foot and get the hell out of there. Father Aigan sensed his evasion. He took it as an insult, personal and historical.
Stephen was very grateful that Father Aigan had kept up the standards. He lay down on his cot and let his foot throb peacefully for two hours. Tock, tock, tock, tock. Father Reuchlin's fob swung through the universe. Peter, in climbing boots and bushwanger hat, stomped into the hut. "What the hell happened?" he said.
"What the hell happened?" Stephen said. He sat up, startled, dead certain someone had his hands on his throat. Peter stood in the doorway, thatched leaves, palm trees, twilight, a dead red sun burning behind him, a foreign scene to Stephen. He woke himself fully. "What's up?" he said.
"I stopped by Father Aigan's and he's shaken to the roots.
Says you insulted him."
Stephen took a whiff of air and cleared his head. "I hardly know whether to laugh or cry."
"Don't do either. Apologize."
Stephen was too bleary-eyed for anger. Besides, when a man is hit with the senseless, be it sudden death or monkey foetus found in woman's womb, it sometimes makes him want to vomit. Stephen excused himself and lurched out behind the hut. Peter was disgusted. He threw his hat on the cot and went out after Stephen, but it's hard to preach a lesson on good manners to a man who's retching up globs of undigested fish. He offered him a glass of water instead.
"Thanks,"'Stephen said. Rheumy tears swam in his eyes. A piece of pink fish clung to his beard. "Peter," he said, "I have something to tell you." His tongue swelled. His eyes were bleary, but he tried to get the focus right and hung in there. Regretful worms crawled across his brain that Peter wasn't going to like what he was going to say. Language is a community effort. Peter, expecting an explanation he could take with him to dinner with Father Aigan, solicitously clapped Stephen on his back and helped the last piece of fish to its rite of passage through the esophagus. Stephen coughed up, "He's an antisemite." Peter thumped Stephen on his back. "You might as well have told me the sky is blue," he snarled and went off to have dinner.
"He may have malaria," Father Aigan said, "in which case his
behavior is understandable," he conceded generously. Peter
he regarded as a stray sheep, his choice of anthropology a
modernism that would pass. He asked Peter, apropos of better times, whether he had never considered the chuch as a career. it was an irrelevant question, Peter knew, but it showed the drift of Father Aigan's mind. Peter was glad to mend fences. He said, "My grandfather was a Lutheran minister."
Father Aigan had suspected there was depth to Peter. He asked him what his religious training was.
"Sunday school and such, Bible camp."
"They didn't do a good job, did they?" Father Aigan laughed.
Peter took it well. To show Father Aigan that he was still a sheep who knew how to baa he admitted that a favorite song of his was the hymn, A Prayer Unto The Holy Ghost. Father Aigan knew it too. He fetched a tuning fork from a drawer and gave Peter the key. "Hmmmmm."
"Come, holy sprite, the God of might
Comforter of us all;
Teach us to know Thy world aright,
That we do never fall.
A holy ghost visite our coast,
Defend us with Thy shield;
Against all sin and wickedness,
Lord help us win the field."
The servants joined in modestly and without self consciousness. They had been trained to regard all hymn singing, sermons and prayers as lessons in religion and language and to let slip by no opportunity. They stood, serving bowls in hand, eyes fixed on Father Aigan, and watched the curve of his tongue, their broken English an echoing step behind his sturdy pronunciation. Father Aigan, taken up with being host to Peter, was surprised by the sound of their voices. Because of Peter's presence, it gave him a regenerated sense of triumph.
Some missions are like some families. Growing in the soil of sacrifice and gratitude, fattened with ideas of personal wickedness and the reward of forgiveness, the emotional life richly connives at a mutual dependence. Communication becomes a drug that breeds private ideas understood only within the matrix of the situation. Like faith it creates its own self-justification. Peter, who had visited many missions, could describe their sociological effects, but could not measure the intensity of them. The servants leaped to perform for Father Aigan.
"0 holy sprite direct aright,
the preachers of Thy word:
That thou by them maist cut down sin,
As it were with a sword.
Depart not from those pastors pure,
but aid them at all need:
Which breaks to us the bread of life,
whereon our souls do feed."
When they finished singing Father Aigan said to Peter, "Your grandfather would see my point." Peter didn't deny this. As a matter of fact, he felt a quaint pride in the old relic. Father Aigan noticed. It confirmed his suspicion that it had fallen to his lot to resuscitate Peter. The weathervane was changing direction. It was common sense to let the conversation drift in the same direction. Peter asked Father Aigan why he had settled in such a remote area. The word "remote" amused Father Aigan. He detected in it Peter's naive worldliness. He informed him that his missionary efforts were not confined to True Cross. There were tribes scattered through the Accarai, some living in groups of no more than ten. "My Ackawoi go out to look for them. We offer them beads, metal arrowheads, knives, all things they love. We are traders in the spirit for Christ's sake. And we have grown from fifty to three hundred." The sum of that success was not trivial. Father Aigan's gaze, feasting on a farsighted view of the matter, revealed his ambition in its traditional depths. "When the first monks established Canterbury in a Druid wilderness, they could hardly guess that civilization would reach out to find them. They answered the call: Seek ye the desert places. He looked at Peter over his glasses with confidence. "Remote as this place is I feel it is the center of a new matrix. Someday, with the aid of the airplane, we will be able to track the Indians down to their remotest villages. None will be able to remain hidden."
The seam in their relationship, joined for half an hour, came apart. Father Aigan sailed right into Peter's territory and hit him on the chapter heading: Primitive People: Who Are They and How Can We Know Them; Manners, Customs and Religious Characteristics of. Peter frowned, Father Aigan ignored this. He even invited Peter to come to church for the morning service. For the moment he would overlook doctrinal differences.
When Peter got back to his hut, Stephen was undoubtedly sick. "Malaria?" he said. The very word gave him exotic chills. "How could Father Aigan miss it?" Peter felt his forehead and gave him atabrine and aspirins. "He was looking at the wrong end." He made a mental apology to Stephen for quarreling with a vomiting man, but he was glad he could not go to church with Peter in the morning. Stephen would not have understood Father Aigan's point of view, who read from Butler's Lives and began at the beginning. "Eve was born of man without the agency of a mother; Mary gave birth to the Man-God without the intervention of a spouse. Eve, after her disobedience, became the mother, in the order of nature, of a race accursed; Mary, through her submission, has become in the order of grace, the Mother of a race sanctified. With Jesus Christ died also the ancient world with its hideous worship; the synagogue with its symbols and mysteries; and the man of sin, the old Adam, with its concupiscences yea, even death itself, which had been inflicted on man in punishment for sin."
It was raining and the small, crowded room smelled of rotting wood and perspiring bodies thickened with paint. The insect world, as usual, was there. Peter watched the ants crawl down the arms of the cross painted on the back of a man sitting on a bench in front of him. His wife's hair was cluttered with ants. They fell off the ends of her ears. The native's resistance to insect life was one of the wonders of the world. No less Father Aigan's. Committed to keeping alive the totality of one culture in the midst of an alien one, he delivered his sermon oblivious of the insects that crawled and crept across the pulpit, across his Bible, across his face. Small red insects, the be'te-rouge, swarmed about his shoes and crept into his socks. Black beetles, jiggers, sandflies, cushi ants. They dropped from the ceiling, they dropped from the ends of his fingers, they rode on his nails as he blessed the congregation. Red ants were visible in his irongray hair. A bold beetle crawled under his glasses to the eye socket. It hung there, magnified, balanced on the eyeball. The lid clicked shut. The beetle slid down the cheek. With a flick of two fingers he picked it off and sent it spiralling to the floor, a ball of blood. Behind the descendant of Pachomius was a cross hammered out of iron and above it an inscription for the Ackawoi: Our Father In Heaven Is King of The jungle.
Father Aigan shifted from the customary text for Maundy Thursday. For Peter's sake, he said, "In every age the Church is a missionary church. She has received the world for her inheritance." Crusty old fossil, Peter thought. Father Aigan barrelled him down with the sort of glance that wipes the spiritual vinegar from a boy's face. "Be not ashamed of being a believer. In every age Ashtoreth beckons to us. Sometimes she comes as the seduction of a false faith. Sometimes she comes as the seduction of vain knowledge." He held up a large cross that had been cut from the trunk of a silkcotton tree. He leaned it on his shoulder. Agedness and energy characterized him at once. "Let us reverently imprint our lips on this cross, the instrument of our salvation; let us bend down trembling before the just Cod Who takes such noble revenge for our guilt." And paused, finding in the words a provoking coincidence of language and sensibility. And uttered hoarsely, "By our work let us make some return for the price we have cost."
Even years later Peter could not think that anything more than the usual command to do good works had been communicated to the congregation of red-painted Ackawoi. Nor could he disassemble the elements which were to strike him for the remainder of his life as if he had experienced another life, a dislocation in historical time. None of which is unusual, according to studies made of riots, lynching mobs and such sudden collective activities. All participants afterwards agree that they cannot say how it started, the death-hunt being a matter of spontaneous combustion, a macabre alchemy of victim, persecutors and timing. He resisted the idea of his own complicity. He sought acquittal, surcease of pain, in the auto suggestion that Stephen had acquiesced. And concluded Father Aigan, "The loyal standard, of Jesus Christ is the cross, He rules the nations from a Tree."
Peter's journey across the village after the service was not a happy one. A sullen look, wholly undeserved by Peter, was shot by an Ackawoi whose white eyeballs rolled upwards towards the cross on his forehead. Peter knew his Indians. It was not unusual for a tribe to resist publicity about a particular ritual. Cannibals frequently. The thought was hair-raising, but unlikely, considering their Christian indoctrination. But their appearance stiffened his muscle: a natural reaction to people who looked exactly as you had always thought people like that would look. He reflected: it would not do to be thought of as an infidel here, and waved cheerily to some children. They stood in the doorways of their huts and gazed back blankly. Offers of beads and even packets of salt did not help. They had their instructions. Even Indian children are taught not to take salt from a stranger. Peter sized up the challenge.
He stopped by to see James, Titus and the others to restore his equilibrium, but they were not happy either. They too were in body paint and Peter could scarcely tell Andrew from Anthony. He singled James out by his stringy build and Titus by his bowed legs. Father Aigan had told them that as members of the primitive community, he hoped they would, he urged them to, take part in the play. The list of complaints went on from there: they had been given inferior spears, they did not like the color red, they did not like to sleep in cots, the women disgusted them, the cooks put ashes in the food, their drink was mysterious, Ackawoi make kenaima, and last - James hissed it out as a curse - they did not like the sight of the eggs. They would not cat them under any circumstances. Anthony's back elongated and arched at the very thought. Peter assured them that no one would require that of them.
His words did not carry conviction, for the first time in his career. Father Aigan had beaten him to it, had been there in the morning with a basket of eggs, an Easter gift for Peter's guides. James dre-w it out from under his cot. Titus, Oswald, Anthony, Timothy, Andrew and Simon looked down at it, white eyes in red faces tackling the effrontery. They looked to Peter for an explanation. "Simply a custom," he said. Their brows furrowed. "Brings death to Indians," James said. Peter refrained. He did not say, "that's only a superstition." Peter's career was nothing if he did not know how to guide guides. Pedagogic instruction at this point would have resulted in a no-nonsense desertion. He was up against their history, the egg, symbol of their conquest ingested in the psyche if not in the intestines, consumed in the bowels of the soul.
He went back to the hut. Neither was Stephen's hue reassuring. Stephen lay on his cot and rolled helpless eyes at him. Peter looked Stephen in his hue and said "Damn!" It was a philosophical expletive, not meant to be taken personally, but Stephen took it that way, surmising that in spite of Peter's protest to the contrary he had a grudge against Stephen for getting sick. Stephen wondered if there was an apology formula that fit the case of being instrumental for an alteration of plans and not responsible at the same time.
He said, "I feel as bad as you do."
For some reason, that formula never works. Peter rummaged in his duffle bag for a cigar. He lit it and sucked on it lovingly, revolving it around and around on his tongue. "That so?" he said.
"Worse," Stephen said, "at least you can smoke. I don't even have room in my mouth for a cigarette."
Peter was a civilized man. His annoyance melted a little in
the facc of such discomfort. "Bad as all that?" he
said. Comforting, he put a hand on Stephen's forehead.
"Fever down. Headache gone.
"Less, but not gone. Don't they take quinine anymore." He inhaled the smoke from Peter's cigar.
"Things have improved a lot since we built the Panama Canal. Atabrine will knock this out of you in forty-eight hours."
Peter, Stephen saw, did not take his problem seriously. He felt the chill creep into his body. "I don't know if that's fast enough."
"What's your rush? You got all weekend."
Stephen cocked an eye at him and tucked his chin over his blanket. "I think he plans to crucify me and I have a feeling I won't come back."
Peter took the cigar out of his mouth. He held it between his thumb and index finger and gazed at it with affection and at Stephen with feigned amusement. "What makes you think so? Father Aigan might be a religious kook, but he isn't a nut." Such a gross judgment made him unsympathetic to Stephen, which did not surprise Stephen who knew how Peter hated cruddy complaints. He had prepared a forensic argument in advance of this, but his tongue was glued to the roof of his mouth. He tucked his chin on his blanket and managed, "I don't know, just have a feeling."
Peter felt Stephen's forehead again. He looked lovingly at his cigar again and said, "Want me to talk to him?"
Stephen rolled funny eyeballs up at him. "What do you want me to say," Peter said, "I don't believe any of this stuff anymore than you do."
Stephen's tongue fell down from the roof of his mouth with a clatter. "Let me tell you something," he said between gritty teeth, "if you don't believe that Jesus is the son of God born of a virgin woman you got one fuckin' apology to make to me."
Peter took a drag on his cigar and blew it in Stephen's face. "Apologies up your ass. I'm not responsible for Father Aigan or my ancestors. "
Stephen gurgled. Peter jumped. He thought he heard the death rattle. Stephen said, "If I had cholera now I'd breath in your face."
Peter leaned down to Stephen and said, "I'll risk it," and blew a heap of expensive smoke at him.
"Things have changed since I left the coast," Father Aigan said. "Is this how they treat the sick?"
Peter dropped his cigar to the floor and rolled it under the cot. Father Aigan came in to the hut with two Indians to give Stephen a rub-down, which pleased Peter who was willing to interpret all signs favorably. "Cassiri-bini," Father Aigan explained, "a mixture of burnt sugar and wild honey."
"Smells good," Stephen said, sniffing.
"It will hurt a little," Father Aigan said. "We pierce the skin here and there so that the ointment can seep well under the epidermis. "
Stephen then objected, but Peter over-ruled. "The Indians are renowned for their herbal medicines."
"My very words earlier," Father Aigan said, and the two Indians went to work. The pinpricks were slight. Five would have been very tolerable. Stephen looked to Peter for sympathy, but Peter had gotten paper and pen and was taking notes on the process.
"The Lord is benevolent with His gifts," Father Aigan said. "Everywhere we see His generosity, even with these children of the night. How does that feel?"
Stephen's skin raced around on his bones, looking for a hiding place. He tingled, burned, and slithered with ointment. His skin felt alarmingly alive, flayed, pores gasping for air like fish mouths, and resentful of the liver, intestines and gallbladder that still lay around in remote, feverish fluids.
"Equilibrium will spread through the body in a few minutes," Father Aigan said. He regarded his patient with a flicker of fondness and added, "The community of Israel can never be anything less to us than that sacred community into which our own Lord Jesus Christ was born."
Now, see that, Peter's smile said. Stephen thanked him for his kind words and thought, I'm glad I'll never be his son-in-law. Which gave him something to think about: a comparison between Father Reuchlin and Father Aigan: which one made Christianity work?
A duller realization crossed Father Aigan's mind. "You're not religious, my son", he said. Stephen admitted that he was not. "An empty vessel," Father Aigan said. Stephen thought that was a curious interpretation. "An agnostic?" Father Aigan said. Stephen looked to Peter for help. Father Aigan patted his thigh and wondered if he had an inherited eye defect. "It's all right, my son," he said pro forma, "you're not to blame for your people's laxity.
Recovery, even temporarily, from fever and chills makes a sick man feel especially sweet about life. Good health returns like spring to the earth. Stephen said, feeling rascally, "My grandparents were very religious. My sister married a rabbi. I'm the oddball in the family. Religion bores me." He flashed Father Aigan a brilliant smile.
Peter's pen dropped from his hand. He let Stephen know what he thought of that remark as soon as Father Aigan left. Gingerly he extricated his cigar from under the cot and blew off the dirt and the ants. "You might have considered my position, my career. This is my territory. I plan to return.
The Indians wrapped Stephen in palm leaves and put him on a
stretcher to take him down to a waterfall for a bath.
Stephen leaned up on an elbow and took in the situation: his faux
pas, Peter's career, an historical hiatus and miles of jungle to
cross on a pair of crutches. His skin flamed.
Petieboy, he called through his pores. His nostrils snorted
for air. Peter relit his cigar and
sorted his notes. They lived on two different levels of time. Stephen cocked an index finger at him. "Good luck to you, Charlie Brown," he said and lay back for the ride.
The sun was out. The land was garnished with brilliant emeralds. The world rushed over him with butterflies and orchids. He nodded with great respect and gravity to the women and the children who waved palm leaves at him, feeling like a ruler in a palanquin. The role didn't suit him. He wept. Middle class life and four years in Boy's High had unfit him for the royalty: Brooklyn boy makes good. Tears hung in his eyes as hard as diamonds.
They put him down near the waterfall. He slipped into a pool made by it, foot and all, in a pair of underwear. Foot still feverish, a chill attacked him. Hot foot, cold body. His brain fluttered with disequilibrium. He shivered so badly his teeth chattered. The Indians sat on the shore and watched him. He dipped cold fingers into the green water and blessed it. Nothing to dry himself with, drying a natural process in jungle as with wet monkey, he shivered all the way back to his hut. Hut empty and silent, he wrapped himself in a sleeping bag and gasped for warmth. After great heat cometh great cold. He watched a spider on the ceiling with a foreign eye: earth-cousin, roommate. The spider let down a thread and spun like a circus doll in sequins from a wire. He warmed a little and drifted a little into sleep and warmed a little and blessed the spider for its instincts and the circus doll for her nonsense and the camel for his hump. Abishag final thought. Great tumult in Stephen's brain: creeping cold and moist fear, one foot hot, the other freezing, body shaking, burning, pitching like a storm-tossed boat. He got hold of Abishag's thigh, a mighty rudder, and clung to it. Great sympathy for David in creeping cold.
Peter shook him on the shoulder. Stephen clung to Abishag's thigh. Peter shook him harder. Stephen rolled up one eyeball. The hand of death was upon him and the quickening foot was between him. He clung to the pillow. " Lemme sleep," he mumbled.
It took a considerable effort for Stephen to stop shaking.
Peter examined his eyes and tongue. "They're back to
normal," he said. "Right," Stephen said and got
dressed. He put on a pair of
chinos and a blue pullover and brushed his beard.
The streets were filled with villagers milling in the twilight, waiting for the festivities to begin. The children hopped and rattled animal heads. The younger ones carried blunt pointed spears and poked at each other. Older men wore elaborate necklaces made of bush-hogs' teeth or a bronze hammered collar in imitation of a Roman plate. Torches were lit. Red-painted bodies and bodies covered with ashes merged into light and shadow. Twilight deepened. Gray gave way to black. A drumbeat was started. The villagers became ceremonial. They formed a square, the children on one side, swords tilted inward towards the enemy, a line on the other side, indiscriminate, a muddy-colored multitude weaving arms in the air; the soldiery on the other side, bush-hogs' teeth gleaming on their necks, plumes waving from their reddened heads, facing the ash-covered forms of the penitentes groveling on the ground. Over their backs into the circle leaps a man sitting backwards on a donkey with two torches in his hands. He rolls his head so that his eyeballs rotate separately. They bulge out into the night. A torch enflames them. They smolder and go smoking back into his head. The donkey's paws are on fire. He bucks horrendously. His rider clings to him and fiercely and relentlessly he goads him with torches. The donkey brays piteously. Hot foam lashes his thickening lips. The rider shrieks inimitable shrieks. His breath makes the torches sputter. There is a sigh of satisfaction at his performance. The donkey slinks slower to death in an ever narrowing circle about himself. A shout of triumph and he is dead. The square becomes a line. The line becomes processional. Torches are held high, the spears, the crosses, the Jesus figures, the animal heads, the jaguar, the bush-hog, the donkey's head. The drummer beats from the shadows. The villagers respond with a hymn in patches of English and go forward by torchlight.
"Light, light, light a de world
Light, light, light a de world
Pour de light on me
Yam a nakked soul shiverin in de universe
Yam a nakked soul shiverin in de universe,
Light, light, light a de world,
Pour de light on me.
Sonade one eternal God
Sungod, songod, light a de world
Pour de light on me,
Godson, Godson, sonagod
Pour de light on me"
And make their way, passing Stephen and Peter, to the church
which they circle before entering.
Father Aigan stood on the verandah of his hut. "We mustn't tarry," he said.
The meal was served in the chapel room. Stephen had his instructions. An invitation from Father Aigan to spend the evening in his arboretum and a warning from Peter to leave the conversation to him.
The table was set with twelve places. The guides had been invited. It was a nice gesture, but Titus, Anthony, Andrew, Simon, Oswald, Timothy and James looked ungrateful. And in their body paint indistinguishable. Only Simon's mole, James's sneer at the eggs on the table and Anthony's repellent look told Peter who they were. Two more servants waited on them and ate with them: manioc pancakes, wine, fish, lamb, salt, and eggs. James, Titus, Timothy, Andrew, Anthony, Oswald and Simon sat shoulder to shoulder, a red picket fence, castigating and grim.
"Are you not Christians?" Father Aigan said to them.
They leaned forward in a single body. James spoke, "Indian Christian no eat the white man's egg."
Father Aigan's hand hovered over the blessing, his eyes wavered. "From Father Reuchlin's mission?" he asked. Peter nodded. Father Aigan sighed. "If the sheep goeth astray, who is called to account, the sheep or the sheeptender?" He proceeded with the reading of the text for that evening's meal. After the wine was drunk, atol6 was passed around. Women came in carrying a large bowl and a towel. They lifted their skirts an inch or two. Father Aigan fastidiously straightened his cassock behind him and got down on his knees to wash their toes. He poured water from a wooden glass over one toe of each woman and wiped each toe with a linen napkin. The object of this ceremony, he said tci Stephen, was to teach man humility. He dipped his fingers in a separate bowl and shook off the excess water and, getting up on his knees, his glance at this grass-thatched benab made apparent his thought that even here in the jungle he carried out the ceremonies of his religion, and aloud drew the parallel between himself and Schomburgk. Peter resisted the comparison, and Stephen found the implication of it depressing.
Titus, Anthony, Andrew, Simon, Oswald, James and Timothy, distrustful but interested, victorious in their main point, were prepared to join the others in the ceremony. They filed out of the hut to hear the service in the church.
Father Aigan again pressed Stephen to spend the evening in his arboretum. "The children rampage. They run in and out of the huts. Here you will have peace and quiet. The very ground is medicinal. Ancient herbs, rosemary and thyme."
Peter said, "Lucky it's not raining tonight."
Stephen's eyes wandered from Peter to Father Aigan and back to Peter. His vision blurred. Peter was ebullient with confidence. In the arboretum Stephen saw the torches from a distance and heard the broken prayers rendered in pidgin English. Bliss it would have been to have thought them innocent. Peter found a seat on a back bench in the church. Stephen stretched out on the ground and propped his sick foot on a rock. The big toe throbbed apart like a swollen engine, like a metronome: tock, tock, tick, tock. Life's fat trickled down the back of Stephen's throat, the smell of brown earth, the work of worms beneath the soil. Think optimistically, he said to himself. He listened to the dismal, distant, broken English, Father Aigan's voice more articulate than the others. Authentic English against pidgin English.
"The Church, inspired by the Holy Ghost, has established a special feast in honor of the most precious blood of our Lord. This saving blood was first shed at the circumcision of the divine Infant; it was next poured out in the bloody sweat of agony in the Garden of Olives; again it flowed under the cruel blows of the savage soldiery; then when the crown of thorns was pressed into His temples; and finally when one of the soldiers with a spear opened His side and there came out blood and water."
The voices saturated the darrkness with an archaic, broke language. Each word was distinctly familiar and yet the I anguage was suddenly foreign and menacing, as if a bush-hog should croak to the night in clipped English, and there came out blood and water."
Stephen listened with the ears of his soul. But it was hard to catch it all, hard to catch the defining inflection once and for all so that he could meditate a decision consummately rational. The villagers flagellated their tongues to recite the prayers correctly. Father Aigan, leading them, was emphatic in his pronunciation, his voice rendering the services of leadership, instruction and direction.
"Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross, expired in the afternoon and was taken down toward sunset, or the sixth hour. Thus did He by His blood pacify heaven and earth."
The congregation trailed after him, by His blood pacify heaven and earth."
And Father Aigan led them: "The cross, to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Gentiles foolishness, is the instrument of Christ's power and of the wisdom of God."
And the congregation echoed, and of the wisdom of God. "
The voices penetrated Stephen's pierced skin singly and together. They came from above. They came from all directions. They bounced off the dark night like a ventriloquist's trick. They projected a single voice, voluminous with the growth of two thousand years, and projected it into the throats of numberless numbers, the unborn, the as yet unconquered and those who will be conquered. A separate voice said to Stephen: Flee, only darkness and time keep you prisoner. The voices stopped. The silence became a flame and wrapped Stephen's skin in fire. Father Aigan's voice mounted the darkness: "The Church offers a feast surpassing all earthly enjoyments, and a means whereby we can make amends to God for the insults offered to His divine majesty." His words hung on the night like ripe fruit and thirsty throats drank from them.
There was an hiatus. Nothing. Stephen groped for equilibrium. There was an interval of nothing, the mundane shuffling of feet and pushing back of benches. Stephen's madness melted away. Then out of the nothing, out of the mundane shuffling of feet and putting away the benches and the gathering of children, out of the mundane darkness, in the piety of closing ritual, in the very celebration of love, a pressure moved, a water-hog crept sluggishly to his waterhole, drank deeply and bellowed his satisfaction to the nightdrenched jungle. Father Aigan's voice wrapped itself around Stephen's skin: "This is he who cometh by water and blood, not by water alone, but by water and blood."
Peter said, "Guess what?" Stephen scrambled to his feet. "He'd like you to join in." Stephen grinned. Peter said with brilliant naivete, "He asked me if I thought you could run a block or so."
"I can hop," Stephen said bitterly.
"Very funny," Peter said.
Father Aigan stood in the entrance to the garden, leaning on the cross. His irongray hair caught the light from the torches surrounding him. "My son," he said, "the gift of eternal life is yours. Stephen could not be persuaded. Father Aigan peered at him over his glasses. Stephen's disinclination was not pleasant. Father Aigan wondered what other argument he could present him. He offered him the distance between the arboretum and the jungle as a run. Some child who had been poked with a spear jibbered. They were getting impatient. The younger ones began to giggle and the older ones rattled their dolls and made noises. Disrespect was not to be tolerated. Father Aigan went "Sssshhh." The red-painted men pressed in closer to hear Stephen's answer. He searched for familiar eyes, James, Titus, Oswald. All had disappeared into a red wave carrying torches, spears, animal heads: the howler monkey, the crab, the shark, the alligator, the hunting dog, the bush-hog, the armadillo, the tapir, the otter. Teeth and wings and crosses gleamed in the torchlight.
Peter nudged Stephen. "Give him a short run. Hop if you have to. I'll hold your crutches for you." Father Aigan cleared a path for him. "The lamb that taketh away the sins of the world is exposed upon our altar." The torches sighed amen. A learn caught Father Aigan's lenses in double images. Stephen made the wanton reflection that his glasses were anachronistic. The world tilted. It was a disagreeable sensation. Stephen hovered on a balancing wire: to trust or not to trust. Tiltl The world slipped. Footing bad. A prod in his ribs. The natives were impatient. Peter helped him up. Run! the world roared. Stephen hit the iackpot. The pinball machine lit up. The torches closed in. Father Aigan's eyes went up in flames. All the clowns were grinning. Stephen ran, with them behind him throwing spears and arrows, the children jabbering, the men and women rattling animal puppets. Flaming straw dolls were shot from bows and pirrouetted above his head and fell, singeing his hair. The shouts were real. They rose from the ground like grass that seemingly springs from nowhere and is suddenly everywhere, ubiquitous, laying beneath the innocent ground until the right touch brings life back to it. The process being invisible, it always looks like spontaneous generation. It always surprises.
Like a pinprick in his ear, Stephen heard Peter's remark that he thought things had gone far enough, and then crashed against a tree at the edge of the jungle, where a spear nailed him through his back to the trunk. It was the silkcotton, believed by the Indians to contain the spirits of the dead. They moved away in a wave of dread. Peter was horrified. Two Indians held him under his armpits and would not let him touch Stephen. The rest sat in a semi-circle close by, their legs crossed, their spears resting on their thighs.
Stephen expired slowly. He lay alive on the tree until midafternoon. Drifts of words from Peter's text on kenaima mingled with his death agony. Illumination was terrifying. It carved out the solitude of his dying. Peter himself did not know. Stephen's dried tongue moved to enunciate the principle for him, but the expression on Peter's face stopped him. Peter looked incredulous and guilty and sclf-incriminating and pathetic and alive. And Stephen felt exceedingly sorry for him and envied him bitterly. "Petie boy," he said, "you're a real winner, a great explorer, but not a reliable savior." He lay head and cheek on the tree and lapped the sweat with his tongue that fell from his forehead.
The sun rose above the tops of the trees. The grass turned brown and sere under its heat. Grasshoppers, ants and beetles could be plainly seen on the bald ground. They went about their business, rubbing legs, pushing a crust of food, carrying the body of a companion to burial.
The villagers moved further away and watched from a distance. Blood fell on the ground. Ants, neopenera and others, crept out from under the trunk of the tree. Afternoon came. The sun caught Stephen's blonde beard. He knotted his fingers tightly around the trunk of the tree while the wings of death carried him into darkness.
A bellow split the earth. It was the mating of Uranus and Gaia. Progeny: monsters, especially Chronus, the fratricidal son born from Gaea's womb, spewed out from between her oaky thighs, trailing the afterbirth, blood matter resistant to shape, an engorged clot. Chronus ate it and then went to do battle with his father, to claim for himself the skyey abode. Time, the modems tell us, begins with the birth of Christ. Check the calendar.
Cycles passed. Cosmic time and geologic time and historic time, transplantation of cultures, transmutation of names: Abel and Bichiwung, Jesus and Christ. The war for heaven, an area in dispute, continues. Here on earth the people flee. The footsteps become many, spread out across lands, going down into all valleys, multiples of footsteps, signs of a people no man can guess at, huddled tribes, a handful of some leftover civilization, the last of their race, fleeing the unmentionable danger their elders wam them of: extinction. They flee before the wind, before the coming of that which they cannot stop, which they cannot see, the aged sit on the shoulders of their sons, the children sit in the arms of their mothers, they flee silently, carrying with them the secret of who they were. The last of their kind, they obey a blind instinct to preserve antiquity. And leave behind memorabilia: footsteps.
Wait! Stephen cried. He placed his foot in the hollow of a rock, in sandal or moccasin. Article of clothing insignificant to time. His maimed foot fit the step exactly.