Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 127
Publication Date: 1916
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Originally published in the magazine All Around, in December 1916, this is a pulp-fiction story about two heros who stumble upon a trail of evidence leading to a mystical city deep in the Amazon, where everyone speaks Ancient Greek.
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"It's good to be back again, Morse, back to civilization, and it's mighty good of you to take me in this way."
Stanley Morse looked at the orchid hunter as the latter leaned forward from the cozy depth of the saddlebag chair and stretched his lean hands to the blaze. The fingers were more like claws than human attributes; the whole man seemed little more than a well-preserved mummy, a strangely different person from the vigorous naturalist Morse remembered meeting three years before on the higher reaches of the Amazon—the "Flowing Road." The man's clothes hung in ludicrous folds about his gaunt frame, and he shivered despite the heat of the blazing logs that almost scorched his chair.
"Nonsense, Murdock!" he said. "I'm only trying to repay your own hospitality. Do you suppose I have forgotten the time you took me into camp on the Huallagos River, when my raft had gone to pieces in the Chapaja Rapids with all my equipment? You've got the malaria in your system yet. Let me get you something to offset that ague."
"It's more than malaria, Morse. There's nothing in your medicine chest, or anyone else's, that can help me,
He laughed a little hysterically and stripped back the sleeve from one arm. The limb, save for its power of movement, seemed atrophied, flesh and muscle and skin had shrunk about the bones until they looked like two sticks held together with twisted cords.
"That's emblematic of the rest of me," he said, as the loose cloth slid back over his knobby wrist. "I've done my last league on the Flowing Road or any other road, for that matter. I've found my last orchid."
"You'll be all right with a few weeks’ rest," replied Morse, with forced optimism. "As for the financial end of it, we can build a bridge across that stream."
"I need no man's charity," said Murdock, with a flash of fierce resentment. "If you'll put me up for a while—it won't be long—as you have offered to, I'll accept it gladly; but I can pay my way, Morse."
"That's all right," answered Morse, sensing the feverish excitement of his guest; "we'll not talk of payment. Tell me about your trip, if you feel up to it. And join me in a hot toddy."
He touched a bell, and a deft man-servant answered, retiring to bring in the necessary concomitants.
"This beats chacta," said Murdock, as he sipped the steaming liquid. "And this"—his eyes roved round the big room, the walls set with well-filled bookcases that reached half their height, the spaces above covered with curios and trophies of the chase, mostly South American—"this is a long way from Ucali's hut on the headwaters of the Xingu."
He lapsed into a reverie, staring into the fire, his skull-like head sunk between his hands, as if he could see in the glowing coals the seething cataracts of a torrent racing between rugged sandstone palisades clothed with dense forests, where the lianas writhed between the trees and bound them together in an almost impenetrable jungle.
Stanley Morse, gentleman adventurer, who spent his bountiful income in the exploration of unknown lands for the sheer love of sport and the thrill of danger, watched his guest pityingly. There were hardly ten years between them, he reflected, remembering the man of three years ago, bronzed and lusty, barely entering the prime of life. Now he seemed sixty, twice Morse's own age, and prematurely old at that. Presently he relapsed with a long sigh, finished his toddy, and settled back amid the cushions luxuriantly.
"The headwaters of the Xingu. That was where you came out?" Morse queried. "Don't talk if you are too tired. Let it go until tomorrow, and turn in."
"There may be no tomorrow," answered the orchid hunter. There was nothing morbid in his tone. He spoke cheerfully, as one who recognizes overpowering odds and accepts them bravely. "So I shall talk tonight. Yes, that is where I came out of the carrasco (brush)—alone. But the story I want to tell you begins back of that, on the chapadao (plateau) between the Xingu and the Manoel, south of Para, in Matto Grosso State."
He turned his head, with its dark eyes glowing in deep hollows sunk in the skin that looked like brown parchment, and spoke in a low tone fraught with impressiveness.
"Did you know, Morse," he queried, "that there was a great city on the southern part of the Amazonian plateau?"
"It hardly surprises me," said Morse. "I've never seen any evidences in Brazil myself, but I made a trip to Chan Chan, in Peru, near Trujillo. Pre-Inca they call it. Not much left but a honeycomb of mud walls now, though."
"Mud walls! Pish! I'm not talking of ruins, man! I mean a living city. Temples cut from the living rock, great buildings of stone set along the shore of a mighty lake amid tropical foliage and cultivated fields. Paved roadways, and people thronging them clad in brilliant garments. Boats on the lake, with banks of oars and striped sails. A city set in a bowl of gray cliffs in the shadow of a snow-capped peak with a plume of smoke coming from it like the curl of a lazy fire!"
"You've seen it?"
He spoke with conviction, and Morse for a moment shared the vision. The next sentence shattered it:
"Twice in the air. Don't think I'm crazy, Morse. It was a mirage, but even a fata Morgana has to be projected from an actual object. And there's tangible proof to back it up. They were not air castles I saw, not the 'airy segments of a dream.'"