|Charlie MacDuff and the Test of Time|
by I. MacPenn
A troop of monkeys poured down from the trees in the clearing. They were traveling so quickly that the kids could see only dark brown blurs, each of which had a long tail.
A huge, brown eagle swooped near the frightened monkeys and grabbed one using its huge claws. The eagle was about the same size as the monkey. As the raptor laboriously flapped its outspread wings to rise above the rainforest, the captured monkey let out a terrible shriek. It was the same terrible sound that had awoken them that morning.
The eagle and its unfortunate prey disappeared over the lush green rainforest canopy. Charlie, Alice, and George were shaken, but soon the background sounds of the rainforest returned to their normal level, and the monkeys returned to their leafy canopy.
Ano continued his trek towards their unknown destination, and the kids followed him. They were neither enthusiastic nor upset, but they were becoming more and more curious ... and a little worried about where they were going.
In a few minutes, they spotted a man kneeling by a beautiful flowering plant. When he heard them approach, he jumped up to face them, alert for danger. As soon as he saw Ano, he smiled and relaxed. The two men were obviously friends.
The stranger had brown hair and was of average height. He was wearing a long-sleeved shirt, a black vest, black pants, and leather shoes. He was holding a notebook, a pen, and a carrying case that was overflowing with plants.
He and Ano talked in Ano's language, occasionally pointing at the kids. When they had finished their conversation, the man addressed Charlie, George, and Alice, "Je m'appelle Aimé Bonpland. Je suis ..." But Charlie interrupted him in mid-sentence, "Do you speak English? I don't speak French."
The man smiled again and replied, speaking very slowly, "Yes, certainly, I do speak English. My name is Aimé Bonpland and I am a botanist from France. Ano has told me of his amusing adventure, finding you in the forest yesterday."
Charlie said, "Nice to meet you. I'm Charlie MacDuff. This is George Garcia and Alice Wright." Charlie wasn't sure what else he could say without sounding crazy. After all, you can't just walk up to people and tell them that you're a time traveler and that you don't know where you are or even what century it is.
Aimé asked, "Are you lost in the forest? Are your parents nearby?"
After an awkward silence, Charlie replied, "Well ... no, we're not exactly lost. Our parents aren't here - they're home. We're here without them."
"Well," said Aimé, "we should go back to the camp. You will enjoy meeting Alexander." As he talked, he turned and walked along the trail. Ano and the kids followed him.
"Who is Alexander?" asked George.
Bonpland answered, "Alexander von Humboldt is my friend and fellow explorer. He is a gifted naturalist and scientist par excellence. He is fluent in zoology, botany, geology, mineralogy, vulcanology, astronomy, oceanography, and climatology."
George was definitely impressed and wanted to know more. He asked, "Why is he here?" George also figured that this was a rather clever way to determine where they were.
Bonpland answered, "We traveled to South America in order to study the plants, animals, and geography of the entire continent. We recently walked from Caracas, Venezuela, and the mouth of the Orinoco River. We are traveling along the Orinoco to the Casiquiare River and on to the Amazon River. Just two days ago we witnessed the most spectacular solar eclipse. We have stopped in this area to investigate a legendary animal known only to the Piaroa Indians, Ano's people."
"What kind of animal is it?" asked Alice. "Does it look anything like a dragon?"
"No, not at all," replied Bonpland. "It is a type of fish."
This, of course, dashed Alice's hopes for an easy-to-find dragon, for a simple solution to this part of the Test of Time. Apparently, this was not going to be an easily solved puzzle.
After crossing a small stream, they noticed a camp ahead in a small clearing. There were two small, brown tents, and a faded tarpaulin protected a makeshift table from the continual mist-like rain. A large, well-dressed man was standing by the table, and a thin, tired-looking young woman was sitting near him.
As they approached, Bonpland introduced the kids to the man and the woman. The man by the table was Alexander von Humboldt. He said, "Welcome to our camp. This is Jane Wadkins, a physicist from England."
"Hi," replied Charlie, "Mr. Bonpland said that you're here to explore and study this area."
"Yes," said von Humboldt, "It has been a life-long dream of mine to investigate the New World. In the midst of these tremendous surroundings I am continually amazed by the new impressions I receive with each step."
Von Humboldt asked them, "Are you from England?"
Charlie answered, "No, we're from the United States."
"Ah," said von Humboldt, "After our travels in South America, we will visit your country. I hope to visit your Vice-President, Mr. Thomas Jefferson.
Charlie, Alice and George looked at each other quizzically. Apparently, none of them could remember exactly when Thomas Jefferson was Vice-President.
Meanwhile, Miss Wadkins had been staring at Charlie, Alice and George the entire time. She seemed very ill at ease, almost afraid, and asked them in a shaky voice, "Why are you here?"
After a noticeable pause, Charlie answered, "We're here as part of a test."
Unfortunately, Miss Wadkins was not satisfied with his answer. Looking sternly at Charlie, she demanded, "What type of test could you be taking in the jungles of Venezuela?"
Charlie was flummoxed. He didn't know what to say without revealing that they were time travelers. But at least he now knew that they were in Venezuela.
"It's sort of complicated," Charlie replied. He certainly couldn't tell them that he was taking a test to become a time traveler - they wouldn't believe that for a minute.
George interrupted and cleverly changed the subject, asking Miss Wadkins, "What types of things does a physicist study here in the rain forest?"
Miss Wadkins replied, "I did not come here to study the jungle. In fact, I did not choose to come here at all. I was kidnapped and taken here against my will." As she spoke, she stared at the kids as though they were the culprits.
Mr. Bonpland continued, "Ano's people found Miss Wadkins in the forest, near death from yellow fever. She convalesced at Ano's village for weeks. When we arrived here a week ago, Miss Wadkins decided to travel with us until we reach a port, at which time she will sail back to England."
Charlie asked Miss Wadkins, "Who kidnapped you?"
"I don't know," she replied, "I was at my home in Cambridge when an odd-looking red-haired man and a dark-haired woman knocked on my door. The last thing I remember is opening the door for them. After that, my next memory is of Ano's people taking care of me."
Von Humboldt added, "Miss Wadkins is recovering very well. In fact, we were planning on an expedition this afternoon to see an animal that the indigenous people have told us about. She is well enough to travel now. Perhaps you can join us, and we can all go to see this marvel of nature. The Piaroa people say that there is a strange fish in nearby streams that can kill a horse with its power. Aimé and I believe that it may be an animal that can generate an electrical current - this has never been known to occur in nature before."
George interrupted again, and asked, "Do you have any food? I'm really hungry. Ano offered us some fresh roasted spider for lunch, but ..."
"Certainly, I understand," replied von Humboldt, and he opened a white wicker case containing fruit, tins of biscuits, and other familiar goodies. Charlie, George, and Alice ate heartily while von Humboldt and Bonpland packed their scientific instruments for that afternoon's expedition.
When the meal was done, they began their walk to the stream that housed the new, unusual animal that von Humboldt hoped to study. Von Humboldt was leading the group towards the stream, using a compass to guide him through the forest. As they were walking, von Humboldt said, "Finding this animal will be very good." As they spoke, Miss Wadkins translated everything they said to Ano, and she also translated Ano's words for the group.
Ano smiled at what von Humboldt had said. He began to tell the group about a family that lived in a nearby village.
Ano's story began, "One beautiful, rainless morning, an old villager named Banho awoke to find a horse at his door. The horse was young, strong, and tame; he could run faster than the wind. He let Banho and his son ride him willingly from sunup to sundown without tiring. Banho thanked the Gods for their gift. Banho knew that finding the horse was very good."
"The next day, Banho's only son was thrown from the horse and broke his leg. Banho was very upset -- now that his son was injured, the family would have no meat to eat this season. How would they survive without their only hunter? The entire family might starve to death if their only son could not work. Banho was inconsolate, and cursed the Gods for their malevolence. Banho decided that finding the horse had been very bad."
"The next week, soldiers came through the village. All the young men were captured and taken away. They were forced to work in the iron mines. Because he had a broken leg, Banho's son was not taken. He was the only young man who remained in the village. Banho's family soon became the richest in the village. Banho now realized that finding the horse had been very good indeed."
"A year later, the men who had been captured to work in the mines returned to village. They each carried boxes of treasures that they had bought with the money they had earned at the mine. Banho's family was now one of the poorest in the village. And it was all because of the horse. Banho now thought that finding the horse had been bad -- but he was no longer certain. Over time, Banho eventually realized that finding the horse wasn't good. It wasn't bad. It simply was."
Ano smiled -- that was the end of his story. Von Humboldt and Bonpland also smiled at the story and the prospect of their finding a new animal, like Banho.
Miss Wadkins said, "Ano's story reminds me of a line from a Rudyard Kipling poem: If you can meet with triumph and disaster, And treat those two imposters just the same."
But their brief, thoughtful interlude was interrupted when von Humboldt screamed in agony.
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|HUMBOLDT, ALEXANDER VON
Baron Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was a Prussian naturalist and explorer who explored much of Central and South America. Humboldt and his friend, the French botanist Aime Bonpland, explored the coast of Venezuela, the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers, and much of Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Mexico (1799-1805).
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