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Mato Grosso, 1906

     The man staggered out of the jungle half crazed with thirst and traumatized by the terrible horrors he had witnessed.  He had little recollection of the past few days, and could offer no explanation of how he had traversed more than one hundred miles of uncharted jungle alone.  When asked about the other members of his expedition, he was mute and seemed to enter into a catatonic state.  The man had no weapons or possessions other than a battered copy of the Holy Bible, which he clutched firmly in his hands.    He was reluctant to give it up at first.  Later when a Consulate Official leafed through the book, he found a magnificent blue orchid pressed between the pages.  After a brief period of physical rehabilitation, the man boarded a ship bound for England.  Upon returning to the embrace of his family, he began a slow climb back from the depths of madness.  


     Lord Arthur Percival was looking blankly across the grounds of his family seat in Maidstone, Kent.  He was still having difficulty sleeping and when he did, the recurring nightmares were horrifying.  Sitting quietly in the sunshine as he was at this moment, he was able to once again turn his thoughts to the simple and mundane.  Leading up to the recent expedition to South America, Percival had led a privileged life.  His father had died when he was just a boy, and he had inherited both title and wealth which had been carefully preserved by his beloved mother until he came of age.  He attended Harrow School and later the Royal Military College, Sandhurst where he was a classmate of Winston Churchill.  The two young men had served together as subalterns with the 21st Lancers during the Anglo-Sudan Campaign.  Percival had been mentioned in dispatches for his heroic conduct during the battle of Omdurman.

     At the end of the Boer War in 1902, Captain Arthur Percival, then age 28, left the military to pursue other interests.  It was at a National Geographic Society meeting in New York that he met and befriended another young man named Hiram Bingham.  Both men had a fascination with pre-Columbian civilizations, particularly in Central and South America.  They believed there were ancient lost cities in the Amazon rain forest, perhaps even the fabled ‘city of gold.’  They kept in touch, and when Percival was selected to lead a British expedition to South America in 1906, he attempted to recruit his friend as chief archeologist.  Providentially for Bingham, he had a scheduling conflict and couldn’t participate.  Five years later Hiram Bingham would climb to the top of ridge on a mountain in Peru, and discover one of the most extraordinary ancient ruins in the world, Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas.

     There had been intense public interest surrounding Lord Percival’s return to England.  But details about the failed expedition seemed to be shrouded in secrecy.  There wasn’t even an explanation offered about the fate of other survivors.  So why the silence, many wondered? What had really happened? Everyone was keenly interested in the story, and as a result the flames of a budding controversy were being fanned by the rapacious tabloids.  In the absence of any solid information, the more respectable London Times remained mostly silent.  Percival alone held the key to the mystery.  Countless friends and reporters had attempted to contact him, but his mother and younger sister had kept him safely wrapped in a cocoon of inviolability.

     A shadow passed in front of Percival’s line of sight, which startled him from his reverie.  “Your pardon, sir,” said his valet Archibald Watkins who was balancing a tray with a pot of tea and his afternoon shot of brandy.  Arthur Percival was not customarily a daytime imbiber of spirits, but he found that an occasional sip helped to keep his frayed nerves under control.  “Good man,” he said, and then noticed there was a Western Union telegram tucked under the edge of the teapot.  Thinking bloody hell, he picked it up and read a short message from Adolf S. Ochs, the editor of the New York Times.    Ochs informed him that the renowned Nellie Bly was on route from America and would arrive in England in a matter of days.  She had been commissioned by Ochs to write a story about Percival’s recent adventures.

     Arthur Percival had been introduced to Adolf Ochs in New York City by his friend Hiram Bingham.  Although they had only met briefly, Ochs had impressed him as a ‘better to ask for forgiveness, than permission’ type of newspaper man.  The mere fact that he could convince Nellie Bly to take on this assignment spoke volumes about his powers of persuasion.  Percival had never met Nellie, but he knew she was one of the most prominent women in America.  A renowned writer and journalist, her claim to fame was the completion of an around-the-world journey in 72 days, beating the record of the fictitious Phineas Fogg in the Jules Verne novel.  Nellie Bly was a formidable woman who was unlikely to take no for an answer.  Percival mused, what in blazes will I say to her?

     Percival paced back and forth in his study, as a warming fire burned in the hearth.  He sensed that he was beginning to recover from the deep despair that had caused his mind to shut down. With renewed memory he could now vividly recall what he had witnessed in the jungle.  Percival was no coward.  He was a man who with pistol and sword had ridden into a howling horde of Mahdist warriors.  But what he had faced on this expedition was of an entirely different magnitude.  The horror of the memories was now slowly turning to a burning anger.  He thought of the men who had died, and racked with guilt wondered, how could it have been prevented?  His sponsors at the Explorer’s Club had been very patient with him.  But it was now time to give them a full accounting of what had happened.

     The committee members listened carefully as he told his story.  When he finished they looked at one another in disbelief.  They had difficulty believing that a predatory serpent could overcome an entire expedition.  A few skeptics even challenged Percival’s mental stability, and one man pointedly asked, “How is it that you alone survived?”  Another wondered sarcastically if Percival thought they were naïve enough to believe that some sort of ‘Loch Ness’ creature could overcome a party of well-armed men.  Percival tried to convince them that it was all true.  But they wouldn’t have any of it.  The committee chairman summarized by saying, “What you have told us today is simply absurd.”  Adding, “I believe there is something nefarious at the root of this.”  He accused Percival of squandering their money and the lives of several good men.  Lord Percival left the meeting feeling battered and deflated.


     The anaconda lay motionless, almost fully submerged in the swampy water. With its eyes and nasal openings on the top of its head, there was no indication of its massive fifty foot length.  Weighting almost two thousand pounds, it was three feet wide at the neck.  The serpent had almost perfect night vision and would wait patiently, until an unwary victim ventured near.  Then it would quickly coil itself around the prey and squeeze it to death.  With one hundred rear-facing teeth and a jaw that becomes almost unhinged, it swallowed its victim’s whole.  Sated by the recent feast of humans, the monstrous creature now lay quiet in a semi-somnolent state.  It couldn’t eat all of them, and had stored some in a cave under the river bank.  A few of them were still alive.  In the total darkness, they had gone mad and screamed in horror.  They were future food items for this apex predator.

     The Honourable Edmund Woodruff entered the Carlton Club at lunchtime on a Tuesday.  The crowd at the bar was already three deep as the usual gaggle of Tory MP’s and other members of the London elite shouted out orders for liquid refreshment.  Elbowing his way to the front, Woodruff was finally given his usual whiskey and soda, and then after chatting with a few acquaintances he made his way into the dining room.  Winston and some of his cronies were at one table, and he nodded as Woodruff passed by.  The Lord Kitchener sat nearby with some military types.  Woodruff sat at the ‘trough,’ a common table where individual diners could gather to enjoy lunch and chat with one another.  Moments later, a man sat down beside him. 

     Woodruff extended his hand and said, “Good of you to join me, old boy.” Charles Allenby responded, “Always a pleasure, Woody.” The two men ordered the sole almandine and a glass of Sauvignon blanc.   After eating, they retired to a private conference room where Woodruff explained that as board member of the Explorer’s Club, he had been privy to a recent meeting with Lord Percival.  He detailed the substance of the meeting and the negative response expressed by the committee at large.  Woodruff added that something was untoward about the failed expedition, and he was suspicious that Percival had a hidden agenda.  There was even some talk about a city of gold.  He went on to say that the New York Times had sent a prominent journalist to interview Percival.  Now there were rumours of another expedition to South America, ostensibly to locate a rare orchid.

     Allenby left the Carlton Club with a substantial bank draft in his pocket.  It was enough to cover the costs of a thorough investigation into Lord Percival’s activities.  If this led to anything profitable, an equitable division had been agreed upon between Woodruff and Allenby.  The two men had done business before, so there existed a degree of honour among thieves.  Still, Woodruff wanted to be far removed from any direct involvement and suggested that the job be subcontracted to a capable third party.  He wanted absolute deniability and his name was not to be mentioned.  Allenby had the perfect candidate in mind.  After returning to his lodgings on Park Lane, he sent a note to Matthew Finney in the afternoon post.  The man, a former Regimental Sergeant Major in the Scots Guards, was now a purveyor of discreet inquiries.

     Matthew Finney had the world weary look of a man who had seen it all.  He was a tough as nails ex-soldier who had fought in many conflicts throughout the empire.  After being put out to pasture at the age of thirty-eight, he had returned to London and taken up the profession of his fictional hero Sherlock Holmes.  But, there were no ’Hounds of the Baskervilles’ to be found in his slim case load.  They were mostly follow-and-report assignments that paid the bills, but offered little personal gratification.  He was sitting in his modest office off St Martin’s Lane when the post arrived.  After reading Allenby’s letter, he locked the door and began walking briskly in the direction of the man’s suite at the Dorchester.  With his erect posture and impeccable dress, he cut an impressive figure as he strode forth swinging his blackthorn stick.   The stick was a stout shillelagh, which in Finney’s business he carried for purposes of practicality as much as a stylish accessory.

     As a former Regimental Sergeant Major, RSM Matthew Finney had been offered a commission in lieu of mandatory retirement from the ranks.  There was no way on God’s green earth that he would have accepted.  He disliked officers, politicians and the social elite in no particular order.  He had known Charles Allenby when he was Major Allenby and they had both served in a Guard’s Regiment.  Now, as a reserve Colonel, and also being closely associated with the Tory Party, Allenby ticked off all the negative boxes on Finney’s list.  And yet, when he opened the door, Finney thrust his stick under his arm and stood to attention.  The RSM had worked for the man on two previous occasions.  Both jobs had been ethically borderline, but provided much needed income.  Allenby invited him in and immediately launched into a briefing of what he referred to as the Percival operation.

     For years there had been talk of an ancient civilization deep in the Brazilian rainforest.  Two centuries ago Portuguese explorers claimed to have found evidence of the fabled Lost City of Z.  Some called it El Dorado.  Legend contends that it contains an immense amount of gold and priceless antiquities.  It is believed that the people who had lived in this once thriving city had been decimated by European diseases, and the site had been overgrown by the jungle which obscured any evidence of its existence.  Allenby thought that Percival may have found the lost city.  Perhaps he wanted all of the treasure for himself.  That might explain why every man in his party – except Percival himself – had gone missing.  Was it murder?  Percival had spun an absurd story about a lethal encounter with a giant snake.  With a huge fortune at stake, Charles Allenby wanted to know the truth.  He told Finney to pack his bags for Rio.


     Word about the blue orchid had made its way from the Royal Geographical Society in London to Cecelia Newhouse, who was a member of an affiliate body in New York.  The twenty-six year old Miss Newhouse was a botanist and expert orchidologist who owned a rare orchid greenhouse in her hometown of Newark, New Jersey.  Thrilled by the news of a previously unknown species, she had corresponded with experts in London and had been sent a fuzzy photograph.  Apparently the flower had been pressed between the pages of a book, but she could see from the shape of the blossom and leaves that it was different from anything else in the vast orchid universe.  This particular orchid originated from Brazil, and was discovered by an Englishman who had the presence of mind to preserve it.

     Cecelia was writing an article about the blue orchid for the Homes & Gardens section of the New York Times.  The Sunday editor suggested that she speak with Nellie Bly who was doing a piece on the man who discovered the orchid, as clearly the two stories intersected.  Cecilia had never met Nellie Bly, but she was well aware of who she was and was excited at the prospect of meeting such a cultural icon and advocate for woman’s empowerment.  When they met, Cecelia was a little in awe, but Nellie quickly put her at ease.  She said she was sailing for England in a few days to meet Lord Percival.  Nellie suggested that she come along and get the details about the orchid right from the horse’s mouth.  Cecelia asked, “Is that even remotely possible?”  Nellie replied, “I’ve got Adolf Ochs eating out of my hand!”

     The two woman were several days out of New York City aboard the Cunard Line’s new ship HMS Mauritania.  They had become fast friends and by then Nellie had learned Cecelia’s complete life history.  She was unmarried and lived with her parents at the family home in Newark.  A graduate of Byrn Mawr College, she went on to obtain an advanced degree in botany at Cornell.  An expert on orchids, she was writing a thesis on the subject and planned to defend it soon in the final step to obtaining her doctorate.  Cecelia was hoping to include previously unknown facts about the blue orchid in her study.  Engaged to be married at the age of twenty-one, her Dutch descent fiancé had left to fight in the Boar War and never returned.  Cecelia had buried herself in her studies, and also with her father’s assistance built an ultra-modern greenhouse to grow rare orchids. 

     Two days later the ship docked in Liverpool, and after disembarking Cecelia and Nellie took a horse drawn hansom cab to the train station.  Several hours later they arrived at Euston Station in London and took another cab to the Metropole Hotel.  Cecelia was astonished by the luxurious suite, much as she had been with the stateroom aboard the Mauritania.  She came from a fairly well-to-do family, but had never experienced travel on this level.  Nellie just seemed to take it in stride.  She said she had a meeting the following morning with a Major Fawcett, and thought Cecelia might like to sit in.  Then, after lunch, the Percival’s were sending an automobile to transport them to their home in Kent.  Lady Percival had extended an invitation for them to stay for the duration of their time in England.  For tonight though, they had theatre tickets for a show in the West End.

     Promptly at ten o’clock the next morning Major Percy Harrison Fawcett arrived for his meeting with Nellie.  Fawcett was an artillery officer, but was also a skilled cartographer and archeologist.  He had been seconded to the Royal Geographical Society and was about to embark on an expedition to South America.  His mission was to map the jungle area at the disputed border of Brazil and Bolivia.  The society had been commissioned as a third party unbiased by local interests.  Fawcett was immensely interested in pre-Columbian indigenous societies, and was convinced that the Lost City of Z existed somewhere in the region he referred to as, “The last great blank space in the world.”  He would be operating in an area close to where Lord Percival’s party had run into trouble.  For her article, Nellie wanted Fawcett’s perspective on how things could have gone so terribly wrong.

     Lord Percival had sent his valet Archie Watkins to pick up Nellie and Cecelia at the Metropole Hotel.  They were suitably impressed when he pulled up in a 1906 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost.  Although the distance from London to Maidstone was only forty miles, it was still a two hour drive over rutted country roads.  The two women spent the time talking about the meeting earlier that morning with Major Fawcett.  They both thought the man was very professional. He had given them considerable information on how to organize and conduct a proper jungle expedition.  He thought the size of Percival’s group – twelve men – had been too large.  It required a lot of supplies and equipment that would have to be carried by pack animals.  The mules would not be able to proceed once the group entered the thick jungle, and would have to be led back.  That’s when your problems really begin.

     Fawcett had talked about the unbelievably oppressive heat, the insects and the physical endurance required to make your way through an almost impenetrable jungle.  Previous explorers had referred to it as the green hell.  He said he could offer no opinion on the fate of the eleven missing men.  It was unprecedented.  There had been some talk about a predatory snake.  But, to him it sounded like utter rubbish.  Nellie mused, I wonder what Percival will have to say about all this?  She said, “We’ll soon meet the man, and hopefully get some straight answers.”  Cecile responded, “Thank-you again for including me Nellie; it’s an exciting story and I can hardly wait to hear more details.  I think it was so very kind of his wife to invite us to stay in their home.”  Nellie responded, “There is no wife Cici, Lady Percival is his mother.”


     The klaxon on the Silver Ghost gave off a shrill screech as they entered the driveway leading up to Percival Hall.  Watkins pulled up to the vestibule where an elegant looking woman was waiting to greet them.  After introductions were made, Lady Percival invited them to join her for tea in the drawing room.  She said their baggage would be delivered to individual guest rooms on the upper floor.  Her friendly manner immediately put them at ease, and she insisted that they all address one another by their first names.  She said, “My son Arthur is tending to his horses at the moment, but he will be joining us later for dinner.”  She explained that he was apprehensive about the upcoming interview with Nellie, and that he had been somewhat unwell recently.  Lady Percival seemed delighted that Cecelia had come along.  She said, “I look forward to showing you my orchids, once you’ve had a chance to settle in.”

     Arthur Percival was brushing his favourite horse when a stunning young woman entered through the stable door.  Momentarily at a loss, he finally managed a hesitant, “Hello?”  The woman smiled and said, “Hi, my name is Cecelia Newhouse.”  Cecelia said the she had only just arrived, and after unpacking had decided to take a stroll around to admire the grounds.  Percival gazed at her somewhat star struck.  Somehow he felt as if his whole universe had suddenly shifted.  They began a tentative conversation and he introduced her to his horse.  Stroking the animal’s nose Cecelia explained that she was here with Nellie Bly, and that as an orchidologist was particularly interested in hearing all about the blue orchid.

     Lord Percival joined the group for a pre-dinner drink, suitably attired in black jacket and tie.  His sister Meredith was in attendance and there was a pleasant hum of conversation in the room.  With a gin martini in hand, he stood in front of the fireplace and surveyed their guests.  Nellie Bly was an attractive ‘fortyish’ woman, recently widowed he understood, and now resuming her successful career as a writer and journalist.  She was engaged in a conversation with Meredith, no doubt about the women’s right to vote or some such.  Cecelia Newhouse and his mother were admiring an Alfred Sissley landscape which was displayed prominently over a Pomono oak table.  He noted that she was wearing her rich black hair up in pins, and he admired the graceful arc of her neck.

     Over dinner Arthur was able to relax as the ladies carried most of the conversation.  He found that he couldn’t take his eyes away from Cecelia, and she seemed to constantly turn his way and smile marvellously.  Nellie, who was watching this interplay looked at Meredith who grinned and raised her eyebrows.  If Lady Percival noticed the electricity between her son and the beautiful young guest, she didn’t acknowledge it.  When they finished dinner, Lady Percival said, “Arthur, why don’t you take the ladies out to see my orchids?”  Nellie said, “I’d love to, but I’m a little weary after a long day.  If you don’t mind, I think I’ll just go to my room.”  Lord Percival said, “In that case Cecelia, come along and I’ll show you mother’s pride and joy.”  He pulled back her chair and led the way through the house to the back door.

     Percival explained that the reason he had preserved the blue orchid was because he had a sense that it was rare and unique.  His mother’s avocation was collecting and nurturing orchids, and he had become familiar with the exotic species through long assimilation.  When they approached Lady Percival’s greenhouse, Cecelia was impressed by its size and structure.  She could see that in addition to unreliable solar energy, the greenhouse was heated by a coal fired stove which circulated warmth through a long metal tube.  Inside they examined dozens of rare orchids, a diverse collection which approached the level of her own in New Jersey.  Cecelia was amazed by Arthur’s knowledge on the subject.  They talked for a considerable time, neither of them noticing the approaching darkness.  Finally, Lord Perceval suggested that they continue their conversation in the drawing room.

     Percival deposited a few lumps of coal on the fire and poured two glasses of sherry.  They sat down in opposing armchairs and began to talk.  Only when the clock chimed midnight did they realize how the time had flown.  They both realized it was well past time to retire, but neither of them wanted to say goodnight.  They had talked about everything possible, other than the recent expedition to Brazil.  Cecelia was fascinated to hear about Percival’s military career, and when he mentioned the Boer War in South Africa she told him about her engagement to a man who had left and never returned.  Finally Percival pointed out the direction to her room.  Before leaving, Cecelia reached up and kissed him on the cheek.   As he watched her walk away his heart was beating like a drum.

     The next morning Lord Percival met with Nellie and Cecelia in his cozy book-lined den.  With the fire stoked and a tray of coffee served, they sat down to begin the much anticipated interview.  As Percival began to speak, Nellie noted the military paraphernalia including crossed sabres, a plumed helmet and a framed certificate of his Distinguished Service Order.   She thought to herself, this man is the real deal.  Nellie gently guided him, and eventually he told them the whole story.  It was a bizarre recounting, and she questioned him closely on several points.  Nellie knew she had acquired enough material to write an explosive feature article.  The only problem was there was no corroborating witnesses.  In fact, no evidence to support the story at all.  It was all based on one man’s testimony which she thought, was barely believable.  She wondered, if in spite of appearances the man was delusional?  Nellie asked him, “Would you consider going back?”


     RSM Matthew Finney arrived in Rio de Janeiro after an unpleasant ten day voyage aboard the Brazilian freighter Cruzeiro de Sul.  The aged ship transported rubber and coffee on its outward bound voyage, and accommodated a limited number of passengers on the return.  Accompanying Finney was Sergeant Gabriel Cardoso, also a retired soldier, who happened to be an expert rifleman and was fluent in the Portuguese language.  Cardoso had won a gold medal at the 1898 shooting competition at Bisley, and had applied his skill with deadly effect during the recent Boer War.  Throughout the voyage and later passing through customs, his linguistic skills had proven to be quite helpful.  Both men were traveling light with just a kitbag containing a few personal items.  Inside Cardoso’s bag was a stripped down .30-06 Springfield bolt action rifle.  The RSM carried a Webley revolver in a holster strapped around his waist.

     Before leaving England, RSM Finney had been summoned to meet again with Colonel Charles Allenby.  His sponsor informed him that Lord Percival was leaving for South America in a matter of days, this time under the pretence of acquiring cuttings of a rare blue orchid.  He was certain that the real purpose was to revisit the Lost City of Z.  Allenby instructed Finney to arrange passage on the first available ship, and to be in position when Percival and his party arrived.  Then it was simply a matter of discretely following and dispossessing them of any gold or antiquities they might have found.  Allenby hinted that he wasn’t particular if Percival were to ever return.  He said, “Handle this efficaciously for me, and there will be a handsome reward.”  He handed the RSM a large packet of banknotes to cover contingencies.

     After making discreet inquiries at the British Consulate, Finney determined that Lord Percival had not yet arrived in Rio de Janeiro.  The two men checked into a third rate hotel and spent the following day just walking around the bustling city.  Meantime, the RSM had an important decision to make.  Should they wait there until Percival showed up, or proceed to where they were certain he was going?  If they waited, it might be impossible to follow them without revealing their presence.  It was an arduous thousand mile journey inland from Rio to the town of Cuiaba in the Mato Grosso.  This was the last outpost of civilization, where they would stop before continuing north to the Xingu River.  Getting there would require several days of arduous travel.  The next morning they boarded a stagecoach for the first leg of the journey.

     The distance from Rio to Uberlandia was four hundred miles as the crow flies, but it was much longer on this winding road interspersed by numerous river crossings.  The coach schedule was erratic, and there were constant delays as they stopped every few miles to let passengers on and off.  On the next stretch from Uberlandia to Cuiaba it was much the same, and it was only after nine long days that they finally arrived at their destination.  Cuiaba was a fairly substantial town, situated in the transition zone of the Mato Grosso where grassy plains gave way to tropical wetlands and the almost impenetrable jungle.  The town was known as the Gateway to the Amazon.  The two men entered the only decent looking hotel in town, and were told there were no vacancies.

     Cardoso slapped a twenty reis Brazilian bank note on the counter and spoke to the male receptionist in the local lingua franca.  The man just stared at him blankly.  Cardoso flipped a fiver on top of the twenty, and the man pushed the register across the counter.  On the second floor they opened the door to a small dingy room, but after nine days on the stagecoach it looked pretty good to them.  RSM Finney opened a window which overlooked the main street trying to catch some breeze.  It had been a searing ninety degrees Fahrenheit out on the street, and it didn’t seem to be much cooler in the room.  Just then there was an unexpected knock on the door.  The RSM opened it to behold a tall well put together Englishman.  The man smiled and said, “Hello, my name is Percy Fawcett and I heard there were a couple of gringos who just arrived in town.” After introductions were made, he suggested that they meet later at the cantina down the street. 

     The three men were sipping caipirinhas, a local concoction of distilled sugarcane juice, lime juice and sugar.  Major Fawcett told them he was leaving in a few days to do some mapping in the border area.  The RSM explained that they were here to investigate the disappearance of members of Lord Percival’s expedition.  Fawcett said, “Hmm, yes. Most unusual circumstances.”  He told them about his meeting with Nelly Bly in London, and that in his opinion the whole story had a strange smell to it.  Fawcett had never met Lord Percival, but was aware of his impeccable reputation and of his heroics in the Sudan Campaign.  Fawcett wished them well in their endeavours, but warned them that they were in for a rather extreme experience.  He said he would send over a local guide who could help them make arrangements for passage up the Xingu River.

     Luiz Palmeira was a middle aged man with wizened features, who seemed to be a mixture of many races.  He had a ready smile and had an air of competency about him.  The RSM hired him on the spot, and Luiz went ahead and made all the necessary arrangements for supplies, equipment and pack animals.  Three days later they left on foot with Luiz pointing the way, followed by two Indians leading mules loaded with their gear.  For several days they progressed north towards the headwaters of the Xingu River.  The terrain was swampy, and the trees and foliage became denser as they advanced.  With the sun beating down it was blazing hot, and the insects drove them half mad.  The RSM wondered, what the hell, am I doing here!  Finally they arrived at an impoverished Indian village on the banks of the Xingu, and Luiz made arrangements with some men to take them up river by canoe.


     “Would you consider going back?” Nellie had asked the question, and now it hung there in the air.  Finally Lord Percival responded.  He said, “It’s pointless to mount a rescue mission, because there is no one left alive to rescue.”  He added, “Besides, neither the Explorers Club nor any other credible association would sponsor another expedition given the circumstances of the first one.”  Also he thought, I’m not sure I want to return and face that horror again.  Nellie asked, “Would you consider underwriting the cost of an expedition yourself?”  Percival said, “Hmm, that hadn’t occurred to me.”  Nelly went on, “I can see it as having a three-fold purpose.  First, to recover any possible bodily remains.  Second, to continue to look for the Lost City of Z, and third to obtain seedlings of the Blue Orchid.” She added, “A possible fourth might be to find and kill that terrible snake.’’ 

    As they continued to discuss the possibilities, Percival began to warm to the idea.  Financially it was feasible.  His inherited fortune was quite vast, originating from an ancestor who was a privateer in the days of Grace O’Malley and Sir Frances Drake.  His motivation for the first expedition hadn’t been financial gain, but rather the possibility of discovering an ancient lost civilization which so fascinated him.  He had been offered command of the expedition because of his reputation for proven leadership.  He thought, a second expedition might be a way to put things right.  This time he’d run it like a military operation, and pick the right men to deal with the reptilian monster they might face.  At last Percival said, “Yes, I will do it.”  Cecelia excitedly added, “I’d like to go too!”  Lord Percival looked at her in amazement.

     A week later, Nellie boarded a ship for America.  Cecelia did not accompany her.  She had taken a room at the Metropole and settled in to continue working on her thesis.  Lady Percival had urged her to remain at Percival Hall, but as the romance with Arthur blossomed she felt uncomfortable taking advantage of his mother’s hospitality.  Arthur and Cecelia had long discussions about the upcoming expedition, but there was nothing he could say that would dissuade her from wanting to come along.  Danger aside, she wanted to investigate the source of the Blue Orchid and return with seedlings to nurture in his mother’s greenhouse.  She also felt that any research gathered would greatly increase the gravitas of her academic study.  Before leaving, Nellie said she wanted to return to New York and begin writing a book about Lord Percival’s adventures.  The conclusion to the story was obviously yet to be determined.

     As Lord Percival prepared for his expedition he inserted an advertisement in the London Times.


For hazardous journey to South America.

Jungle, heat and constant danger.

Safe return not guaranteed.

Financial reward in case of success.

Ex-military or weapons expertise req.

Contact Lord Percival ~ London 18216

     The first man that he hired was a tough former Black Watch Sergeant.  He immediately put him to work interviewing the hundreds of men who had responded to the advertisement.  It seemed that half of the men in England wanted to sign on to the expedition.  One of them was a man named H. Rider Haggard.  He was author of the Allan Quatermain series and King Solomon’s Mines.  Haggard thought this would be a good opportunity to garner background information for a new book.  Unfortunately, the Sergeant had to turn him away.  The criteria was for fit, motivated ex-military men with exceptional weapons skills.  After a lengthy review process he selected ten excellent candidates.  He thought they were perhaps the toughest squad of men he had ever seen gathered together.

     They sailed on a coastal freighter to Lisbon and then boarded an ocean liner to Rio de Janeiro.  For the next two weeks they followed in RSM Finney’s footsteps until they reached Cuiaba, in the Mato Grosso.  They were a large party of thirteen, including Percival, Cecelia, the Sergeant and ten men.  Due to their number, there was no availability at the hotel so they pitched camp in the town square.  All of the tents and equipment for the expedition had been purchased in Rio, including a good supply of beans and rice which would be their staple diet.  Percival thought it best to pause here for a few days to give the men a chance to unwind after travelling for two straight weeks.  They were permitted to visit the local cantina, but the Sergeant was keeping a close eye on them.  Meantime, Percival met with the town authorities and made arrangements for a guide and pack animals.

     Two days later they headed north towards the Xingu River.  Most of the ex-soldiers in the party had campaigned in Egypt, the Sudan or South Africa, but they had never experienced this kind of searing heat and humidity.  The mules carried most of the gear, although each man had a pack containing personal items and a canteen of water.  They also carried rifles and a good supply of ammunition.  The Sergeant had been very discerning when he selected the men.  They were the toughest of the tough, and so far there had been no griping or complaining.  Major Fawcett could have told them that this was the easy part of the journey.  The hard part would come when the mules were led back and the men would then be forced to carry all of the equipment on their backs.  This would occur just as they reached the most impenetrable part of the jungle.

     Cecelia was fitting in well with the group, helping out wherever needed and bantering with the men.  Percival was solicitous towards her, but avoided any demonstrations of affection in front of the men.  She was provided with her own small tent, while Percival bunked with the Sergeant and two others.  Cecelia found the heat to be a little suffocating, but she reminded herself that she had insisted on coming along.  Her biggest issue was finding privacy from prying eyes when the occasion demanded.  After several days, they reached an Indian village on the banks of the Xingu.  The guide made arrangements for canoes, but there was a one day delay while an extra canoe was obtained from a nearby settlement.  Percival was puzzled when he heard that two gringos had proceeded them up the river a week earlier.


     The jungle was silent as RSM Finney and Gabriel Cardoso cut their way through the thick foliage.  Swinging machetes, both men were burdened by gear that seemed to be getting progressively heavier in the unrelenting heat.  Cardoso also carried the extra weight of an eight pound rifle slung over his shoulder.  They had debated whether to leave the tent or some of the other equipment behind.  But, both agreed that they needed the sanctuary of the tent at night to escape the blood-sucking insects.  It seemed that everything they touched in this hell-hole either bit them, stung them or pierced them with thorns or nettles.  If Lord Percival and his expedition had passed this way, there was no evidence of it.  Like a living thing, the jungle had quickly grown to remove any trace of their passage.

     At day’s end they stopped to set up camp near a minor subsidiary of the Xingu.  This trickle of water seemed to be draining from a swampy area up ahead, and the thought of passing through it the next day was depressing.  The water had a bit of a nasty tinge to it, and would not be suitable for drinking unless it was first boiled.  Tonight though, they had no fire as there was nothing available to burn.   Still, they were parched with thirst and had to have something to drink.  Finney took their canteens to the water’s edge and knelt to fill them while Cardoso stood guard with his rifle.  Suddenly there was a ripple in the water, and the RSM withdrew his hand as if struck by a snake.  He dropped the canteen, and as it drifted away a school of piranhas swirled all around it.  Once he had regained his composure, Finney filled the second canteen by lowering it into the water by its strap.  Later he dropped a couple of iodine tablets into the murky brew and gave it a shake.


     That night they were buttoned up inside their tent with the front flap tied tight.  The wretched mosquitoes still found a way to get in and were driving them crazy.  With no air flow, the inside of the tent felt like a Turkish bath.  At one point during the night they both managed to drift off to sleep.  Suddenly the tent shook.  Both men awoke as their shelter collapsed around them, and some heavy creature slithered over top of them.  Finney heard Cardozo scream and pulled his Webley and fired into the canvas just inches above his head.  He must have hit something, because the creature began to thrash wildly and then it was gone.  The RSM whispered, “Gabriel, are you alright?”  His friend was still gasping in horror and unable to respond.  Finally, they extracted themselves from the ruined tent, and stood guard together until sunrise.

     They inched forward for the next few days, gaunt hollow eyed versions of their former selves.  They had abandoned some of the equipment as it had become too much to carry.  The tent had split down the middle and had holes in it from Finney’s revolver.  In spite of their best efforts at repair, it was now useless as a nighttime barrier to the mosquitoes and they were virtually being eaten alive.  To make matters worse, both of them were suffering from severe stomach cramps and diarrhea from drinking the water.  RSM Finney no longer believed in the mission.  He thought, in our condition we are incapable of challenging Lord Percival in any fashion.  Finney said, “Gabriel, if we don’t turn back now, we’re going to die in this place.”  He knew the real question was, could they even make it back to the River?  Their only salvation might be to seek help from Lord Percival.

     The following day they were still hacking through the dense undergrowth with machetes.  They were fairly certain of their direction, but had lost contact with the pathway they had cut on the way in.  So instead of having a relatively easy trail to follow out, they were forced to bushwhack and cut a new one.  It was exhausting work, and both of them were on the verge of collapse.  Finally they stopped to rest next to an unusually shaped rock formation.  On second glance, the lines of the anomaly appeared as if it might be man-made.  It was totally overgrown with moss and exotic greenery, so Finney scraped at the surface with his machete.   He was amazed when he uncovered a smooth block that was covered with hieroglyphs.  When he turned to announce his discovery to Cardoso, two arrows thudded into his chest.

     Gabriel Cardoso had caught sight of the brightly coloured headdresses just before the arrows fell around them.  Shouting out, he quickly dodged behind a tree and avoided the same fate as RSM Finney.  Bringing his rifle to bear he got off a shot and dropped one of the aggressors.  This gave the others temporary pause and they melted into the undergrowth.  One look at his friend Finney was enough to know that the man was dead.  Cardoso was a veteran scout and sniper, and his training and instincts took over without thinking.  He reached over and extracted the Webley revolver from Finney’s holster.  Then he crawled about thirty yards into a thick grove of trees and raised his head slightly to observe the enemy.  Looking down the sights of his .30-06 Springfield, Cardoso saw three Indians advancing cautiously towards him with arrows nocked and bow strings drawn.  He fired and picked off the closest one with a chest shot, and jacked another round into the chamber.

     Cardoso knew there was no way he could outrun these bastards, but he was prepared to play cat and mouse, and sell his life as dearly as possible.  The key was to keep moving.  If he tried to be defensive, they would simply surround him and slowly tighten the noose.  He raised his head slightly for a quick look, and an arrow zoomed past.  He fired a shot to disorientate his pursuers and then began a rapid crawl towards a new position.  There was a chorus of excited yells. He spun around and from a seated position took a snap shot at a flash of movement.  He heard one of the pursuers scream in pain as he rolled behind another patch of concealment.  He wondered, how much are they willing to sacrifice in order to kill me?  Cardozo continued to move cautiously, slowly extending his margin of safety.  His initial burst of adrenalin was fading, and now exhausted he sat breathless with his back to a tree.  Suddenly, like a ghostly spectre, a man in a feathered headdress rose up from the undergrowth and swung a club.


     Luis Palmeira was guiding Lord Percival’s party, as he had the first expedition several months earlier.  He knew exactly where the embarkation point was along the Xingu River, having been there as recently as a week ago with the other gringos Finney and Cardoso.  These men had urged him to accompany them into the interior, but he had said, “Eu lamento señors, it is not possible.” They had offered him more money, but no amount could sway him.  Even the mule skinners and local Indians wouldn’t go ashore on this section of the river.  They knew it to be a place of evil where others had entered and were never seen again.  There were rumours of savage tribes and of a mythical snake who devoured humans.  Once the canoes had been unloaded, the anxious paddlers pushed off without further delay.

     The trip up the river had required several days of hard paddling in seriously overloaded canoes, but there had been no mishaps.  They arrived at their destination in the early afternoon of the fourth day and decided to set up camp by the river.  The Sergeant wanted time to sort through the equipment and supplies and distribute the loads for the following days march.  Once the tents were erected and firewood collected, Percival gathered everyone together and announced, “From this point on, we operate on a strictly military basis.  That means that sentries will be posted and a fire will be kept burning throughout the night.  Weapons will always to be close at hand, and no-one is to go or do anything alone.” He added, “And I mean anything!  Even when answering nature’s call, a buddy must follow to stand guard.” The last comment evoked some laughter, and Cecelia thought miserably, this should be interesting.

     At first light the camp was astir as the men were collapsing tents and packing their gear.  As they worked, coffee was brewing and the tantalizing smell of frying bacon wafted through the air.  This was the last of the salted bacon, and after today breakfast would be limited to a sticky porridge.  Finally, the Sergeant barked orders and the men hoisted their packs.  Lord Percival pointed the direction, and two of the men led off hacking with machetes as they followed the faint trail established by Finney and Cardoso.  Every half hour two replacements would move to the front, to relieve those who then fell to the rear of the column.  The heat was at least bearable at that early hour, but the packs seemed increasingly heavy as the morning progressed.  This was where the selection of tough ex-soldiers proved to be a wise choice.

     They maintained an easy pace, stopping every fifty minutes for a ten minute break.  Around mid-day they halted for lunch, which consisted of a tasteless tortilla that had been prepared earlier by the designated cook.  The Sergeant reminded everyone that it was important to conserve water, and not to drink from their canteens until instructed to do so.  They got underway again, and soon reached a place where there was evidence of Finney’s first camp.  It was now early in the afternoon and they would continue on for at least another two hours.  By then everyone was sweating profusely, and the insects were driving them crazy.  Some of the men cursed occasionally, but Percival knew it was just a soldier’s normal behavior.  It was when they were silent that you should worry.  Cecelia seemed to be in good spirits, although she must be exhausted.

     At four o’clock Percival called a halt for the night.  Half of the men were tasked with erecting the tents and obtaining water from a nearby stream.  Others, under the Sergeant’s supervision, gathered kindling and cut wood for the fire.  The next order of business was to boil water and refill the canteens.  Percival assisted Cecelia with her tent, and then walked with her out of sight of the men where she could wash up and complete her toilet.  He turned his back and stood guard with his Webley revolver in hand.  It was rice and beans for supper, but no one seemed particularly hungry given the oppressive heat.  The insects were unrelenting and the men retired early to the sanctuary of their tents.  The Sergeant had set up a duty roster for the night.  There were two men designated for each of a sequence of two hour shifts.  They were to stay alert with rifles in hand, and not move out of one another’s sight.  And importantly, the fire must remain burning during the hours of darkness. 

     Cecelia lay alone in her tent and was thinking, this is so much more difficult than I thought it would be.  She was worried that she might not continue to keep pace with the men, and what the consequences of that might be.  The thought of disappointing Arthur was unbearable.  She wished that Nellie was here, so she would have a female friend to talk to.  The men in the party were solicitous towards her, but kept a respectful distance.  Arthur kept careful watch over her, although his responsibilities as leader demanded the lion’s share of his attention.  She was impressed with how the men deferred to him, and how he had established such an easy rapport with them.  Cecelia had been charmed as she watched his beard grow in over the past few weeks.  He cut a rather roguish figure, tall and broad shouldered.  She thought, probably like his privateer ancestor.  Cecelia wished they could find a way to be alone together.

     There was a faint light on the eastern horizon, a time of the morning when human energy was at its lowest ebb.  Two of the men had been awakened from a fitful sleep, to assume sentry duties.  As they walked towards the fire they could see that it had been allowed to burn down to glowing coals.  One of the men said, “I’ll add some wood.”  The other one said, “Good, I’m going to take a piss.”  A few minutes later the fire flared up and the man turned to speak to his friend.  He looked around and thought, where the hell is he? Then he heard the sound of a splash.  He walked towards the river, but there was no one there.  Suddenly he had a terrible feeling in his gut.  Panicked now, he walked the length of the camp calling out the man’s name.  After a few minutes of fruitless effort, he reluctantly approached the Sergeant’s tent and tugged on the front flap.  He urgently whispered, “Sarge, I think we have a problem!”


     As the sun rose, the men did a thorough search of the camp and surrounds.  Someone finally spotted a rifle laying in the shallows near the edge of the river.  It suggested that the man was probably attacked by a caiman or perhaps even an anaconda.  Caiman, which are part of the crocodile family, can grow to a length of ten feet and are powerful predators, but seldom attack humans.  Anaconda are also quite large, but they usually avoid any human contact.  Percival was shaken by what had happened.  He thought grimly, the monstrous serpent that attacked my previous expedition is almost certainly responsible.  The Sergeant gathered the men around and asked some hard questions.  It was quickly determined that there had been a breach of security protocol when the sentries had separated while on duty. This failure had resulted in the needless death of a good man.

     Three days later they arrived at the location of Lord Percival’s previous final encampment.  It was the place where so much horror had occurred, although there was no evidence of that now. The only indication of a human presence was a few pieces of charred campfire wood, as the jungle had overtaken everything else.  Percival, with some misgivings, decided they would camp here for two nights to give everyone a much needed rest.  The men went to work on the usual tasks of erecting tents, cutting wood and boiling drinking water.  Cecelia slipped away and walked to a nearby glade that Arthur had pointed to, saying that was where he had found the blue orchid.  One of the men followed with his rifle, charged with her security.  She was thrilled when she found the first orchid.  Cecelia examined the rare flower in detail, and then moved on to look at another one.

     Lost in the moment, Cecelia had wandered some distance from her escort.  It might have been intuition, but something caused her to look up just as the serpent emerged from the water.  It was the most horrifying sight she had ever seen.  This monstrous reptile was slithering towards her at incredible speed.  She was frozen with fear.  Close now, the snake rose up and opened its gaping mouth.  As a ghastly tongue flicked out, Cecelia fainted and collapsed to the ground.  Just then, a shot rang out, and the serpent’s right eye spurted blood.  Moments later there was another shot, and the left eye was destroyed.  The huge snake thrashed furiously and then extended itself and rolled over and over.  By then, Cecelia’s escort had rushed up and also began firing at it.  But the snake was already dead.  That’s when Gabriel Cardoso emerged from the jungle carrying his .30-06 Springfield.

     Days earlier, Cardoso had been sitting with his back to a tree trying to catch his breath after a running battle with the Indians.  His rifle was resting across his thighs, but he held Finney’s Webley revolver loosely in one hand.  He was shocked when a be-feathered man rose up beside him, and with a savage cry swung a war club.  Cardoso fired once, and the vaunted stopping power of the Webley sent the man careening back into the bushes.  Rising to his feet, he carefully looked around, and then began to wend his way through the thick jungle.  He wanted to put as much distance as possible between himself and his pursuers.  His machete had been lost in the mad scramble to escape, and other than his firearms the only equipment he still carried was a canteen containing a few ounces of murky water.  Alone and in a weakened state, he knew that his prospects were not good.

     The emaciated Cardoso joined the guard in assisting Cecelia to her feet.  By then, the other men had arrived on the scene, many of them examining the body of the dead snake.  Lord Percival rushed to Cecelia’s side and was aghast when he heard what had happened. After thanking the stranger, he instructed the Sergeant to take the man back to camp and care for his needs.  Then he put his arm around Cecelia and slowly escorted her back to her tent.  She was badly shaken and initially was unable to respond to his questions.  When they were alone, Percival took a small flask of brandy from his pocket and forced her to swallow some of the fiery liquid.  After a short while she calmed down and was able to explain what had happened.  Meantime, Cardoso was given food and drink.  He explained to the Sergeant who he was, and how he had emerged from the jungle just in the nick of time.


      The dead snake measured over forty feet in length, and was so incredibly heavy that it was difficult to handle.  Percival told the men to peel off the skin and lay it out to dry.  When one of them made a cut into its underbelly, the serpent flexed and opened its mouth.  The man fell back and screamed, but it was only nerve endings that hadn’t received the final message from the dead snake’s brain.  Still, they fired a few more rounds into its head to be sure.  When the skin was pulled back from the body, they discovered a partially digested caiman in its stomach.  It was a relief to the men that there was no evidence of their missing colleague.  Someone suggested that they cut some flesh from the serpent to cook up for supper, but the consensus was one of disgust and the idea abandoned.  Finally, they propped opened the creatures jaws with a stout pole.  The gaping mouth extended almost four feet.

     The much larger female serpent was watching from a distance, almost fully submerged and unnoticed.  There was no sense of anguish over the death of its mate.  Its chestnut-sized brain functioned only in terms of kill and eat.  The man she had seized from the river bank several days ago was almost fully digested.  Now, it was time to eat again.  The giant creature was a nocturnal killer and it would wait patiently for the right opportunity.  These men were easy prey and the snake had developed a taste for them.  Late that night two sentries walked together near the river.  They had just begun their two hour tour.  Suddenly the snake emerged from the water and quickly coiled itself around both men in a crushing embrace.  One man managed to scream.  The other squeezed off an errant shot, before they were both pulled under the water.


     The whole camp was astir, and there would be no more sleep for anyone that night.  The fire had been built up and was casting a brilliant light.  There were two more men missing, presumed dead.  Percival thought miserably, history is repeating itself.  He ordered everyone to stand near the fire with weapons at the ready.  A decision would now have to be made.  Should they abort the expedition and head back to the Xingu River, or leave this place and penetrate deeper into the jungle?  Cardoso, had said he and his friend had found some evidence of ruins just before they were attacked.  But, he warned of a savage tribe of Indians who lived in the area.  He said that he could point out the general direction, but didn’t feel that he could guide them to the exact location.  He was exhausted and suffering from dysentery and fever.

     Lord Percival knew they had to leave the vicinity of the swampy area which was habitat to the giant snake.  He was concerned about Cecelia’s safety.  But he thought, we could be so close to finding the Lost City of Z.  He asked the Sergeant for his thoughts on the matter.  The man said, “We’ve already lost three good men, and in my opinion, striking deeper into the jungle would be like entering a hornet’s nest.”  The Sergeant suggested that they put the question to the men.  They had come here hoping to heap big rewards, and may not want to go back empty handed.   The sun had already risen when Percival explained the options to the men, and asked them to talk among themselves and decide what they wished do.  He told them that he would abide with their decision.  The men huddled and debated for a considerable length of time.  Finally, a spokesman approached Lord Percival and said, “Sir, we’d like to continue on.”

     They camped that night a good distance from the water, and felt a degree of safety from the predatory anaconda.  Still, they remained vigilant.  The more immediate problem was the jungle being so dense, they could barely find room to pitch the tents.  As a result, the camp was widespread and they had to forego having a tight defensive perimeter and a central fire.   Percival invited Cardoso to his tent and was given a full accounting of what the man was doing here, deep in the Mato Grasso.  Earlier, he had been given the choice of either coming along or staying behind to fend for himself.  Although being in a state of exhaustion and ill health, the decision had been an easy one to make.  Now, as he told his story, Percival listened in bemused silence.


     Sergeant Cardoso told them that he had served in the Boer War as a sniper attached to the 7th Dragoon Guards.  During his years of service he had become acquainted with Matthew Finney, the former RSM of the Scots Guards.  Finney had contacted him some months earlier with a job offer, whereby they would travel together to South America.  At first he had been a little vague about the mission, but eventually told him the whole story.  Finney had been hired by Colonel Charles Allenby for the express purpose of disrupting Lord Percival’s expedition and stealing any precious objects they might find.  Allenby had suggested that he wouldn’t be unhappy if Percival didn’t return to England, and there would be a large bonus in that sad eventuality.  Cardoso said that Finney had never any intention of harming Percival, and the two of them had decided to double-cross Allenby and keep any treasure for themselves. 

     Lord Percival told Cardoso that he appreciated his forthrightness, and was particularly grateful that he had saved Cecelia’s life.  He said, “If you wish to commit to my expedition, you’ll receive a share of any spoils along with the other men.”  There was no hesitation as Cardoso accepted the offer. Percival thought to himself, if we ever get out of this God forsaken jungle, Allenby will be held to account.  Meantime, they would continue on and attempt to find some evidence of the Lost City.  Three days later they discovered a geographic anomaly similar to what Finney had found.  After stripping away the greenery, they unearthed an opening which appeared to be the entrance to an ancient ruin.   Percival entered the dark passageway with a burning torch, and when he re-emerged he held a small jade statue in his hand.

     When the savages attacked, Percival’s party was caught completely unawares.  One of the men was immediately struck by an arrow, and the others looked around desperately to see where the threat originated from.  As more missiles descended they responded by firing wildly into the trees at a well camouflaged enemy.  When another man fell, they took cover and formed a defensive perimeter.  They continued to direct fire into the undergrowth and for the moment were able to keep the savages at bay.  The Sergeant shouted to Percival, “Sir, take the woman and withdraw into the trees!”  Percival took Cecelia’s hand and led her into the thick growth.  Seconds later a be-feathered warrior confronted them, and he shot him with his revolver.  As they fled deeper into the jungle, they could still hear the sounds of gunfire.  Eventually it became more sporadic, and then finally it ceased.  


     Arthur and Cecelia were now alone in the jungle with little in the way of resources.  Other than Percival’s Webley and a folding knife, they had nothing but the clothing they wore; no food, no water, no means of making a fire, nor a tent to provide shelter.  The outlook seemed bleak, but at least they were together and still alive.  Sadly, the other members of the party had presumably met a violent death while facilitating their escape.  Percival took a heading from the position of the sun, and they struck out in the general direction of the Xingu River.  He knew that it was a considerable distance and would require many days of hard travel.  As they threaded their way through the dense jungle, the heat was oppressive and the insects unrelenting.  When darkness fell there was little else to do, but huddle in misery and await the dawn.

     Cardoso was like a cat with nine lives.  As other men fell around him, he remained unscathed while aiming his deadly .30-06 Springfield at any savage who was bold enough to show himself.  A few of the other men had found targets as well.  As the attacker’s numbers dwindled, Cardoso wondered, why do they continue on in the face of such losses? Then it occurred to him.  We must be encroaching on sacred territory.  Perhaps the savages are protecting the sanctity of an ancient tomb.  Finally, there was a pause in the attack, and when the smoke cleared the devastating results were made clear.  Four of the men were dead, and one was wounded.  There were just five survivors.  When they were certain the savages had gone, they retrieved their gear and the Sergeant gave the order to withdraw.  They had already advanced several hundred yards through the jungle when someone asked, “Where is Lord Percival and Cecelia?”

     Percival and Cecelia were both wearing knee high boots as a precaution against snake bite.  There were snakes everywhere in the rainforest; the bushmaster and fer-de-lance were common and particularly venomous.  But that night they were bothered more by ants than snakes.  There were so many ants that it seemed like the earth was moving.  The bullet ants were the worst.  Their bite was like being jabbed with a sharp needle.  Between the ants, the mosquitoes and the constant fear of snake bite, it was impossible to sleep.  When the sun rose it seemed like a reprieve.  But then they were tormented with thirst.  Dehydrated and desperately in need of water, they licked the condensation off some broad leafed plants, but it was unsatisfying and left an unpleasant aftertaste.

     They looked at one another exhausted and hollow eyed, both with facial features swollen by mosquito bites.  When they had tents, they could button up at night and feel somewhat secure.  Now they faced endless days of exposure without food and water.  Percival wondered, how long can we last?  He said, “I’m so sorry darling that I brought you into this nightmare.”  Cecelia smiled with swollen lips and replied, “I recall that I was pretty insistent.” Percival fingered his revolver and thought, if things become completely unbearable, at least there is an option.  After a long day followed by yet another miserable night, they were both hallucinating and close to collapse.  That’s when they heard the sound of voices.  A tall man in a broad brimmed hat approached through the trees and said, “Lord Percival, I presume.”

     Major Fawcett and several other men were on a mapping expedition, and stumbling across them was complete happenstance.  He immediately assessed their condition and extended a canteen of water. He then reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of almonds.  That night as they sat around a fire, Percival told him the whole story.  When he withdrew the small jade statue from his pocket, Fawcett’s eyes widened in a maniacal look.  He said, “What you have found proves that the Lost City of Z exists!” He asked them to be as precise as possible about the location of the site where it had been unearthed.  The following day he instructed one of his men to lead Percival and Cecelia back to the rendezvous point on the Xingu River.  They would never meet Fawcett again, but they both owed their lives to the intrepid explorer.

~                         ~                         ~

     The setting sun cast a glow across the treetops as three men emerged from the jungle.  The serpent was almost entirely submerged as it watched them stop to admire the Blue Orchids.  Lieutenant-Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett was on his seventh and final expedition attempting to locate The Lost City of Z.  The year was 1925, and he was accompanied by his son Jack, and Jack’s best friend Raleigh Rimmell.  Ironically, evidence of the lost civilization they sought, and unknowingly passed by, would be uncovered almost a century later through the use of a technology that was still unknown.  The disappearance of Colonel Fawcett and his party to this day remains one of the most enduring mysteries in the annuals of exploration.

By Michael Barlett


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