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Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest

Prologue
It is a cause of very great regret to me that this task has taken so much longer a
time than I had expected for its completion. It is now many months--over a year,
in fact--since I wrote to Georgetown announcing my intention of publishing, IN A
VERY FEW MONTHS, the whole truth about Mr. Abel. Hardly less could have
been looked for from his nearest friend, and I had hoped that the discussion in
the newspapers would have ceased, at all events, until the appearance of the
promised book. It has not been so; and at this distance from Guiana I was not
aware of how much conjectural matter was being printed week by week in the
local press, some of which must have been painful reading to Mr. Abel's friends.
A darkened chamber, the existence of which had never been suspected in that
familiar house in Main Street, furnished only with an ebony stand on which stood
a cinerary urn, its surface ornamented with flower and leaf and thorn, and
winding through it all the figure of a serpent; an inscription, too, of seven short
words which no one could understand or rightly interpret; and finally the disposal
of the mysterious ashes--that was all there was relating to an untold chapter in a
man's life for imagination to work on. Let us hope that now, at last, the romance-
weaving will come to an end. It was, however, but natural that the keenest
curiosity should have been excited; not only because of that peculiar and
indescribable charm of the man, which all recognized and which won all hearts,
but also because of that hidden chapter--that sojourn in the desert, about which
he preserved silence. It was felt in a vague way by his intimates that he had met
with unusual experiences which had profoundly affected him and changed the
course of his life. To me alone was the truth known, and I must now tell, briefly as
possible, how my great friendship and close intimacy with him came about.
When, in 1887, I arrived in Georgetown to take up an appointment in a public
office, I found Mr. Abel an old resident there, a man of means and a favourite in
society. Yet he was an alien, a Venezuelan, one of that turbulent people on our
border whom the colonists have always looked on as their natural enemies. The
story told to me was that about twelve years before that time he had arrived at
Georgetown from some remote district in the interior; that he had journeyed
alone on foot across half the continent to the coast, and had first appeared
among them, a young stranger, penniless, in rags, wasted almost to a skeleton
by fever and misery of all kinds, his face blackened by long exposure to sun and
wind. Friendless, with but little English, it was a hard struggle for him to live; but
he managed somehow, and eventually letters from Caracas informed him that a
considerable property of which he had been deprived was once more his own,
and he was also invited to return to his country to take his part in the government
of the Republic. But Mr. Abel, though young, had already outlived political
passions and aspirations, and, apparently, even the love of his country; at all
events, he elected to stay where he was--his enemies, he would say smilingly,
were his best friends--and one of the first uses he made of his fortune was to buy
that house in Main Street which was afterwards like a home to me.
 
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