Excerpt of The Lost City by Henry Shukman
(Page 3 of 4)
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Excitement gave way to a plunge of sadness. He felt that something had been missing from him for a long time.
Self-pity, he told himself, stop it at once. But it wasn't just self-pity. It was sadness too, that Connolly really had been here, and never would be again. He was on his own, Connolly had gone. He exhaled sharply and almost sobbed, but stopped himself. He mustn't let it start.
He fetched his sketchbook and started drawing the designs. The late light showed them up in clear relief, and on the page in thick charcoal they looked good: so simple, so stark, the eye that created them had seen the world so clearly. He thought about beginning an attempt on a chart of the site, using his green graph paper, but it was too late, the light was going and the wind would flap the paper about. Camp was the thing to attend to.
Trees he couldn't see in the valleybed would have blackened by now. It was a matter of minutes till darkness fell. He unbuckled the straps of his rucksack, relieved to be busy, and forced himself to think only of what he was doing. He pulled the tent out, shaking it loose from its pouch. It snapped like a sail. He realised he was going to have to pitch it not only in the wind, but on loose dust. He fumbled in the bag of pegs and attempted to fasten down a corner of the jumping, shifting sheet. The peg went straight in: no need to bang it with a rock. And as soon as he let it go, it leaned over in the dry sand and the tent slipped downwind, pulling the peg with it. It flipped over onto a rock.
He left it there and fetched big stones, bringing them over one by one. He knew he didn't need the tent, it seldom rained here, but he wanted a real camp. He had carried two logs all the way up in the backpack and was planning on a fire. A fire and a tent. And tomorrow while he was sketching things out it would be good to have a base. A tent was a mobile office, as well as a study, a bedroom. And he liked his tent: green impregnated canvas, the old two-pole style: a triangular home. A man on his own in the world needed a tent, the home of the wanderer. Except he wasn't a wanderer but a quester. Or else nothing but an escapee, a deserter.
He didn't care what he was. What mattered was that he was free. He had brought himself here, to northern Peru. He had done it. That was what mattered. Connolly had told him: think of the high, man, what could compare to stumbling into a lost city, the old centre of a forgotten empire? A week or two from now he'd know.
For several weeks he'd been on the loose in the unknown continent. He'd bought a one-way ticket. He had known the moment he entered the door of the dingy office block behind Oxford Street, one of those buildings with a hundred business names taped up by the door, that he was doing the right thing. Things were salvageable after all. Life was broader than you thought. One of the men in that shabby little office smiled and took his envelope full of notes: £270. Which left him a little short of £700 in the bank. The travel agent nodded and counted. You ever coming back? he asked, laughing. The joke of a man who had his daily work to attend to.
A blue ticket, filled in by hand: LondonLima. Lloyd Aero Boliviano, whatever that was. A flight into the unknown, with his own private thread of purpose wrapped about his hand. Just enough. And now the thread had become a rope and was holding. He mustn't let it go.
In the dusk he fetched the tent back. The wind ripped right through the spot he had chosen. He got the corners weighted with stones then bundled his way inside with the poles. The tent took on a flowing loose shape. He crawled out carefully, conscious of the need for doing everything right if you were alone in the world, and on a trail.
He sat and waited. Maybe the wind would die. He remembered that happening before: a wind that got up at dusk and died soon after nightfall.
Excerpted from The Lost City by Henry Shukman Copyright © 2008 by Henry Shukman. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.