I was now taken by Sylvia to be presented to the wise-ones, at whose instigation I had been brought to the island. These I found to be men, if indeed they could be called such, but they were so wizened in appearance as more to resemble monkeys. Their manner of life is so austere as to make it a matter for marvel that body and soul could cling together. They will not kill an animal for food, or for any other purpose, not even a fly or a flea, or anything in fact that has life; for they say they have all souls, and it would be a sin to kill them. They eat no vegetables in a green state, only such as are dry, for they believe that even green leaves have life. And they sleep on the bare ground, naked, without anything to cover them, or to soften the mountain rocks which form their bed. They fast every day, and drink nothing but water. Yet, in spite of the rigour of their discipline, they attain to extreme old age; not one of the wise men, so Sylvia informed me, being less than one hundred years old, while some were accredited with upwards of two centuries of life. By reason of their abstinence, they are supposed to be gifted with mysterious occult powers, notably second sight, by which they are able to locate strangers at a great distance from their own country, and to foretell their advent. Not long since they had foretold the coming to the island of a Spanish fleet, when the whole Amazon population had taken refuge in subterranean caves until the Spaniards had left, which they did under the belief that the island was deserted. It was by means of this second sight that the “Golden Seahorse” had been located, and that I had been selected from among the crew to carry out a project which the wise men had in view, and the particulars of which I was about to learn.
The chief of the wise-ones, who acted as spokesman, now informed me of the reason I had been brought to the island.
“You must know, Signor,” said he, addressing me as though I was a Spaniard; an appellation which I felt inclined to resent, “that we are troubled by a demon we have found it impossible to slay. Many of our girls have fallen victims to the monster, while the men from the Male Island have repeatedly attacked it during the months of their residence here, without being able to overcome it. In length the creature is thirty feet, and of great bulk. It has two forelegs near the head, armed with claws. The head is very big, and the eyes stand out from it on knob-like excrescences. The mouth is big enough to swallow a man whole, and is armed with pointed teeth. In short, the monster is so fierce that all stand in fear at the sight of it. Now it is known that the men of your race are brave, and possess weapons of which we have no knowledge, so, when it was revealed to us that your ship was close by on the other side of the Great Barren Island, we resolved to bring you here; who seemed, in our eyes, to be a brave man, so that you may rid us of the demon which threatens our peace, if not our very existence.”