I never trusted Charles’ nose. It was too small for the overhang of his protruding brow. I had studied it during our three years surveying the South American coastline and its interior, and I was studying it now in the Galapagos.
“What is it, Captain?” he said. We sat in our trousers and shirtsleeves, occupying a lump of dull black lava.
“Taking in the scenery,” I said, looking past his receding hair line. Charles was in his twenties, but seemed older.
He turned his entire torso in the direction of my gaze. “I find that strip of clouds exceedingly beautiful. The bottom edge so perfectly straight—as if it’s been set on glass and lighted from below.”
“And who do you suppose set it that way?”
His suspicious nose twitched once, but he said nothing. Instead, he stood up, stretching through his back. At his side lay two monstrous tortoises he had speared during the cooler morning hours. In the sack strapped across his chest, he carried a variety of birds. In another canvas pouch at my feet, he had collected geological specimens and fossils.
“Charles,” I said, “Where is the companion who began this journey with me? The one who read scripture to the crew? The one who stood, arms spread wide in the Brazilian rain forest, crying for the wonder of the Lord’s creation?”
“As I recall, Captain, immediately thereafter, we encountered slaves—brutally treated—and I wondered how a just and merciful God could be responsible for both.” His shoulders rounded several inches lower. “And then there were the Fuegians.”
One of the objectives of this voyage had been to return Fuegian missionaries to their home in Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of Argentina. We had accomplished this on the outbound leg, but when we returned from surveying the Chilean coast and waterways, we found disease had completely wiped them out, missionary or not. Again, Charles had cried out against God.
He patted his canvas bag and pulled out a finch, stiff in rigor mortis. “The natives tell me they know which island these come from by the shape of their beaks, and which island the tortoises come from by the shape of their shells.”
“On islands this close together, there shouldn’t be differences.”
“Perhaps God wanted them that way.”
“Look, Captain, if according to Christian doctrine God made every creature perfect for its environment, they should all be the same.“
I leaned down and picked up the satchel of fossils before standing up. Charles would send his assistant back with a carrier for the tortoises. The HMS Beagle waited ahead, and I began making my way along the mottled terrain.
“Can’t we wait before returning?”
I couldn’t help laughing.
“It’s not amusing, Fitzroy.” He dropped the “Captain” when annoyed.
“Your stomach has yet to adapt to the sea,” I said. “And as far as being a man of nature, Charles, you aren’t all that nimble, either.”
“I may not be nimble, but I’m not deaf.” He began following me, placing his boots precisely where I had placed mine.
“So, I’m deaf now?”
“We both observed fossil strata along the cliffs of the Andes—clear evidence this earth is extremely old. Yet you and others like you maintain the world has not changed—it ‘s exactly what it was when God created it.” Charles stopped suddenly, and loosened rocks scattered past me. I looked back at him, his brow a line of resolution. He said, “The layers shout, Genesis is myth, the world is old. Maybe there’s a god, but it isn’t the God of the Bible. I’ve been enlightened and have South America to thank for it.”
“Enlightened? By embracing science and shunning faith? Perhaps if you’d been born into a different era you would have found the two more compatible. Instead, you feel compelled to stay this destructive course.”
He pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket and blew that impish nose of his. “You’ve repeated often enough what providence it is that I’m on this voyage with you. And if this trip has altered my opinion of God, why would He have put me here on this ship, on this voyage, at this time?”
Oh, the arrogance. I continued navigating the pock-marks before me and called to him over the rush of the sea. “For all your intellect—and I speculate I’ve only seen the tip—you, Charles Darwin, are no match for the Creator of the universe.”
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