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CHAPTER XVIII THE ARRIVAL DINNER
IN THE MORNING, after a night which was scarcely sufficient to calm so much excitement, they unmoored from the cayman beach and departed. Before five days, if nothing intervered with their voyage, the raft would reach the port of Manaos.
Minha had quite recovered from her fright, and her eyes and smiles thanked all those who had risked their lives for her.
As for Lina, it seemed as though she was more grateful to the brave Fragoso than if it was herself that he had saved.
"I will pay you back, sooner or later, Mr. Fragoso," said she, smiling.
"And how, Miss Lina?"
"Oh! You know very well!"
"Then if I know it, let it be soon and not late!" replied the good-natured fellow.
And from this day it began to be whispered about that the charming Lina was engaged to Fragoso, that their marriage would take place at the same time as that of Minha and Manoel, and that the young couple would remain at Belem with the others.
"Capital! capital!" repeated Fragoso unceasingly; "but I never thought Para was such a long way off!"
As for Manoel and Benito, they had had a long conversation about what had passed. There could be no question about obtaining from Joam Garral the dismissal of his rescuer.
"Your life is precious to me above all things!" Torres had said.
This reply, hyperbolical and enigmatical at the time, Benito had heard and remembered.
In the meantime the young men could do nothing. More than ever they were reduced to waiting - to waiting not for four or five days, but for seven or eight weeks - that is to say, for whatever time it would take for the raft to get to Belem.
"There is in all this some mystery that I cannot understand," said Benito.
"Yes, but we are assured on one point," answered Manoel. "It is certain that Torres does not want your father's life. For the rest, we must still watch!"
It seemed that from this day Torres desired to keep himself more reserved. He did not seek to intrude on the family, and was even less assiduous toward Minha. There seemed a relief in the situation of which all, save perhaps Joam Garral, felt the gravity.
On the evening of the same day they left on the right the island of Baroso, formed by a furo of that name, and Lake Manaori, which is fed by a confused series of petty tributaries.
The night passed without incident, though Joam Garral had advised them to watch with great care.
On the morrow, the 20th of August, the pilot, who kept near the right bank on account of the uncertain eddies on the left, entered between the bank and the islands.
Beyond this bank the country was dotted with large and small lakes, much as those of Calderon, Huarandeina, and other black-watered lagoons. This water system marks the approach of the Rio Negro, the most remarkable of all the tributaries of the Amazon. In reality the main river still bore the name of the Solimoens, and it is only after the junction of the Rio Negro that it takes the name which has made it celebrated among the rivers of the globe.
During this day the raft had to be worked under curious conditions.
The arm followed by the pilot, between Calderon Island and the shore, was very narrow, although it appeared sufficiently large. This was owing to a great portion of the island being slightly above the mean level, but still covered by the high flood waters. On each side were massed forests of giant trees, whose summits towered some fifty feet above the ground, and joining one bank to the other formed an immense cradle.
On the left nothing could be more picturesque than this flooded forest, which seemed to have been planted in the middle of a lake. The stems of the trees arose from the clear, still water, in which every interlacement of their boughs was reflected with unequaled purity. They were arranged on an immense sheet of glass, like the trees in miniature on some table -epergne,- and their reflection could not be more perfect. The difference between the image and the reality could scarcely be described. Duplicates of grandeur, terminated above and below by a vast parasol of green, they seemed to form two hemispheres, inside which the jangada appeared to follow one of the great circles.
It had been necessary to bring the raft under these boughs, against which flowed the gentle current of the stream. It was impossible to go back. Hence the task of navigating with extreme care, so as to avoid the collisions on either side.
In this all Araujo's ability was shown, and he was admirably seconded by his crew. The trees of the forest furnished the resting-places for the long poles which kept the jangada in its course. The least blow to the jangada would have endangered the complete demolition of the woodwork, and caused the loss, if not of the crew, of the greater part of the cargo.
"It is truly very beautiful," said Minha, "and it would be very pleasant for us always to travel in this way, on this quiet water, shaded from the rays of the sun."
"At the same time pleasant and dangerous, dear Minha," said Manoel. "In a pirogue there is doubtless nothing to fear in sailing here, but on a huge raft of wood better have a free course and a clear stream."
"We shall be quite through the forest in a couple of hours," said the pilot.
"Look well at it, then!" said Lina. "All these beautiful things pass so quickly! Ah! dear mistress! do you see the troops of monkeys disporting in the higher branches, and the birds admiring themselves in the pellucid water!"
"And the flowers half-opened on the surface," replied Minha, "and which the current dandles like the breeze!"
"And the long lianas, which so oddly stretch from one tree to another!" added the young mulatto.
"And no Fragoso at the end of them!" said Lina's betrothed. "That was rather a nice flower you gathered in the forest of Iquitos!"
"Just behold the flower - the only one in the world," said Lina quizzingly; "and, mistress! just look at the splendid plants!"
And Lina pointed to the nymphaeas with their colossal leaves, whose flowers bear buds as large as cocoanuts. Then, just where the banks plunged beneath the waters, there were clumps of -"mucumus,"- reeds with large leaves, whose elastic stems bend to give passage to the pirogues and close again behind them. There was there what would tempt any sportsman, for a whole world of aquatic birds fluttered between the higher clusters, which shook with the stream.
Ibises half-lollingly posed on some old trunk, and gray herons motionless on one leg, solemn flamingoes who from a distance looked like red umbrellas scattered in the foliage, and phenicopters of every color, enlivened the temporary morass.
And along the top of the water glided long and swiftly-swimming snakes, among them the formidable gymnotus, whose electric discharges successively repeated paralyze the most robust of men or animals, and end by dealing death. Precautions had to be taken against the -"sucurijus"- serpents, which, coiled round the trunk of some tree, unroll themselves, hang down, seize their prey, and draw it into their rings, which are powerful enough to crush a bullock. Have there not been met with in these Amazonian forests reptiles from thirty to thirty-five feet long? and even, according to M. Carrey, do not some exist whose length reaches forty-seven feet, and whose girth is that of a hogshead?
Had one of these sucurijus, indeed, got on to the raft he would have proved as formidable as an alligator.
Very fortunately the travelers had to contend with neither gymnotus nor sucuriju, and the passage across the submerged forest, which lasted about two hours, was effected without accident.
Three days passed. They neared Manaos. Twenty-four hours more and the raft would be off the mouth of the Rio Negro, before the capital of the province of Amazones.
In fact, on the 23d of August, at five o'clock in the evening, they stopped at the southern point of Muras Island, on the right bank of the stream. They only had to cross obliquely for a few miles to arrive at the port, but the pilot Araujo very properly would not risk it on that day, as night was coming on. The three miles which remained would take three hours to travel, and to keep to the course of the river it was necessary, above all things, to have a clear outlook.
This evening the dinner, which promised to be the last of this first part of the voyage, was not served without a certain amount of ceremony. Half the journey on the Amazon had been accomplished, and the task was worthy of a jovial repast. It was fitting to drink to the health of Amazones a few glasses of that generous liquor which comes from the coasts of Oporto and Setubal. Besides, this was, in a way, the betrothal dinner of Fragoso and the charming Lina - that of Manoel and Minha had taken place at the fazenda of Iquitos several weeks before. After the young master and mistress, it was the turn of the faithful couple who were attached to them by so many bonds of gratitude.
So Lina, who was to remain in the service of Minha, and Fragoso, who was about to enter into that of Manoel Valdez, sat at the common table, and even had the places of honor reserved for them.
Torres, naturally, was present at the dinner, which was worthy of the larder and kitchen of the jangada.
The adventurer, seated opposite to Joam Garral, who was always taciturn, listened to all that was said, but took no part in the conversation. Benito quietly and attentively watched him. The eyes of Torres, with a peculiar expression, constantly sought his father. One would have called them the eyes of some wild beast trying to fascinate his prey before he sprang on it.
Manoel talked mostly with Minha. Between whiles his eyes wandered to Torres, but he acted his part more successfully than Benito in a situation which, if it did not finish at Manaos, would certainly end at Belem.
The dinner was jolly enough. Lina kept it going with her good humor, Fragoso with his witty repartees.
The Padre Passanha looked gayly round on the little world he cherished, and on the two young couples which his hands would shortly bless in the waters of Para.
"Eat, padre," said Benito, who joined in the general conversation; "do honor to this betrothal dinner. You will want some strength to celebrate both marriages at once!"
"Well, my dear boy," replied Passanha, "seek out some lovely and gentle girl who wishes you well, and you will see that I can marry you at the same time!"
"Well answered, padre!" exclaimed Manoel. "Let us drink to the coming marriage of Benito."
"We must look out for some nice young lady at Belem," said Minha. "He should do what everybody else does."
"To the wedding of Mr. Benito!" said Fragoso, "who ought to wish all the world to marry him!"
"They are right, sir," said Yaquita. "I also drink to your marriage, and may you be as happy as Minha and Manoel, and as I and your father have been!"
"As you always will be, it is to be hoped," said Torres, drinking a glass of port without having pledged anybody. "All here have their happiness in their own hands."
It was difficult to say, but this wish, coming from the adventurer, left an unpleasant impression.
Manoel felt this, and wishing to destroy its effect, "Look here, padre," said he, "while we are on this subject, are there not any more couples to betroth on the raft?"
"I do not know," answered Padre Passanha, "unless Torres - you are not married, I believe?"
"No; I am, and always shall be, a bachelor."
Benito and Manoel thought that while thus speaking Torres looked toward Minha.
"And what should prevent you marrying?" replied Padre Passanha; "at Belem you could find a wife whose age would suit yours, and it would be possible perhaps for you to settle in that town. That would be better than this wandering life, of which, up to the present, you have not made so very much."
"You are right, padre," answered Torres; "I do not say no. Besides the example is contagious. Seeing all these young couples gives me rather a longing for marriage. But I am quite a stranger in Belem, and, for certain reasons, that would make my settlement more difficult."
"Where do you come from, then?" asked Fragoso, who always had the idea that he had already met Torres somewhere.
"From the province of Minas Geraes."
"And you were born - - "
"In the capital of the diamond district, Tijuco."
Those who had seen Joam Garral at this moment would have been surprised at the fixity of his look which met that of Torres.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XIX ANCIENT HISTORY