Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon
Chapter 16: Ega
AT SIX o'clock in the morning of the 20th of July, Yaquita, Minha, Lina, and the two young men prepared to leave the jangada.
Joam Garral, who had shown no intention of putting his foot on shore, had decided this time, at the request of the ladies of his family, to leave his absorbing daily work and accompany them on their excursion. Torres had evinced no desire to visit Ega, to the great satisfaction of Manoel, who had taken a great dislike to the man and only waited for an opportunity to declare it.
As to Fragoso, he could not have the same reason for going to Ega as had taken him to Tabatinga, which is a place of little importance compared to this.
Ega is a chief town with fifteen hundred inhabitants, and in it reside all those authorities which compose the administration of a considerable city--considerable for the country; that is to say, the military commandant, the chief of the police, the judges, the schoolmaster, and troops under the command of officers of all ranks.
With so many functionaries living in a town, with their wives and children, it is easy to see that hair-dressers would be in demand. Such was the case, and Fragoso would not have paid his expenses.
Doubtless, however, the jolly fellow, who could do no business in Ega, had thought to be of the party if Lina went with her mistress, but, just as they were leaving the raft, he resolved to remain, at the request of Lina herself.
"Mr. Fragoso!" she said to him, after taking him aside.
"Miss Lina?" answered Fragoso.
"I do not think that your friend Torres intends to go with us to Ega."
"Certainly not, he is going to stay on board, Miss Lina, but you wold oblige me by not calling him my friend!"
"But you undertook to ask a passage for him before he had shown any intention of doing so."
"Yes, and on that occasion, if you would like to know what I think, I made a fool of myself!"
"Quite so! and if you would like to know what I think, I do not like the man at all, Mr. Fragoso."
"Neither do I, Miss Lina, and I have all the time an idea that I have seen him somewhere before. But the remembrance is too vague; the impression, however, is far from being a pleasant one!"
"Where and when could you have met him? Cannot you call it to mind? It might be useful to know who he is and what he has been."
"No--I try all I can. How long was it ago? In what country? Under what circumstances? And I cannot hit upon it."
"Stay on board and keep watch on Torres during our absence!"
"What? Not go with you to Ega, and remain a whole day without seeing you?"
"I ask you to do so!"
"Is it an order?"
"It is an entreaty!"
"I will remain!"
"I thank you!"
"Thank me, then, with a good shake of the hand," replied Fragoso; "that is worth something."
Lina held out her hand, and Fragoso kept it for a few moments while he looked into her face. And that is the reason why he did not take his place in the pirogue, and became, without appearing to be, the guard upon Torres.
Did the latter notice the feelings of aversion with which he was regarded? Perhaps, but doubtless he had his reasons for taking no account of them.
A distance of four leagues separated the mooring-place from the town of Ega. Eight leagues, there and back, in a pirogue containing six persons, besides two negroes as rowers, would take some hours, not to mention the fatigue caused by the high temperature, though the sky was veiled with clouds.
Fortunately a lovely breeze blew from the northwest, and if it held would be favorable for crossing Lake Teffe. They could go to Ega and return rapidly without having to tack.
So the lateen sail was hoisted on the mast of the pirogue. Benito took the tiller, and off they went, after a last gesture from Lina to Fragoso to keep his eyes open.
The southern shore of the lake had to be followed to get to Ega.
After two hours the pirogue arrived at the port of this ancient mission founded by the Carmelites, which became a town in 1759, and which General Gama placed forever under Brazilian rule.
The passengers landed on a flat beach, on which were to be found not only boats from the interior, but a few of those little schooners which are used in the coasting-trade on the Atlantic seaboard.
When the two girls entered Ega they were at first much astonished.
"What a large town!" said Minha.
"What houses! what people!" replied Lina, whose eyes seemed to have expanded so that she might see better.
"Rather!" said Benito laughingly. "More than fifteen hundred inhabitants! Two hundred houses at the very least! Some of them with a first floor! And two or three streets! Genuine streets!"
"My dear Manoel!" said Minha, "do protect us against my brother! He is making fun of us, and only because he had already been in the finest towns in Amazones and Para!"
"Quite so, and he is also poking fun at his mother," added Yaquita, "for I confess I never saw anything equal to this!"
"Then, mother and sister, you must take great care that you do not fall into a trance when you get to Manaos, and vanish altogether when you reach Belem!"
"Never fear," answered Manoel; "the ladies will have been gently prepared for these grand wonders by visiting the principal cities of the Upper Amazon!"
"Now, Manoel," said Minha, "you are talking just like my brother! Are you making fun of us, too?"
"No, Minha, I assure you."
"Laugh on, gentlemen," said Lina, "and let us look around, my dear mistress, for it is very fine!"
Very fine! A collection of houses, built of mud, whitewashed, and principally covered with thatch or palm-leaves; a few built of stone or wood, with verandas, doors, and shutters painted a bright green, standing in the middle of a small orchard of orange-trees in flower. But there were two or three public buildings, a barrack, and a church dedicated to St. Theresa, which was a cathedral by the side of the modest chapel at Iquitos. On looking toward the lake a beautiful panorama unfolded itself, bordered by a frame of cocoanut-trees and assais, which ended at the edge of the liquid level, and showed beyond the picturesque village of Noqueira, with its few small houses lost in the mass of the old olive-trees on the beach.
But for the two girls there was another cause of wonderment, quite feminine wonderment too, in the fashions of the fair Egans, not the primitive costume of the natives, converted Omaas or Muas, but the dress of true Brazilian ladies. The wives and daughters of the principal functionaries and merchants o the town pretentiously showed off their Parisian toilettes, a little out of date perhaps, for Ega is five hundred leagues away from Para, and this is itself many thousands of miles from Paris.
"Just look at those fine ladies in their fine clothes!"
"Lina will go mad!" exclaimed Benito.
"If those dresses were worn properly," said Minha, "they might not be so ridiculous!"
"My dear Minha," said Manoel, "with your simple gown and straw hat, you are better dressed than any one of these Brazilians, with their headgear and flying petticoats, which are foreign to their country and their race."
"If it pleases you to think so," answered Minha, "I do not envy any of them."
But they had come to see. They walked through the streets, which contained more stalls than shops; they strolled about the market-place, the rendezvous of the fashionable, who were nearly stifled in their European clothes; they even breakfasted at an hotel--it was scarcely an inn--whose cookery caused them to deeply regret the excellent service on the raft.
After dinner, at which only turtle flesh, served up in different forms, appeared, the Garral family went for the last time to admire the borders of the lake as the setting sun gilded it with its rays; then they rejoined their pirogue, somewhat disillusioned perhaps as to the magnificence of a town which one hour would give time enough to visit, and a little tired with walking about its stifling streets which were not nearly so pleasant as the shady pathways of Iquitos. The inquisitive Lina's enthusiasm alone had not been damped.
They all took their places in the pirogue. The wind remained in the northwest, and had freshened with the evening. The sail was hoisted. They took the same course as in the morning, across the lake fed by the black waters of the Rio Teffe, which, according to the Indians, is navigable toward the southwest for forty days' journey. At eight o'clock the priogue regained the mooring-place and hailed the jangada.