Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon
Chapter 17: An Attack
HOWEVER, if Manoel, to avoid giving rise to a violent scene on board, said nothing on the subject of Torres, he resolved to have an explanation with Benito.
"Benito," he began, after taking him to the bow of the jangada, "I have something to say to you."
Benito, generally so good-humored, stopped as he looked at Manoel, and a cloud came over his countenance.
"I know why," he said; "it is about Torres."
"And I also wish to speak to you."
"You have then noticed his attention to Minha?" said Manoel, turning pale.
"Ah! It is not a feeling of jealousy, though, that exasperates you against such a man?" said Benito quickly.
"No!" replied Manoel. "Decidedly not! Heaven forbid I should do such an injury to the girl who is to become my wife. No, Benito! She holds the adventurer in horror! I am not thinking anything of that sort; but it distresses me to see this adventurer constantly obtruding himself by his presence and conversation on your mother and sister, and seeking to introduce himself into that intimacy with your family which is already mine."
"Manoel," gravely answered Benito, "I share your aversion for this dubious individual, and had I consulted my feelings I would already have driven Torres off the raft! But I dare not!"
"You dare not?" said Manoel, seizing the hand of his friend. "You dare not?"
"Listen to me, Manoel," continued Benito. "You have observed Torres well, have you not? You have remarked his attentions to my sister! Nothing can be truer! But while you have been noticing that, have you not seen that this annoying man never keeps his eyes off my father, no matter if he is near to him or far from him, and that he seems to have some spiteful secret intention in watching him with such unaccountable persistency?"
"What are you talking about, Benito? Have you any reason to think that Torres bears some grudge against Joam Garral?"
"No! I think nothing!" replied Benito; "it is only a presentiment! But look well at Torres, study his face with care, and you will see what an evil grin he has whenever my father comes into his sight."
"Well, then," exclaimed Manoel, "if it is so, Benito, the more reason for clearing him out!"
"More reason--or less reason," replied Benito. "Manoel, I fear--what? I know not--but to force my father to get rid of Torres would perhaps be imprudent! I repeat it, I am afraid, though no positive fact enables me to explain my fear to myself!"
And Benito seemed to shudder with anger as he said these words.
"Then," said Manoel, "you think we had better wait?"
"Yes; wait, before doing anything, but above all things let us be on our guard!"
"After all," answered Manoel, "in twenty days we shall be at Manaos. There Torres must stop. There he will leave us, and we shall be relieved of his presence for good! Till then we must keep our eyes on him!"
"You understand me, Manoel?" asked Benito.
"I understand you, my friend, my brother!" replied Manoel, "although I do not share, and cannot share, your fears! What connection can possibly exist between your father and this adventurer? Evidently your father has never seen him!"
"I do not say that my father knows Torres," said Benito; "but assuredly it seems to me that Torres knows my father. What was the fellow doing in the neighborhood of the fazenda when we met him in the forest of Iquitos? Why did he then refuse the hospitality which we offered, so as to afterward manage to force himself on us as our traveling companion? We arrive at Tabatinga, and there he is as if he was waiting for us! The probability is that these meetings were in pursuance of a preconceived plan. When I see the shifty, dogged look of Torres, all this crowds on my mind. I do not know! I am losing myself in things that defy explanation! Oh! why did I ever think of offering to take him on board this raft?"
"Be calm, Benito, I pray you!"
"Manoel!" continued Benito, who seemed to be powerless to contain himself, "think you that if it only concerned me--this man who inspires us all with such aversion and disgust--I should not hesitate to throw him overboard! But when it concerns my father, I fear lest in giving way to my impressions I may be injuring my object! Something tells me that with this scheming fellow there may be danger in doing anything until he has given us the right--the right and the duty--to do it. In short, on the jangada, he is in our power, and if we both keep good watch over my father, we can spoil his game, no matter how sure it may be, and force him to unmask and betray himself! Then wait a little longer!"
The arrival of Torres in the bow of the raft broke off the conversation. Torres looked slyly at the two young men, but said not a word.
Benito was not deceived when he said that the adventurer's eyes were never off Joam Garral as long as he fancied he was unobserved.
No! he was not deceived when he said that Torres' face grew evil when he looked at his father!
By what mysterious bond could these two men--one nobleness itself, that was self-evident--be connected with each other?
Such being the state of affairs it was certainly difficult for Torres, constantly watched as he was by the two young men, by Fragoso and Lina, to make a single movement without having instantly to repress it. Perhaps he understood the position. If he did, he did not show it, for his manner changed not in the least.
Satisfied with their mutual explanation, Manoel and Benito promised to keep him in sight without doing anything to awaken his suspicions.
During the following days the jangada passed on the right the mouths of the rivers Camara, Aru, and Yuripari, whose waters instead of flowing into the Amazon run off to the south to feed the Rio des Purus, and return by it into the main river. At five o'clock on the evening of the 10th of August they put into the island of Cocos.
They there passed a _"seringal."_ This name is applied to a caoutchouc plantation, the caoutchouc being extracted from the _"seringueira"_ tree, whose scientific name is _siphonia elastica._
It is said that, by negligence or bad management, the number of these trees is decreasing in the basin of the Amazon, but the forests of seringueira trees are still very considerable on the banks of the Madeira, Purus, and other tributaries.
There were here some twenty Indians collecting and working the caoutchouc, an operation which principally takes place during the months of May, June, and July.
After having ascertained that the trees, well prepared by the river floods which have bathed their stems to a height of about four feet, are in good condition for the harvest, the Indians are set to work.
Incisions are made into the alburnum of the seringueiras; below the wound small pots are attached, which twenty-four hours suffice to fill with a milky sap. It can also be collected by means of a hollow bamboo, and a receptacle placed on the ground at the foot of the tree.
The sap being obtained, the Indians, to prevent the separation of its peculiar resins, fumigate it over a fire of the nuts of the assai palm. By spreading out the sap on a wooden scoop, and shaking it in the smoke, its coagulation is almost immediately obtained; it assumes a grayish-yellow tinge and solidifies. The layers formed in succession are detached from the scoop, exposed to the sun, hardened, and assume the brownish color with which we are familiar. The manufacture is then complete.
Benito, finding a capital opportunity, bought from the Indians all the caoutchouc stored in their cabins, which, by the way, are mostly built on piles. The price he gave them was sufficiently remunerative, and they were highly satisfied.