Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon
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This vegetable might take them far if they determined to follow it to
its extremity, like the thread of Ariadne, as far almost as that
which the heiress of Minos used to lead her from the labyrinth, and
perhaps entangle them more deeply.
It was in fact a creeper of the salses family, one of the cipos known
under the name of the red _"japicanga,"_ whose length sometimes
measures several miles. But, after all, they could leave it when they
The cipo passed from one tree to another without breaking its
continuity, sometimes twisting round the trunks, sometimes garlanding
the branches, here jumping form a dragon-tree to a rosewood, then
from a gigantic chestnut, the _"Bertholletia excelsa,"_ to some of
the wine palms, _"baccabas,"_ whose branches have been appropriately
compared by Agassiz to long sticks of coral flecked with green. Here
round _"tucumas,"_ or ficuses, capriciously twisted like centenarian
olive-trees, and of which Brazil had fifty-four varieties; here round
the kinds of euphorbias, which produce caoutchouc, _"gualtes,"_ noble
palm-trees, with slender, graceful, and glossy stems; and
cacao-trees, which shoot up of their own accord on the banks of the
Amazon and its tributaries, having different melastomas, some with
red flowers and others ornamented with panicles of whitish berries.
But the halts! the shouts of cheating! when the happy company thought
they had lost their guiding thread! For it was necessary to go back
and disentangle it from the knot of parasitic plants.
"There it is!" said Lina, "I see it!"
"You are wrong," replied Minha; "that is not it, that is a liana of
"No, Lina is right!" said Benito.
"No, Lina is wrong!" Manoel would naturally return.
Hence highly serious, long-continued discussions, in which no one
would give in.
Then the black on one side and Benito on the other would rush at the
trees and clamber up to the branches encircled by the cipo so as to
arrive at the true direction.
Now nothing was assuredly less easy in that jumble of knots, among
which twisted the liana in the middle of bromelias, _"karatas,"_
armed with their sharp prickles, orchids with rosy flowers and violet
lips the size of gloves, and oncidiums more tangled than a skein of
worsted between a kitten's paws.
And then when the liana ran down again to the ground the difficulty
of picking it out under the mass of lycopods, large-leaved
heliconias, rosy-tasseled calliandras, rhipsalas encircling it like
the thread on an electric reel, between the knots of the large white
ipomas, under the fleshy stems of the vanilla, and in the midst of
the shoots and branchlets of the grenadilla and the vine.
And when the cipo was found again what shouts of joy, and how they
resumed the walk for an instant interrupted!
For an hour the young people had already been advancing, and nothing
had happened to warn them that they were approaching the end.
They shook the liana with vigor, but it would not give, and the birds
flew away in hundreds, and the monkeys fled from tree to tree, so as
to point out the way.
If a thicket barred the road the felling-sword cut a deep gap, and
the group passed in. If it was a high rock, carpeted with verdure,
over which the liana twisted like a serpent, they climbed it and
A large break now appeared. There, in the more open air, which is as
necessary to it as the light of the sun, the tree of the tropics,
_par excellence,_ which, according to Humboldt, "accompanies man in
the infancy of his civilization," the great provider of the
inhabitant of the torrid zones, a banana-tree, was standing alone.
The long festoon of the liana curled round its higher branches,
moving away to the other side of the clearing, and disappeared again
into the forest.
"Shall we stop soon?" asked Manoel.
"No; a thousand times no!" cried Benito, "not without having reached
the end of it!"
"Perhaps," observed Minha, "it will soon be time to think of
"Oh, dearest mistress, let us go on again!" replied Lina.
"On forever!" added Benito.
And they plunged more deeply into the forest, which, becoming
clearer, allowed them to advance more easily.
Besides, the cipo bore away to the north, and toward the river. It
became less inconvenient to follow, seeing that they approached the
right bank, and it would be easy to get back afterward.
A quarter of an hour later they all stopped at the foot of a ravine
in front of a small tributary of the Amazon. But a bridge of lianas,
made of _"bejucos,"_ twined together by their interlacing branches,
crossed the stream. The cipo, dividing into two strings, served for a
handrail, and passed from one bank to the other.
Benito, all the time in front, had already stepped on the swinging
floor of this vegetable bridge.
Manoel wished to keep his sister back.
"Stay--stay, Minha!" he said, "Benito may go further if he likes, but
let us remain here."
"No! Come on, come on, dear mistress!" said Lina. "Don't be afraid,
the liana is getting thinner; we shall get the better of it, and find
out its end!"
And, without hesitation, the young mulatto boldly ventured toward
"What children they are!" replied Minha. "Come along, Manoel, we must
And they all cleared the bridge, which swayed above the ravine like a
swing, and plunged again beneath the mighty trees.
But they had not proceeded for ten minutes along the interminable
cipo, in the direction of the river, when they stopped, and this time
not without cause.
"Have we got to the end of the liana?" asked Minha.
"No," replied Benito; "but we had better advance with care. Look!"
and Benito pointed to the cipo which, lost in the branches of a high
ficus, was agitated by violent shakings.
"What causes that?" asked Manoel.
"Perhaps some animal that we had better approach with a little
And Benito, cocking his gun, motioned them to let him go on a bit,
and stepped about ten paces to the front.
Manoel, the two girls, and the black remained motionless where they
Suddenly Benito raised a shout, and they saw him rush toward a tree;
they all ran as well.
Sight the most unforeseen, and little adapted to gratify the eyes!
A man, hanging by the neck, struggled at the end of the liana, which,
supple as a cord, had formed into a slipknot, and the shakings came
from the jerks into which he still agitated it in the last
convulsions of his agony!
Benito threw himself on the unfortunate fellow, and with a cut of his
hunting-knife severed the cipo.
The man slipped on to the ground. Manoel leaned over him, to try and
recall him to life, if it was not too late.
"Poor man!" murmured Minha.
"Mr. Manoel! Mr. Manoel! cried Lina. "He breathes again! His heart
beats; you must save him."
"True," said Manoel, "but I think it was about time that we came up."
He was about thirty years old, a white, clothed badly enough, much
emaciated, and he seemed to have suffered a good deal.
At his feet were an empty flask, thrown on the ground, and a cup and
ball in palm wood, of which the ball, made of the head of a tortoise,
was tied on with a fiber.
"To hang himself! to hang himself!" repeated Lina, "and young still!
What could have driven him to do such a thing?"
But the attempts of Manoel had not been long in bringing the luckless
wight to life again, and he opened his eyes and gave an "ahem!" so
vigorous and unexpected that Lina, frightened, replied to his cry
"Who are you, my friend?" Benito asked him.
"An ex-hanger-on, as far as I see."
"But your name?"
"Wait a minute and I will recall myself," said he, passing his hand
over his forehead. "I am known as Fragoso, at your service; and I am
still able to curl and cut your hair, to shave you, and to make you
comfortable according to all the rules of my art. I am a barber, so
to speak more truly, the most desperate of Figaros."
"And what made you think of----"