Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon
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little further down stream.
Joam Garral had decided to pass thirty-six hours here, so as to give
a little rest to the crew. They would not start, therefore, until the
morning of the 27th.
On this occasion Yaquita and her children, less likely, perhaps, than
at Iquitos to be fed upon by the native mosquitoes, had announced
their intention of going on ashore and visiting the town.
The population of Tabatinga is estimated at four hundred, nearly all
Indians, comprising, no doubt, many of those wandering families who
are never settled at particular spots on the banks of the Amazon or
its smaller tributaries.
The post at the island of the Ronde has been abandoned for some
years, and transferred to Tabatinga. It can thus be called a garrison
town, but the garrison is only composed of nine soldiers, nearly all
Indians, and a sergeant, who is the actual commandant of the place.
A bank about thirty feet high, in which are cut the steps of a not
very solid staircase, forms here the curtain of the esplanade which
carries the pigmy fort. The house of the commandant consists of a
couple of huts placed in a square, and the soldiers occupy an oblong
building a hundred feet away, at the foot of a large tree.
The collection of cabins exactly resembles all the villages and
hamlets which are scattered along the banks of the river, although in
them a flagstaff carrying the Brazilian colors does not rise above a
sentry-box, forever destitute of its sentinel, nor are four small
mortars present to cannonade on an emergency any vessel which does
not come in when ordered.
As for the village properly so called, it is situated below, at the
base of the plateau. A road, which is but a ravine shaded by ficuses
and miritis, leads to it in a few minutes. There, on a half-cracked
hill of clay, stand a dozen houses, covered with the leaves of the
_"boiassu"_ palm placed round a central space.
All this is not very curious, but the environs of Tabatinga are
charming, particularly at the mouth of the Javary, which is of
sufficient extent to contain the Archipelago of the Aramasa Islands.
Hereabouts are grouped many fine trees, and among them a large number
of the palms, whose supple fibers are used in the fabrication of
hammocks and fishing-nets, and are the cause of some trade. To
conclude, the place is one of the most picturesque on the Upper
Tabatinga is destined to become before long a station of some
importance, and will no doubt rapidly develop, for there will stop
the Brazilian steamers which ascend the river, and the Peruvian
steamers which descend it. There they will tranship passengers and
cargoes. It does not require much for an English or American village
to become in a few years the center of considerable commerce.
The river is very beautiful along this part of its course. The
influence of ordinary tides is not perceptible at Tabatinga, which is
more than six hundred leagues from the Atlantic. But it is not so
with the _"pororoca,"_ that species of eddy which for three days in
the height of the syzygies raises the waters of the Amazon, and turns
them back at the rate of seventeen kilometers per hour. They say that
the effects of this bore are felt up to the Brazilian frontier.
On the morrow, the 26th of June, the Garral family prepared to go off
and visit the village. Though Joam, Benito, and Manoel had already
set foot in a Brazilian town, it was otherwise with Yaquita and her
daughter; for them it was, so to speak, a taking possession. It is
conceivable, therefore, that Yaquita and Minha should attach some
importance to the event.
If, on his part, Fragoso, in his capacity of wandering barber, had
already run through the different provinces of South America, Lina,
like her young mistress, had never been on Brazilian soil.
But before leaving the jangada Fragoso had sought Joam Garral, and
had the following conversation with him.
"Mr. Garral," said he, "from the day when you received me at the
fazenda of Iquitos, lodged, clothed, fed--in a word, took me in so
hospitably--I have owed you----"
"You owe me absolutely nothing, my friend," answered Joam, "so do not
"Oh, do not be alarmed!" exclaimed Fragoso, "I am not going to pay it
off! Let me add, that you took me on board the jangada and gave me
the means of descending the river. But here we are, on the soil of
Brazil, which, according to all probability, I ought never to have
seen again. Without that liana----"
"It is to Lina, and to Lina alone, that you should tender your
thanks," said Joam.
"I know," said Fragoso, "and I will never forget what I owe here, any
more than what I owe you."
"They tell me, Fragoso," continued Joam, "that you are going to say
good-by, and intend to remain at Tabatinga."
"By no means, Mr. Garral, since you have allowed me to accompany you
to Belem, where I hope at the least to be able to resume my old
"Well, if that is your intention--what were you going to ask me?"
"I was going to ask if you saw any inconvenience in my working at my
profession on our route. There is no necessity for my hand to rust;
and, besides, a few handfuls of reis would not be so bad at the
bottom of my pocket, more particularly if I had earned them. You
know, Mr. Garral, that a barber who is also a hairdresser--and I
hardly like to say a doctor, out of respect to Mr. Manoel--always
finds customers in these Upper Amazon villages."
"Particularly among the Brazilians," answered Joam. "As for the
"I beg pardon," replied Fragoso, "particularly among the natives. Ah!
although there is no beard to trim--for nature has been very stingy
toward them in that way--there are always some heads of hair to be
dressed in the latest fashion. They are very fond of it, these
savages, both the men and the women! I shall not be installed ten
minutes in the square at Tabatinga, with my cup and ball in hand--the
cup and ball I have brought on board, and which I can manage with
pretty pleasantly--before a circle of braves and squaws will have
formed around me. They will struggle for my favors. I could remain
here for a month, and the whole tribe of the Ticunas would come to me
to have their hair looked after! They won't hesitate to make the
acquaintance of 'curling tongs'--that is what they will call me--if I
revisit the walls of Tabatinga! I have already had two tries here,
and my scissors and comb have done marvels! It does not do to return
too often on the same track. The Indian ladies don't have their hair
curled every day, like the beauties of our Brazilian cities. No; when
it is done, it is done for year, and during the twelvemonth they will
take every care not to endanger the edifice which I have raised--with
what talent I dare not say. Now it is nearly a year since I was at
Tabatinga; I go to find my monuments in ruin! And if it is not
objectionable to you, Mr. Garral, I would render myself again worthy
of the reputation which I have acquired in these parts, the question
of reis, and not that of conceit, being, you understand, the
"Go on, then, friend, " replied Joam Garral laughingly; "but be
quick! we can only remain a day at Tabatinga, and we shall start
to-morrow at dawn."
"I will not lose a minute," answered Fragoso--"just time to take the
tools of my profession, and I am off."
"Off you go, Fragoso," said Joam, "and may the reis rain into your
"Yes, and that is a proper sort of rain, and there can never be too
much of it for your obedient servant."
And so saying Fragoso rapidly moved away.
A moment afterward the family, with the exception of Joam, went
ashore. The jangada was able to approach near enough to the bank for
the landing to take place without much trouble. A staircase, in a
miserable state, cut in the cliff, allowed the visitors to arrive on
the crest of the plateau.
Yaquita and her party were received by the commandant of the fort, a
poor fellow who, however, knew the laws of hospitality, and offered
them some breakfast in his cottage. Here and there passed and
repassed several soldiers on guard, while on the threshold of the
barrack appeared a few children, with their mothers of Ticuna blood,
affording very poor specimens of the mixed race.
In place of accepting the breakfast of the sergeant, Yaquita invited
the commandant and his wife to come and have theirs on board the
The commandant did not wait for a second invitation, and an
appointment was made for eleven o'clock. In the meantime Yaquita, her
daughter, and the young mulatto, accompanied by Manoel, went for a
walk in the neighborhood, leaving Benito to settle with the
commandant about the tolls--he being chief of the custom-house as
well as of the military establishment.
That done, Benito, as was his wont, strolled off with his gun into
the adjoining woods. On this occasion Manoel had declined to
accompany him. Fragoso had left the jangada, but instead of mounting
to the fort he had made for the village, crossing the ravine which
led off from the right on the level of the bank. He reckoned more on
the native custom of Tabatinga than on that of the garrison.
Doubtless the soldiers' wives would not have wished better than to
have been put under his hands, but the husbands scarcely cared to
part with a few reis for the sake of gratifying the whims of their
Among the natives it was quite the reverse. Husbands and wives, the
jolly barber knew them well, and he knew they would give him a better
Behold, then, Fragoso on the road, coming up the shady lane beneath
the ficuses, and arriving in the central square of Tabatinga!
As soon as he set foot in the place the famous barber was signaled,
recognized, surrounded. Fragoso had no big box, nor drum, nor cornet