Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 Next page
inches in diameter.
Gymnotuses are plentiful enough both in the Amazon and its
tributaries; and it was one of these living coils, about ten feet
long, which, after uncurving itself like a bow, again attacked the
Benito knew what he had to fear from this formidable animal. His
clothes were powerless to protect him. The discharges of the
gymnotus, at first somewhat weak, become more and more violent, and
there would come a time when, exhausted by the shocks, he would be
Benito, unable to resist the blows, half-dropped upon the sand. His
limbs were becoming paralyzed little by little under the electric
influences of the gymnotus, which lightly touched his body as it
wrapped him in its folds. His arms even he could not lift, and soon
his spear escaped him, and his hand had not strength enough left to
pull the cord and give the signal.
Benito felt that he was lost. Neither Manoel nor his companions could
suspect the horrible combat which was going on beneath them between
the formidable puraque and the unhappy diver, who only fought to
suffer, without any power of defending himself.
And that at the moment when a body--the body of Torres without a
doubt!--had just met his view.
By a supreme instinct of self-preservation Benito uttered a cry. His
voice was lost in the metallic sphere from which not a sound could
And now the puraque redoubled its attacks; it gave forth shock after
shock, which made Benito writhe on the sand like the sections of a
divided worm, and his muscles were wrenched again and again beneath
the living lash.
Benito thought that all was over; his eyes grew dim, his limbs began
But before he quite lost his power of sight and reason he became the
witness of a phenomenon, unexpected, inexplicable, and marvelous in
A deadened roar resounded through the liquid depths. It was like a
thunder-clap, the reverberations of which rolled along the river bed,
then violently agitated by the electrical discharges of the gymnotus.
Benito felt himself bathed as it were in the dreadful booming which
found an echo in the very deepest of the river depths.
And then a last cry escaped him, for fearful was the vision which
appeared before his eyes!
The corpse of the drowned man which had been stretched on the sand
arose! The undulations of the water lifted up the arms, and they
swayed about as if with some peculiar animation. Convulsive throbs
made the movement of the corpse still more alarming.
It was indeed the body of Torres. One of the suns rays shot down to
it through the liquid mass, and Benito recognized the bloated, ashy
features of the scoundrel who fell by his own hand, and hose last
breath had left him beneath the waters.
And while Benito could not make a single movement with his paralyzed
limbs, while his heavy shoes kept him down as if he had been nailed
to the sand, the corpse straightened itself up, the head swayed to
and fro, and disentangling itself from the hole in which it had been
kept by a mass of aquatic weeds, it slowly ascended to the surface of
THE CONTENTS OF THE CASE
WHAT WAS it that had happened? A purely physical phenomenon, of which
the following is the explanation.
The gunboat Santa Ana, bound for Manaos, had come up the river and
passed the bar at Frias. Just before she reached the _embouchure_ of
the Rio Negro she hoisted her colors and saluted the Brazilian flag.
At the report vibrations were produced along the surface of the
stream, and these vigrations making their way down to the bottom of
the river, had been sufficient to raise the corpse of Torres, already
lightened by the commencement of its decomposition and the distension
of its cellular system. The body of the drowned man had in the
ordinary course risen to the surface of the water.
This well-known phenomenon explains the reappearance of the corpse,
but it must be admitted that the arrival of the Santa Ana was a
By a shout from Manoel, repeated by all his companions, one of the
pirogues was immediately steered for the body, while the diver was at
the same time hauled up to the raft.
Great was Manoel's emotion when Benito, drawn on to the platform, was
laid there in a state of complete inertia, not a single exterior
movement betraying that he still lived.
Was not this a second corpse which the waters of the Amazon had given
As quickly as possible the diving-dress was taken off him.
Benito had entirely lost consciousness beneath the violent shocks of
Manoel, distracted, called to him, breathed into him, and endeavored
to recover the heart's pulsation.
"It beats! It beats!" he exclaimed.
Yes! Benito's heart did still beat, and in a few minutes Manoel's
efforts restored him to life.
"The body! the Body!"
Such were the first words, the only ones which escaped from Benito's
"There it is!" answered Fragoso, pointing to a pirogue then coming up
to the raft with the corpse.
"But what has been the matter, Benito?" asked Manoel. "Has it been
the want of air?"
"No!" said Benito; "a puraque attacked me! But the noise? the
"A cannon shot!" replied Manoel. "It was the cannon shot which
brought the corpse to the surface."
At this moment the pirogue came up to the raft with the body of
Torres, which had been taken on board by the Indians. His sojourn in
the water had not disfigured him very much. He was easily
recognizable, and there was no doubt as to his identity.
Fragoso, kneeling down in the pirogue, had already begun to undo the
clothes of the drowned man, which came away in fragments.
At the moment Torres' right arm, which was now left bare, attracted
his attention. On it there appeared the distinct scar of an old wound
produced by a blow from a knife.
"That scar!" exclaimed Fragoso. "But--that is good! I remember
"What?" demanded Manoel.
"A quarrel! Yes! a quarrel I witnessed in the province of Madeira
three years ago. How could I have forgotten it! This Torres was then
a captain of the woods. Ah! I know now where I had seen him, the
"That does not matter to us now!" cried Benito. "The case! the case!
Has he still got that?" and Benito was about to tear away the last
coverings of the corpse to get at it.
Manoel stopped him.
"One moment, Benito," he said; and then, turning to the men on the
raft who did not belong to the jangada, and whose evidence could not
be suspected at any future time:
"Just take note, my friends," he said, "of what we are doing here, so
that you can relate before the magistrate what has passed."
The men came up to the pirogue.
Fragoso undid the belt which encircled the body of Torres underneath
the torn poncho, and feeling his breast-pocket, exclaimed:
A cry of joy escaped from Benito. He stretched forward to seize the
case, to make sure than it contained----
"No!" again interrupted Manoel, whose coolness did not forsake him.
"It is necessary that not the slightest possible doubt should exist
in the mind of the magistrate! It is better that disinterested
witnesses should affirm that this case was really found on the corpse
"You are right," replied Benito.
"My friend," said Manoel to the foreman of the raft, "just feel in
the pocket of the waistcoat."
The foreman obeyed. He drew forth a metal case, with the cover
screwed on, and which seemed to have suffered in no way from its
sojourn in the water.
"The paper! Is the paper still inside?" exclaimed Benito, who could
not contain himself.
"It is for the magistrate to open this case!" answered Manoel. "To
him alone belongs the duty of verifying that the document was found