AT FIVE O’CLOCK in the evening Fragoso was still there, and was asking himself if he would have to pass the night on the spot to satisfy the expectant crowd, when a stranger arrived in the square, and seeing all t his native gathering, advanced toward the inn.
For some minutes the stranger eyed Fragoso attentively with some circumspection. The examination was obviously satisfactory, for he entered the loja.
He was a man about thirty-five years of age. He was dressed in a somewhat elegant traveling costume, which added much to his personal appearance. But his strong black beard, which the scissors had not touched for some time, and his hair, a trifle long, imperiously required the good offices of a barber.
“Good-day, friend, good-day!” said he, lightly striking Fragoso on the shoulder.
Fragoso turned round when he heard the words pronounced in pure Brazilian, and not in the mixed idiom of the natives.
“A compatriot?” he asked, without stopping the twisting of the refractory mouth of a Mayouma head.
“Yes,” answered the stranger. “A compatriot who has need of your services.”
“To be sure! In a minute,” said Fragoso. “Wait till I have finished with this lady!”
And this was done in a couple of strokes with the curling-tongs.
Although he was the last comer, and had no right to the vacant place, he sat down on the stool without causing any expostulation on the part of the natives who lost a turn.
Fragoso put down the irons for the scissors, and, after the manner of his brethren, said:
“What can I do for you, sir?”
“Cut my beard and my hair,” answered the stranger.
“All right!” said Fragoso, inserting his comb into the mass of hair.
And then the scissors to do their work.
“And you come from far?” asked Fragoso, who could not work without a good deal to say.
“I have come from the neighborhood of Iquitos.”
“So have I!” exclaimed Fragoso. “I have come down the Amazon from Iquitos to Tabatinga. May I ask your name?”
“No objection at all,” replied the stranger. “My name is Torres.”
When the hair was cut in the latest style Fragoso began to thin his beard, but at this moment, as he was looking straight into his face, he stopped, then began again, and then:
“Eh! Mr. Torres,” said he; “I seem to know you. We must have seen each other somewhere?”
“I do not think so,” quickly answered Torres.
“I am always wrong!” replied Fragoso, and he hurried on to finish his task.
A moment after Torres continued the conversation which this question of Fragoso had interrupted, with:
“How did you come from Iquitos?”
“From Iquitos to Tabatinga?”
“On board a raft, on which I was given a passage by a worther fazender who is going down the Amazon with his family.”
“A friend indeed!” replied Torres. “That is a chance, and if your fazender would take me ——”
“Do you intend, then, to go down the river?”
“No, only to Manaos, where I have business.”
“Well, my host is very kind, and I think he would cheerfully oblige you.”
“Do you think so?”
“I might almost say I am sure.”
“And what is the name of this fazender?” asked Torres carelessly.”
“Joam Garral,” answered Fragoso.
And at the same time he muttered to himself:
“I certainly have seen this fellow somewhere!”
Torres was not the man to allow a conversation to drop which was likely to interest him, and for very good reasons.
“And so you think Joam Garral would give me a passage?”
“I do not doubt it,” replied Fragoso. “What he would do for a poor chap like me he would not refuse to do for a compatriot like you.”
“Is he alone on board the jangada?”
“No,” replied Fragoso. “I wa going to tell you that he is traveling with all his family — and jolly people they are, I assure you. He is accompanied by a crew of Indians and negroes, who form part of the staff at the fazenda.”
“Is he rich?”
“Oh, certainly!” answered Fragoso —“very rich. Even the timber which forms the jangada, and the cargo it carries, constitute a fortune!”
“The Joam Garral and his whole family have just passed the Brazilian frontier?”
“Yes,” said Fragoso; “his wife, his son, his daughter, and Miss Minha’s betrothed.”
“Ah! he has a daughter?” said Torres.
“A charming girl!”
“Going to get married?”
“Yes, to a brave young fellow,” replied Fragoso —“an army surgeon in garrison at Belem, and the wedding is to take place as soon as we get to the end of the voyage.”
“Good!” said the smiling Torres; “it is what you might call a betrothal journey.”
“A voyage of betrothal, of pleasure, and of business!” said Fragoso. “Madame Yaquita and her daughter have never set foot on Brazilian ground; and as for Joam Garral, it is the first time he has crossed the frontier since he went to the farm of old Magalhaës.”
“I suppose,” asked Torres, “that there are some servants with the family?”
“Of course,” replied Fragoso —“old Cybele, on the farm for the last fifty years, and a pretty mulatto, Miss Lina, who is more of a companion than a servant to her mistress. Ah, what an amiable disposition! What a heart, and what eyes! And the ideas she has about everything, particularly about lianas —” Fragoso, started on this subject, would not have been able to stop himself, and Lina would have been the object of a good many enthusiastic declarations, had Torres not quitted the chair for another customer.
“What do I owe you?” asked he of the barber.
“Nothing,” answered Fragoso. “Between compatriots, when they meet on the frontier, there can be no question of that sort.”
“But,” replied Torres, “I want to ——”
“Very well, we will settle that later on, on board the jangada.”
“But I do not know that, and I do not like to ask Joam Garral to allow me ——”
“Do not hesitate!” exclaimed Fragoso; “I will speak to him if you would like it better, and he will be very happy to be of use to you under the circumstances.”
And at that instant Manoel and Benito, coming into the town after dinner, appeared at the door of the loja, wishing to see Fragoso at work.
Torres turned toward them and suddenly said: “There are two gentlemen I know — or rather I remember.”
“You remember them!” asked Fragoso, surprised.
“Yes, undoubtedly! A month ago, in the forest of Iquitos, they got me out of a considerable difficulty.”
“But they are Benito Garral and Manoel Valdez.”
“I know. They told me their names, but I never expected to see them here.”
Torres advanced toward the two young men, who looked at him without recognizing him.
“You do not remember me, gentlemen?” he asked.
“Wait a little,” answered Benito; “Mr. Torres, if I remember aright; it was you who, in the forest of Iquitos, got into difficulties with a guariba?”
“Quite true, gentlemen,” replied Torres. “For six weeks I have been traveling down the Amazon, and I have just crossed the frontier at the same time as you have.”
“Very pleased to see you again,” said Benito; “but you have not forgotten that you promised to come to the fazenda to my father?”
“I have not forgotten it,” answered Torres.
“And you would have done better to have accepted my offer; it would have allowed you to have waited for our departure, rested from you fatigues, and descended with us to the frontier; so many days of walking saved.”
“To be sure!” answered Torres.
“Our compatriot is not going to stop at the frontier,” said Fragoso, “he is going on to Manaos.”
“Well, then,” replied Benito, “if you will come on board the jangada you will be well received, and I am sure my father will give you a passage.”
“Willingly,” said Torres; “and you will allow me to thank you in advance.”
Manoel took no part in the conversation; he let Benito make the offer of his services, and attentively watched Torres, whose face he scarcely remembered. There was an entire want of frankness in the eyes, whose look changed unceasingly, as if he was afraid to fix them anywhere. But Manoel kept this impression to himself, not wishing to injure a compatriot whom they were about to oblige.
“Gentlemen,” said Torres, “if you like, I am ready to follow you to the landing-place.”
“Come, then,” answered Benito.
A quarter of an hour afterward Torres was on board the jangada. Benito introduced him to Joam Garral, acquainting him with the circumstances under which they had previously met him, and asked him to give him a passage down to Manaos.
“I am happy, sir, to be able to oblige you,” replied Joam.
“Thank you,” said Torres, who at the moment of putting forth his hand kept it back in spite of himself.
“We shall be off at daybreak to-morrow,” added Joam Garral, “so you had better get your things on board.”
“Oh, that will not take me long!” answered Torres; “there is only myself and nothing else!”
“Make yourself at home,” said Joam Garral.
That evening Torres took possession of a cabin near to that of the barber. It was not till eight o’clock that the latter returned to the raft, and gave the young mulatto an account of his exploits, and repeated, with no little vanity, that the renown of the illustrious Fragoso was increasing in the basin of the Upper Amazon.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01