I BELIEVE that story of yours, senhor. You tell me that while you two North Americans were far out on the great ocean, steaming southward on your way to explore our Amazon headwaters, a vulture came speeding from nowhere and settled in the rigging of another boat near you; and that soon afterward a terrible storm swept that vessel to her doom.
Yes, I believe it. For I know, as all Brazilians know, the fiendish power those ugly birds have of scenting death even before death strikes. And we rubber-workers of the wild Javary region, who see much of death, see much also of those vile things which live on death.
Sometimes, senhores, we see vultures without wings, which walk about in the shape of men. Yes, human vultures, who scent human weakness as do their foul brothers of the air, and come from afar to prey on that weakness until they have stripped their victims to the bare bones. And now, while we stream on down the Amazon, I can tell you the tale of one of those creatures—a tale of the bush but yet not of the bush; for these things came about not in the depths of the unknown jungle but in a jungle town on the banks of the Javary.
That town is Remate de Males. In your language Remate de Males means “culmination of evils.” Yet it is not a bad town, as these upper Amazon towns go. It got its name, I have heard, from the sufferings of the first people who settled there—fever and famine and other misfortunes which attacked them until out of twenty settlers only four survived. Even now it is no real town like Manaos and other places on this great river.
But to us seringueiros, who toil for months among the dangers and diseases of the swamp-lands, it is a place where we can go and amuse ourselves when the floods drive us from our work. And when men have labored long in the wilderness with Death always lurking at their backs, any town where they can play is not a bad town at all.
At the time of high water I came into Remate de Males with a young comrade, Pedro Andrada, who, like myself, worked on the big seringal of Coronel Nunes. We were more than fellow workers; we were comrades. Recently we had been out on a long roving trip along the Brazilian-Peruvian frontier, and had come back so gaunt and tired that we were glad to rest for a time at the headquarters of the coronel.
But after a few days of ease we found this very dull, since most of the other men had gone out to spend their time and money at their homes, or, if their homes were too far away, at Remate de Males. So, after drawing some money from the coronel, we paddled down the river for several days until we reached the town.
There we hitched our dugout to one of the posts before the door of a trader named Joaquim, whom we knew well, and went inside. Several friends of ours were loafing there, and for a time they kept us busy telling of our adventures on that rambling trip. Then we asked what we could do to enjoy ourselves. They grinned.
“If you have a pocketful of money you can do anything you like at the house of Urubu,” answered one.
“The house of the Vulture? I do not understand,” I said.
“You are behind the times, Lourenço,” another man laughed. “You have not been here since the last flood; is it not so? We now have a real urubu, and he will give you any game you like and pick you clean.”
“This sounds interesting,” said my comrade Pedro, his brown eyes twinkling. “Remate de Males is becoming quite a city. What sort of thing is this Urubu of which you speak?”
Then spoke Joaquim the trader, and his tone was sour:
“He is a remate de males in himself. If there is anything worse than he I have not yet seen it. He takes the life from honest men and devours their bodies afterward.”
The men looked at one another. Then one said:
“That is a hard thing to say, Joaquim. I think you are jealous because we spend money there instead of here. Urubu is no cannibal.”
“Where are Ricardo Bautista and Alberto Alencar?” demanded Joaquim. “Each was drunk at his place, and the next morning each was gone. Gone where? No man has seen them since.”
Nobody spoke. Joaquim went on.
“I would not say that he actually ate them. But there is a jacare-assu—a huge alligator—living under his house, and perhaps that reptile could tell things if he would. A jacare does not live where it finds no food.”
Again there was silence. Then Helio Alves said slowly:
“I have been wondering what became of that girl Januaria. You remember her, friends—the big girl with the very red mouth. I liked her. The last time I saw her she said she was going to quit him. That was nearly a week ago. Has any one seen her lately?”
The others shook their heads. A fellow named Miguel said:
“There has been no boat this week. She must be here still. Perhaps she is sick.”
“Ask that jacare under the house where she is,” sneered Joaquim.
“I will ask Urubu to his face where she is,” growled Helio.
“And I will ask Maria, my own sweetheart, what has become of her,” added Miguel.
I BROKE in then and told them we were still waiting to learn who and what this Urubu might be. Miguel told me:
“His name is Aracu. But some man who was half-drunk in his place, so that his tongue got twisted, called him Urubu, and the name fitted him so well that he has been Urubu here ever since. He looks like a king vulture.
“He came first, they tell me, to Nazareth, across the river there in Peru. He wanted a house here in Remate de Males, where more people come; but he could not find one empty and he would not build one. Instead he got Domicio Malaguetta to drinking and gambling in his place in Nazareth. Domicio owned the finest house here, except the hotel. Before long that house and everything in it belonged to Urubu.
“Domicio and his family had to go and live in a mean little barracao, where he and his wife died of fever. The place that used to be Domicio’s home is now a house of entertainment run by Urubu. Perhaps you remember Domicio.”
I did remember Domicio. He had been quite a prosperous trader, and a steady sort of man, though fond of his drink. I was sorry to hear of his miserable end. As I thought of it I remembered something else.
“Domicio had a pretty young daughter,” I said. “What has become of her?”
“She is in the house of Urubu. She had no money, and a girl must live. She is not so pretty now.”
At this we scowled. The daughter of Domicio was nothing to us, but this thing displeased us. Miguel went on:
“There are other girls. Where they come from I do not know, but they come here with Domengos Peixoto. Domengos is a great friend of Urubu, and he seems quite prosperous now. He wears a gold watch and chain, travels up and down the big river, and does not drink so hard as he did.”
This was surprizing news to us. When we had last been here this Domengos Peixoto had been a low, ragged drunkard whom nobody liked and nobody would trust—a hanger-on at places where card-games were played, and always thirsting for a drink. It was hard to imagine him sober, well dressed and traveling about like a gentleman.
“I see,” said Pedro, his voice hard. “Domengos travels on the river—and brings girls here. I see. I think I will go and look at Domengos. I am curious to know how he looks with his face washed.”
“He is not here now,” said some one. “He has been away for a time.”
“Then I will look at this Urubu who owns Domengos. I suppose I shall not offend you by offering to buy you all a drink?”
Every one sat up as if he had suddenly heard a voice calling him.
“To show you how much offended I am,” Miguel laughed, “I will allow you to buy me two drinks.”
We trooped out, leaving Joaquim looking after us sourly, but wistfully too. After what he had said, he could not well go to the house of Urubu and drink. Perhaps he consoled himself with some of his own cachassa when we were gone.
In our dugouts and montarias we paddled up the street, where the water was several feet deep, to the house of Urubu. Pedro and I had never been in it before, for Domicio Malagueita had not invited seringueiros to be his guests. Now we found it fitted with the furnishings of a comfortable home, but with some partitions taken out to make a long room across the front.
In this room, around several small tables, sat a few men and girls quietly playing cards. Another girl, lolling in a richly colored hammock at one end, was picking idly at a wire guitar. A sort of bar ran half-way across the room beside the farther wall, and on it were a liquor-jar and a few cups.
“Wake up!” shouted Miguel. “Here are Lourenço Moraes and Pedro Andrada, with a six-months’ thirst and pockets full of money. Where is that Urubu? We want drinks!”
They woke up. The men, most of whom knew us, shouted greetings. The women swiftly looked us over and then smiled and called to us. The one in the hammock sat up, and I saw that she was the Malagueita girl. She had been rather proud and shy, but now she was as bold as any of them. She made eyes at my handsome partner and asked if he would buy her a drink too.
“I buy for all, little one,” said Pedro, as if he did not remember her. “My thirst is long and my pocket strong. Boys and girls, let us see who can empty his cup quickest. Who fills the cups?”
“I,” said a deep voice behind the bar. A door had opened there, and beside the jar and cups stood Urubu.
AS MIGUEL had said, the man looked like a king vulture—that bird which drives the common buzzards from their feasts to gorge himself. Bulky and squat, with humped shoulders, he had also the vulture’s head and face. His head, blunt as a bullet, was red and bare except for a little short black hair. His nose was a hooked beak. His eyes were cold as those of the bird of death. His mouth was a hard slit. His hands, curled around cups on the bar, looked like claws. Looking at him and remembering what I had just been told, I felt that the drunken man who named him Urubu had been only drunk enough to speak truth.
He watched us with a cold stare. His mouth stretched into a smirk.
“What is your pleasure, senhores?” he asked.
“What have you?” Pedro wanted to know.
“Anything you like. Cachassa, of course,” and he pointed a thumb at the jar, “or aguardiente, cauim—all those things. There is also fine liquor from Europe and North America—cognac, whisky, gin, cordials— whatever you wish, senhores.”
“I have drunk no liquor but cachassa for months,” said Pedro. “I want something fancy. Make me a tail of the cock.”
Urubu stared. So did the rest of us.
“A what?” demanded Urubu.
“A tail of the cock. An American whom I knew an Santarem used to make them for himself, and they are very fine. They are made by mixing several things together. Can you make one?”
“Certainly I can make you a cocktail, senhor. I did not quite understand you.”
He reached under the bar, produced several bottles, mixed up the liquors, and asked—
“What will your broad-shouldered friend have?”
I said I would have a cocktail also. The others ordered their drinks, and we quickly emptied our cups.
Pedro and I burst out coughing. That drink was the worst I had ever swallowed. Every one laughed at us except Urubu, whose face was like wood.
“What do you call that?” demanded Pedro angrily. “That is no tail of the cock.”
“Perhaps you have forgotten the taste of a real cocktail,” answered Urubu, a slight sneer in his tone. “Or perhaps you are accustomed to such drinks as are made for girls.”
“Perhaps you are accustomed to mixing drinks only for ignorant Indians—the kind of Indians who eat rotten turtle,” retorted Pedro. “And if you think me a girl, step out here and I will show you how girlish I am.”
For a moment it was very quiet. Unwinking, expressionless, the vulture eyes of Urubu stared into the hot brown eyes of my comrade. Then his slit of a mouth stretched again and he shrugged his humpy shoulders.
“Do not be so hasty, senhor,” he said. “That was only my little joke. Perhaps the American senhor made his cocktails differently—there are several ways of mixing those drinks. Will you have some of the North American whisky?”
“I will drink anything to take this taste out of my mouth.”
“Then here is something very fine.”
The beak-nosed man set a bottle on the bar.
“You see it is a new bottle, and the cork has not been drawn.”
“Yes, and I see that I do not want it,” refused Pedro. “I have seen that label before. The American senhor had a bottle like that one. He said that the stuff in it looked like whisky and tasted like whisky, but it was really Old Crow. I do not want anything made from old crows. Give me some cachassa.”
Urubu said nothing more. I had some cachassa also, and the familiar taste soothed my tongue. The vulture-man glanced at the Malagueita girl, who stood beside Pedro and drank with him. At once she invited Pedro to sit in her hammock and let her play to him.
“Gladly, my lady,” he accepted. “I have not heard a guitar for a long time.” And they turned away.
I too turned and took a few steps toward one of the card-tables. Then I whirled on my heel. As I expected, the eyes of Urubu were on my partner’s back, and there was a threat in them—a threat of evil that put me on my guard. I strode to the bar.
“More meat for the jacare,” I said in a low tone. “Was that what you were thinking?”
For the first time his eyelids flickered. His unpleasant gaze centered on my face. After a minute he answered—
“I do not get your meaning, senhor.”
“I think you do,” I shot back. “And make no mistake. We are men of the bush, he and I, and we are accustomed to jacares—and to urubus also.”
With another shrug he said he did not quite grasp my little joke. I said no more, for no more was necessary. But Helio, who had been standing near, now spoke up.
“I do not see Januaria here,” he said. “Where is she?”
“She has fever,” Urubu answered promptly. “I sent her down to the Solimoes, where the air is better.”
“When? How? To what place on the Solimoes?”
“When? When she was taken sick. The fever came on her late at night, and I saw it would be bad, so I sent her out at once to Tabatinga.”
“How?” insisted Helio. “Who took her?”
“By canoe. Ricardo Bautista and Alberto Alencar were here, and they paddled away with her.”
“Ricardo and Alberto! They disappeared weeks ago.”
“I know. They had no money left, so they went down-river to earn some. They came back together late that night, and I coaxed them to take her away until she should be well. Ricardo was a friend of Januaria, you remember.”
Helio nodded slowly as if that were true, but he could not believe the rest of it. Without saying anything further he took another drink and then sat down at a table. The rest of us also drifted to the tables, and I sat for a time smoking, drinking, and talking to a couple of men who, like myself, were not in the mood for cards. One of the women bothered me at first with her attentions, but after I succeeded in discouraging her I was left in peace.
THE Malagueita girl, I noticed, was softly singing love-songs to Pedro, but he did not seem much interested. After a time he looked at me, moved his head toward the door, and arose. Urubu, who had been standing quiet and waiting, looked sharply at our rolls of milreis as we paid for all the drinks. Then he asked why we left so soon.
We told him the truth—that we must find a place to live in. He urged us to stay there, saying he could make room for us and would make us very comfortable. The girls, of course, said the same. But we refused and went out.
“A cold rascal,” said my partner as we paddled away. “He spoiled my thirst, and I dislike him much. But I intend to see more of him. He interests me.”
Back to the store of Joaquim we went, and there we tied our canoe as before.
“We have seen your Urubu and we do not like him,” I told him. He grinned in a satisfied way.
“I knew you would not,” he answered. “You two are not blind spendthrifts, and you have heads on your shoulders. Yet if you would buy supplies here you had best buy them now, for Urubu will get your money as he gets that of others.”
“By drink, gambling, women—or in other ways. I know you are not easily made drunk and are not passionate gamblers or lovers of women, but he will get you in some way. I am surprized that he did not ask you to stay there until your money was gone.”
We answered that Urubu had done so, but that we preferred to live elsewhere and had come to ask if he knew of a place. We added that if we could find a house where we could live by ourselves we should want to buy a number of things in his store. It did not take him long to think of the place we wanted, and soon we were settled in a small barracāo facing the river Tecuahy.
Before long a montaria came up to our door, and in it was Helio, looking both doubtful and grim.
“I do not believe Urubu’s story of Januaria,” he growled. “She showed no sign of sickness when I last saw her. And the part about Ricardo and Alberto sounds queer to me. They did not disappear at the same time, and they were not comrades as you two are, so why should they work together and return together? And they were rough, hard men who thought only of themselves, and if they came back with money they would not let a girl’s sickness interfere with their staying here and drinking.
“What is more, they have had plenty of time to return from Tabatinga, but they have not come back. The tale does not sound good to me at all. And what Joaquim said about the jacare disturbs me. It is true that a jacare-assu lives under the house of Urubu—I have seen the beast myself.”
“Miguel was to talk to his sweetheart,” I reminded him. “Perhaps he will learn something.”
“He has talked to her and has learned nothing,” Helio replied. “I have just seen Miguel. Maria said she knew nothing about Januaria’s sickness or her going away. She would not talk about it, and she seemed afraid Urubu might overhear what Miguel said.”
“That does not look very good either,” said Pedro. “The story of Urubu may be true, and we can not prove it is not. But there is one thing you can do, Helio, if you are really interested in this matter. Say nothing to any one, but start at dawn tomorrow and go to Tabatinga. It is only about thirty miles, and you can soon learn whether your girl is there.”
“I will do it!” vowed Helio. “I will go before any one else is awake. When I come back I will tell you what I find out.”
He left us, putting a vicious punch into his strokes as he pulled away.
“I think,” said Pedro, watching him, “that before long Helio and Urubu are going to have trouble.”
“And I think,” I added, “that if any one else here disappears I should like to kill that jacare and see what is inside him.”
“I had the same thought,” he nodded. “But I hardly believe there will be anything new before Helio returns.”
He was not quite right. Before Helio came back to us something new did come about, and as the result of it my comrade forced himself into the affairs of the Vulture.
IN THE next two or three days we went several times to the house of Urubu. We lost a little money at cards, but not enough to hurt us much. We drank as much as we liked, but that was only enough to make us merry. And though the girls did their best to charm us we paid no more attention to them than to the men—joking with them, playing cards with them and buying drinks, but not allowing any foolishness.
We knew that this was not at all what Urubu wanted, but he gave no sign of impatience. The flood waters were high, we could do no work, and he had no reason to suppose we should go elsewhere before the dry season. So he watched and waited, as a true vulture watches and waits for its victim to fall into its power.
Then came a boat. On the boat came Domengos Peixoto. With Domengos came a girl. And then Pedro woke up.
The boat was one of these fine English steamers of the Amazon, which call at Remate de Males to leave passengers and mail. We were loafing in Joaquim’s place when she came in, and for a minute we thought a fight had started down the street, for we heard yells and the explosions of rifles. But then came the hoarse roar of the whistle, and we knew the shouting and shooting were only the celebration that always welcomes the steamer.
Like the other men in the store, we started for our canoe. But in the confusion some man got our craft and paddled off in it before we could reach it. We promptly grabbed the next boat—a good-sized montaria—and in that we pulled away to the river.
Only four people left the steamer: two traveling traders, Domengos, and the girl. We gave no attention to the traders, but we were interested in the other two. Domengos, standing with his stomach stuck out importantly, looked for a boat to take him to the house of Urubu, but found none. Then he saw us and the roomy montaria we had borrowed.
“Here!” he called. “Come here to me. Take us to Urubu’s place and I will give you a drink.”
At his offensive tone we growled.
“We can buy our own drinks,” retorted Pedro. “We are not boatmen for such as you. You can swim ashore. Unless you bathe more often than you used to it will do you good.”
Domengos scowled and his face seemed to swell. But then he swallowed his rage and changed his manner.
“Oh, you are my old friends Pedro and Lourenço! I have not seen you for months, and I did not know you. Will you not take me and my niece to the house, old friends?”
“That tone sounds more familiar,” said Pedro contemptuously. “It is the same one you used when you begged drinks from us last year. You can go——”
He stopped with a queer sort of gulp. His eyes had shifted to the girl, and sudden surprize had shot into his face.
I had only glanced at her, but now I looked at her more closely. She was rather small, but she appeared healthy and strong of body and pretty of face. These things were to be expected of a girl going to the house of the Vulture, but it was something else that interested me—she seemed shy, and she was looking at Domengos as if Pedro’s scorn had stirred up doubt of her companion. Then Pedro spoke again, and like Domengos he had changed his manner.
“You can come with us. We have room for you.”
Puzzled, I helped him move the montaria into position. Domengos started to get in, but Pedro blocked him.
“Hand the lady in first,” he told him. “Have you no politeness?”
Domengos showed his teeth, but handed the girl down into the montaria. Pedro helped her to seat herself. Then, before Domengos could get in, he shoved the boat away.
Domengos teetered on his toes and narrowly escaped stepping off into the river. Other men in boats around us laughed.
“What is this?” demanded Domengos. “One of your jokes? Come back and take me in.”
“I have changed my mind,” grinned Pedro. “You can swim. Lourenço, paddle hard! Straight to our barracāo!”
MUCH astonished, I heaved on my paddle and we surged away. Pedro also stroked hard a few times. Then he turned, faced the girl, and asked sharply—
“Angela, what are you doing here?”
A little cry of surprize came from her.
“Pedro! Pedro Andrada! I did not know you! How big you have grown!”
“Three years makes a difference in a man in this Javary country,” he said. “Here a man must either be strong or die. But how come you here? Do you know that man Peixoto?”
Before she could answer yells from Domengos broke in.
“Stop them!” he bellowed. “They are stealing her! Capitāo, they steal my niece! They are kidnapers of the bush! They will hold her for ransom or worse! Will you let a woman passenger be stolen under your nose? Stop them!”
“Halt there!” barked an English voice behind us.
Pedro only shoved his paddle in deep. We almost lifted the boat with our strokes.
“Halt!” roared the voice again. A moment later a bullet smacked on the water beside us, followed instantly by the crack of a rifle.
Pedro tossed his paddle in the air and held it there. I lifted mine too. The montaria kept on going of itself, but as we took no more strokes no more bullets came. The same voice barked orders on the steamer, and a ship’s boat of men took the water and spurted after us.
While they came Pedro turned again to the girl.
“Angela,” he said, “when I knew you in Santarem you were a good girl.”
“And I am now!” she cried, her head high.
“I believe you. That is why I am doing what I do. Peixoto is not your uncle. You must not go with him. He is a lying dog, and he takes you to a place where no girl can go and remain good.”
Then up swept the ship’s boat, backed oars, and stopped. A gray-mustached, grim-faced officer with rifle in hand snapped:
“Hand over the lady, and be quick! What do you mean by this?”
“I mean to see that she is protected,” Pedro explained with dignity. “You do not understand the matter. That Peixoto is a liar and worse—much worse. He brings an innocent girl here to put her in the house of the Vulture. Perhaps you can judge what sort of house that is by the name of it.
“I know this girl—we grew up in the same town, Santarem. She can tell you whether I am a woman-stealer or an honest man.”
The keen eyes of the officer went to her. And though she was much disturbed she nodded quickly.
“It is true,” she said. “I know Pedro, and he is to be trusted. And I—I do not know that other man well. He told me he would get me a fine place to work in the house of an English gentleman, where I could care for the children and live very well. He told me to say I was his niece so that we could travel without questions. I—I— Oh, what shall I do now?”
“Do not trouble yourself about that, Angela mea,” Pedro soothed her. “You shall be well cared for until you can go home. You see, senhor, it is as I said.”
The officer gazed shrewdly at him, at me, at Angela, and at other men in the boats around us. Snapping down a finger at one of those men and holding it like a revolver, he barked—
“You! What sort of a man is Peixoto?”
The man laughed harshly and told him just what sort of man Peixoto was. The officer nodded.
“I have wondered about him before this,” he said. “He will not travel on our ship again. Give way!”
The oars dipped. The boat moved, turned, went back to the steamer. We saw Domengos being taken off, and not very gently.
“I think, Pedro,” I said as we watched this, “that you have pushed Domengos off his perch. The officer said he would travel no more on the English boats. If he can not bring women here he will be useless to Urubu. He will soon be ragged and dirty again and whining for drinks as he used to. Are you not ashamed to have ruined so worthy a citizen?”
Pedro grinned and made some answer, but I lost it because the other men around us laughed and drowned his words. And the thing I had predicted came true, senhores—Domengos did become once more a hanger-on and beggar. But it was not because Urubu dismissed him. The big boats do not call often at that town, and before the next one came several things had happened which stopped any attempt he might have made to travel again.
NOW we pushed on toward our barracāo, and there we heard more of the story of Angela. Domengos had found her, she said, not at Santarem but at Ega, a town much nearer to us and on the river Teffe. In the years since Pedro had left Santarem her mother had died and her father had moved to Ega, taking Angela with him. Then he too died, and she had to work in the house of an Italian settler whose wife was ill-tempered and treated her badly. This was very disagreeable for the girl, but she could not leave because she had no other home and never was given any money.
Then Domengos came, looking important and telling the people of Ega he was an upriver trader. He visited the white people of the town, who were glad to learn from him the latest news of affairs along the big river, and in this way he came into the house where she lived.
Soon after that he managed to talk with her alone and ask her questions, and she told him her whole story. Then he told her his lie about the English gentleman he knew, whose wife wanted a girl to help her with the children and would give her money and pretty things to wear. So, believing all he said and thinking him very kind, she took her few belongings and ran away from her bad-tempered mistress.
On the way up the river he treated her well, she said, and it was not until she heard Pedro’s contemptuous answers that she began to suspect he was not the respectable trader he claimed to be. Even now she found it hard to realize that he was so bad, and asked if we were sure it was true. We left no doubt in her mind about that. We pointed out that he would not dare treat her ill on the steamer because there she could appeal to the captain and make trouble for him; but after he got her into the house of Urubu she would have found him a low dog.
We told her little about the Vulture, and nothing at all about the disappearance of a girl and two men at his house. But she had heard enough to know it was far from being the sort of place she had expected, and now she looked very forlorn.
A poor little girl, homeless and penniless and deceived, with only us two hardened bushmen for friends and her dream of a happy life with kind people broken, she found it hard to hold back the tears. And when she stepped to the doorway and looked at the flooded town she could keep them back no longer.
“Even the town is dirty and dismal!” she cried. “Santarem and Ega are clean, green towns with fine sandy beaches, but this is nothing but a drowned mud-hole. And the air—the air is so damp it chokes me.”
“Have courage, Angela,” Pedro said. “You shall leave it on the next boat that goes down. We would put you on that steamer which brought you, but it is up-bound and must go many miles westward before turning down again. This is a dreary place, as you say, but no harm shall come to you here.”
“But where can I go from here? I have no money, and one can not travel free on the steamer. I have nothing at all—that Peixoto must have my bundle with my other dress and my beads and all.”
“Do not trouble about the money,” he urged her. “We will see to that. And if Domengos has anything of yours he will not keep it long. I will go and get it now.”
Taking his rifle, he stepped toward the door. I too picked up my gun, but he told me to stay there and see that nobody bothered Angela. I hesitated, and then suggested that we take her with us and leave her for a time with Joaquim and his wife. This little barracāo, I said, was no fit place for her, though it was good enough for him and me; and she would be more comfortable and fully as safe at Joaquim’s place. He agreed that this was so.
“Come, Angela,” he said. “You will like Paula, the wife of Joaquim, for she has a very good heart. And it will be better for you to stay there than here, for one never knows what may happen, and later on in your life some spiteful person might say you lived with two men here, and it might do you much harm.”
So we took her to Joaquim’s home. As we expected, he had already heard of the matter from other men, and after one look into Angela’s innocent face he consented to her staying with his family. Paula, a motherly woman, also was glad to have her there, and the girl herself seemed to feel better for their hearty welcome.
“Now she will be safe,” Pedro said as we paddled away.
“If she does not get fever,” I added.
He nodded grudgingly, and I knew he thought of her words about the air choking her. The air of the Javary is heavy, and it is loaded with disease, as you senhores know well. And it is an odd thing but true that people accustomed to the air of the Amazon often sicken and die soon after leaving it for one of the branch rivers, even though they go only a few miles from the main stream. I wished now that I had not said that. But it was said, and I could not call it back. Neither of us spoke again until we reached the house of the Vulture.
Domengos had arrived there before us, but neither he nor Urubu was in the big room. The men and girls loitering there sat up with a jerk as we strode in with our guns. We saw that they had heard the news. Nobody spoke, and all watched us in tense silence.
“Where is that cachorro?” growled Pedro, looking about him.
“That dog? What dog?” some one replied.
“That dog Peixoto. He has a bundle which is not his.”
“He is inside talking with Urubu,” a man answered. “The bundle he brought is there on the bar.”
In six strides Pedro was at the bar and had seized a small package. I stood back and watched every one. As my partner turned away the door behind the bar opened, and through it came Domengos and Urubu.
“Behind you, Pedro,” I said.
He whirled and faced them. But they made no threatening move. I do not think they had known we were there, for we had spoken quietly, and Urubu looked slightly surprized. Domengos seemed much distressed; his face glistened with sweat, and he cringed like a kicked cur. Urubu, I judged, had been saying unpleasant things to him.
“I thank you, Domengos, for leaving this bundle where I could get it so easily,” Pedro mocked. “It will go straight back to its owner. If either or both of you wish to do anything about this matter, now is the time.”
“You will pay me the passage money spent on your woman,” sputtered Domengos.
“Are you sure? Come here to me and collect it.”
DOMENGOS opened his mouth and let it stay open, but no words came. He looked sidewise at Urubu, whose harsh face remained expressionless. We knew well that the money spent on bringing Angela here had come from the pocket of the Vulture, not from that of Domengos. But he said no word.
Then Pedro cursed them both. He cursed them thoroughly and well. He called them such names as no real man would have swallowed. Yet he said nothing of the jacare under the house, or of the two men and the girl who had disappeared. He used fighting talk, meant to goad them into fight then and there.
But he had forgotten the nature of vultures. A vulture does not attack anything dangerous, nor did Urubu show fight now. And Domengos, looking at our faces and our guns, not only cringed still more— he cowered behind the bar.
When Pedro stopped, Urubu spoke coldly.
“Your talk is for Domengos, not for me. If he deceived any girl that is his mistake; I want no girl here who does not come of her own wish. When you have grown cooler you will realize that this is not such a place as you say. Our girls are well treated, as they will tell you, and no girl need stay here unless she wants to. And if Domengos has brought you a friend who does not know men that is your good fortune—if you care for green fruit. Every man to his taste.”
“Bah!” snorted Pedro. “I will waste no more words on you except to tell you again that you are a foul liar.”
He spat and turned to the door. I backed out, keeping my eyes on the pair behind the bar. We paddled away.
As we cruised down the street an odd thing happened. Up in the air two birds got to fighting, and one of them came tumbling down into the water, stunned and bleeding from a beak-blow on the head. We swung toward it, but before we reached it the water around it seethed and it was dragged under. Several fish showed for an instant on the surface. We knew them for piranhas, those strong-jawed fish which, maddened by blood, will chop to fragments any wounded creature they find.
“Piranhas!” muttered Pedro. “Here in the street! Perhaps they, and not the jacare-assu, could tell us what became of Ricardo and Alberto.”
“If so, we shall know when the waters go down,” I said. “There will be bones. The jacare would leave no bones, but would swallow all.”
“Weeks must pass before this street will be dry,” he answered. “Unless I am mistaken, we shall learn more before that time.” And we did.
Back at Joaquim’s place we gave the bundle to Angela. She had become more cheerful now, and with the return of her little treasures she smiled again. The smile and the warm look of gratitude she gave Pedro made me realize for the first time how pretty and appealing she was. I thought, too, that this strong but gentle-hearted comrade of mine was just such a man as she should have to protect her through life, and I saw Paula glance at Joaquim as if the same thought came to her.
But the young couple themselves seemed to have no such idea. Angela only asked whether he had had any trouble in getting the bundle, and he said no; he had simply picked it up and walked out with it.
Then we settled down to await the return of Helio. We did our waiting at Joaquim’s, and there other men joined us—the quieter and steadier who did not care for the attractions of the Vulture’s house, but who liked a drink and a card-game when in the mood. Joaquim, of course, was a trader, and his store was not built for a place of entertainment; but Pedro suggested that it would be good business to make room for some gaming-tables, sell us our drinks, and take some payment for the use of his store. When we pointed out that this would draw some trade away from Urubu he consented at once, and it was done.
Soon there were three sets of men in the town: those who would not go to the house of the Vulture, those who did go there for the women, and those who went to either Joaquim’s or Urubu’s as the whim took them. Through these men who went back and forth we kept well informed as to what went on at the Urubu house.
There was little news at first—a fight or two caused by drink and jealousy over the girls, but nothing of personal interest to us two. Then Miguel told us that both his girl Maria and the Malagueita girl were asking about us.
“I think, friends, that Urubu has been expecting you to tire of staying away and come back to have a lively time there,” he said. “But now he is trying to learn through the girls whether you intend to keep on drawing away business to this store. And Anna Malagueita, your little friend of the hammock and guitar, seems eager to have you come and see her again, Pedro.”
“Tell Maria that Urubu will be in a hotter place than this before we spend any more money in that house,” said Pedro. “And I hope Anna will find a friend who will amuse her in my place. I stay here.”
When we saw Miguel again he grinned and told us the Malagueita girl had asked him many questions about Angela, and whether she and Pedro were living together.
He had said no, that Angela lived at Joaquim’s, and Pedro saw no more of her than any one else there. Then she had told him to warn Pedro to be careful lest some unexpected misfortune come to him.
“She would not say what sort of misfortune,” he went on. “Perhaps she does not know. But she was very anxious that I tell you, and she was nervous lest Urubu know that she sent the message. There is something behind it, I am sure.”
“Thank her for me,” said my partner, “and tell her I will keep my eyes open. And tell her if there is anything I can do to help her in return she has only to send word to me.”
The truth was that Miguel was wrong when he said Pedro saw little of Angela. He was with her quite often, going into the family quarters behind the store and talking with her and Paula while I sat outside and told stories with other men. But Miguel spent more time at Urubu’s place than with us, and he did not know this.
THE warning did not bother us, but it did make us keep our eyes open. And' that same night, when we entered our barracāo rather late after a game at Joaquim’s, we nearly stepped on a big snake.
It was a suruzuzu. As you know, the bite of that snake means death, swift and sure. Even a small one will kill a strong man, and this one was more than six feet long. If we had not been a little more careful than usual one of us would have died that night.
It was our habit, on returning late, to find our hammocks and sleep without making any light. But this time, with the warning fresh in our minds, we thought it well to light a candle and look about us. And there on the floor not far from us was that deadly thing.
It had not yet coiled to strike, but lay as if about to do so. I yelled, jumped away, and threw my machete at it. The knife struck edge downward, cutting the reptile so that it was easily killed with a rifle-butt.
“As Miguel said, there seems to be something behind that warning,” said Pedro. “This barracāo is surrounded by water. So is the whole town. How did this beast come here?”
“Snakes sometimes come floating down on drifting trees,” I reminded him. “It is possible that some small driftwood lodged against our door for a while and the suruzuzu crawled off it. But it is not at all likely.”
“No. It will do no harm to look further and see whether we have any-other guests.”
After throwing the snake outside we made a thorough search, but found nothing. Then, still suspicious, we inspected our rifles, which had been left in the house while we were away. No harm had been done to them, nor to anything else in the place. There was no sign that any one had been there. So we said no more and went to sleep.
The next night a more violent thing came about. A heavy, solid blow struck the barracāo, and we sprang from our hammocks to find the place shaking dangerously. A grinding, crushing sound was passing slowly along one side, and when we got a light we found the wall on that side caved in. We peered out in time to see a big tree go drifting suddenly away down-stream.
We had been unpleasantly close to death. The barracāo, you understand, was built high on poles, just as all houses there must be built to stand above the flood waters.
The floating tree had come very near knocking it off its posts and crumpling it into a wreck from which we would have little chance of escape. Held in that sunken cage, carried away down the black waters among alligators and piranhas and other evil things—no, we should not have had much chance. It was our luck that the house happened to be firm and that the heavy tree had not hit it squarely.
The night was dull, but not black. We could see a short distance out across the Tecuahy, but nothing strange was in sight. We listened, but heard nothing. As on the night when we found the snake, there was no sign that it was not mere chance. Yet we were quite sure it was not chance at all, for this reason: there was little current around our house, and the drifting things that came down usually passed by at quite a distance, out where the flow was stronger. It seemed almost impossible for such a thing to happen unless a boat somewhere above us had drawn that tree aside and guided it to strike us. And, as I say, the night was not so dark but that men could do this.
“It seems to me, Lourenço,” said Pedro, “that before that thing hit us I heard voices and paddles. Perhaps I was dreaming. Perhaps I was not dreaming but was partly awake and really heard it. I am not sure. But things are becoming interesting in this house.”
“Quite so,” I agreed. “So interesting that I am going to sit up a while and see if anything else may come.”
And I did sit up, with my rifle across my lap, while my partner dozed with his own gun close at hand. But nothing at all happened before morning.
Then, after eating and loafing a while and talking over the two narrow escapes we had just had, we decided to go to Joaquim’s place and ask some one in a casual way about the movements of Urubu last night. Before we started, though, I suggested that we finish up a small jug of cachassa which we had bought from Joaquim some days before, and which now needed refilling. He laughingly agreed that this was a happy thought, and with a mock bow to me, he lifted the vessel to his mouth.
An inch from his lips he stopped it. For an instant he held it there, peering at it. Then he lowered it, stepped to the door, and again looked sharply at the clay.
“Have you been using white powder for anything?” he asked.
“No. I have not had anything of that sort.”
“Neither have I. Yet there is white powder on this jug.”
It was so. On the clay was a tiny smear of white dust. We scowled at it and at each other.
“I would not drink that cachassa,” I advised.
“I do not intend to. When did you drink last from it?”
“Yesterday afternoon. We both drank, you remember. It was good then.”
“Yes, it was good then. But this is another day.”
He drew back his arm to throw the jug into the water. But then he changed his mind and held it.
“On our way to Joaquim’s place let us stop and see Meldo Salles,” he said.
And when we got into our canoe he still held the jug. Also, we took our rifles with us.
MELDO’S house was near by, and when we stopped there we found him lazily smoking at the door.
“Meldo, you said yesterday that you had a pet monkey which was growing old and ugly and must be killed,” Pedro reminded him. “You also said he was a thief and drank your cachassa. Have you killed him yet?”
“Ho-hum!” he yawned. “No, not yet. I thought I would do it today.”
“Then let me see him drink some cachassa first. We have a little left here. Bring him out.”
Meldo yawned again, got up sluggishly, went inside, and brought out a heavy black barrigudo monkey which showed its teeth and seemed sullen. When my partner lifted the jug, though, the animal chattered and reached toward it. Pedro handed it to him, and he drank greedily.
“Drink deep, you thieving bicho,” Meldo said grimly. “It is the last drink you will get. Before night I shall knock you in the head.”
“Perhaps you need not do that,” said Pedro.
Then he began talking about something else, glancing now and then at the monkey, which still clutched the jug as if determined to keep it. After a time he broke off in the middle of a sentence. Following his eye, Meldo and I looked at the black barrigudo.
The animal was swaying on his haunches and seemed dazed. Soon he lost his hold on the jug and slumped down on the floor. After lying there a minute he kicked a couple of times and was still.
“Ha, ha, ha!” laughed Meldo. “He is dead drunk. That rum of yours must be strong.”
Without answering, Pedro pulled the monkey to him and felt for its heart. Presently he took away his hand and replied:
“You are partly right. He is not drunk, but he is dead.”
Then he told Meldo of the snake and the tree. Meldo, one of the quiet men who often joined us at Joaquim’s stopped yawning and became wide awake.
“A little thing like a snake on my floor does not disturb me much—I see plenty of snakes when I am in the bush,” added Pedro. “And if people wish to amuse themselves by bumping trees against my barracāo they can have their little joke. But any one who would spoil good liquor is a vile brute and should be shot.”
Meldo grinned at his way of putting it, but quickly became serious again.
“Here is another thing,” he said. “Helio Alves has not been seen for days. He disappeared overnight. And he had been saying ugly things about Urubu because the girl Januaria was gone.”
“Do not worry about Helio,” I said. “I think he is safe and will be back soon. He should have been here before now. After we see him we shall know more about what to do.”
Meldo asked questions, of course, but we told him no more then, and got his promise to say nothing until we were ready. He sank the poisoned jug where it would do no harm, threw the dead monkey out into the current, and went on to Joaquim’s place.
Meldo came with us, and, with a couple of other men, we got up a game at one of the tables. Our careless questions about Urubu got us no information, so we said nothing further and gave our attention to the cards. We were still playing when Helio arrived.
He came striding heavily in, looking gaunt and gloomy. One glance at his face told me what to expect. Briefly and bitterly he spoke, out.
“Januaria is not at Tabatinga and has never been there. Ricardo and Alberto have not been there either. What is more, they never went down this river as Urubu said. I have spent days on my way back from Tabatinga, stopping and questioning every one between there and here. Not one person has seen or heard of them. They never left here, and that —— —— Urubu is their murderer. I am going now to cut out his foul heart.”
“Wait!” called Pedro.
Then he told him what had happened since he left. To all except Meldo and me the story of the snake, the tree, and the poison was news, and they listened with faces hardening. While he talked two other men came in, and one of these was Miguel.
“But even yet we have no proof,” Pedro concluded. “Urubu will say those three must have been drowned and devoured on their way to Tabatinga, and no man can prove otherwise. There is nothing at all against him except suspicion.”
“Then here is another suspicion for you,” Miguel broke in. “Your little friend Anna Malagueita is ‘sick,’ as Januaria was.
“She was not to be seen yesterday or last night. Urubu said she was sick, and at first I thought nothing of it. But late last night I grew suspicious, and this is why: Each of the girls there has a little room to herself, as you perhaps know, and the room of Anna is next to that of my girl Maria. I was with Maria last night for a while, and on my way out I went into Anna’s room to ask how she felt and see whether she wished to send any further word to you. The room was empty.
“Maria had not come out yet, and I stepped back and asked her where Anna was. Maria is ajealous girl, and she asked what I cared about Anna. To tease her I said I was much interested in Anna, and a few other things of the sort. She was angered, and cried out——
“‘You are too late, Miguel meo—you will not see her again!’
“Then she seemed suddenly scared because she had said this, and I could not get another word from her. When we came out into the big room and found that Urubu was busy gambling she seemed much relieved. That is all.”
“That is enough,” growled Pedro, his face black.
Seizing his rifle, he started for the door.
“What will you do, Pedro?” Joaquim called.
“Search that whole house and find Anna. If I do not find her Urubu will tell me where she is—and I will make him tell truth.”
“Bah! Who could make that creature tell truth?” snorted Joaquim. “If you want truth, do as I told you before—ask that jacare under the house.”
Pedro swung on his heel and stared at him.
“Joaquim, you speak sense,” he said. “I will talk first to the jacare and then to the Vulture.”
We talked and agreed what we should do. Helio, Pedro and I stayed with Joaquim. The others went and got guns and long poles. When all had returned Pedro said grimly:
“Helio, do not kill him until we know. Curse him as much as you like. Keep him busy.”
“I will keep him busy,” Helio promised, his voice harsh with hate.
We got into our boats, and he paddled straight to the house of Urubu. The rest of us went there too; but by roundabout ways. Soon we had closed in around the place on all sides.
THE posts holding up the house were stout and high, and the water was not up to its floor. A careful look along the surface under that floor showed that no alligator was floating there. Inside the place we could hear Helio cursing Urubu as a liar and other things far more vile, and demanding to know just what had become of Januaria. We had no time to listen for the low-spoken replies, for we now began prodding the mud with the poles we had brought.
At first we got no results, and after a time we began to think the alligator was not there now. But then Miguel’s pole moved in his hand, and he passed the word that he had struck something alive. More jabbing followed. Then suddenly a rifle cracked.
It was Joaquim who slew the beast. The thing had risen near him, swimming sluggishly, and the trader had put a bullet squarely into one eye. With a rolling surge it turned belly upward.
Men got their poles under it and held it there. Pedro and I worked up beside it and slashed open its bloated belly. Then we all looked at one another with sick faces.
We knew what had become of Anna Malagueita.
Through the silence around us came the voice of Helio yelling another blast of oaths at the Vulture. Sudden fury seized us. Hoarse curses broke from us. We drove our paddles into the water and threw our canoes and ourselves around to the front of the house.
In a snarling, panting, struggling knot we leaped out on the platform and plunged through the doorway. Of the people in that big room we saw only two—Helio and the Vulture. They stood at the bar, and that bar was between them. Helio, leaning across it, had his face almost in that of Urubu, and he still spat burning curses. The Vulture’s eyes were half-shut, with an evil gleam in them, and both his hands were out of sight below the wood.
Even as we charged into the place Helio lost control of himself and seized Urubu by the throat. The Vulture heaved himself backward and sidewise, trying to escape. But Helio’s hold was like an iron clamp, and he throttled him and shook him as a dog would shake a rat.
Then came a swift flash of steel. Helio grunted and lost his hold. Urubu had stabbed him in the shoulder.
With the knife still in his hand the Vulture turned to leap away from us into his room. But he never reached that room. We threw ourselves headlong over the bar and fell on him. Some man cried out as the knife of Urubu bit into him, but after that thrust the Vulture stabbed no more. The weapon was knocked or wrested from him, and savage blows battered him to his knees.
Some of those blows fell on us also. Every man of us was like a maddened jaguar, thinking only of destroying him; and we struck in blind rage, so that in our struggles to get at him we got in the way of our own attack. Some one’s rifle-barrel or butt hit me hard on the head, dazing me so that I staggered and had to grab the bar to keep from falling.
While I leaned there I saw Joaquim too go stumbling back, clutching an arm cut by a jabbing machete. Miguel also was out of the fight, for he was the man who had been stabbed after Helio, and now he was limping away, bending over with pain.
Then I saw the Vulture rise in the air. Pedro had dragged him up, and now he threw him over the bar into the clear space beyond. There Helio kicked him hard and then fell on him, his good hand pounding him furiously. Pedro hurled himself across the bar and jumped on him too. The rest of us stayed where we were for a few minutes, for our first hot rage was partly satisfied and we were willing to let Pedro and Helio settle their score.
Pedro had dropped his rifle in the struggle, and some other man had pulled his machete from his belt to kill Urubu with, so that also was gone. Helio carried a knife, but he did not draw it now; he wanted to wring the Vulture’s neck in his hands.
Urubu fighting for his vicious life, showed desperate strength, and the three of them went rolling and tumbling about the floor, battering and clawing and tearing like fighting jungle-cats. And then came one of those freaks of fight by which a loser sometimes wins.
In a twisting, plunging scramble Pedro and Helio struck their heads together so violently that the blow partly stunned them. They did not lose their senses, but for a few seconds they lay without moving, waiting for the numbness to pass. And in that time the Vulture wrenched himself out of their clutch and reeled up to his feet.
He was a frightful-looking thing now. His clothes hung in bloody tatters. Red streams trickled from broken nose, smashed mouth, and gashes on head and body. One hand hung as if broken, and he breathed in wheezing gasps as if ribs were crushed.
For an instant he stood there rocking on his heels. Then, as the men on the flow scrambled up and at him, he sprang for the door.
“Shoot him!” yelled some one, and a man beside me snatched a fallen rifle up off the floor and twitched back the hammer.
But he could not fire, for Pedro and Helio were bounding after Urubu, and a bullet would have hit them. We leaped over the bar. As we struck the floor we heard a heavy splash outside.
We reached the door before the fugitive came to the surface. Pedro and Helio were poised to leap in after him, but they waited until he reappeared so that he could not trick them by turning underwater and swimming away to one side.
But when he did break water again they did not follow him. Instead they hung there on their toes an instant, then settled back. Helio laughed harshly.
The Vulture could not swim.
He came up splashing and fighting the water with both hands. His mouth opened wide in a gulp for air. Before he got it he strangled, coughed, and went down with a bubbling gasp. Around him grew a red stain as the water washed his open wounds.
Again he came up. His face now was clay-white. From his choked throat burst a groaning cry. As one hand came out of water a gleaming thing fell from it. Other things glinted around him on the surface. The water boiled.
“Por Deos!” shouted Pedro. “Piranhas!"
Yes, senhores, the piranhas had found the Vulture. Just as they had seized on that hurt parrot a few days before, they now attacked the man who had thrown himself among them. Before our eyes they chopped him to death. And no man moved until the red waters had closed over his writhing face for the last time and smothered his cries forever.
THEN Pedro and Helio looked at each other. And Helio said—
“Let us have a drink.”
I think we all felt the need of a drink. From the wreckage behind the bar we pulled out bottles not broken in the struggle there, and from these we gulped stiff drinks. While we did so the room filled with men who had seen or heard of the death of the Vulture and now came to learn all about it. We told them all we knew. And soon we learned other things.
“Who is in that room?” demanded a man, pointing at the door from which Urubu used to come.
I was nearest that door, and for the first time I noticed that since the fight it had been pushed almost shut. Kicking it open, I found Domengos Peixoto beyond it. He was just hiding something inside his shirt.
Jumping at him, I forced his hand out and saw he held a huge roll of milreis. I wrenched this from him and shoved him out to face the crowd.
“Old friends,” he whined, cowering back, “do not be harsh with me. I have done you no harm, and I am only taking what is mine. That cursed Urubu owes me much money.”
“That is our money,” yelled a man. “The money he got by cheating us with cards and liquor.”
“No, it is our money,” cried a woman. “He robbed and cheated us girls and made us slaves.”
“Hold that money, Lourenço,” called Pedro, and he shouldered his way to me. Then he told the rest:
“Before any one gets this money we want the truth about Ricardo, Alberto, and Januaria. We want to know how these things were done. Domengos, and you girls too, speak out. You will profit by it.”
So they spoke out. And though no one of them seemed to know all, yet each knew something, and by putting these things together and searching the room of the Vulture afterward we got the whole truth.
All those who disappeared had died by poison. The poison was that same whitish powder which we had found on our cachassa jug. It killed quickly, but with so little pain that the victim seemed only to fall into sudden sleep. Thus there were no cries or struggles from those who took it in their liquor, and nobody would be alarmed by any noise. Before morning Urubu could quietly carry the body to his own room, where a part of his floor could be lifted out and the murdered man or woman dropped through to the big jacare waiting below.
Ricardo and Alberto, though slain at different times, had both been killed for the same reason—their money. Each was a shrewd gambler and a dangerous fighter; and the Vulture, finding them hard to cheat and knowing he could not rob them alive, had robbed them dead.
The girl Januaria had been put out of the way because she knew far too much about Urubu and was likely to prove dangerous to him—indeed, she had openly threatened to tell certain things she knew. And Anna Malagueita must have died because the Vulture knew she had warned us to be on our guard.
Urubu had been behind all the attempts to kill us also, but had not himself taken a hand with the snake and the tree. He had worked through two worthless men of the town who would do anything if well paid, and who became scared and went away after the second attempt failed—we could not find them when we went looking for them, and we never saw them again. But the poisoning-of our cachassa must have been done by Urubu himself while we were passing the evening at Joaquim’s place.
If the floating tree should destroy us, you see, no trace would be left of the poisoned jug. If the tree spared us and the poison killed us there would still be no proof that he had been concerned in it, for men would know we bought our cachassa from Joaquim, and suspicion would be most likely to fall on the man who had sold it to us. To ruin his enemy Joaquim as well as to kill us would be much to the taste of the Vulture.
With these things settled in our minds, we settled the matter of the money. Pedro pointed out that no man could prove how much he had lost here; that the losers had had some pleasure in spending it; that we all could earn more money if we needed it, and that any attempt to divide it among us would probably lead to trouble. So he suggested that we give it all in equal shares to the girls of the house, who had been pleasant companions and who now had nothing. The men agreed. And it was done.
When the girls had come up and taken their money Pedro still held one share.
“This,” he explained, “goes to the little girl who nearly came to this house but is now at the house of Joaquim. She must have money to take her home, and I intend to see that she has plenty.”
After a minute of silence a whining voice asked:
“And do I get nothing at all? You promised me——”
“Be still, Domengos!” I cut in. “If we gave you what you deserve you would get only a good kicking. Yet since you have told the truth, we will give you something worth your while. It would do no good to give you money. You would only drink it up. But there is much liquor left here behind the bar, and you may have as much of it as you can carry away at one load. Now bend your back and sweat.”
He did sweat. He got bags and crammed them with the strongest liquors in the place, working fast for fear we might change our minds. He loaded himself down so that he could scarcely walk, and when he carried his burden to the door he puffed and staggered and splashed sweat on the floor.
Outside he got into a montaria and went away. And it was a long time before any one again saw him sober.
Then, after looking at Miguel and finding that his wound was painful but not mortal, and that his girl Maria was taking good care of him, Pedro and Joaquim and I left the house which no longer was that of the Vulture and paddled back to Angela.
Into her hands Pedro put the money, telling her that now she could return to Ega or to Santarem as she pleased. But after holding it and staring at it—more money than she had seenjn all her life—she passed it back to him.
“Keep it for me,” she said. “I do not—I do not know that I want to go. I—I like this place better than I did.”
We stared at her. She dropped her eyes and looked at the floor. Glancing at Paula, I saw a wise smile grow on her face.
“But you must go, Angela,” Pedro told her. “This place is unhealthful in more ways than one. You have been here only a short time, but even now you do not look so strong as when you came. You will be much more healthy and far more happy at one of those towns on the great river.”
Still she gazed at the floor. Then she looked shyly up at him and glanced quickly aside.
“Santarem and Ega are far from here,” she said in a small voice. “I do not want to travel so far—alone.”
He put a hand under her chin and lifted her face to his. A hot blush flamed in her cheeks, but she met his eyes steadily. When he spoke again his voice was very gentle.
“I would go down the river with you, Angela, but I am not yet ready to leave the Javary. I intend to work one more season on the seringal of the coronel, and then to go out and stay out.
“Go back to Santarem and find Vincente Honorio, my godfather. Say to him that when the next great flood rises I come back home, and that in the meantime he is to take very good care of you. Tell him that I, Pedro Andrada, have said this. Now be a good girl and do as I say, and all will be well.”
She did as he said. On the next down boat she sailed away, taking with her the money he had brought her from the Vulture, the memory of all he had done for her, and his promise that in another year he would come home. And with her going Remate de Males settled back into his usual habit—waiting.
Our friends; the rubber-workers, waited for the time when they could go back to work in the swampy forests. The townsmen waited for the flood waters to ebb until they could walk about on dry land and kick the bones of the Vulture out of the street. And Pedro and I, with a new jug of cachassa which we knew would not be poisoned, yawned and waited for whatever might happen next.