"Perhaps you will if Minha orders you?"
"Minha will not order me."
"Who knows?" said Lina, laughing.
"Lina is right," answered Minha, who held out her hand to Manoel. "Try to forget! Forget! my brother requires it. All is broken off! As long as this walk lasts we are not engaged: I am no more than the sister of Benito! You are only my friend!"
"To be sure," said Benito.
"Bravo! bravo! there are only strangers here," said the young mulatto, clapping her hands.
"Strangers who see each other for the first time," added the girl; "who meet, bow to----"
"Mademoiselle!" said Manoel, turning to Minha.
"To whom have I the honor to speak, sir?" said she in the most serious manner possible.
"To Manoel Valdez, who will be glad if your brother will introduce me."
"Oh, away with your nonsense!" cried Benito. "Stupid idea that I had! Be engaged, my friends--be it as much as you like! Be it always!"
"Always!" said Minha, from whom the word escaped so naturally that Lina's peals of laughter redoubled.
A grateful glance from Manoel repaid Minha for the imprudence of her tongue.
"Come along," said Benito, so as to get his sister out of her embarrassment; "if we walk on we shall not talk so much."
"One moment, brother," she said. "You have seen how ready I am to obey you. You wished to oblige Manoel and me to forget each other, so as not to spoil your walk. Very well; and now I am going to ask a sacrifice from you so that you shall not spoil mine. Whether it pleases you or not, Benito, you must promise me to forget----"
"That you are a sportsman!"
"What! you forbid me to----"
"I forbid you to fire at any of these charming birds--any of the parrots, caciques, or curucus which are flying about so happily among the trees! And the same interdiction with regard to the smaller game with which we shall have to do to-day. If any ounce, jaguar, or such thing comes too near, well----"
"But----" said Benito.
"If not, I will take Manoel's arm, and we shall save or lose ourselves, and you will be obliged to run after us."
"Would you not like me to refuse, eh?" asked Benito, looking at Manoel.
"I think I should!" replied the young man.
"Well then--no!" said Benito; "I do not refuse; I will obey and annoy you. Come on!"
And so the four, followed by the black, struck under the splendid trees, whose thick foliage prevented the sun's rays from every reaching the soil.
There is nothing more magnificent than this part of the right bank of the Amazon. There, in such picturesque confusion, so many different trees shoot up that it is possible to count more than a hundred different species in a square mile. A forester could easily see that no woodman had been there with his hatchet or ax, for the effects of a clearing are visible for many centuries afterward. If the new trees are even a hundred years old, the general aspect still differs from what it was originally, for the lianas and other parasitic plants alter, and signs remain which no native can misunderstand.
The happy group moved then into the tall herbage, across the thickets and under the bushes, chatting and laughing. In front, when the brambles were too thick, the negro, felling-sword in hand, cleared the way, and put thousands of birds to flight.
Minha was right to intercede for the little winged world which flew about in the higher foliage, for the finest representations of tropical ornithology were there to be seen--green parrots and clamorous parakeets, which seemed to be the natural fruit of these gigantic trees; humming-birds in all their varieties, light-blue and ruby red; _"tisauras"_ with long scissors-like tails, looking like detached flowers which the wind blew from branch to branch; blackbirds, with orange plumage bound with brown; golden[-edged beccaficos; and _"sabias,"_ black as crows; all united in a deafening concert of shrieks and whistles. The long beak of the toucan stood out against the golden clusters of the _"quiriris,"_ and the treepeckers or woodpeckers of Brazil wagged their little heads, speckled all over with their purple spots.