At that rate we ought to respect everything."
But the instinct of the young sportsman was about to be put to a still more rigorous trial. The woods became of a sudden full of game. Swift stags and graceful roebucks scampered off beneath the bushes, and a well-aimed bullet would assuredly have stopped them. Here and there turkeys showed themselves with their milk and coffee-colored plumage; and peccaries, a sort of wild pig highly appreciated by lovers of venison, and agouties, which are the hares and rabbits of Central America; and tatous belonging to the order of edentates, with their scaly shells of patterns of mosaic.
And truly Benito showed more than virtue, and even genuine heroism, when he came across some tapirs, called "antas" in Brazil, diminutives of the elephant, already nearly undiscoverable on the banks of the Upper Amazon and its tributaries, pachyderms so dear to the hunters for their rarity, so appreciated by the gourmands for their meat, superior far to beef, and above all for the protuberance on the nape of the neck, which is a morsel fit for a king.
His gun almost burned his fingers, but faithful to his promise he kept it quiet.
But yet--and he cautioned his sister about this--the gun would go off in spite of him, and probably register a master-stroke in sporting annals, if within range there should come a _"tamandoa assa,"_ a kind of large and very curious ant-eater.
Happily the big ant-eater did not show himself, neither did any panthers, leopards, jaguars, guepars, or cougars, called indifferently ounces in South America, and to whom it is not advisable to get too near.
"After all," said Benito, who stopped for an instant, "to walk is very well, but to walk without an object----"
"Without an object!" replied his sister; "but our object is to see, to admire, to visit for the last time these forests of Central America, which we shall not find again in Para, and to bid them a fast farewell."
"Ah! an idea!"
It was Lina who spoke.
"An idea of Lina's can be no other than a silly one," said Benito, shaking his head.
"It is unkind, brother," said Minha, "to make fun of Lina when she has been thinking how to give our walk the object which you have just regretted it lacks."
"Besides, Mr. Benito, I am sure my idea will please you," replied the mulatto.
"Well, what is it?" asked Minha.
"You see that liana?"
And Lina pointed to a liana of the _"cipos"_ kind, twisted round a gigantic sensitive mimosa, whose leaves, light as feathers, shut up at the least disturbance.
"Well?" said Benito.
"I proposed," replied Minha, "that we try to follow that liana to its very end."
"It is an idea, and it is an object!" observed Benito, "to follow this liana, no matter what may be the obstacles, thickets, underwood, rocks, brooks, torrents, to let nothing stop us, not even----"
"Certainly, you are right, brother!" said Minha; "Lina is a trifle absurd."
"Come on, then!" replied her brother; "you say that Lina is absurd so as to say that Benito is absurd to approve of it!"
"Well, both of you are absurd, if that will amuse you," returned Minha. "Let us follow the liana!"
"You are not afraid?" said Manoel.
"Still objections!" shouted Benito.
"Ah, Manoel! you would not speak like that if you were already on your way and Minha was waiting for you at the end."
"I am silent," replied Manoel; "I have no more to say. I obey. Let us follow the liana!"
And off they went as happy as children home for their holidays.
This vegetable might take them far if they determined to follow it to its extremity, like the thread of Ariadne, as far almost as that which the heiress of Minos used to lead her from the labyrinth, and perhaps entangle them more deeply.
It was in fact a creeper of the salses family, one of the cipos known under the name of the red _"japicanga,"_ whose length sometimes measures several miles. But, after all, they could leave it when they liked.
The cipo passed from one tree to another without breaking its continuity, sometimes twisting round the trunks, sometimes garlanding the branches, here jumping form a dragon-tree to a rosewood, then from a gigantic chestnut, the _"Bertholletia excelsa,"_ to some of the wine palms, _"baccabas,"_ whose branches have been appropriately compared by Agassiz to long sticks of coral flecked with green.