Here round _"tucumas,"_ or ficuses, capriciously twisted like centenarian olive-trees, and of which Brazil had fifty-four varieties; here round the kinds of euphorbias, which produce caoutchouc, _"gualtes,"_ noble palm-trees, with slender, graceful, and glossy stems; and cacao-trees, which shoot up of their own accord on the banks of the Amazon and its tributaries, having different melastomas, some with red flowers and others ornamented with panicles of whitish berries.
But the halts! the shouts of cheating! when the happy company thought they had lost their guiding thread! For it was necessary to go back and disentangle it from the knot of parasitic plants.
"There it is!" said Lina, "I see it!"
"You are wrong," replied Minha; "that is not it, that is a liana of another kind."
"No, Lina is right!" said Benito.
"No, Lina is wrong!" Manoel would naturally return.
Hence highly serious, long-continued discussions, in which no one would give in.
Then the black on one side and Benito on the other would rush at the trees and clamber up to the branches encircled by the cipo so as to arrive at the true direction.
Now nothing was assuredly less easy in that jumble of knots, among which twisted the liana in the middle of bromelias, _"karatas,"_ armed with their sharp prickles, orchids with rosy flowers and violet lips the size of gloves, and oncidiums more tangled than a skein of worsted between a kitten's paws.
And then when the liana ran down again to the ground the difficulty of picking it out under the mass of lycopods, large-leaved heliconias, rosy-tasseled calliandras, rhipsalas encircling it like the thread on an electric reel, between the knots of the large white ipomas, under the fleshy stems of the vanilla, and in the midst of the shoots and branchlets of the grenadilla and the vine.
And when the cipo was found again what shouts of joy, and how they resumed the walk for an instant interrupted!
For an hour the young people had already been advancing, and nothing had happened to warn them that they were approaching the end.
They shook the liana with vigor, but it would not give, and the birds flew away in hundreds, and the monkeys fled from tree to tree, so as to point out the way.
If a thicket barred the road the felling-sword cut a deep gap, and the group passed in. If it was a high rock, carpeted with verdure, over which the liana twisted like a serpent, they climbed it and passed on.
A large break now appeared. There, in the more open air, which is as necessary to it as the light of the sun, the tree of the tropics, _par excellence,_ which, according to Humboldt, "accompanies man in the infancy of his civilization," the great provider of the inhabitant of the torrid zones, a banana-tree, was standing alone. The long festoon of the liana curled round its higher branches, moving away to the other side of the clearing, and disappeared again into the forest.
"Shall we stop soon?" asked Manoel.
"No; a thousand times no!" cried Benito, "not without having reached the end of it!"
"Perhaps," observed Minha, "it will soon be time to think of returning."
"Oh, dearest mistress, let us go on again!" replied Lina.
"On forever!" added Benito.
And they plunged more deeply into the forest, which, becoming clearer, allowed them to advance more easily.
Besides, the cipo bore away to the north, and toward the river. It became less inconvenient to follow, seeing that they approached the right bank, and it would be easy to get back afterward.
A quarter of an hour later they all stopped at the foot of a ravine in front of a small tributary of the Amazon. But a bridge of lianas, made of _"bejucos,"_ twined together by their interlacing branches, crossed the stream. The cipo, dividing into two strings, served for a handrail, and passed from one bank to the other.
Benito, all the time in front, had already stepped on the swinging floor of this vegetable bridge.
Manoel wished to keep his sister back.
"Stay--stay, Minha!" he said, "Benito may go further if he likes, but let us remain here."
"No! Come on, come on, dear mistress!" said Lina.