"Don't be afraid, the liana is getting thinner; we shall get the better of it, and find out its end!"
And, without hesitation, the young mulatto boldly ventured toward Benito.
"What children they are!" replied Minha. "Come along, Manoel, we must follow."
And they all cleared the bridge, which swayed above the ravine like a swing, and plunged again beneath the mighty trees.
But they had not proceeded for ten minutes along the interminable cipo, in the direction of the river, when they stopped, and this time not without cause.
"Have we got to the end of the liana?" asked Minha.
"No," replied Benito; "but we had better advance with care. Look!" and Benito pointed to the cipo which, lost in the branches of a high ficus, was agitated by violent shakings.
"What causes that?" asked Manoel.
"Perhaps some animal that we had better approach with a little circumspection!"
And Benito, cocking his gun, motioned them to let him go on a bit, and stepped about ten paces to the front.
Manoel, the two girls, and the black remained motionless where they were.
Suddenly Benito raised a shout, and they saw him rush toward a tree; they all ran as well.
Sight the most unforeseen, and little adapted to gratify the eyes!
A man, hanging by the neck, struggled at the end of the liana, which, supple as a cord, had formed into a slipknot, and the shakings came from the jerks into which he still agitated it in the last convulsions of his agony!
Benito threw himself on the unfortunate fellow, and with a cut of his hunting-knife severed the cipo.
The man slipped on to the ground. Manoel leaned over him, to try and recall him to life, if it was not too late.
"Poor man!" murmured Minha.
"Mr. Manoel! Mr. Manoel! cried Lina. "He breathes again! His heart beats; you must save him."
"True," said Manoel, "but I think it was about time that we came up."
He was about thirty years old, a white, clothed badly enough, much emaciated, and he seemed to have suffered a good deal.
At his feet were an empty flask, thrown on the ground, and a cup and ball in palm wood, of which the ball, made of the head of a tortoise, was tied on with a fiber.
"To hang himself! to hang himself!" repeated Lina, "and young still! What could have driven him to do such a thing?"
But the attempts of Manoel had not been long in bringing the luckless wight to life again, and he opened his eyes and gave an "ahem!" so vigorous and unexpected that Lina, frightened, replied to his cry with another.
"Who are you, my friend?" Benito asked him.
"An ex-hanger-on, as far as I see."
"But your name?"
"Wait a minute and I will recall myself," said he, passing his hand over his forehead. "I am known as Fragoso, at your service; and I am still able to curl and cut your hair, to shave you, and to make you comfortable according to all the rules of my art. I am a barber, so to speak more truly, the most desperate of Figaros."
"And what made you think of----"
"What would you have, my gallant sir?" replied Fragoso, with a smile; "a moment of despair, which I would have duly regretted had the regrets been in another world! But eight hundred leagues of country to traverse, and not a coin in my pouch, was not very comforting! I had lost courage obviously."
To conclude, Fragoso had a good and pleasing figure, and as he recovered it was evident that he was of a lively disposition. He was one of those wandering barbers who travel on the banks of the Upper Amazon, going from village to village, and putting the resources of their art at the service of negroes, negresses, Indians and Indian women, who appreciate them very much.
But poor Fragoso, abandoned and miserable, having eaten nothing for forty hours, astray in the forest, had for an instant lost his head, and we know the rest.
"My friend," said Benito to him, "you will go back with us to the fazenda of Iquitos?"
"With pleasure," replied Fragoso; "you cut me down and I belong to you. I must somehow be dependent."
"Well, dear mistress, don't you think we did well to continue our walk?" asked Lina.