There were here some twenty Indians collecting and working the caoutchouc, an operation which principally takes place during the months of May, June, and July.
After having ascertained that the trees, well prepared by the river floods which have bathed their stems to a height of about four feet, are in good condition for the harvest, the Indians are set to work.
Incisions are made into the alburnum of the seringueiras; below the wound small pots are attached, which twenty-four hours suffice to fill with a milky sap. It can also be collected by means of a hollow bamboo, and a receptacle placed on the ground at the foot of the tree.
The sap being obtained, the Indians, to prevent the separation of its peculiar resins, fumigate it over a fire of the nuts of the assai palm. By spreading out the sap on a wooden scoop, and shaking it in the smoke, its coagulation is almost immediately obtained; it assumes a grayish-yellow tinge and solidifies. The layers formed in succession are detached from the scoop, exposed to the sun, hardened, and assume the brownish color with which we are familiar. The manufacture is then complete.
Benito, finding a capital opportunity, bought from the Indians all the caoutchouc stored in their cabins, which, by the way, are mostly built on piles. The price he gave them was sufficiently remunierative, and they were highly satisfied.
Four days later, on the 14th of August, the jangada passed the mouths of the Purus.
This is another of the large affluents of the Amazon, and seems to possess a navigable course, even for large ships, of over five hundred leagues. It rises in the southwest, and measures nearly five thousand feet across at its junction with the main river. After winding beneath the shade of ficuses, tahuaris, nipa palms, and cecropias, it enters the Amazon by five mouths.
Hereabouts Araujo the pilot managed with great ease. The course of the river was but slightly obstructed with islands, and besides, from one bank to another its width is about two leagues.
The current, too, took along the jangada more steadily, and on the 18th of August it stopped at the village of Pasquero to pass the night.
The sun was already low on the horizon, and with the rapidity peculiar to these low latitudes, was about to set vertically, like an enormous meteor.
Joam Garral and his wife, Lina, and old Cybele, were in front of the house.
Torres, after having for an instant turned toward Joam as if he would speak to him, and prevented perhaps by the arrival of Padre Passanha, who had come to bid the family good-night, had gone back to his cabin.
The Indians and the negroes were at their quarters along the sides. Araujo, seated at the bow, was watching the current which extended straight away in front of him.
Manoel and Benito, with their eyes open, but chatting and smoking with apparent indifference, walked about the central part of the craft awaiting the hour of repose.
All at once Manoel stopped Benito with his hand and said:
"What a queer smell! Am I wrong? Do you not notice it?"
"One would say that it was the odor of burning musk!" replied Benito. "There ought to be some alligators asleep on the neighboring beach!"
"Well, nature has done wisely in allowing them so to betray themselves."
"Yes," said Benito, "it is fortunate, for they are sufficiently formidable creatures!"
Often at the close of the day these saurians love to stretch themselves on the shore, and install themselves comfortably there to pass the night. Crouched at the opening of a hole, into which they have crept back, they sleep with the mouth open, the upper jaw perpendicularly erect, so as to lie in wait for their prey. To these amphibians it is but sport to launch themselves in its pursuit, either by swimming through the waters propelled by their tails or running along the bank with a speed no man can equal.
It is on these huge beaches that the caymans are born, live, and die, not without affording extraordinary examples of longevity. Not only can the old ones, the centenarians, be recognized by the greenish moss which carpets their carcass and is scattered over their protuberances, but by their natural ferocity, which increases with age.