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Across Unknown South America by Landor

Illustration The Upper Arinos River


I

was certain the man was not a Brazilian, but as curiosity is not one of my chief characteristics I took no special notice of him. This brought him round to my tent one evening. The man was a German by birth, of a good family and excellent education. He could speak German, English, French, Spanish and Portuguese to perfection, and was well versed in the literature of those languages. He had evidently drifted about for many years in many parts of South America in search of a fortune, in the Argentine, in Uruguay, and had ended by becoming a slave in Brazil. Yes, the poor old man was a voluntary slave. He had borrowed from his employer and was unable to repay. He was therefore a slave in the true sense of the word, as his employer could, according to local custom, sell him to any one he chose.

[Illustration: The Upper Arinos River.]

[Illustration: The Arinos River above the Rapids.]

I was terribly upset to see a European in such a position, and, what was worse, I was not in a position to help. Nor indeed was help asked for or wanted. The old fellow bore the burden bravely, and said he had never been happier in his life. Supposing he were made to return to his own country--from which he had been absent so many years--he philosophically argued, what could he be, with no money and no friends, but a most unhappy man? All his relatives and friends must have died; the habits he had

acquired in the wilds were not suitable for European cities; he was too old to change them. The German was an extraordinarily fine type of a man, honest, straightforward, brave. He spoke in the kindest and fairest way of his master. He had sold himself because of necessity. It was now a matter of honour, and he would remain a slave until it was possible to repay the purchase money--some four hundred pounds sterling, if I remember rightly--which he never expected to be able to repay at all.

The German told me some interesting things about the immediate neighbourhood of the camp. The Indians of the Cayapo tribe, who lived close by, did not interfere with the seringueiros. He had been there several years in succession, and he had never seen an Indian. The seringueiros only went to collect rubber during some three or four months each year, after which time they returned to the distant towns south as far as Cuyaba and Corumba. At the beginning of the rainy season, when the time came for them to retire, the Indians generally began to remind the seringueiros that it was time to go, by placing obstacles on the estrada, by removing cups or even the collars from the rubber trees. But so far in that region, although footmarks of Indians and other signs of them had been noticed, not one individual had been actually seen. Their voices were frequently heard in the distance singing war songs.

"Hark!" said the German to me, "do you hear them?"

I listened attentively. Far, far down the river a faint chorus of voices could just be heard--intermittent sounds of "hua ... hua ... hua ... hua." In the stillness of the night the sound could be distinguished clearly. It went on until sunrise, when it gradually died out.


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