Five: FerreiraEm 15/09/2020, às 18H33
First thing, I caught sight of the Palácio.
Day was just dawning. The veranda was like a stage set where a breakfast scene was playing with Pierre Bataillon and Iphigenia Vallarde. Young Ivete was serving. I was at the dock, carried there by the current. Benumbed, my body almost dead, I touched the steps of the stairs, but did not feel them. They did not see me, but I saw them. There was the king, the builder of the Amazon empire of rubber, of land and latex, who built everything with hundreds of men, workers and tappers. I was brought forth upon the waters like Moses in Egypt. Faint flashbacks appeared and disappeared. The image of my dead brother came in and out of my mind. But it did not pain me. It was a vague, fuzzy picture.
Bataillon was a shorter and thinner man than I had imagined. Well dressed, erect, broad gestures, haughty and nervous behavior, dignity, old-fashioned manners. Aquiline nose. Fine hair. Little black mustache. His head raised, noble, he had an aura. Bow tie, jacket of white linen, wide coattails and trousers, patent leather shoes. His air, the gaze with which he looked upon the outside world, was arrogant, superior, proud, like a sovereign by royal concession. He put you on edge. He made a display of his importance. In spite of his small stature, it was as if he were looking down from on high, from an upper platform. Yes, there was elegance and dignity. I heard him speaking erudite Portuguese, artificial, bookish, classical and correctly pronounced, but fluent. I got bits of his speech … “she gave birth to a son named” … “it was agreed upon that” … The white three-piece suit shone. Well tailored. Silk shirt, suspenders, collar, a solid gold John Bull watch attached by a metal chain of double rings, heavy, platinum and gold. He was a man in a showcase, in a museum, on exhibit. In his belt there was a Smith & Wesson of nickel and silver with an ivory handle. It was said that he was a good shot, like a military man, that he collected firearms, revolvers, rifles, antique muskets that filled the Hall of Weaponry of his shock troops.
I don't know why Pierre Bataillon wanted me to stay, to work with him. He liked me.
But now, a visitor is coming down the gangplank of the Comendador, a young attorney whose professional credentials were recently publicized in the city of Manaus. The Comendador is a fine ship, a long white boat. It belongs to the rich Commander Gabriel Gonçalves da Cunha, father of Glorinha, or Maria de Gloria, “the Dullard”, wife of the young lawyer who is arriving. The Comendador, shining white, contrasts with the various shades of the surrounding green and blue, crackle moss green, snake vines, emerald, cobalt of the water, the blue sky vault. The lawyer leaves the gangplank laughing. His name is Antonio Ferreira. He is the agent and business successor of the extremely rich Commander. He has the appearance of a child. A big white child, elegantly manicured hands, curly black hair, falling in ringlets over the gold frames of his glasses. Cambric three-piece suit, Panama hat, black, narrow pointed shoes. The sun beats down and the contour under the fine fabric of his clothes is that of a strong body, stocky legs, full buttocks. His eyes sparkle and flash joviality; they explode
with lightheartedness and active fantasy underlined by a permanent adolescent smile, candor and slyness inscribed on sensual lips. A needy child. Boyish face, outlaw, killer. Friendly, educated, sociable, exhibitionist. Ferreira was the greatest propagandist for himself. It was not other women that he really loved, but Glorinha; and he was at her service in various ways. His ambitions were concentrated upon her. In spite of being the son of a humble, middle-class family, he was elevated to the podium: he had married “the Dullard”, or better yet the most solid fortune in the land; how the young man knew like no one else to make himself liked by his father-in-law, who saw in him the personification of intelligence, loyalty, merit, equal understanding equal, and the more corrupt the more loyal to the type of capitalism in practice there at the time; the old man loved him his whole life like a son, even after he separated from the daughter, as we shall see. Glorinha was tall, thin, pale, skeletal, wan, buck-toothed, big-nosed, the image of a fairy-tale witch, bony, an illustration from a children's book. Practically an imbecile. She fled from her groom on the wedding night with ostentation and scandal - which betrayed her later madness – crying, to her father's house, racked with fear, in a panic, a fit of nerves.
Even speech was controlled in that house in which storks with enchanted babies were seen in the dream fantasies of a shut-in little girl, benumbed, warped by a strict father, about whom the neighbors on the same street knew nothing; any trivial event, which was everything, had to be hidden from Glorinha, brought up as a freak, going out in company only inside a closed carriage, puffed up in pillows and amid the ruffles of the clean, indigo-dyed and aseptic white skirts of a legion of old maid aunts and her proper, severe, vigilant mother Dona Martha, who saw everything, knew everything, even what the girl was looking at. Hidden in the corners and back rooms of the house, nervous and insecure, depressed, pallid, she never appeared, fearful of everything, never visited anyone regularly, embedded in her fears until her sad end. Alas! When anyone arrived, she retired saying she had a headache. On the rare occasions she remained in the room, she stayed seated, quiet, hunched over, saying nothing, looking idiotically at everyone, agreeing with everything that was said, she smiled vaguely, as is from afar. Glorinha did not speak, did not play, did not hate. All was a passive introversion of fear, terror, obedience, silence. An example of a Manauara education, it was said she remained a virgin her whole life and that Ferreira did not violate her. Perhaps he loved her. She was the living inheritance of the immense fortune, influence, political power of her father: a rising force, head of a political class, leader, boss, cruel murderer, corrupt, corrupter of that age of splendor and glory of Amazon rubber gold.
This is the young man whom we see coming off the gangplank of the Comendador onto the dock on this Sunday morning, and Sunday mornings are different on the plantation: the rubber collectors come on principle, of necessity, for no reason, by a string mechanism pulling them to the headquarters, which was a large open shed, to be sure not the Palácio, the separate residence of the Bataillon family which no one approached; they come to deliver the balls of rubber, exchange products for provisions (as few see actual cash), seek out a pint of cachaça on credit to go off and drink alone. Sinister, heavily armed, the Colonel's men go by. The air is full of the smell of caxiri beer. The open inlet of Hell's Bayou, an intersection of two plains, is smooth as a mirror; there are cries from the tree tops. Two Peruvian prostitutes arrive in a canoe. The movement of men, boats and machines give life to the place that overflows with the agitation of the day; it is Sunday morning after all.
In the shade of the door I see a human figure. It is Colonel Bataillon with a stiff collar, daring red tie, Havana suit, hands in his pockets, appearing happy on the ridge of the marble staircase, eyes on the fixed horizon like the king of a green sea without limits. Now he gestures with his index finger in the air, an inaudible order given to the urchin servant Mundico, frolicking near him, and who then disappears toward the back of the house. Ferreira, on his way up the steps, continues to smile towards his host who awaits him.
“What brings you here, then?” Pierre says extending his hand, slanting his head to the left, ear towards his shoulder. “You must have had an excellent trip in this weather...”
“How are you?” Ferreira asks, one step lower, his hand going forward to take hold of the older man.
“Well, I tell you,” Pierre continues. “These last days have been the best for travel to these parts. I understand the courage of travelers who arrive here. Fifteen days ago we had a superb rain. A day of deluge. If you had seen …...” (his accent sounded Frenchified). Pierre led the young man by the arm. They walk toward the house slowly. Halfway there, however, Pierre stops, motionless. Then he raises his arms, dramatically and turns around. He points to the sky with the tip of his finger, “See those clouds. The weather is changing. Cumulus clouds are forming. Tonight the forest will exhale its sylvan soap bar perfume. Tomorrow the waters will be fresh and clear... we have rains par-dessus les autres. Water washes water, not the muddy turbidity of the Upper Amazon. Heavenly weather with the blessing...” I do not hear any more; the two enter and disappear beyond the portal. A scarlet macaw, red and yellow, makes its fabulous brush stroke on the sky.
When the two reappear on the terrace in the evening, near the upper gallery, the rain had already passed and, in front, two children are bathing in Hell's Bayou in the line of vision of the statue erected on the patio, “Splendor of Amazonia”, an allegory on latex extraction, commissioned by Dona Iphigenia Vellarde in Paris in 1894.
“You have the good fortune to live among works of art,” Ferreira says.
“Works? These?” Pierre stops short with beady snake eyes. “The arts, my good man, corrupt the spirit and morals. They are a heap of impurities. Only contact, direct relation with the natural world, the forest …”
“You don't prefer the civilized world?”, Ferreira interrupts.
“To the uncivilized world?”, (Pierre exults:) “The expression of wickedness accumulated by culture, all this, isn't that entire thing uncivilized? Look: I am transplanted here, at Manixi, Social Democracy. See my dog Rousseau. I love him and for that he is faithful. He protects me and for that I love him and feel protected and loved. What does that mean? What is this dog?. What separates the two worlds meets in him, the pure sentiments of the corrupted. You believe in the purity of the heart, don't you?”
Ferreira looks at him as if he were looking at a crazy person. I can see from where I am that he is dismayed. So to calm him, he asks, “When is your son returning from Europe?”
As if he had heard nothing, Pierre continues speaking, “Have you seen the ... bordered in pure gold ... Cattleya edorado in the deepest recess of the forest? Do you know the famous, rare and unmatched Cattleya superba?”
The two urchins are visible and audible, crying like birds. They are in the line of sight of the statue on the terrace. “Splendor of the Amazon” is an art-nouveau lady of white marble and she is dancing with a basket over her shoulder; she represents fertility, wealth and the abundance of latex. She is covered with earth and sprinkles of latex. In her basket a live seedling of a rubber tree is planted; it is already the length of a palm of the hand. Ferreira notices it. The two are on the terrace. Pierre grasps the outer edge of the parapet; I see the glint of his signet ring. The terrace is an old part of the construction. Four caryatids stare at the Amazonian shades of green-yellow. The Amazona festiva parrot squawks on its perch.
Abruptly, incomprehensibly, interrupting with impetuosity and effulgence like Phoebus on the horizon – a tall, hardy, intense, vigorous, marvelous Maacu Indian woman, like a goddess, emerges, appears, explodes through the door with arm tattoos of red and blue; she is almost naked, wrapped in a coat of silvery silk and in a brilliant blaze like the sky. Spread out in her arms, she is carrying a round tray of gilded silver, as if it were the sun itself, incandescent, impossible to look at, thousands of megatons above what would be bearable, the coffee and liqueur service of rose-colored Baccarat - a shock, Ferreira closes his eyes blinded by the diamond brightness and she places the tray in front of him, almost in his lap, on a table top of red-streaked marble placed there on a tripod of embellished iron, feminine, in an offering gesture of French symbolism, a banana tree branch, exotic bird of paradise plants, of straight petals in the form of long birds with orange crests inspired by art nouveau, vivid and above the balanced paradise between elegant impulses, between subtle meditations of the node, of acrobatic sarugaku, air-borne – Ferreira is dizzy and fails to understand the most beautiful of women, Maacu Amazons, pure bronze, Diana leaving the Teatro Amazonas, a slightly sweet vision of the delights in the sumptuousness of the panorama and in its contagion, in the intoxicant that smells of pomegranate, inhamuí, panquilé, which might have come out of a bath of roses, hair the fragrance of wind, strength, passion, clean and pure love of a young being, twenty years old, irradiating freshness, luster, energy; Ferreira sees her from his low cane chair, the strength, the savage color of those long legs.
Maria Caxinauá, an Indian woman who seems as old as the forest serves lunch. Still there, the lively Maacu woman exposes her arms to the imagination of a glance. The silk accentuates and glides like runny paste. Everything drips at this time of day. Listless, lazy, sensual. The bayou brightens in invisible speed, in its oily flow. Silence. Unctuous river. It is called “bayou” by geographical economy, for its narrows, its hidden pass between two large silk cotton trees. “Hell's” means “of the Numa”, from which it comes, of latex milk and Indians. Concentrated wealth. Pierre Bataillon discovered that bayou in 1876. Extraction in the Amazon was doubling every decade. From 1821 to 1830 it was 320 tons. In the following decade it expanded to 2,314 tons. From '41 to '50, 4,693 tons. A big development came from '51 to '60: 19,383 tons. From '71 to '80, 60,225 tons. After his arrival: 110,048 tons! Up to that year Pierre managed to extract 20 thousand tons, saving up a fortune in pounds sterling, employing almost 500 men who were spread out into an area into which several European countries would fit. The Maacu looks. Ferreira feels a mortal shiver pass through him. He feels cold at the hottest time of the day. Large mosquitos and blood-sucking flies buzz in his ears. The buffalo gnats are annoying. The heat is heavy, humid, sweet with genipap and honey. He melts. Fantasies, day dreams, deliriums, reveries. This is Ferreira's first trip into the interior. His father-in-law and he want the plantation; they are preparing for the complicated bidding of a commercial chess game. Ferreira looks tired from the voyage. Pierre puffs smoke into the air. He is all caution and anticipation. A surprise at any moment. Now, Pierre starts to talk about the Numa. Ferreira goes from desire to apprehension. He looks with fright at the trees, as if afraid a monster will appear. Pierre appears calm. He suppresses his phantoms, legs crossed as in a Parisian cafe. Why doesn't that man liquidate his fortune and return to Paris? Pierre, the unexpected. His ambition is his antidote to the tedium of the Amazon. Provoking, Ivete (as the Maacu woman was called, Ivete Romana) observes the young man from afar. She, defiance and incitement. Ferreira coughs and arranges himself in the chair. Ivete's eyes move with serpentine elasticity, devastating and tactile. Ferreira recedes into his chair feeling tipsy. Beyond the stone columns of the parapet the excessive panorama of the stylized neo-rococo Amazon panel is unveiled, interlaced with tendrils and offshoots. The forest tightens its embrace. But the young man attempts to survive in the fullness of the amphitheater of the crowns of the pre-columbian silk cotton trees. At Juriti Velho there is a tree 200 feet high. The whole building is like a fortified castle, a capsule of the civilization of European humanity. It is a place where juridical erudition does not reach. As if betrayed, Pierre sees the possibility of neutralizing the visitor. He wants to draw out the secret motive that brought him here. He intuits menacing cordiality. He is wary in his deliberations, conversation, narration. The urchins play on the moored dugout. They hold their noses with two fingers and jump in standing. Then they run along the shore. Shrill, incessant, like a band of parakeets. Mundico, the oldest, is the son of Isaura, the cook at the Palácio. She has two sons from different fathers. The second son is not there. His name is Benito Botelho and he is in Manaus. Benito was the greatest intellectual in the Amazons. As a boy, he was stricken with smallpox; Benito was taken away by Frei Lothar who was fond of him. He ended being brought up at the Vassourinha, the orphanage of Padre Pereira, as Frei Lothar never remained long in Manaus. Flies buzz about malignantly in the silence of the afternoon. The bayou weaves dizzily between the trees. There is no one about. The trees at a standstill. Profound. Immersed in green ecstasy, in the heat, in eternity, in the fecundation of the late afternoon. The young jurist's spirit is with the Indian woman. A macaw, the national bird, breaks the silence of space and flits toward the other shore. It repeats its screeching, proud of itself, its clamor and ostentation. A silent rower appears at the bend of the river, salutes the Palácio and touches the liquid lamina of the water's surface lightly with his oar. In the progression of new incidents, a very handsome lion monkey appears. A very small one. In the papaya tree, near the terrace. It begins to come down. It jumps on the parapet. Looks at the motionless men seated. Turns toward the trunk. Stops. Looks up, fearful of the sky. Looks down, fearful of the ducks. Looks at me. The monkey looks with its entire head, not only with the eyes. Then he descends, very quickly hazarding the air, disappearing in the duck yard. Now there is the odor of a matrinchão fish, smell of pepper and tucupi seasoning. The air is so oxygenated that I become dizzy. Calmness falls. It penetrates the pores. Vaporous, tranquilizing flavor. Stasis, impassibility. A dark god is sleeping, in the unnamed, in the universal, immersed, incomplete, prehistoric of a million years ago, when this was a sea. We are almost 2,000 miles from Manaus. Gabriel Gonçalves da Cunha had bought the Rio Jordão and the whole left bank of the Bom Jardim bayou up to the São João bayou and an inlet of the Cruzeiro do Sul bayou. He has isolated the Manixi Plantation. The price of Amazon rubber is rising on the London stock exchange. Production of tires is increasing. The Amazon, only producer of latex in the world. Rich Manaus copies Paris. Businessmen get rich. The Teatro Amazonas show off its crystal mirrors. Millionaires play cards with fingers weighed down in diamonds, risking fortunes at the Hotel Cassina, at the Alcazar, the Eden, the Casino Julieta. Tiles from Marseilles in the moonlight on the Rua dos Remédios, on the Rua da Glória. Art nouveau architecture of the Ernest Scholtz palace – then the Palácio Rio Negro, seat of the government. Wall brackets, transoms, rain spouts. Intercolumniation. Corner, lambrequim, scroll, capital, cornice. Architrave. Cleric's cap, lattice, balcony, loft, jade, ringbase, wing, stipe. Enxalso, cinammon pediment. Galilé. Little Manaus, big Paris! Shops, stores, tobacconists, book stores, tailors, jewelers. Bissoc. Pastry. Sugar, fruit, cream.
A la Ville de Paris, Au bon marché, Quartier du temple, Villeroy's Closet for Women, Casa Louvre, Palais Royal Bookstore (in the Rua Municipal, No. 85, the newest books), Universal Bookstore, Freitas Agency, Casa Sorbonne (inside the Grand Hotel), the Bijou Confectioners, the Progresso Bakery. Lanterns of morona stone and puraquequara. The beautiful Villa Fany, total luxury. The Barés Wharf, the Provincial Library (that was set on fire fraudulently to destroy Public Files in the back rooms). The Student Craftsmen's building that gave its name to the neighborhood. Amazon Steamship Navigation Co. A building imported piece by piece from England: the Customs House set up there. Another, a project of Gustavo Eiffel, of iron: the Municipal Market. Serviço Telefônico serves the city. Electricity illuminates the streets of Manaus at the beginning of the century, perhaps the first Brazilian city to have this service. Sidewalks of the Praça São Sebastião of black and white Portuguese stones in a wave design that allegorizes the “meeting of the waters” of the Rio Negro and Upper Amazon (later imitated on the beach of Copacabana). Electric Trolleys of the Manaus Tramways. People consume Veuve Clicquot, truffles, champagne. Huntley & Palmers, Cross & Blackwell. Cork, Pilsen, Bordeaux, cold cuts, Estrella Sierra Cheese. Lobsters, Crystalized Guava Jam. Charteuse, Anisette. Champagne Duc of Reims. Vermouth. Vichy Water. Milk from the Swiss Alps. English coats and tails, H. J., pongee, tulle. Canes with gold knobs. Top-hats, gloves, French perfumes, silk handkerchiefs. Silver pistols and ivory handles. Victor Gramophones. Double-sided phonograph records of Caruso. Wholesalers. The State of Amazonas participates in the St. Louis Commercial Exhibition, in Missouri, and later in the Universal Exhibition of Brussels, where it wins 32 gold medals, 39 silver, 70 bronze, 6 Diplomas of Honor and the 13 Grand Prizes. Manaus-Harbour. Chessboard. Operas, operas, operas. Daily. Imported prostitutes. The Miranda Correia Brewery.
Praça da Saudade. The Roadway, the Quay. Syphilis. Malaria. Glasses of Labarraque quinine. Cod-liver oil. Silva Araújo wine. Fermentation regulator. Rose-colored pills. Coffee Beirão. Winchesters with butt of waxed mahogany. Beggar's Asylum (built by the Commander). The Empress Bridge, Big Waterfall Bayou. The Sawmill on Holy Spirit Bayou. Baths of the Seven Pools. Buritizal. Games in the Parque Amazonense. Departure at Barcelos. Night in Jirau. Wall of the Aleixo Leprosary. In the recess - the Chalet. View of the Bomba d'Água. Travel. Steam Lines. Manaus-Belém, Manaus-Santa Isabel, Manaus-Iquitos, Manaus-Marari, Manaus-Santo Antônio do Madeira, Manaus-Belém-Baião. Gonçalves Dias in the Hotel Cassina. Coelho Neto in the small palace of Epaminondas Street. Euclides of Cunha in the chalet of the Villa Municipal. Amazonas Comercial, O Impartial, Rio Negro, Jornal do Comércio. 126 ships operate within Amazonia. Two-stack steamboats, small river steamers and barges. In 1896 the Teatro Amazonas was inaugurated at a cost of 3.3 million dollars, the most expensive and useless Pharaonic public work in the History of Brazil, no expense spared and everything imported, with paneling, hundreds of Venetian crystal chandeliers, columns of variegated marble, bronze statues signed by great masters, beveled crystal mirrors, porcelain vases the height of a man, Persian rugs – all of which disappeared in 1912 when the theater was emptied in order to turn it into a rubber storage depot for an American company. At that point, the treasury was buried in a debt of 10 million milréis: the Teatro Amazonas cost the price of 5 thousand luxury homes. The dollar to three milréis. For 300 thousand dollars the courthouse was built. And for 525 thousand dollars the Government's Palace was built, never finished. The Theater cost 10 thousand lives. Yes: In 1919, 150 thousand immigrants had already arrived in the Amazon. Rubber in those years was as important as coffee. Amazonia exported 66 million dollars in rubber against 100 million dollars coffee from São Paulo state in the same period. In 1908 the oldest university of Brazil was founded in Manaus, with courses in Law (the only to survive), Engineering, Obstetrics, Dentistry, Pharmacy, Agronomy, Sciences and Letters. At that time 12 million French francs disappeared, robbed during Constantino Nery's government. Manaos Improvements was fraudulently and unnecessarily expropiated for 3.3 million dollars – the price of the Teatro Amazons. Accumulation of corrupt extravagance is the history of the Amazon.
That evening Antonio Ferreira was snoring in the hammock and dreaming of large expanses of empty land, forests, secret places where no civilized man had been – rivers, waterfalls, rocks, mountains, beyond, beyond the horizon, undefinable, out there, beyond the emerald curtain and the shade of the left bank of Hell's Bayou – Aurora, Itamaracá, bends of the Rio Jordão, to the southeast, even to borderlands of Peru towards the Rio Pique Yaco and fantastic, dazzling El Dorados...
He awoke. A light pressure on his left leg, something alighted there like a feather in the middle of the splendor of his sleep; it brushed his body with velvet. He saw the spider, furry and red, about 6 inches in diameter, lethal, coming up his thigh, but then the Maacu woman removed it with a piece of cloth, venomous – rare and menacing – a type of tarantula, the acanthoscurria atrox! - it jumped onto the parapet, turned on itself raised its front legs in an aggressive, protective attitude, bristled and disappeared. To comfort him, the Maacu woman sat on the edge of the hammock. She looked at him and laughed, stooping over his chest. Ferreira took a hold of her head firmly and drew it towards him. She neared with a muffled, wild moan. From the edge of the roof an eagle took flight reaching the blue spaces. It was an uiraçu, a harpy eagle.
“In '94 my son acquired the nanny Maria Caxinauá, an Indian girl a little older than he, who was four years old at the time. They grew up together. When the boy did anything naughty the girl was punished for it instead.
Iphigenia hit hard but the Indian girl didn't whine; she didn't cry. She didn't seem to feel pain. I don't trust Indians. They are treacherous, cruel, vindictive, capable of revenge, even after years. But Iphigenia would not listen to me, would not believe me.”
Pierre puffed out smoke before continuing, “Every three years her parents came to get her on the pretext that she not forget her tribe. She remained a month at their encampment and returned, skinny and sick – her parents said she did not like being away from Zequinha...”
They were silent for a long while during which the four chords of a night hawk were heard, coming out the darkness and silence of the night. Antonio Ferreira inhaled some snuff. He had smooth, combed hair parted in the middle connecting with long side whiskers which he was caressing.
The music room was empty. There was little furniture there, the baby grand Pleyel, a table, four chairs and the armoire for the violins, closed. Pierre offered a cigar and said: “Until the year the Numa showed up...”. That room was situated apart from the Palácio. No one could enter, especially when Pierre was playing. The two men stared at the table separating them. There was a carafe on the table and two goblets. Pierre sighed. His aged eyes looked troubled by his reflection on the remote past. His face was elongated. He lifted his arms on high, remained silent and looked at the other man in a vacant manner:
“The stories I am going to tell you are absurd; they don't deal with human problems but with a different realm than ours.”
Ferreira made an effort to get a hold of the goblet and drink. He was appreciating the luxury of the Baccarat when he heard the following:
“In November of 1905, the Numa appeared and started to hunt down the Caxinauá. They came every day. That had never happened before, not the Numa, so close and aggressive. There was a drought, low water. I had to take forceful measures. I gathered the Caxinauá together at Quati and brought in armed men. Since becoming docile, the Caxinauá were defenseless. They came and hid their belongings. They are masters of this, in the art of safekeeping, of hiding, of camouflage. They can make entire canoes disappear, burying them under water that they disinter years later, even. Each Caxinauá always has a hidden treasure.
Pierre nipped the end of his cigar. He propped himself on the cushions of the Voltaire chair. Two candlesticks of five movable bobeches each illuminated the paneling of the walls and softened the glare of ivory silk in which the panels were painted. In a scene from the 18th century, a mythological figure was preparing to shoot an arrow. Pierre sank into reflection.
“Do you know what happened then?” - the older man asked.
He remained silent.
“A robbery,” he replied. “A small box was stolen”.
He got up, stood up, got on his feet and walked, solemnly to a chiffonier placed against the curtains. From there he showed him a metal strongbox. “Like this one.” It was a medium size travel chest. About 30 cubic centimeters and made with iron coating separated by non-combustible substances. It was opened by an artistically realized, filigree key.
“Were there jewels?”
“No,” the older man intercepted. “Iphigenia kept money in there - pounds sterling and coins of 0.900 fine gold. It was the only thing robbed that I was unable to find. After this I keep all valuables in the big safe. I never got to the bottom of it; Iphigenia always said Maria Caxinauá was at fault. They tied her to an anthill and she almost died. But she confessed nothing. When my son found out, he came to her defense. Even if I had continued the investigations and ordered her to be tortured to death, she would have died without confessing anything. Frightening!”
He coughed. He took the cup, leaned back straight against the chair and straightened his neck with a jerk. Ferreira, troubled, stirred and asked:
“Some servant? Someone could have become rich, a spendthrift, showed signs of good fortune...”
It was as if the old man was at a megaparsec:
“No one. I couldn't have been any servant … it was hardly a Caxinauá … the chest is here, it's been here all along, I'm certain.”
“How do you know?” Ferreira asked, clutching the string of his tie.
“Simply because of that. No one seemed to be rich and the Caxinauá do not know the value of money. Besides, it is impossible for a Caxinauá to live outside the tribe. They make up a simbiotic people, a single organism, living, unique. They are not individual beings. The individual is the people, the race. Because of that it was só easy to pacify them. One Indian alone could not have stolen the chest and fled to Manaus or Belem. Not a Caxinauá.”
Slowly the big door opened and the Caxinauá appeared.
“Come here, my girl,” Pierre said to her. And as the Indian girl come near, the old man frowned, looked straight into the face of the girl and asked: “Do you know Maria Caxinauá? Did you see her before?”
Her coarse long hair darkened her face like a mask of death. Her pupils were bestowed with an incomprehensible white aura, a frightful horror. Aquline nose, cunning. Dark, burnt and tarnished, bronze skin crushed like paper. Dirty, long blue garment, torn on one side, without a belt, creeping along the ground like a madwoman in an asylum. Observed at a distance, she was the concentration of hatred. Close up, she was fear, uncontrollable dread, eyes wide open. Her wizened face indicated that she had lost all her teeth; her eyebrows were thin. But that woman was not old! Suddenly she revealed herself! “There is arrogance, contempt, defiance, a dangerous look, venom in her face,” Ferreira thought, gripping the string of his tie. Hostile, that silent and animal existence was concentrated in her, reflected in her, like a snake. From that night on Ferreira feared her. He saw an enemy, Because the Caxinauá was accumulated, petrified revenge. All the innumerable multitude of Indians massacred found their territory in her body. All those tortured, expelled, exterminated by European humanity, plundered, deprived of their culture were mapped there, in the physical and individual person of Maria Caxinauá. Entire races were deprived, traumatized, dispossessed of their gods and their wealth built up over centuries, consumed in hecatombs, liquidated forever. Comtaminated with diseases, enslaved and corrupted, submitted to slave labor that consumed millions of persons deprived of their subsistence economy, tragically tranformed into proletarian masses – twenty million indigenous people massacred in Brazil embodied there in the blind gesture of Maria Caxinauá.
With tense hands, the Numa warrior turned around abruptly and yelled a feline-like cry; the loud call was heard throughout the forest on the arid ground; there was commotion of his blood-red eyes under locks of hair and warlike shiver of his skin. His entire strength increased and seemed to hurl itself with the fire he threw out and strewed into the palm hut. His weapon of long shadow extended into the air and opened the skull of a young Caxinauá who appeared on the side, hurling him to the ground – his eyeball left the socket spit out on the ground like a rolling boiled egg, a ball in the dust of the earth. He hurled a heavy rock on the enemy who jumped up like a wounded and hunted tiger and he howled with torn flesh, the voice of a thundering wretch. His face distorted with hatred, his shoulders apart, he raised his arm with the heavy weapon and advanced to kill like a winch raised aloft, the hull of an enormous ship pulled from the bottom of the water, water dripping like the dribble of dark and rotten mucus. Others screamed and ran. The fire spread wide, high, tears and overcame the night air with its wings of fire like the opening of butterflies. Great and inexplicable fear took possession of the Caxinauá frightened by some God and death descended on every one and scattered them into the fatal night of paralyzing ire, all strength and courage absent, neutralized. Oh! She was completely burned, enveloped in flames, naked, but she did not feel pain or fear. She disappeared toward the shade expecting with empty hands the adversary pursuing her. Yes, he was coming. And coming with the intent to kill in the darkness. In the ominous bed of Hell's Bayou she searched for a stone, but she only bumped into rotten cadavers of her Caxinauá brothers that the quantity of dark blood buried. The Numa was coming to look for and seek her out in the water. She had difficulty cleaning the caked blood in her eyes, which made her vulnerable to the near and audible enemy searching for her weapon in hand. For the enemy, his was the hour. Blood burnt her eyes and she was unarmed. Silence. The enemy listened and waited for an effective reaction, but did not know where she was, did not sense her and proceeded in the dark. Then there was an interception by a Caxinauá warrior who rushed in, cowardly fleeing, and was attacked. It was time to get out of there as the two were arm and arm in combat to be killed and be carried away by Hell's Bayou. Was she farther away than she thought? Three hundred of her tribe's people exterminated. The fire illuminated the forest and was seen from the Palácio. Wasn't she fit for the sacrifice? Frei Lothar, who appeared suddenly, took her in. She no longer looked at her face in a mirror. No one wanted her anymore, as a woman
Pierre looked at the young man and coughed. Sleep still permeated the thoughts of Antonio Ferreira.
“Do you know Padre Pereira?”
“Yes,” he said.
Pierre Bataillon had the Amazonas Commercial in his hands, the newspaper of Abraham Gadelha, the political adversay of Ferreira's father-in-law. The young man, adjusting his tie, felt this as an agression.
The older man, calmly, cordially, as if he did not know that on the previous page the Commander was toasted with adjectives such as “low life” and “thief”, said: “Fund-raising banquet of Padre Pereira for the Vassourinha Orphanage and birthday party of my friend Juca de Neves. I'll ask you for two favors: represent me at these symposia … the Events column says of Ricardo Soares, Jr. ...”
“But look!”, Pierre interrupted himself, changing his dry, dull tone, as if he were submerged, stuffed, cadaverized. The young man looked at him – he looked pale, suddenly aged and seemed even smaller.
“The wreck of the Bitar! I didn't know. I hadn't read about it. Oh, mon Dieu!”
Since the disaster of the steamboat Izidoro Antunes, he was preocupied with the frequent shipwrecks on the Amazon. He knew them by heart: the Izidoro Antunes had made only a single voyage, it had just come from England. Modern, comfortable, equipped with electric lighting, it was full of merchandise when it sank. After this the Otero, the Perseverance, the Prompto, the Macau, the Etna, the Colomy, the Julio de Roque, the Waltin, the Mazaltob, the Ajudante (collided), the Manauense (rolled over), the … - all under water, dragging with them people who disappeared into those muddy and dark waters, ripe and with funereal murmurs, vague and indifferent, covered with a veil of mud, dense and compact in the dissolution of life's liquids, in the horizontality of those endless rivers stretched out in the slow movement of time – elemental cadavers decomposed in the marshes of water lilies, eaten by fish, listless, sunken in the dissolved material of the briny surface.
Pierre was frightened to travel in those waters full of sticks, logs, sandbanks, hardened clay blocks, rocks, hidden riverbank ledges and whirlpools, eddies, beaches, overflow lakes, turbulence, ponds, shoals, dead heads, depressions, ship skeletons, two-headed beaches, bends – all obstacles and dangers of ordinary navigation, for ships of large and small draft, motor boats, canoes, dugouts and wide sailing canoes, everything, the whole mass of an infernal theory of dangers to avoid, bypass, be on the alert for, defy, fear.
Suddenly the silence of death fell upon the whole space of the Palácio, static as if the entire Amazon was immobilized over the Marseilles tiles. The night hawk emitted its four octaves. In the distance a fisherman shook his fishing rod in the water.
“One day,” Pierre said, “an official from Santarem asked Bates on which side of the Amazon River the city of Paris was located. He imagined that the entire universe was intersected by that great river and all the cities had arisen on one bank or the other.”
“Are you expecting to return?” Ferreira asked.
“I don't know,” the older man replied. “I think that I should some day.” And turning toward the young man with his shoulders: “Do you know why I came here?”
“No,” Ferreira replied.
“For my health. I have to live in a warm climate.”
The cry of the screech owl tore through the night; it heralded death. Ferreira looked at the little man sitting there, while rubber latex was at 308 pounds per ton. The year before it was at 374 pounds per ton. Modification of the price, however, would give it a jump to 655 pounds per ton! But the fall would be abrupt; in 1921 it fell to 72 pounds per ton. Ten years later, in 1931, it would fall even more, it went to 32 pounds per ton, less than half the price 109 years earlier, even discounting the evolvement of prices and slight inflation. It was Death. The decadence and death of the Amazon empire. From sole producer, Brazil came to produce only one percent of world consumption. A figure disappeared out the door vanishing in the arcade of the corridors. High stucco walls, heavy decoration, baroque, fantastic, surreal luxury. A trumpeter cried out in the duck garden. Those rooms interconnected in an area of fifty-four hundred square feet. There were fifteen apartments with painted baseboards, column balustrades and ceiling of gilded friezes, floors of Brazilian teak and boxwood. The building's entrance opened into a spacious hall at the end of which was the office of the colonel. At the left, the door to the isolated music room. At the right was the alcove and the circular gallery which wound around the back of the building and toward the back of the music room, as well as the terrace which opened up from there at a right angle. An iron grating closed off the duck garden. Pierre invited me for coffee in an adjacent room served by a Caxinauá boy. We sat on a pair of Voltaire chairs. A lost false viper shook the leaves of roots where it curled up like a toad. It was the strong coffee with which Pierre would stay awake all night, wandering like a ghost through those large rooms semi-lit by candles and firefly lamps. Pierre would play the piano in the middle of the night, read, walk around inside the house at the end of the world. Nights were gloomy, lugubrious; they enveloped the Palácio in demons that came out of the darkness. Pierre, indifferent, walked and his steps were heard along the arcade of doors and windows. He would look at paintings, follow the row of windows with double shutters down to the ground, heavy, padded, transoms furnished with tulle pleated drapery. In the shed was a pen for ducks who protected the Palácio from snakes, spiders and scorpions. The steely surface of the water attempted to hinder an invasion of ants. But still you could encounter a furry spider on top of a bed, be surprised by a scorpion crossing below the dining table or come upon a snake slithering along the empty space of a hallway. The doors and windows were closed as night fell. They would start burning a mixture of cow dung and tapir oil in censers scattered throughout the house to repel insects; the odor permeated and marked the palace. Even so the building was besieged at night by clouds of flying insects that wanted to enter attracted by the lights. Ferreira felt dread. All the people, servants, balata gum gatherers, wild rubber collectors, fishermen, drovers, hunters and Indians seemed like demons. The house was frightful, supernatural. The eyes of Paxiúba and Maria Caxinauá. The curtained off halls, like in a theater, the sculptured furniture – demons and lions – gloomy luxury. Pierre opened the doors of the armoire and took out a carafe of Black Velvet. Ferreira drank keeping in view the Caxinauá urchin standing up right in front of him. Pierre's fortune had its source in the slave labor of the entire Caxinauá nation that produced the food which Pierre exchanged for the harvest of the rubber tappers who seldom received any money. The small figure of the man seemed painted at last on its true facade.
* * *
Worn thin on the carpet, the embroidery plays with the shadow and light coming from the door. Lights reverberate on the surface of the mirror, fire from tapers in the iron candlesticks and large candles that sing a lyrical moment. When the colonel plays they seem to dance. Family remembrances bring me to a shore of the imagination. My mother liked to go barefoot. Since leaving Patos on Christmas of 1897, I had not thought of her with such tenderness. I've been here a long time. My brother and uncle, dead, intrude along with disturbing stains on the ground, with the death of everyone, everyone from Laurie Costa to Maria burnt in the attack of the Numa, to the Caxinauá encampment. The solitude of the empty room was veiled. An enigmatic sensation that the doors were not closed tightly, that the horn-shaped hinges were open – the incised parts of the stop in the door jamb on the double rabbet rubbing out the oblong of the rims. I entered very cautiously. I crossed the empty space on tiptoes. On the facing wall I discovered a door unknown to me, somehow concealed in the decoration. I touched it with my finger, probing it. I tried the hidden doorknob, the edge gave way and sounded like an squeaky wheel. Chairs of dark wicker were scattered here and there; bats sounded like wind, nervous, their strident squeaks shattered the night air, tiny ones. I was on the threshold of the room. Someone was sleeping in the torpor of the penumbra, half-illuminated by a lamp that was going out. Startled, I saw there the figure of fallen twisted metal, the variegated, disperse figure of a man sleeping, powerful, submerged, big, legs extended and open on the easy chair. It was Paxiúba, frightening body, his large, bronze, strange, curved member visible. Yes, he was sleeping the bloody sleep of his dead victims.
“And where is Ribamar?” - I heard the voice of Dona Iphigenia looking for me. I closed the door and followed to attend to her. I was on call during the night.
“I am very lonely,” Pierre said taking leave of his guest, “but my son will be returning. He is lonesome for Caxinauá and Paxiúba,” he added with some irony. “They're friends, Paxiúba is his bodyguard. Maria a second mother and lover. José wanted to take them to Paris, but I managed to dissuade him from it. Good night, my friend. Sleep well. Ivete should arrange a good bed for you,” he concluded, serious, dignified, natural, extending a sincere hand to him.
The Juruá is a river of deceptive waters, yellow, muddy; when leached they deposit three inches of thick sediment in the bottom of a drinking glass. In these waters Pierre Bataillon and Iphigenia Vellarde disappeared in 1910 when the launch Angelina wrecked.