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The Barrigudo

Arthur O. Friel

HAVE you noticed, senhores, the big, slow-moving monkey which that oily- faced trader over yonder is taking down the river with him?

It is a barrigudo?the "bag-belly" monkey? and one of the largest I have seen, though I have met many of those big fellows during my years of service as a rubber-worker in the Javary jungle. From the end of its solemn nose to the tip of that strong tail, which it can use as a fifth leg in the trees, it must be more than four feet long.

The trader tells me that he intends to sell it as a pet in Para. But unless he is very lucky his monkey will be dead long before the end of his journey. For the barrigudo, senhores, is a creature of this upper Amazon alone, and when he is taken away from his own country he dies.

Why this is so I cannot tell you. Looking at his bulky body, you would think he could endure almost anything. Yet he is mortal, as we Brazilians say?delicate, not hardy. It may be that in his silent way he grieves himself to death because he has lost his own land and his old friends. You cannot always tell, by looking at either monkey or man, what sort of heart is hidden in his breast. And, after all, the heart is the only thing that really counts.

This may seem, senhores, like idle talk, but it is not. I have a tale to tell you?a tale of the most surprising barrigudo I ever met.

I CAME upon this creature at the time when the great yearly floods had passed their crest and were going down again. Indeed, they had gone down so far that I was worried; for I was far from where I ought to be, and in strange country where I might soon find myself stranded in the midst of unknown jungle.

With my comrade Pedro Andrada, a fellow workman on the big rubber estate of old Coronel Nunes, I had paddled across country from our Javary region into the upper reaches of the Jurua, a low-lying and very crooked river to the south and east. Then, after meeting with queer experiences and traveling some distance down the river, we had turned homeward, journeying along a flooded furo, or natural canal, until we met a number of roving North American soldiers who saved us from death at the hands of a horde of fierce savages. Now these men had left us and gone back toward the Amazon, whence they had come; and we were trying hard to reach our own territory before the ebbing waters should leave us trapped in some blind flood-channel.

As I say, I was worried. If we had known where we were I should not have cared so much, for then we should have been able to judge our course. But neither of us had passed this way before, our only guide was the sun, and we had to trust to that and to luck to carry us through the maze of twisting water- courses opening around us on all sides.

The furo itself, which had been fairly plain, now was becoming harder to follow, winding here and there in a confusing way; and already we had blundered off it more than once and lost much time in learning our mistake. Besides this, our food supply now was none too plentiful, and we found little game to shoot. And inch by inch, day and night, the thick tangle of bush was rising steadily around us as the waters slipped away.

Yet these things, serious though they seemed, suddenly became nothing at all. They were swallowed up by something far more grave.

Pedro fell sick. It must have been the Spotted People who gave the disease to him. We came upon them in the morning of a sweltering day when no breeze stirred. We were stripped almost naked, breathing with mouths hanging open, gasping now and then for the air which it seemed we could not get, but shoving steadily onward. All at once my comrade, up in the bow, held his paddle and called sharply:

"Quem vai la? Who goes there?" No answer came. No sound of any kind followed his hail. He was peering at a tangle of trees rising from the water at his left.

"Do you see anything, Lourenço?" he asked. "Nothing," I replied.

"Yet I thought I heard? Let us go and look." We turned the canoe into the trees. As we neared them a figure rose behind a big blown-down tree-trunk. It held a bow and arrow. Instantly we backed water and snatched up our rifles.

For a moment we hung there, the man menacing us with his arrow but not daring to loose it with our gun-muzzles covering him. He was a naked Indian, and seemed to be standing on the water.

"Baah derekoh? What is the matter with you?" he growled sullenly in the Tupi tongue.

"Anih baah. Nothing," I answered in the same language. "Put down that arrow if you would not be shot."

He lowered his weapon in a surly way.

"What are you doing here?" Pedro snapped. For answer the man stooped and held up a spear, on which a fine big fish hung quivering.

Laying down our rifles, but keeping them within instant reach, we pushed up to him and found that he was in a small canoe hidden by the prostrate tree. He still held the spear, and the water on its shaft showed that he had plunged the barb into the fish just before Pedro shouted. We saw that he was peaceable enough, and that he was a very ordinary- looking fellow except for one thing. His face was blotched with hard, rough, black spots.

After telling him we meant no harm to him or to any other man who did not attack us, we asked him whence he came. In a slow, heavy manner he replied that his people lived close by, up on a little hill above the reach of the floods. We asked him if they were many, and he said no. Then, without questioning us in turn, he dropped spear and fish into his canoe, picked up a paddle, and began to move away.

"Wait," said Pedro. "Will you sell that fish?" He stopped, squinted at the fish and at us, and said he would barter for beads. But we had no beads, for we were not on a trading trip. We offered him some empty cartridge shells, though, telling him they were lucky bells which would keep demons away. He hesitated so long that we thought the fish was ours. But then he grunted, "No," and started on.

"Wait," Pedro commanded again. "Is there fruit at your town?"

The fellow said there was much fruit. So then we told him that if he would give us fruit he could have the lucky bells. At once he consented. We followed him a short distance through the watery forest to the hill where his village stood.

IT WAS a miserable little place of a few scattered huts, and the people in it seemed as wretched as the town. When we walked boldly in among them, following our guide, they gathered around us in a sluggish way and looked us over without saying anything. Their eyes were dull, their expressions blank, their movements lifeless and their skins spotted with those same black patches which disfigured the fisherman. Everyone of them?men, women, children?was spotted.

The older they were, the worse they looked. The children had only small spots, with lighter rings around each blotch. But the grown people were crusted with hard patches, and among them I saw a withered man whose face was one great black scab. And not only the people, but the town itself, seemed sick; for there was a smell in the air?a heavy, depressing odor of disease which made me wish we had not come.

"Let us get our fruit at once and go," I muttered. "I cannot breathe well."

"Nor I," my partner agreed. "But I want something fresh to eat, and I will have it. Here, stabber of fish! Fetch the fruit quickly, or we will go and keep our demon-bells."

The fisherman grunted, moved his head for us to stay there, and went away. He was gone for what seemed a long time. We stood still, and all the others stood still, staring without a blink. And the odd thing was that they stared not so much at our guns and breeches as at our skins. After a time it dawned on me that they marveled because we were not blemished as they were.

"Por Deus!" muttered Pedro. "When we leave this place I shall take a bath. These people make me feel slimy."

"I feel the same way, and the smell here makes my stomach squirm," I said. "But here comes our man."

The fisherman was returning, bent forward under a long atura basket which hung down his back. We turned at once toward the water. He followed, and at the canoe he put basket and headline and all into the bottom.

Handing him the empty shells, we pushed off and away, leaving him jangling his "demon-bells" in his palms. No doubt he thought we were great fools to give such a charm for a simple basket of fruit. And the time was not far off when I was to believe we had indeed lost our luck at that place.

We paddled away fast and traveled some distance before we either ate of the fruit or took the bath we had promised ourselves. Somehow the sickly smell of that village seemed to stay with us long after the town itself had disappeared behind us. A thin mist had hung over the place of the Spotted People, and the same vapor was crawling along the water and keeping up with us. Not until we finally got clear of it and breathed clean air once more did the odor fade away.

"Phew!" whistled Pedro, his nose wrinkled. "What an unwholesome hole! Now that we are quit of it, let us bathe and eat."

So we found a firm bare spot where we could stand and pour gourds of water over ourselves. We wanted to take a swim, but the water did not look inviting and we knew well that under its surface might be lurking death in the shape of fish or reptile, so we bathed on land.

When we felt clean again we ate heartily of the fruit, which tasted very good. And as we paddled onward after that we munched now and then at other fruits taken from the basket.

That night neither of us ate well. Our stomachs did not want the usual ration of dried pirarucu and farinha. So we devoured the rest of the fruit and were satisfied.

Before dawn I awoke to hear Pedro moaning softly in his sleep. He had a bad dream, I thought. So I yelled and roused him, grumbled that he was disturbing me, turned over in my hammock and shut my eyes again. He said nothing, and I slept almost at once.

When next I looked around me it was day, and my partner was sitting up and holding his head in his hands. He only grunted when I spoke.

I got breakfast, but he would eat none. This was so uncommon that I looked sharply at him, finding his skin pale and his face drawn. But when I asked him what ailed him he said only that he had not slept well.

We paddled away as usual, and all through the hot, sunny morning he said no word. His stroke lacked its regular power, and several times he stopped work and bent forward as if to favor his stomach. I grinned, thinking he had a touch of colic from eating too much fruit and was too stubborn to admit it. At last I snickered outright.

"Poor little man!" I mocked. "Does his little belly ache? Perhaps he needs a little drink?"

I DID not finish. He groaned, wavered dizzily, and slumped into the bottom of the boat.

This scared me. He was not the man to let anything overpower him as long as he had an ounce of fight left in him, and I realized that he must be very sick.

As quickly as possible I got the boat to shore. There I found that his illness was not a mere ache of the stomach.

He had fever. And it was not the ordinary jungle swamp-fever?which is bad enough?but a deadly sickness which burned and froze and griped and turned him inside out. When at last his spasms ceased he lay so limp that I thought him dead.

He could not even whisper. He could not move. He lay like a corpse and he looked like one, and only the feeble throb of his heart and his shallow breathing told me that he still lived. And there was not a single thing that I could do to help him, for we had no medicine?not even a mouthful of rum to strengthen his heart.

Squatting beside him, I tried in a dumb, dazed way to think of something I could do.

He was more to me than anyone else in the world. He was far closer than a blood brother?he seemed a part of myself. A handsome, happy-hearted, boyish man, strong of hand and quick of thought and action, he had been my comrade in fair weather and foul, in times of merriment and times of deadly fight. Either of us would throw away his own life to save the other?yes, or endure torment worse than death, if by it the other might escape.

And at that very moment I was in such torment of mind as I hope will never come to me again. I could not let him die, but it seemed that I could not aid him to live.

At last I thought of a thing, though it seemed of little use. If I could find some pajemarioba, a bitter medicinal herb sometimes used by the Indians to make a sort of tea, it might start him to sweating and drive the fever out. The pajemarioba grows wild in many places, and some might be there.

I started at once and hunted all about the spot where we were. But I found none.

I came back to him just in time. He lay on the ground as I had left him, limp and motionless. And halfway out of the water, crawling up toward him, was a big alligator.

I leaped at the beast in fury. It slewed and slid back under the surface. Then, lifting my partner, I laid him in the canoe and stroked swiftly away from that accursed place.

As we went onward I watched along both sides, hoping to see a patch of pajemarioba on some point of land. The ch...

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