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 The quest through la Boca proved vain. No one would give him any information. But he was sent hither and yon, serving now as a joke and now as a prey to robbers. He was always assured that such and such an individual could no doubt tell him what he wanted to know, and Monsalvat would run this clue down, from café to café, from tavern to tavern. In this fashion he traversed the entire district of la Boca, that sinister "Tenderloin" of Buenos Aires. He went to gaming houses, lupanars, saloons. He entered cheap hotels and lodging houses. Here English or German phrases fell on his ear; there he heard Norwegian, Russian, or Finnish. In another quarter he found a medley of Balkan tongues, and in yet another he recognized the barbarous Arab dialects of Northern Africa. One day he found himself at a Korean bar; on another in a Chinese eating house. Once he made his way into a gathering of Turks. In the course of one month he encountered all kinds of people. A motley throng of gamblers, down-and-outs, and criminals passed before him: yet all was useless. He learned nothing of Nacha.
He went back one afternoon to the house where she had been kept a few days, and wondered why he had not thought of doing so before. Instead, however, of questioning the girls, he interviewed the proprietress in person, and offered to give her a thousand pesos if she could provide him with reliable information concerning Nacha's whereabouts. The woman was an old creature full of cunning and lies, hard to understand because of her mumbling and her odd use of words. She was smoking stubby cigars which she made herself, from Paraguay tobacco. But the sum this caller offered for a little information made her open her wrinkled eyelids wide. She began to tell him all she knew.
It so happened also that she detested Pampa. He had treated her badly on various occasions, using her for the accomplishment of his crimes, and then failing to pay for her services. With the help of his patota, and Mauli, he had brought Nacha to her house where she was kept locked up like a prisoner. She would not allow any man to come near her, however, screaming, scratching and biting like a fury. Finally Arnedo, revolver in hand, made her write to Monsalvat, thinking to tame her in that way and show her how useless any resistance was.
"How did she receive Arnedo's attentions?" Monsalvat asked.
"You ought to have seen her!" the old woman replied, drawing at her cigar butt. "She called him names, just the way she did me, and everyone else she could think of. What words she used! And he didn't run after her much either! I guess he brought her here to get even with someone. With whom? How should I know, son?"
"And you don't know where Nacha is?"
"Yes. She's...."
She moved her cigar stump to the other side of her mouth.
"See here, young man, if you put down fifty pesos of that thousand now, I'll give you a pretty little piece of information. True as I'm telling you! This old body wouldn't lie! I was raised to speak the truth, and I'll die doing the same!"
Monsalvat handed her the sum she asked, and the old creature gave him two bits of advice. He was to talk to a certain Amiral, a poor wretch who was a friend of Arnedo's, and who, for money, would get the truth out of Pampa. However, the other, and the better course to follow, in her opinion, was to see a washerwoman named Braulia, who knew all the vicious resorts of the district for she kept them "stocked" with girls.
Braulia proved to be a negress, who lived in a shanty, at the back of a vacant lot. After much chattering she told him that she would answer his question the following night, when he was to meet her at a certain café, on the river bank. Fearing a decoy, for he had learned to be mistrustful, he asked her why he could not wait on the street corner, or in some café he knew. The negress replied that he would have to go where she told him, and if that didn't suit him he could go without what he was looking for.
The next evening he went to the café designated. His entrance there appeared not to attract attention. As a matter of fact its patrons had instantly spotted him, but they pretended not to notice his presence. The place was a foul den, much like a cave, so low was its roof. The chairs, benches and tables were greasy and ill-smelling. A mulatto in his shirt-sleeves was waiting on the customers. Three North American negroes, so drunk they could not stand, were singing something with a cakewalk rhythm. Opening their mouths wide, they stretched their thick lips from ear to ear, showing their red gums and gleaming white teeth. One of them was playing a large accordion. From the table where Monsalvat was sitting he could see the port light of a boat, and above, the starry sky. Every few minutes a drunken man staggered up the street.
While he was waiting for some message from the negress, a man came up to him, and, telling him he belonged to the secret police, advised him to leave. "This is no place for you," he said. "Whoever it was told you to come here is just planning to rob you." Monsalvat left the place, and never returned to it.
He decided to see Amiral; but this turned out to be more easily planned than done. Amiral apparently never ate at home and rarely slept there; and it was of course useless to write to him since he was quite likely to show the communication to Arnedo. So, while trying to find the elusive Amiral, Monsalvat continued his seeking of Nacha. He was beginning now to absent himself from his office for entire afternoons. List in hand, he went about stirring up all the back waters of this dismal slough of despond.
"She is not here. We don't know her," they would tell him.
Then he would go to another house, and another, and yet another. He would explain his object, argue with the unfriendly "Madames," give countless details about Nacha. At times he begged for help; but at others, he would become enraged and insult the woman who told him "She is not here." Exasperated, maddened, he would rush out and stumble into the first taxi that passed, giving addresses of yet other houses. For he could think of nothing but this purpose. He came to the point of believing that everyone was in league to outwit him. But he would succeed yet! He had one irresistible ally: the will to find her!
"She is not here. We don't know her."
"What? Not here either?" Then the earth must have swallowed her! They all knew nothing about her, these people? That was a lie! They wanted to lead him on, exploit him, as they had done countless times. There was nothing but lies and hypocrisy and evil in these women. And he had defended them, ruined himself for them! Ah, Nacha! Nacha! What had her unhappy destiny brought her to? She asked him not to look for her, since she was destined to a bad life! But all the more would he persist, with all the more eagerness, all the more desperation! He would seek her, not for love, but to save her from those stagnant waters on whose brim ill-fated women and girls lurched and staggered, dizzy with the poisonous gases of that loathsome morass!
"She is not here. We don't know her."
Every word fell on him like a whip-lash. He............
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