Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon
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Joam Dacosta had accordingly been prudent. He had promised to be so.
But in all his trials it was an immense consolation for him to find
his old advocate, though now a chief justice, so firmly convinced
that he was not guilty. Yes! Joam Dacosta, in spite of his
condemnation, was a victim, a martyr, an honest man to whom society
owed a signal reparation! And when the magistrate knew the past
career of the fazender of Iquitos since his sentence, the position of
his family, all that life of devotion, of work, employed unceasingly
for the happiness of those belonging to him, he was not only more
convinced but more affected, and determined to do all that he could
to procure the rehabilitation of the felon of Tijuco.
For six months a correspondence had passed between these two men.
One day, the case being pressing, Joam Dacosta wrote to Judge
"In two months I will be with you, in the power of the chief justice
of the province!"
"Come, then," replied Ribeiro.
The jangada was then ready to go down the river. Joam Dacosta
embarked on it with all his people. During the voyage, to the great
astonishment of his wife and son, he landed but rarely, as we know.
More often he remained shut up on his room, writing, working, not at
his trading accounts, but, without saying anything about it, at a
kind of memoir, which he called "The History of My Life," and which
was meant to be used in the revision of the legal proceedings.
Eight days before his new arrest, made on account of information
given by Torres, which forestalled and perhaps would ruin his
prospects, he intrusted to an Indian on the Amazon a letter, in which
he warned Judge Ribeiro of his approaching arrival.
The letter was sent and delivered as addressed, and the magistrate
only waited for Joam Dacosta to commence on the serious undertaking
which he hoped to bring to a successful issue.
During the night before the arrival of the raft at Manaos Judge
Ribeiro was seized with an attack of apoplexy. But the denunciation
of Torres, whose scheme of extortion had collapsed in face of the
noble anger of his victim, had produced its effect. Joam Dacosta was
arrested in the bosom of his family, and his old advocate was no
longer in this world to defend him!
Yes, the blow was terrible indeed. His lot was cast, whatever his
fate might be; there was no going back for him! And Joam Dacosta rose
from beneath the blow which had so unexpectedly struck him. It was
not only his own honor which was in question, but the honor of all
who belonged to him.
THE WARRANT against Joam Dacosta, alias Joam Garral, had been issued
by the assistant of Judge Ribeiro, who filled the position of the
magistrate in the province of Amazones, until the nomination of the
successor of the late justice.
This assistant bore the name of Vicente Jarriquez. He was a surly
little fellow, whom forty years' practice in criminal procedure had
not rendered particularly friendly toward those who came before him.
He had had so many cases of this sort, and tried and sentenced so
many rascals, that a prisoner's innocence seemed to him _à priori_
inadmissable. To be sure, he did not come to a decision
unconscientiously; but his conscience was strongly fortified and was
not easily affected by the circumstances of the examination or the
arguments for the defense. Like a good many judges, he thought but
little of the indulgence of the jury, and when a prisoner was brought
before him, after having passed through the sieve of inquest,
inquiry, and examination, there was every presumption in his eyes
that the man was quite ten times guilty.
Jarriquez, however, was not a bad man. Nervous, fidgety, talkative,
keen, crafty, he had a curious look about him, with his big head on
his little body; his ruffled hair, which would not have disgraced the
judges wig of the past; his piercing gimlet-like eyes, with their
expression of surprising acuteness; his prominent nose, with which he
would assuredly have gesticulated had it been movable; his ears wide
open, so as to better catch all that was said, even when it was out
of range of ordinary auditory apparatus; his fingers unceasingly
tapping the table in front of him, like those of a pianist practicing
on the mute; and his body so long and his legs so short, and his feet
perpetually crossing and recrossing, as he sat in state in his
In private life, Jarriquez, who was a confirmed old bachelor, never
left his law-books but for the table which he did not despise; for
chess, of which he was a past master; and above all things for
Chinese puzzles, enigmas, charades, rebuses, anagrams, riddles, and
such things, with which, like more than one European
justice--thorough sphinxes by taste as well as by profession--he
principally passed his leisure.
It will be seen that he was an original, and it will be seen also how
much Joam Dacosta had lost by the death of Judge Ribeiro, inasmuch as
his case would come before this not very agreeable judge.
Moreover, the task of Jarriquez was in a way very simple. He had
either to inquire nor to rule; he had not even to regulate a
discussion nor to obtain a verdict, neither to apply the articles of
the penal code nor to pronounce a sentence. Unfortunately for the
fazender, such formalities were no longer necessary; Joam Dacosta had
been arrested, convicted, and sentenced twenty-three years ago for
the crime at Tijuco; no limitation had yet affected his sentence. No
demand in commutation of the penalty could be introduced, and no
appeal for mercy could be received. It was only necessary then to
establish his identity, and as soon as the order arrived from Rio
Janeiro justice would have to take its course.
But in the nature of things Joam Dacosta would protest his innocence;
he would say he had been unjustly condemned. The magistrate's duty,
notwithstanding the opinions he held, would be to listen to him. The
question would be, what proofs could the convict offer to make good
his assertions? And if he was not able to produce them when he
appeared before his first judges, was he able to do so now?
Herein consisted all the interest of the examination. There would
have to be admitted the fact of a defaulter, prosperous and safe in a
foreign country, leaving his refuge of his won free will to face the
justice which his past life should have taught him to dread, and
herein would be on of those rare and curious cases which ought to
interest even a magistrate hardened with all the surroundings of
forensic strife. Was it impudent folly on the part of the doomed man
of Tijuco, who was tired of his life, or was it the impulse of a
conscience which would at all risks have wrong set right? The problem
was a strange one, it must be acknowledged.
On the morrow of Joam Dacosta's arrest, Judge Jarriquez made his way
to the prison in God-the-Son Street, where the convict had been
placed. The prison was an old missionary convent, situated on the
bank of one of the principal iguarapes of the town. To the voluntary
prisoners of former times there had succeeded in this building, which
was but little adapted for the purpose, the compulsory prisoners of
to-day. The room occupied by Joam Dacosta was nothing like one of
those sad little cells which form part of our modern penitentiary
system: but an old monk's room, with a barred window without
shutters, opening on to an uncultivated space, a bench in one corner,
and a kind of pallet in the other. It was from this apartment that
Joam Dacosta, on this 25th of August, about eleven o'clock in the
morning, was taken and brought into the judge's room, which was the
old common hall of the convent.
Judge Jarriquez was there in front of his desk, perched on his high
chair, his back turned toward the window, so that his face was in
shadow while that of the accused remained in full daylight. His
clerk, with the indifference which characterizes these legal folks,
had taken his seat at the end of the table, his pen behind his ear,
ready to record the questions and answers.
Joam Dacosta was introduced into the room, and at a sign from the
judge the guards who had brought him withdrew.
Judge Jarriquez looke at the accused for some time. The latter,
leaning slightly forward and maintaining a becoming attitude, neither
careless nor humble, waited with dignity for the questions to which
he was expected to reply.
"Your name?" said Judge Jarriquez.
"Where do you live?"
"In Peru, at the village of Iquitos."
"Under what name?"
"Under that of Garral, which is that of my mother."
"And why do you bear that name?"
"Because for twenty-three years I wished to hide myself from the
pursuit of Brazilian justice."
The answers were so exact, and seemed to show that Joam Dacosta had
made up his mind to confess everything concerning his past and
present life, that Judge Jarriquez, little accustomed to such a
course, cocked up his nose more than was usual to him.
"And why," he continued, "should Brazilian justice pursue you?"
"Because I was sentenced to death in 1826 in the diamond affair at
"You confess then that you are Joam Dacosta?"
"I am Joam Dacosta."
All this was said with great calmness, and as simply as possible. The
little eyes of Judge Jarriquez, hidden by their lids, seemed to say:
"Never came across anything like this before."