Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon
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compromise, have been persuaded to speak, had money been brought to
bear upon him? Would not the long-sought-for proof have been
furnished to the judge? Yes, undoubtedly! And the only man who could
have furnished this evidence had been killed through Benito!
Such was what the wretched man continually repeated to his mother, to
Manoel, and to himself. Such were the cruel responsibilities which
his conscience laid to his charge.
Between her husband, with whom she passed all the time that was
allowed her, and her son, a prey to despair which made her tremble
for his reason, the brave Yaquita lost none of her moral energy. In
her they found the valiant daughter of MagalhaŽs, the worthy wife of
the fazender of Iquitos.
The attitude of Joam Dacosta was well adapted to sustain her in this
ordeal. That gallant man, that rigid Puritan, that austere worker,
whose whole life had been a battle, had not yet shown a moment of
The most terrible blow which had struck him without prostrating him
had been the death of Judge Ribeiro, in whose mind his innocence did
not admit of a doubt. Was it not with the help of his old defender
that he had hoped to strive for his rehabilitation? The intervention
of Torres he had regarded throughout as being quite secondary for
him. And of this document he had no knowledge when he left Iquitos to
hand himself over to the justice of his country. He only took with
him moral proofs. When a material proof was unexpectedly produced in
the course of the affair, before or after his arrest, he was
certainly not the man to despise it. But if, on account of
regrettable circumstances, the proof disappeared, he would find
himself once more in the same position as when he passed the
Brazilian frontier--the position of a man who came to say, "Here is
my past life; here is my present; here is an entirely honest
existence of work and devotion which I bring you. You passed on me at
first an erroneous judgment. After twenty-three years of exile I have
come to give myself up! Here I am; judge me again!"
The death of Torres, the impossibility of reading the document found
on him, had thus not produced on Joam Dacosta the impression which it
had on his children, his friends, his household, and all who were
interested in him.
"I have faith in my innocence," he repeated to Yaquita, "as I have
faith in God. If my life is still useful to my people, and a miracle
is necessary to save me, that miracle will be performed; if not, I
shall die! God alone is my judge!"
The excitement increased in Manaos as the time ran on; the affair was
discussed with unexampled acerbity. In the midst of this enthralment
of public opinion, which evoked so much of the mysterious, the
document was the principal object of conversation.
At the end of this fourth day not a single person doubted but that it
contained the vindication of the doomed man. Every one had been given
an opportunity of deciphering its incomprehensible contents, for the
"Diario d'o Grand Para" had reproduced it in facsimile. Autograph
copies were spread about in great numbers at the suggestion of
Manoel, who neglect nothing that might lead to the penetration of the
mystery--not even chance, that "nickname of Providence," as some one
has called it.
In addition, a reward of one hundred contos (or three hundred
thousand francs) was promised to any one who could discover the
cipher so fruitlessly sought after--and read the document. This was
quite a fortune, and so people of all classes forgot to eat, drink,
or sleep to attack this unintelligible cryptogram.
Up to the present, however, all had been useless, and probably the
most ingenious analysts in the world would have spent their time in
vain. It had been advertised that any solution should be sent,
without delay, to Judge Jarriquez, to his house in God-the-Son
Street; but the evening of the 29th of August came and none had
arrived, nor was any likely to arrive.
Of all those who took up the study of the puzzle, Judge Jarriquez was
one of the most to be pitied. By a natural association of ideas, he
also joined in the general opinion that the document referred to the
affair at Tijuco, and that it had ben written by the hand of the
guilty man, and exonerated Joam Dacosta. And so he put even more
ardor into his search for the key. It was not only the art for art's
sake which guided him, it was a sentiment of justice, of pity toward
a man suffering under an unjust condemnation. If it is the fact that
a certain quantity of phosphorus is expended in the work of the
brain, it would be difficult to say how many milligrammes the judge
had parted with to excite the network of his "sensorium," and after
all, to find out nothing, absolutely nothing.
But Jarriquez had no idea of abandoning the inquiry. If he could only
now trust to chance, he would work on for that chance. He tried to
evoke it by all means possible and impossible. He had given himself
over to fury and anger, and, what was worse, to impotent anger!
During the latter part of this day he had been trying different
numbers--numbers selected arbitrarily--and how many of them can
scarcely be imagined. Had he had the time, he would not have shrunk
from plunging into the millions of combinations of which the ten
symbols of numeration are capable. He would have given his whole life
to it at the risk of going mad before the year was out. Mad! was he
not that already? He had had the idea that the document might be read
through the paper, and so he turned it round and exposed it to the
light, and tried it in that way.
Nothing! The numbers already thought of, and which he tried in this
new way, gave no result. Perhaps the document read backward, and the
last letter was really the first, for the author would have done this
had he wished to make the reading more difficult.
Nothing! The new combination only furnished a series of letters just
At eight o'clock in the evening Jarriquez, with his face in his
hands, knocked up, worn out mentally and physically, had neither
strength to move, to speak, to think, or to associate one idea with
Suddenly a noise was heard outside. Almost immediately,
notwithstanding his formal orders, the door of his study was thrown
open. Benito and Manoel were before him, Benito looking dreadfully
pale, and Manoel supporting him, for the unfortunate young man had
hardly strength to support himself.
The magistrate quickly arose.
"What is it, gentlemen? What do you want?" he asked.
"The cipher! the cipher!" exclaimed Benito, mad with grief--"the
cipher of the document."
"Do you know it, then?" shouted the judge.
"No, sir," said Manoel. "But you?"
"Nothing?" gasped Benito, and in a paroxysm of despair he took a
knife from his belt and would have plunged it into his breast had not
the judge and Manoel jumped forward and managed to disarm him.
"Benito," said Jarriquez, ina voice which he tried to keep calm, "if
you father cannot escape the expiation of a crime which is not his,
you could do something better than kill yourself."
"What?" said Benito.
"Try and save his life!"
"That is for you to discover," answered the magistrate, "and not for
me to say."
ON THE FOLLOWING day, the 30th of August, Benito and Manoel talked
matters over together. They had understood the thought to which the
judge had not dared to give utterance in their presence, and were
engaged in devising some means by which the condemned man could
escape the penalty of the law.
Nothing else was left for them to do. It was only too certain that
for the authorities at Rio Janeiro the undeciphered document would
nave no value whatever, that it would be a dead letter, that the
first verdict which declared Joam Dacosta the perpetrator of the
crime at Tijuco would not be set aside, and that, as in such cases no
commutation of the sentence was possible, the order for his execution
would inevitably be received.
Once more, then, Joam Dacosta would have to escape by flight from an
It was at the outset agreed between the two young men that the secret
should be carefully kept, and that neither Yaquita nor Minha should
be informed of preparations, which would probably only give rise to
hopes destined never to be realized. Who could tell if, owing to some
unforeseen circumstance, the attempt at escape would not prove a
The presence of Fragoso on such an occasion would have been most
valuable. Discreet and devoted, his services would have been most
welcome to the two young fellows; but Fragoso had not reappeared.
Lina, when asked, could only say that she knew not what had become of
him, nor why he had left the raft without telling her anything about
And assuredly, had Fragoso foreseen that things would have turned out
as they were doing, he would never have left the Dacosta family on an
expedition which appeared to promise no serious result. Far better
for him to have assisted in the escape of the doomed man than to have
hurried off in search of the former comrades of Torres!
But Fragoso was away, and his assistance had to be dispensed with.
At daybreak Benito and Manoel left the raft and proceeded to Manaos.
They soon reached the town, and passed through its narrow streets,
which at that early hour were quite deserted. In a few minutes they
arrived in front of the prison. The waste ground, amid which the old