Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon
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convent which served for a house of detention was built, was
traversed by them in all directions, for they had come to study it
with the utmost care.
Fifty-five feet from the ground, in an angle of the building, they
recognized the window of the cell in which Joam Dacosta was confined.
The window was secured with iron bars in a miserable state of repair,
which it would be easy to tear down or cut through if they could only
get near enough. The badly jointed stones in the wall, which were
crumbled away every here and there, offered many a ledge for the feet
to rest on, if only a rope could be fixed to climb up by. One of the
bars had slipped out of its socket, and formed a hook over which it
might be possible to throw a rope. That done, one or two of the bars
could be removed, so as to permit a man to get through. Benito and
Manoel would then have to make their way into the prisoner's room,
and without much difficulty the escape could be managed by means of
the rope fastened to the projecting iron. During the night, if the
sky were very cloudy, none of these operations would be noticed
before the day dawned. Joam Dacosta could get safely away.
Manoel and Benito spent an hour about the spot, taking care not to
attract attention, but examining the locality with great exactness,
particularly as regarded the position of the window, the arrangement
of the iron bars, and the place from which it would be best to throw
"That is agreed," said Manoel at length. "And now, ought Joam Dacosta
to be told about this?"
"No, Manoel. Neither to him, any more than to my mother, ought we to
impart the secret of an attempt in which there is such a risk of
"We shall succeed, Benito!" continued Manoel. "However, we must
prepare for everything; and in case the chief of the prison should
discover us at the moment of escape----"
"We shall have money enough to purchase his silence," answered
"Good!" replied Manoel. "But once your father is out of prison he
cannot remain hidden in the town or on the jangada. Where is he to
This was the second question to solve: and a very difficult one it
A hundred paces away from the prison, however, the waste land was
crossed by one of those canals which flow through the town into the
Rio Negro. This canal afforded an easy way of gaining the river if a
pirogue were in waiting for the fugitive. From the foot of the wall
to the canal side was hardly a hundred yards.
Benito and Manoel decided that about eight o'clock in the evening one
of the pirogues, with two strong rowers, under the command of the
pilot Araujo, should start from the jangada. They could ascend the
Rio Negro, enter the canal, and, crossing the waste land, remain
concealed throughout the night under the tall vegetation on the
But once on board, where was Joam Dacosta to seek refuge? To return
to Iquitos was to follow a road full of difficulties and peril, and a
long one in any case, should the fugitive either travel across the
country or by the river. Neither by horse not pirogue could he be got
out of danger quickly enough, and the fazenda was no longer a safe
retreat. He would not return to it as the fazender, Joam Garral, but
as the convict, Joam Dacosta, continually in fear of his extradition.
He could never dream of resuming his former life.
To get away by the Rio Negro into the north of the province, or even
beyond the Brazilian territory, would require more time than he could
spare, and his first care must be to escape from immediate pursuit.
To start again down the Amazon? But stations, village, and towns
abounded on both sides of the river. The description of the fugitive
would be sent to all the police, and he would run the risk of being
arrested long before he reached the Atlantic. And supposing he
reached the coast, where and how was he to hide and wait for a
passage to put the sea between himself and his pursuers?
On consideration of these various plans, Benito and Manoel agreed
that neither of them was practicable. One, however, did offer some
chance of safety, and that was to embark in the pirogue, follow the
canal into the Rio Negro, descend this tributary under the guidance
of the pilot, reach the confluence of the rivers, and run down the
Amazon along its right bank for some sixty miles during the nights,
resting during the daylight, and so gaining the _embouchure_ of the
This tributary, which, fed by a hundred affluents, descends from the
watershed of the Cordilleras, is a regular waterway opening into the
very heart of Bolivia. A pirogue could pass up it and leave no trace
of its passage, and a refuge could be found in some town or village
beyond the Brazilian frontier. There Joam Dacosta would be
comparatively safe, and there for several months he could wait for an
opportunity of reaching the Pacific coast and taking passage in some
vessel leaving one of its ports; and if the ship were bound for one
of the States of North America he would be free. Once there, he could
sell the fazenda, eave his country forever, and seek beyond the sea,
in the Old World, a final retreat in which to end an existence so
cruelly and unjustly disturbed. Anywhere he might go, his family--not
excepting Manoel, who was bound to him by so many ties--would
assuredly follow without the slightest hesitation.
"Let us go," said Benito; "we must have all ready before night, and
we have no time to lose."
The young men returned on board by way of the canal bank, which led
along the Rio Negro. They satisfied themselves that the passage of
the pirogue would be quite possible, and that no obstacles such as
locks or boats under repair were there to stop it. They then
descended the left bank of the tributary, avoiding the slowly-filling
streets of the town, and reached the jangada.
Benito's first care was to see his mother. He felt sufficiently
master of himself to dissemble the anxiety which consumed him. He
wished to assure her that all hope was not lost, that the mystery of
the document would be cleared up, that in any case public opinion was
in favor of Joam, and that, in face of the agitation which was being
made in his favor, justice would grant all the necessary time for the
production of the material proof his innocence. "Yes, mother," he
added, "before to-morrow we shall be free from anxiety."
"May heaven grant it so!" replied Yaquita, and she looked at him so
keenly that Benito could hardly meet her glance.
On his part, and as if by pre-arrangement, Manoel had tried to
reassure Minha by telling her that Judge Jarriquez was convinced of
the innocence of Joam, and would try to save him by every means in
"I only wish he would, Manoel," answered she, endeavoring in vain to
restrain her tears.
And Manoel left her, for the tears were also welling up in his eyes
and witnessing against the words of hope to which he had just given
And now the time had arrived for them to make their daily visit to
the prisoner, and Yaquita and her daughter set off to Manaos.
For an hour the young men were in consultation with Araujo. They
acquainted him with their plan in all its details, and they discussed
not only the projected escape, but the measures which were necessary
for the safety of the fugitive.
Araujo approved of everything; he undertook during the approaching
night to take the pirogue up the canal without attracting any notice,
and he knew its course thoroughly as far as the spot where he was to
await the arrival of Joam Dacosta. To get back to the mouth of the
Rio Negro was easy enough, and the pirogue would be able to pass
unnoticed among the numerous craft continually descending the river.
Araujo had no objection to offer to the idea of following the Amazon
down to its confluence with the Madeira. The course of the Madeira
was familiar to him for quite two hundred miles up, and in the midst
of these thinly-peopled provinces, even if pursuit took place in
their direction, all attempts at capture could be easily frustrated;
they could reach the interior of Bolivia, and if Joam decided to
leave his country he could procure a passage with less danger on the
coast of the Pacific than on that of the Atlantic.
Araujo's approval was most welcome to the young fellows; they had
great faith in the practical good sense of the pilot, and not without
reason. His zeal was undoubted, and he would assuredly have risked
both life and liberty to save the fazender of Iquitos.
With the utmost secrecy Araujo at once set about his preparations. A
considerable sum in gold was handed over to him by Benito to meet all
eventualities during the voyage on the Madeira. In getting the
pirogue ready, he announced his intention of going in search of
Fragoso, whose fate excited a good deal of anxiety among his
companions. He stowed away in the boat provisions for many days, and
did not forget the ropes and tools which would be required by the
young men when they reached the canal at the appointed time and
These preparations evoked no curiosity on the part of the crew of the
jangada, and even the two stalwart negroes were not let into the
secret. They, however, could be absolutely depended on. Whenever they
learned what the work of safety was in which they were engaged--when
Joam Dacosta, once more free, was confided to their charge--Araujo
knew well that they would dare anything, even to the risk of their
own lives, to save the life of their master.
By the afternoon all was ready, and they had only the night to wait
for. But before making a start Manoel wished to call on Judge
Jarriquez for the last time. The magistrate might perhaps have found
out something new about the document. Benito preferred to remain on
the raft and wait for the return of his mother and sister.
Manoel then presented himself at the abode of Judge Jarriquez, and
was immediately admitted.
The magistrate, in the study which he never quitted, was still the
victim of the same excitement. The document crumpled by his impatient
fingers, was still there before his eyes on the table.
"Sir," said Manoel, whose voice trembled as he asked the question,
"have you received anything from Rio de Janeiro."