A FEW HOURS later the whole family had returned to the raft, and were assembled in the large room. All were there, except the prisoner, on whom the last blow had just fallen. Benito was quite overwhelmed, and accused himself of having destroyed his father, and had it not been for the entreaties of Yaquita, of his sister, of Padre Passanha, and of Manoel, the distracted youth would in the first moments of despair have probably made away with himself. But he was never allowed to get out of sight; he was never left alone. And besides, how could he have acted otherwise? Ah! why had not Joam Dacosta told him all before he left the jangada? Why had he refrained from speaking, except before a judge, of this material proof of his innocence? Why, in his interview with Manoel after the expulsion of Torres, had he been silent about the document which the adventurer pretended to hold in his hands? But, after all, what faith ought he to place in what Torres had said? Could he be certain that such a document was in the rascal’s possession?
Whatever might be the reason, the family now knew everything, and that from the lips of Joam Dacosta himself. They knew that Torres had declared that the proof of the innocence of the convict of Tijuco actually existed; that the document had been written by the very hand of the author of the attack; that the criminal, seized by remorse at the moment of his death, had intrusted it to his companion, Torres; and that he, instead of fulfilling the wishes of the dying man, had made the handing over of the document an excuse for extortion. But they knew also that Torrres had just been killed, and that his body was engulfed in the waters of the Amazon, and that he died without even mentioning the name of the guilty man.
Unless he was saved by a miracle, Joam Dacosta might now be considered as irrevocably lost. The death of Judge Ribeiro on the one hand, the death of Torres on the other, were blows from which he could not recover! It should here be said that public opinion at Manaos, unreasoning as it always is, was all against he prisoner. The unexpected arrest of Joam Dacosta had revived the memory of the terrible crime of Tijuco, which had lain forgotten for twenty-three years. The trial of othe young clerk at the mines of the diamond arrayal, his capital sentence, his escape a few hours before his intended execution—all were remembered, analyzed, and commented on. An article which had just appeared in the O Diario d’o Grand Para, the most widely circulated journal in these parts, after giving a history of the circumstances of the crime, showed itself decidedly hostile to the prisoner. Why should these people believe in Joam Dacosta’s innocence, when they were ignorant of all that his friends knew—of what they alone knew?
And so the people of Manaos became excited. A mob of Indians and negroes hurried, in their blind folly, to surround the prison and roar forth tumultuous shouts of death. In this part of the two Americas, where executions under Lynch law are of frequent occurrence, the mob soon surrenders itself to its cruel instincts, and it was feared that on this occasion it would do justice with its own hands.
What a night it was for the passengers from the fazenda! Masters and servants had been affected by the blow! Were not the servants of the fazenda members of one family? Every one of them would watch over the safety of Yaquita and her people! On the bank of the Rio Negro there was a constant coming and going of the natives, evidently excited by the arrest of Joam Dacosta, and who could say to what excesses these half-barbarous men might be led?
The time, however, passed without any demonstration against the jangada.
On the morrow, the 26th of August, as soon as the sun rose, Manoel and Fragoso, who had never left Benito for an instant during this terrible night, attempted to distract his attention from his despair. After taking him aside they made him understand that there was no time to be lost—that they must make up their minds to act.
“Benito,” said Manoel, “pull yourself together! Be a man again! Be a son again!”
“My father!” exclaimed Benito. “I have killed him!”
“No!” replied Manoel. “With heaven’s help it is possible that all may not be lost!”
“Listen to us, Mr. Benito,” said Fragoso.
The young man, passing his hand over his eyes, made a violent effort to collect himself.
“Benito,” continued Manoel, “Torres never gave a hint to put us on the track of his past life. We therefore cannot tell who was the author of the crime of Tijuco, or under what conditions it was committed. To try in that direction is to lose our time.”
“And time presses!” added Fragoso.
“Besides,” said Manoel, “suppose we do find out who this companion of Torres was, he is dead, and he could not testify in any way to the innocence of Joam Dacosta. But it is none the less certain that the proof of this innocence exists, and there is not room to doubt the existence of a document which Torres was anxious to make the subject of a bargain. He told us so himself. The document is a complete avowal written in the handwriting of the culprit, which relates the attack in its smallest details, and which clears our father! Yes! a hundred times, yes! The document exists!”
“But Torres does not exist!” groaned Benito, “and the document has perished with him!”
“Wait, and don’t despair yet!” answered Manoel. “You remember under what circumstances we made the acquaintance of Torres? It was in the depths of the forest of Iquitos. He was in pursuit of a monkey which had stolen a metal case, which it so strangely kept, and the chase had lasted a couple of hours when the monkey fell to our guns. Now, do you think that it was for the few pieces of gold contained in the case that Torres was in such a fury to recover it? and do you not remember the extraordinary satisfaction which he displayed when we gave him back the case which we had taken out of the monkey’s paw?”
“Yes!” yes!” answered Benito. “This case which I held—which I gave back to him! Perhaps it contained——”
“It is more than probable! It is certain!” replied Manoel.
“And I beg to add,” said Fragoso, “for now the fact recurs to my memory, that during the time you were at Ega I remained on board, at Lina’s advice, to keep an eye on Torres, and I saw him—yes, I saw him—reading, and again reading, an old faded paper, and muttering words which I could not understand.”
“That was the document!” exclaimed Benito, who snatched at the hope—the only one that was left. “But this document; had he not put it in some place of security?”
“No,” answered Manoel—“no; it was too precious for Torres to dream of parting with it. He was bound to carry it always about with him, and doubtless in that very case.”
“Wait! wait, Manoel!” exclaimed Benito; “I remember—yes, I remember. During the struggle, at the first blow I struck Torres in his chest, my manchetta was stopped by some hard substance under his poncho, like a plate of metal——”
“That was the case!” said Fragoso.
“Yes,” replied Manoel; “doubt is impossible! That was the case; it was in his breast-pocket.”
“But the corpse of Torres?”
“We will recover it!”
“But the paper! The water will have stained it, perhaps destroyed it, or rendered it undecipherable!”
“Why,” answered Manoel, “if the metal case which held it was water-tight?”
“Manoel,” replied Benito, who seized on the last hope, “you are right! The corpse of Torres must be recovered! We will ransack the whole of this part of the river, if necessary, but we will recover it!”
The pilot Araujo was then summoned and informed of what they were going to do.
“Good!” replied he; “I know all the eddies and currents where the Rio Negro and the Amazon join, and we shall succeed in recovering the body. Let us take two pirogues, two ubas, a dozen of our Indians, and make a start.”
Padre Passanha was then coming out of Yaquita’s room.
Benito went to him, and in a few words told him what they were going to do to get possession of the document. “Say nothing to my mother or my sister,” he added; “if this last hope fails it will kill them!”
“Go, my lad, go,” replied Passanha, “and may God help you in your search.”
Five minutes afterward the four boats started from the raft. After
descending the Rio Negro they arrived near the bank of the Amazon, at the
very place where Torres, mortally wounded, had disappeared beneath the
waters of the stream.