THE CONTENTS OF THE CASE
WHAT WAS it that had happened? A purely physical phenomenon, of which the following is the explanation.
The gunboat Santa Ana, bound for Manaos, had come up the river and passed the bar at Frias. Just before she reached the embouchure of the Rio Negro she hoisted her colors and saluted the Brazilian flag. At the report vibrations were produced along the surface of the stream, and these vigrations making their way down to the bottom of the river, had been sufficient to raise the corpse of Torres, already lightened by the commencement of its decomposition and the distension of its cellular system. The body of the drowned man had in the ordinary course risen to the surface of the water.
This well-known phenomenon explains the reappearance of the corpse, but it must be admitted that the arrival of the Santa Ana was a fortunate coincidence.
By a shout from Manoel, repeated by all his companions, one of the pirogues was immediately steered for the body, while the diver was at the same time hauled up to the raft.
Great was Manoel’s emotion when Benito, drawn on to the platform, was laid there in a state of complete inertia, not a single exterior movement betraying that he still lived.
Was not this a second corpse which the waters of the Amazon had given up?
As quickly as possible the diving-dress was taken off him.
Benito had entirely lost consciousness beneath the violent shocks of the gymnotus.
Manoel, distracted, called to him, breathed into him, and endeavored to recover the heart’s pulsation.
“It beats! It beats!” he exclaimed.
Yes! Benito’s heart did still beat, and in a few minutes Manoel’s efforts restored him to life.
“The body! the Body!”
Such were the first words, the only ones which escaped from Benito’s lips.
“There it is!” answered Fragoso, pointing to a pirogue then coming up to the raft with the corpse.
“But what has been the matter, Benito?” asked Manoel. “Has it been the want of air?”
“No!” said Benito; “a puraque attacked me! But the noise? the detonation?”
“A cannon shot!” replied Manoel. “It was the cannon shot which brought the corpse to the surface.”
At this moment the pirogue came up to the raft with the body of Torres, which had been taken on board by the Indians. His sojourn in the water had not disfigured him very much. He was easily recognizable, and there was no doubt as to his identity.
Fragoso, kneeling down in the pirogue, had already begun to undo the clothes of the drowned man, which came away in fragments.
At the moment Torres’ right arm, which was now left bare, attracted his attention. On it there appeared the distinct scar of an old wound produced by a blow from a knife.
“That scar!” exclaimed Fragoso. “But—that is good! I remember now——”
“What?” demanded Manoel.
“A quarrel! Yes! a quarrel I witnessed in the province of Madeira three years ago. How could I have forgotten it! This Torres was then a captain of the woods. Ah! I know now where I had seen him, the scoundrel!”
“That does not matter to us now!” cried Benito. “The case! the case! Has he still got that?” and Benito was about to tear away the last coverings of the corpse to get at it.
Manoel stopped him.
“One moment, Benito,” he said; and then, turning to the men on the raft who did not belong to the jangada, and whose evidence could not be suspected at any future time:
“Just take note, my friends,” he said, “of what we are doing here, so that you can relate before the magistrate what has passed.”
The men came up to the pirogue.
Fragoso undid the belt which encircled the body of Torres underneath the torn poncho, and feeling his breast-pocket, exclaimed:
A cry of joy escaped from Benito. He stretched forward to seize the case, to make sure than it contained——
“No!” again interrupted Manoel, whose coolness did not forsake him. “It is necessary that not the slightest possible doubt should exist in the mind of the magistrate! It is better that disinterested witnesses should affirm that this case was really found on the corpse of Torres!”
“You are right,” replied Benito.
“My friend,” said Manoel to the foreman of the raft, “just feel in the pocket of the waistcoat.”
The foreman obeyed. He drew forth a metal case, with the cover screwed on, and which seemed to have suffered in no way from its sojourn in the water.
“The paper! Is the paper still inside?” exclaimed Benito, who could not contain himself.
“It is for the magistrate to open this case!” answered Manoel. “To him alone belongs the duty of verifying that the document was found within it.”
“Yes, yes. Again you are right, Manoel,” said Benito. “To Manaos, my friends—to Manaos!”
Benito, Manoel, Fragoso, and the foreman who held the case, immediately jumped into one of the pirogues, and were starting off, when Fragoso said:
“And the corpse?”
The pirogue stopped.
In fact, the Indians had already thrown back the body into the water, and it was drifting away down the river.
“Torres was only a scoundrel,” said Benito. “If I had to fight him, it was God that struck him, and his body ought not to go unburied!”
And so orders were given to the second pirogue to recover the corpse, and take it to the bank to await its burial.
But at the same moment a flock of birds of prey, which skimmed along the surface of the stream, pounced on the floating body. They were urubus, a kind of small vulture, with naked necks and long claws, and black as crows. In South America they are known as gallinazos, and their voracity is unparalleled. The body, torn open by their beaks, gave forth the gases which inflated it, its density increased, it sank down little by little, and for the last time what remained of Torres disappeared beneath the waters of the Amazon.
Ten minutes afterward the pirogue arrived at Manaos. Benito and his companions jumped ashore, and hurried through the streets of the town. In a few minutes they had reached the dwelling of Judge Jarriuez, and informed him, through one of his servants, that they wished to see him immediately.
The judge ordered them to be shown into his study.
There Manoel recounted all that had passed, from the moment when Torres had been killed until the moment when the case had been found on his corpse, and taken from his breast-pocket by the foreman.
Although this recital was of a nature to corroborate all that Joam Dacosta had said on the subject of Torres, and of the bargain which he had endeavored to make, Judge Jarriquez could not restrain a smile of incredulity.
“There is the case, sir,” said Manoel. “For not a single instant has it been in our hands, and the man who gives it to you is he who took it from the body of Torres.”
The magistrate took the case and examined it with care, turning it over and over as though it were made of some precious material. Then he shook it, and a few coins inside sounded with a metallic ring. Did not, then, the case contain the document which had been so much sought after—the document written in the very hand of the true author of the crime of Tijuco, and which Torres had wished to sell at such an ignoble price to Joam Dacosta? Was this material proof of the convict’s innocence irrevocably lost?
We can easily imagine the violent agitation which had seized upon the spectators f this scene. Benito could scarcely utter a word, he felt his heart ready to burst. “Open it, sir! open the case!” he at last exclaimed, in a broken voice.
Judge Jarriquez began to unscrew the lid; then, when the cover was removed, he turned up the case, and from it a few pieces of gold dropped out and rolled on the table.
“But the paper! the paper!” again gasped Benito, who clutched hold of the table to save himself from falling.
The magistrate put his fingers into the case and drew out, not without difficulty, a faded paper, folded with care, and which the water did not seem to have even touched.
“The document! that is the document!” shouted Fragoso; “that is the very paper I saw in the hands of Torres!”
Judge Jarriquez unfolded the paper and cast his eyes over it, and then he turned it over so as to examine it on the back and the front, which were both covered with writing. “A document it really is!” said he; “there is no doubt of that. It is indeed a document!”
“Yes,” replied Benito; “and that is the document which proves my father’s innocence!”
“I do not know that,” replied Judge Jarriquez; “and I am much afraid it will be very difficult to know it.”
“Why?” exclaimed Benito, who became pale as death.
“Because this document is a cryptogram, and——”
“We have not got the key!”