AND SO the order had come, and, as Judge Jarriquez had foreseen, it was an order requiring the immediate execution of the sentence pronounced on Joam Dacosta. No proof had been produced; justice must take its course.
It was the very day—the 31st of August, at nine o’clock in the morning of which the condemned man was to perish on the gallows.
The death penalty in Brazil is generally commuted except in the case of negroes, but this time it was to be suffered by a white man.
Such are the penal arrangements relative to crimes in the diamond arrayal, for which, in the public interest, the law allows no appear to mercy.
Nothing could now save Joam Dacosta. It was not only life, but honor that he was about to lose.
But on the 31st of August a man was approaching Manaos with all the speed his horse was capable of, and such had been the pace at which he had come that half a mile from the town the gallant creature fell, incapable of carrying him any further.
The rider did not even stop to raise his steed. Evidently he had asked and obtained from it all that was possible, and, despite the state of exhaustion in which he found himself, he rushed off in the direction of the city.
The man came from the eastern provinces, and had followed the left bank of the river. All his means had gone in the purchase of this horse, which, swifter far than any pirogue on the Amazon, had brought him to Manaos.
It was Fragoso!
Had, then, the brave fellow succeeded in the enterprise of which he had spoken to nobody? Had he found the party to which Torres belonged? Had he discovered some secret which would yet save Joam Dacosta?
He hardly knew. But in any case he was in great haste to acquaint Judge Jarriquez with what he had ascertained during his short excursion.
And this is what had happened.
Fragoso had made no mistake when he recognized Torres as one of the captains of the party which was employed in the river provinces of the Madeira.
He set out, and on reaching the mouth of that tributary he learned that the chief of these capitaes da mato was then in the neighborhood.
Without losing a minute, Fragoso started on the search, and, not without difficulty, succeeded in meeting him.
To Fragoso’s questions the chief of the party had no hesitation in replying; he had no interest in keeping silence with regard to the few simple matters on which he was interrogated. In fact, three questions only of importance were asked him by Fragoso, and these were:
“Did not a captain of the woods named Torres belong to your party a few months ago?”
“At that time had he not one intimate friend among his companions who has recently died?”
“And the name of that friend was?”
This was all that Fragoso had learned. Was this information of a kind to modify Dacosta’s position? It was hardly likely.
Fragoso saw this, and pressed the chief of the band to tell him what he knew of this Ortega, of the place where he came from, and of his antecedents generally. Such information would have been of great importance if Ortega, as Torres had declared, was the true author of the crime of Tijuco. But unfortunately the chief could give him no information whatever in the matter.
What was certain was that Ortega had been a member of the band for many years, that an intimate friendship existed between him and Torres, that they were always seen together, and that Torres had watched at his bedside when he died.
This was all the chief of the band knew, and he could tell no more. Fragoso, then, had to be contented with these insignificant details, and departed immediately.
But if the devoted fellow had not brought back the proof that Ortega was the author of the crime of Tijuco, he had gained one thing, and that was the knowledge that Torres had told the truth when he affirmed that one of his comrades in the band had died, and that he had been present during his last moments.
The hypothesis that Ortega had given him the document in question had now become admissible. Nothing was more probable than that this document had reference to the crime of which Ortega was really the author, and that it contained the confession of the culprit, accompanied by circumstances which permitted of no doubt as to its truth.
And so, if the document could be read, if the key had been found, if the cipher on which the system hung were known, no doubt of its truth could be entertained.
But this cipher Fragoso did not know. A few more presumptions, a half-certainty that the adventurer had invented nothing, certain circumstances tending to prove that the secret of the matter was contained in the document—and that was all that the gallant fellow brought back from his visit to the chief of the gang of which Torres had been a member.
Nevertheless, little as it was, he was in all haste to relate it to Judge Jarriquez. He knew that he had not an hour to lose, and that was why on this very morning, at about eight o’clock, he arrived, exhausted with fatigue, within half a mile of Manaos. The distance between there and the town he traversed in a few minutes. A kind of irresistible presentiment urged him on, and he had almost come to believe that Joam Dacosta’s safety rested in his hands.
Suddenly Fragoso stopped as if his feet had become rooted in the ground. He had reached the entrance to a small square, on which opened one of the town gates.
There, in the midst of a dense crowd, arose the gallows, towering up some twenty feet, and from it there hung the rope!
Fragoso felt his consciousness abandon him. He fell; his eyes involuntarily closed. He did not wish to look, and these words escaped his lips: “Too late! too late!” But by a superhuman effort he raised himself up. No; it was not too late, the corpse of Joam Dacosta was not hanging at the end of the rope!
“Judge Jarriquez! Judge Jarriquez!” shouted Fragoso, and panting and bewildered he rushed toward the city gate, dashed up the principal street of Manaos, and fell half-dead on the threshold of the judge’s house. The door was shut. Fragoso had still strength enough left to knock at it.
One of the magistrate’s servants came to open it; his master would see no one.
In spite of this denial, Fragoso pushed back the man who guarded the entrance, and with a bound threw himself into the judge’s study.
“I come from the province where Torres pursued his calling as captain of the woods!” he gasped. “Mr. Judge, Torres told the truth. Stop—stop the execution?”
“You found the gang?”
“And you have brought me the cipher of the document?”
Fragoso did not reply.
“Come, leave me alone! leave me alone!” shouted Jarriquez, and, a prey to an outburst of rage, he grasped the document to tear it to atoms.
Fragoso seized his hands and stopped him. “The truth is there!” he said.
“I know,” answered Jarriquez; “but it is a truth which will never see the light!”
“It will appear—it must! it must!”
“Once more, have you the cipher?”
“No,” replied Fragoso; “but, I repeat, Torres has not lied. One of his companions, with whom he was very intimate, died a few months ago, and there can be no doubt but that this man gave him the document he came to sell to Joam Dacosta.”
“No,” answered Jarriquez—“no, there is no doubt about it—as far as we are concerned; but that is not enough for those who dispose of the doomed man’s life. Leave me!”
Fragoso, repulsed, would not quit the spot. Again he threw himself at the judge’s feet. “Joam Dacosta is innocent!” he cried; “you will not leave him to die? It was not he who committed the crime of Tijuco; it was the comrade of Torres, the author of that document! It was Ortega!”
As he uttered the name the judge bounded backward. A kind of calm swiftly succeeded to the tempest which raged within him. He dropped the document from his clenched hand, smoothed it out on the table, sat down, and, passing his hand over his eyes—“That name?” he said—“Ortega? Let us see,” and then he proceeded with the new name brought back by Fragoso as he had done with the other names so vainly tried by himself.
After placing it above the first six letters of the paragraph he obtained the following formula:
O r t e g a P h y j s l
“Nothing!” he said. “That give us—nothing!”
And in fact the h placed under the r could not be expressed by a cipher, for, in alphabetical order, this letter occupies an earlier position to that of the r.
The p, the y, the j, arranged beneath the letters o, t, e, disclosed the cipher 1, 4, 5, but as for the s and the l at the end of the word, the interval which separated them from the g and the a was a dozen letters, and hence impossible to express by a single cipher, so that they corresponded to neither g nor a.
And here appalling shouts arose in the streets; they were the cries of despair.
Fragoso jumped to one of the windows, and opened it before the judge could hinder him.
The people filled the road. The hour had come at which the doomed man was to start from the prison, and the crowd was flowing back to the spot where the gallows had been erected.
Judge Jarriquez, quite frightful to look upon, devoured the lines of the document with a fixed stare.
“The last letters!” he muttered. “Let us try once more the last letters!”
It was the last hope.
And then, with a hand whose agitation nearly prevented him from writing at all, he placed the name of Ortega over the six last letters of the paragraph, as he had done over the first.
An exclamation immediately escaped him. He saw, at first glance, that the six last letters were inferior in alphabetical order to those which composed Ortega’s name, and that consequently they might yield the number.
And when he reduced the formula, reckoning each later letter from the earlier letter of the word, he obtained.
O r t e g a 4 3 2 5 1 3 S u v j h d
The number thus disclosed was 432513.
But was this number that which had been used in the document? Was it not as erroneous as those he had previously tried?
At this moment the shouts below redoubled—shouts of pity which betrayed the sympathy of the excited crowd. A few minutes more were all that the doomed man had to live!
Fragoso, maddened with grief, darted from the room! He wished to see, for the last time, his benefactor who was on the road to death! He longed to throw himself before the mournful procession and stop it, shouting, “Do not kill this just man! do not kill him!”
But already Judge Jarriquez had placed the given number above the first letters of the paragraph, repeating them as often as was necessary, as follows:
4 3 2 5 1 3 4 3 2 5 1 3 4 3 2 5 1 3 4 3 2 5 1 3 P h y j s l y d d q f d z x g a s g z z q q e h
And then, reckoning the true letters according to their alphabetical order, he read:
“Le véritable auteur du vol de——”
A yell of delight escaped him! This number, 432513, was the number sought for so long! The name of Ortega had enabled him to discover it! At length he held the key of the document, which would incontestably prove the innocence of Joam Dacosta, and without reading any more he flew from his study into the street, shouting:
To cleave the crowd, which opened as he ran, to dash to the prison, whence the convict was coming at the last moment, with his wife and children clinging to him with the violence of despair, was but the work of a minute for Judge Jarriquez.
Stopping before Joam Dacosta, he could not speak for a second, and then these words escaped his lips: