Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon
Part 5 out of 6
for a few steps. "I think I had better put myself on guard."
And as he spoke he drew from beneath his poncho his manchetta, the
weapon, adapted at will for offense or defense, which a Brazilian is
never without. And then, slightly stooping, and planted firmly on his
feet, he waited for what was to follow.
"I have come to look for you, Torres," said Benito, who had not
stirred in the least at this threatening attitude.
"To look for me?" answered the adventurer. "It is not very difficult
to find me. And why have you come to look for me?"
"To know from your own lips what you appear to know of the past life
of my father."
"Yes. I want to know how you recognized him, why yu were prowling
about our fazenda in the forest of Iquitos, and why you were waiting
for us at Tabatinga."
"Well! it seems to me nothing could be clearer!" answered Torres,
with a grin. "I was waiting to get a passage on the jangada, and I
went on board with the intention of making him a very simple
proposition--which possibly he was wrong in rejecting."
At these words Manoel could stand it no longer. With pale face and
eye of fire he strode up to Torres.
Benito, wishing to exhaust every means of conciliation, thrust
himself between them.
"Calm yourself, Manoel!" he said. "I am calm--even I."
And then continuing:
"Quite so, Torres; I know the reason of your coming on board the
raft. Possessed of a secret which was doubtless given to you, you
wanted to make it a means of extortion. But that is not what I want
to know at present."
"What is it, then?"
"I want to know how you recognized Joam Dacosta in the fazenda of
"How I recognized him?" replied Torres. "That is my business, and I
see no reason why I should tell you. The important fact is, that I
was not mistaken when I denounced in him the real author of the crime
"You say that to me?" exclaimed Benito, who began to lose his
"I will tell you nothing," returned Torres; "Joam Dacosta declined my
propositions! He refused to admit me into his family! Well! now that
his secret is known, now that he is a prisoner, it is I who refuse to
enter his family, the family of a thief, of a murderer, of a
condemned felon, for whom the gallows now waits!"
"Scoundrel!" exclaimed Benito, who drew his manchetta from his belt
and put himself in position.
Manoel and Fragoso, by a similar movement, quickly drew their
"Three against one!" said Torres.
"No! one against one!" answered Benito.
"Really! I should have thought an assassination would have better
suited an assassin's son!"
"Torres!" exclaimed Benito, "defend yourself, or I will kill you like
a mad dog!"
"Mad! so be it!" answered Torres. "But I bite, Benito Dacosta, and
beware of the wounds!"
And then again grasping his manchetta, he put himself on guard and
ready to attack his enemy.
Benito had stepped back a few paces.
"Torres," he said, regaining all his coolness, which for a moment he
had lost; "you were the guest of my father, you threatened him, you
betrayed him, you denounced him, you accused an innocent man, and
with God's help I am going to kill you!"
Torres replied with the most insolent smile imaginable. Perhaps at
the moment the scoundrel had an idea of stopping any struggle between
Benito and him, and he could have done so. In fact he had seen that
Joam Dacosta had said nothing about the document which formed the
material proof of his innocence.
Had he revealed to Benito that he, Torres, possessed this proof,
Benito would have been that instant disarmed. But his desire to wait
till the very last moment, so as to get the very best price for the
document he possessed, the recollection of the young man's insulting
words, and the hate which he bore to all that belonged to him, made
him forget his own interest.
In addition to being thoroughly accustomed to the manchetta, which he
often had had occasion to use, the adventurer was strong, active, and
artful, so that against an adversary who was scarcely twenty, who
could have neither his strength nor his dexgterity, the chances were
greatly in his favor.
Manoel by a last effort wished to insist on fighting him instead of
"No, Manoel," was the cool reply, "it is for me alone to avenge my
father, and as everyhthing here ought to be in order, you shall be my
"As for you, Fragoso, you will not refuse if I ask you to act as
second for that man?"
"So be it," answered Fragoso, "though it is not an office of honor.
Without the least ceremony," he added, "I would have killed him like
a wild beast."
The place where the duel was about to take place was a level bank
about fifty paces long, on the top of a cliff rising perpendicularly
some fifty feet above the Amazon. The river slowly flowed at the
foot, and bathed the clumps of reeds which bristled round its base.
There was, therefore, none too much room, and the combatant who was
the first to give way would quickly be driven over into the abyss.
The signal was given by Manoel, and Torres and Benito stepped
Benito had complete command over himself. The defender of a sacred
cause, his coolness was unruffled, much more so than that of Torres,
whose conscience insensible and hardened as it was, was bound at the
moment to trouble him.
The two met, and the first blow came from Benito. Torres parried it.
They then jumped back, but almost at the same instant they rushed
together, and with their left hands seized each other by the
shoulder--never to leave go again.
Torres, who was the strongest, struck a side blow with his manchetta
which Benito could not quite parry. His left side was touched, and
his poncho was reddened with his blood. But he quickly replied, and
slightly wounded Torres in the hand.
Several blows were then interchanged, but nothing decisive was done.
The ever silent gaze of Benito pierced the eyes of Torres like a
sword blade thrust to his very heart. Visibly the scoundrel began to
quail. He recoiled little by little, pressed back by his implacable
foe, who was more determined on taking the life of his father's
denouncer than in defending his own. To strike was all that Benito
longed for; to parry was all that the other now attempted to do.
Soon Torres saw himself thrust to the very edge of the bank, at a
spot where, slightly scooped away, it overhung the river. He
perceived the danger; he tried to retake the offensive and regain the
lost ground. His agitation increased, his looks grew livid. At length
he was obliged to stoop beneath the arm which threatened him.
"Die, then!" exclaimed Benito.
The blow was struck full on its chest, but the point of the manchetta
was stopped by a hard substance hidden beneath the poncho of the
Benito renewed his attack, and Torres, whose return thrust did not
touch his adversary, felt himself lost. He was again obliged to
retreat. Then he would have shouted--shouted that the life of Joam
Dacosta depended on his own! He had not time!
A second thrust of the manchetta pierced his heart. He fell backward,
and the ground suddenly failing him, he was precipitated down the
cliff. As a last effort his hands convulsively clutched at a clump of
reeds, but they could not stop him, and he disappeared beneath the
waters of the river.
Benito was supported on Manoel's shoulder; Fragoso grasped his hands.
He would not even give his companions time to dress his wound, which
was very slight.
"To the jangada!" he said, "to the jangada!"
Manoel and Fragoso with deep emotion followed him without speaking a
A quarter of an hour afterward the three reached the bank to which
the raft was moored. Benito and Manoel rushed into the room where
were Yaquita and Minha, and told them all that had passed.
"My son!" "My brother!"
The words were uttered at the same moment.
"To the prison!" said Benito.
"Yes! Come! come!" replied Yaquita.
Benito, followed by Manoel, hurried along his mother, and half an
hour later they arrived before the prison.
Owing to the order previously given by Judge Jarriquez they were
immediately admitted, and conducted to the chamber occupied by the
The door opened. Joam Dacosta saw his wife, his son, and Manoel enter
"Ah! Joam, my Joam!" exclaimed Yaquita.
"Yaquita! my wife! my children!" replied the prisoner, who opened his
arms and pressed them to his heart.
"My Joam, innocent!"
"Innocent and avenged!" said Benito.
"Avenged? What do you mean?"
"Torres is dead, father; killed by my hand!"
"Dead!--Torres!--Dead!" gasped Joam Dacosta. "My son! You have ruined
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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.
THE FIRST SEARCH
THE SEARCH had to commence at once, and that for two weighty reasons.
The first of these was--and this was a question of life or
death--that this proof of Joam Dacosta's innocence must be produced
before the arrival of the order from Rio Janeiro. Once the identity
of the prisoner was established, it was impossible that such an order
could be other than the order for his execution.
The second was that the body of Torres should be got out of the water
as quickly as possible so as to regain undamaged the metal case and
the paper it ought to contain.
At this juncture Araujo displayed not only zeal and intelligence, but
also a perfect knowledge of the state of the river at its confluence
with the Rio Negro.
"If Torres," he said to the young men, "had been from the first
carried away by the current, we should have to drag the river
throughout a large area, for we shall have a good many days to wait
for his body to reappear on the surface through the effects of
"We cannot do that," replied Manoel. "This very day we ought to
"If, on the contrary," continued the pilot, "the corpse has got stuck
among the reeds and vegetation at the foot of the bank, we shall not
be an hour before we find it."
"To work, then!" answered Benito.
There was but one way of working. The boats approached the bank, and
the Indians, furnished with long poles, began to sound every part of
the river at the base of the bluff which had served for the scene of
The place had been easily recognized. A track of blood stained the
declivity in its chalky part, and ran perpendicularly down it into
the water; and there many a clot scattered on the reeds indicated the
very spot where the corpse had disappeared.
About fifty feet down stream a point jutted out from the riverside
and kept back the waters in a kind of eddy, as in a large basin.
There was no current whatever near the shore, and the reeds shot up
out of the river unbent. Every hope then existed that Torres' body
had not been carried away by the main stream. Where the bed of the
river showed sufficient slope, it was perhaps possible for the corpse
to have rolled several feet along the ridge, and even there no effect
of the current could be traced.
The ubas and the pirogues, dividing the work among them, limited the
field of their researches to the extreme edge of the eddy, and from
the circumference to the center the crews' long poles left not a
single point unexplored. But no amount of sounding discovered the
body of the adventurer, neither among the clumps of reeds nor on the
bottom of the river, whose slope was then carefully examined.
Two hours after the work had begun they had been led to think that
the body, having probably struck against the declivity, had fallen
off obliquely and rolled beyond the limits of this eddy, where the
action of the current commenced to be felt.
"But that is no reason why we should despair," said Manoel, "still
less why we should give up our search."
"Will it be necessary," exclaimed Benito, "to search the river
throughout its breadth and its length?"
"Throughout its breadth, perhaps," answered Araujo, "throughout its
"And why?" asked Manoel.
"Because the Amazon, about a mile away from its junction with the Rio
Negro, makes a sudden bend, and at the same time its bed rises, so
that there is a kind of natural barrier, well known to sailors as the
Bar of Frias, which things floating near the surface are alone able
to clear. In short, the currents are ponded back, and they cannot
possibly have any effect over this depression."
This was fortunate, it must be admitted. But was Araujo mistaken? The
old pilot of the Amazon could be relied on. For the thirty years that
he had followed his profession the crossing of the Bar of Frias,
where the current was increased in force by its decrease in depth,
had often given him trouble. The narrowness of the channel and the
elevation of the bed made the passage exceedingly difficult, and many
a raft had there come to grief.
And so Araujo was right in declaring that if the corpse of Torres was
still retained by its weight on the sandy bed of the river, it could
not have been dragged over the bar. It is true that later on, when,
on account of the expansion of the gases, it would again rise to the
surface, the current would bear it away, and it would then be
irrevocably lost down the stream, a long way beyond the obstruction.
But this purely physical effect would not take place for several
They could not have applied to a man who was more skillful or more
conversant with the locality than Araujo, and when he affirmed that
the body could not have been borne out of the narrow channel for more
than a mile or so, they were sure to recover it if they thoroughly
sounded that portion of the river.
Not an island, not an islet, checked the course of the Amazon in
these parts. Hence, when the foot of the two banks had been visited
up to the bar, it was in the bed itself, about five hundred feet in
width, that more careful investigations had to be commenced.
The way the work was conducted was this. The boats taking the right
and left of the Amazon lay alongside the banks. The reeds and
vegetation were tried with the poles. Of the smallest ledges in the
banks in which a body could rest, not one escaped the scrutiny of
Araujo and his Indians.
But all this labor produced no result, and half the day had elapsed
without the body being brought to the surface of the stream.
An hour's rest was given to the Indians. During this time they
partook of some refreshment, and then they returned to their task.
Four of the boats, in charge of the pilot, Benito, Fragoso, and
Manoel, divided the river between the Rio Negro and the Bar of Frias
into four portions. They set to work to explore its very bed. In
certain places the poles proved insufficient to thoroughly search
among the deeps, and hence a few dredges--or rather harrows, made of
stones and old iron, bound round with a solid bar--were taken on
board, and when the boats had pushed off these rakes were thrown in
and the river bottom stirred up in every direction.
It was in this difficult task that Benito and his companions were
employed till the evening. The ubas and pirogues, worked by the oars,
traversed the whole surface of the river up to the bar of Frias.
There had been moments of excitement during this spell of work, when
the harrows, catching in something at the bottom, offered some slight
resistance. They were then hauled up, but in place of the body so
eagerly searched for, there would appear only heavy stones or tufts
of herbage which they had dragged from their sandy bed. No one,
however, had an idea of giving up the enterprise. They none of them
thought of themselves in this work of salvation. Benito, Manoel,
Araujo had not even to stir up the Indians or to encourage them. The
gallant fellows knew that they were working for the fazender of
Iquitos--for the man whom they lvoed, for the chief of the excellent
family who treated their servants so well.
Yes; and so they would have passed the night in dragging the river.
Of every minute lost all knew the value.
A little before the sun disappeared, Araujo, finding it useless to
continue his operations in the gloom, gave the signal for the boats
to join company and return together to the confluence of the Rio
Negro and regain the jangada.
The work so carefully and intelligently conducted was not, however,
at an end.
Manoel and Fragoso, as they came back, dared not mention their ill
success before Benito. They feared that the disappointment would only
force him to some act of despair.
But neither courage nor coolness deserted the young fellow; he was
determined to follow to the end this supreme effort to save the honor
and the life of his father, and he it was who addressed his
companions, and said: "To-morrow we will try again, and under better
conditions if possible."
"Yes," answered Manoel; "you are right, Benito. We can do better. We
cannot pretend to have entirely explored the river along the whole of
the banks and over the whole of its bed."
"No; we cannot have done that," replied Araujo; "and I maintain what
I said--that the body of Torres is there, and that it is there
because it has not been carried away, because it could not be drawn
over the Bar of Frias, and because it will take many days before it
rises to the surface and floats down the stream. Yes, it is there,
and not a demijohn of tafia will pass my lips until I find it!"
This affirmation from the pilot was worth a good deal, and was of a
However, Benito, who did not care so much for words as he did for
things, thought proper to reply, "Yes, Araujo; the body of Torres is
in the river, and we shall find it if----"
"If?" said the pilot.
"If it has not become the prey of the alligators!"
Manoel and Fragoso waited anxiously for Araujo's reply.
The pilot was silent for a few moments; they felt that he was
reflecting before he spoke. "Mr. Benito," he said at length, "I am
not in the habit of speaking lightly. I had the same idea as you; but
listen. During the ten hours we have been at work have you seen a
single cayman in the river?"
"Not one," said Fragoso.
"If you have not seen one," continued the pilot, "it was because
there were none to see, for these animals have nothing to keep them
in the white waters when, a quarter of a mile off, there are large
stretches of the black waters, which they so greatly prefer. When the
raft was attacked by some of these creatures it was in a part where
there was no place for them to flee to. Here it is quite different.
Go to the Rio Negro, and there you will see caymans by the score. Had
Torres' body fallen into that tributary there might be no chance of
recovering it. But it was in the Amazon that it was lost, and in the
Amazon it will be found."
Benito, relieved from his fears, took the pilot's hand and chook it,
and contented himself with the reply, "To-morrow, my friends!"
Ten minutes later they were all on board the jangada. During the day
Yaquit had passed some hours with her husband. But before she
started, and when she saw neither the pilot, nor Manoel, nor Benito,
nor the boats, she had guessed the search on which they had gone, but
she said nothing to Joam Dacosta, as she hoped that in the morning
she would be able to inform him of their success.
But when Benito set foot on the raft she perceived that their search
had been fruitless. However, she advanced toward him. "Nothing?" she
":Nothing," replied Benito. "But the morrow is left to us."
The members of the family retired to their rooms, and nothing more
was said as to what had passed.
Manoel tried to make Benito lie down, so as to take a few hours'
"What is the good of that?" asked Benito. "Do you think I could
THE SECOND ATTEMPT
ON THE MORROW, the 27th of August, Benito took Manoel apart, before
the sun had risen, and said to him: "Our yesterday's search was vain.
If we begin again under the same conditions we may be just as
"We must do so, however," replied Manoel.
"Yes," continued Benito; "but suppose we do not find the body, can
you tell me how long it will be before it rises to the surface?"
"If Torres," answered Manoel, "had fallen into the water living, and
not mortally wounded, it would take five or six days; but as he only
disappeared after being so wounded, perhaps two or three days would
be enough to bring him up again."
This answer of Manoel, which was quite correct, requires some
explanation. Every human body which falls into the water will float
if equilibrium is established between its density and that of its
liquid bed. This is well known to be the fact, even when a person
does not know how to swim. Under such circumstances, if you are
entirely submerged, and only keep your mouth and nose away from the
water, you are sure to float. But this is not generally done. The
first movement of a drowning man is to try and hold as much as he can
of himself above the water; he holds up his head and lifts up his
arms, and these parts of his body, being no longer supported by the
liquid, do not lose that amount of weight which they would do if
completely immersed. Hence an excess of weight, and eventually entire
submersion, for the water makes its way to the lungs through the
mouth, takes the place of the air which fills them, and the body
sinks to the bottom.
On the other hand, when the man who falls into the water is already
dead the conditions are different, and more favorable for his
floating, for then the movements of which we have spoken are checked,
and the liquid does not make its way to the lungs so copiously, as
there is no attempt to respire, and he is consequently more likely to
promptly reappear. Manoel then was right in drawing the distinction
between the man who falls into the water living and the man who falls
into it dead. In the one case the return to the surface takes much
longer than in the other.
The reappearance of the body after an immersion more or less
prolonged is always determined by the decomposition, which causes the
gases to form. These bring about the expansion of the cellular
tissues, the volume augments and the weight decreases, and then,
weighing less than the water it displaces, the body attains the
proper conditions for floating.
"And thus," continued Manoel, "supposing the conditions continue
favorable, and Torres did not live after he fell into the water, if
the decomposition is not modified by circumstances which we cannot
foresee, he will not reappear before three days."
"We have not got three days," answered Benito. "We cannot wait, you
know; we must try again, and in some new way."
"What can you do?" answered Manoel.
"Plunge down myself beneath the waters," replied Benito, "and search
with my eyes--with my hands."
"Plunge in a hundred times--a thousand times!" exclaimed Manoel. "So
be it. I think, like you, that we ought to go straight at what we
want, and not struggle on with poles and drags like a blind man who
only works by touch. I also think that we cannot wait three days. But
to jump in, come up again, and go down again will give only a short
period for the exploration. No; it will never do, and we shall only
risk a second failure."
"Have you no other plan to propose, Manoel?" asked Benito, looking
earnestly at his friend.
"Well, listen. There is what would seem to be a Providential
circumstance that may be of use to us."
"What is that?"
"Yesterday, as we hurried through Manaos, I noticed that they were
repairing one of the quays on the bank of the Rio Negro. The
submarine works were being carried on with the aid of a diving-dress.
Let us borrow, or hire, or buy, at any price, this apparatus, and
then we may resume our researches under more favorable conditions."
"Tell Araujo, Fragoso, and our men, and let us be off," was the
instant reply of Benito.
The pilot and the barber were informed of the decision with regard to
Manoel's project. Both were ordered to go with the four boats and the
Indians to the basin of Frias, and there to wait for the two young
Manoel and Benito started off without losing a moment, and reached
the quay at Manaos. There they offered the contractor such a price
that he put the apparatus at their service for the whole day.
"Will you not have one of my men," he asked, "to help you?"
"Give us your foreman and one of his mates to work the air-pump,"
"But who is going to wear the diving-dress?"
"I am," answered Benito.
"You!" exclaimed Manoel.
"I intend to do so."
It was useless to resist.
An hour afterward the raft and all the instruments necessary for the
enterprise had drifted down to the bank where the boats were waiting.
The diving-dress is well known. By its means men can descend beneath
the waters and remain there a certain time without the action of the
lungs being in any way injured. The diver is clothed in a waterproof
suit of India rubber, and his feet are attached to leaden shoes,
which allow him to retain his upright position beneath the surface.
At the collar of the dress, and about the height of the neck, there
is fitted a collar of copper, on which is screwed a metal globe with
a glass front. In this globe the diver places his head, which he can
move about at his ease. To the globe are attached two pipes; one used
for carrying off the air ejected from the lungs, and which is unfit
for respiration, and the other in communication with a pump worked on
the raft, and bringing in the fresh air. When the diver is at work
the raft remains immovable above him; when the diver moves about on
the bottom of the river the raft follows his movements, or he follows
those of the raft, according to his convenience.
These diving-dresses are now much improved, and are less dangerous
than formerly. The man beneath the liquid mass can easily bear the
additional pressure, and if anything was to be feared below the
waters it was rather some cayman who might there be met with. But, as
had been observed by Araujo, not one of these amphibians had been
seen, and they are well known to prefer the black waters of the
tributaries of the Amazon. Besides, in case of danger, the diver has
always his check-string fastened to the raft, and at the least
warning can be quickly hauled to the surface.
Benito, invariably very cool once his resolution was taken, commenced
to put his idea into execution, and got into the diving dress. His
head disappeared in the metal globe, his hand grasped a sort of iron
spear with which to stir up the vegetation and detritus accumulated
in the river bed, and on his giving the signal he was lowered into
The men on the raft immediately commenced to work the air-pump, while
four Indians from the jangada, under the orders of Araujo, gently
propelled it with their long poles in the desired direction.
The two pirogues, commanded one by Fragoso, the other by Manoel,
escorted the raft, and held themselves ready to start in any
direction, should Benito find the corpse of Torres and again bring it
to the surface of the Amazon.
A CANNON SHOT
BENITO THEN HAD disappeared beneath the vast sheet which still
covered the corpse of the adventurer. Ah! If he had had the power to
divert the waters of the river, to turn them into vapor, or to drain
them off--if he could have made the Frias basin dry down stream, from
the bar up to the influx of the Rio Negro, the case hidden in Torres'
clothes would already have been in his hand! His father's innocence
would have been recognized! Joam Dacosta, restored to liberty, would
have again started on the descent of the river, and what terrible
trials would have been avoided!
Benito had reached the bottom. His heavy shoes made the gravel on the
bed crunch beneath him. He was in some ten or fifteen feet of water,
at the base of the cliff, which was here very steep, and at the very
spot where Torres had disappeared.
Near him was a tangled mass of reeds and twigs and aquatic plants,
all laced together, which assuredly during the researches of the
previous day no pole could have penetrated. It was consequently
possible that the body was entangled among the submarine shrubs, and
still in the place where it had originally fallen.
Hereabouts, thanks to the eddy produced by the prolongation of one of
the spurs running out into the stream, the current was absolutely
_nil_. Benito guided his movements by those of the raft, which the
long poles of the Indians kept just over his head.
The light penetrated deep through the clear waters, and the
magnificent sun, shining in a cloudless sky, shot its rays down into
them unchecked. Under ordinary conditions, at a depth of some twenty
feet in water, the view becomes exceedingly blurred, but here the
waters seemed to be impregnated with a luminous fluid, and Benito was
able to descend still lower without the darkness concealing the river
The young man slowly made his way along the bank. With his iron-shod
spear he probed the plants and rubbish accumulated along its foot.
Flocks of fish, if we can use such an expression, escaped on all
sides from the dense thickets like flocks of birds. It seemed as
though the thousand pieces of a broken mirror glimmered through the
waters. At the same time scores of crustaceans scampered over the
sand, like huge ants hurrying from their hills.
Notwithstanding that Benito did not leave a single point of the river
unexplored, he never caught sight of the object of his search. He
noticed, however, that the slope of the river bed was very abrupt,
and he concluded that Torres had rolled beyond the eddy toward the
center of the stream. If so, he would probably still recover the
body, for the current could hardly touch it at the depth, which was
already great, and seemed sensibly to increase. Benito then resolved
to pursue his investigations on the side where he had begun to probe
the vegetation. This was why he continued to advance in that
direction, and the raft had to follow him during a quarter of an
hour, as had been previously arranged.
The quarter of an hour had elapsed, and Benito had found nothing. He
felt the need of ascending to the surface, so as to once more
experience those physiological conditions in which he could recoup
his strength. In certain spots, where the depth of the river
necessitated it, he had had to descend about thirty feet. He had thus
to support a pressure almost equal to an atmosphere, with the result
of the physical fatigue and mental agitation which attack those who
are not used to this kind of work. Benito then pulled the
communication cord, and the men on the raft commenced to haul him in,
but they worked slowly, taking a minute to draw him up two or three
feet so as not to produce in his internal organs the dreadful effects
As soon as the young man had set foot on the raft the metallic sphere
of the diving-dress was raised, and he took a long breath and sat
down to rest.
The pirogues immediately rowed alongside. Manoel, Fragoso, and Araujo
came close to him, waiting for him to speak.
"Well?" asked Manoel.
"Still nothing! Nothing!"
"Have you not seen a trace?"
"Shall I go down now?"
"No, Manoel," answered Benito; "I have begun; I know where to go. Let
me do it!"
Benito then explained to the pilot that his intention was to visit
the lower part of the bank up to the Bar of Frias, for there the
slope had perhaps stopped the corpse, if, floating between the two
streams, it had in the least degree been affected by the current. But
first he wanted to skirt the bank and carefully explore a sort of
hole formed in the slope of the bed, to the bottom of which the poles
had evidently not been able to penetrate. Araujo approved of this
plan, and made the necessary preparations.
Manoel gave Benito a little advice. "As you want to pursue your
search on that side," he said, "the raft will have to go over there
obliquely; but mind what you are doing, Benito. That is much deeper
than where you have been yet; it may be fifty or sixty feet, and you
will have to support a pressure of quite two atmospheres. Only
venture with extreme caution, or you may lose your presence of mind,
or no longer know where you are or what to do. If your head feels as
if in a vice, and your ears tingle, do not hesitate to give us the
signal, and we will at once haul you up. You can then begin again if
you like, as you will have got accustomed to move about in the deeper
parts of the river."
Benito promised to attend to these hints, of which he recognized the
importance. He was particularly struck with the fact that his
presence of mind might abandon him at the very moment he wanted it
Benito shook hands with Manoel; the sphere of the diving-dress was
again screwed to his neck, the pump began to work, and the diver once
more disappeared beneath the stream.
The raft was then taken about forty feet along the left bank, but as
it moved toward the center of the river the current increased in
strength, the ubas were moored, and the rowers kept it from drifting,
so as only to allow it to advance with extreme slowness.
Benito descended very gently, and again found himself on the firm
sand. When his heels touched the ground it could be seen, by the
length of the haulage cord, that he was at a depth of some sixty-five
or seventy feet. He was therefore in a considerable hole, excavated
far below the ordinary level.
The liquid medium was more obscure, but the limpidity of these
transparent waters still allowed the light to penetrate sufficiently
for Benito to distinguish the objects scattered on the bed of the
river, and to approach them with some safety. Besides, the sand,
sprinkled with mica flakes, seemed to form a sort of reflector, and
the very grains could be counted glittering like luminous dust.
Benito moved on, examining and sounding the smallest cavities with
his spear. He continued to advance very slowly; the communication
cord was paid out, and as the pipes which served for the inlet and
outlet of the air were never tightened, the pump was worked under the
Benito turned off so as to reach the middle of the bed of the Amazon,
where there was the greatest depression. Sometimes profound obscurity
thickened around him, and then he could see nothing, so feeble was
the light; but this was a purely passing phenomenon, and due to the
raft, which, floating above his head, intercepted the solar rays and
made the night replace the day. An instant afterward the huge shadow
would be dissipated, and the reflection of the sands appear again in
All the time Benito was going deeper. He felt the increase of the
pressure with which his body was wrapped by the liquid mass. His
respiration became less easy; the retractibility of his organs no
longer worked with as much ease as in the midst of an atmosphere more
conveniently adapted for them. And so he found himself under the
action of physiological effects to which he was unaccustomed. The
rumbling grew louder in his ears, but as his thought was always
lucid, as he felt that the action of his brain was quite clear--even
a little more so than usual--he delayed giving the signal for return,
and continued to go down deeper still.
Suddenly, in the subdued light which surrounded him, his attention
was attracted by a confused mass. It seemed to take the form of a
corpse, entangled beneath a clump of aquatic plants. Intense
excitement seized him. He stepped toward the mass; with his spear he
felt it. It was the carcass of a huge cayman, already reduced to a
skeleton, and which the current of the Rio Negro had swept into the
bed of the Amazon. Benito recoiled, and, in spite of the assertions
of the pilot, the thought recurred to him that some living cayman
might even then be met with in the deeps near the Bar of Frias!
But he repelled the idea, and continued his progress, so as to reach
the bottom of the depression.
And now he had arrived at a depth of from eighty to a hundred feet,
and consequently was experiencing a pressure of three atmospheres.
If, then, this cavity was also drawn blank, he would have to suspend
Experience has shown that the extreme limit for such submarine
explorations lies between a hundred and twenty and a hundred and
thirty feet, and that below this there is great danger, the human
organism not only being hindered from performing his functions under
such a pressure, but the apparatus failing to keep up a sufficient
supply of air with the desirable regularity.
But Benito was resolved to go as far as his mental powers and
physical energies would let him. By some strange presentiment he was
drawn toward this abyss; it seemed to him as though the corpse was
very likely to have rolled to the bottom of the hole, and that
Torres, if he had any heavy things about him, such as a belt
containing either money or arms, would have sunk to the very lowest
point. Of a sudden, in a deep hollow, he saw a body through the
gloom! Yes! A corpse, still clothed, stretched out like a man asleep,
with his arms folded under his head!
Was that Torres? In the obscurity, then very dense, he found it
difficult to see; but it was a human body that lay there, less than
ten paces off, and perfectly motionless!
A sharp pang shot through Benito. His heart, for an instant, ceased
to beat. He thought he was going to lose consciousness. By a supreme
effort he recovered himself. He stepped toward the corpse.
Suddenly a shock as violent as unexpected made his whole frame
vibrate! A logn whip seemed to twine round his body, and in spite of
the thick diving-dress he felt himself lashed again and again.
"A gymnotus!" he said.
It was the only word that passed his lips.
In fact, it was a _"puraque,"_ the name given by the Brazilians to
the gymnotus, or electric snake, which had just attacked him.
It is well known that the gymnotus is a kind of eel, with a blackish,
slimy skin, furnished along the back and tail with an apparatus
composed of plates joined by vertical lamellę, and acted on by nerves
of considerable power. This apparatus is endowed with singular
electrical properties, and is apt to produce very formidable results.
Some of these gymnotuses are about the length of a common snake,
others are about ten feet long, while others, which, however, are
rare, even reach fifteen or twenty feet, and are from eight to ten
inches in diameter.
Gymnotuses are plentiful enough both in the Amazon and its
tributaries; and it was one of these living coils, about ten feet
long, which, after uncurving itself like a bow, again attacked the
Benito knew what he had to fear from this formidable animal. His
clothes were powerless to protect him. The discharges of the
gymnotus, at first somewhat weak, become more and more violent, and
there would come a time when, exhausted by the shocks, he would be
Benito, unable to resist the blows, half-dropped upon the sand. His
limbs were becoming paralyzed little by little under the electric
influences of the gymnotus, which lightly touched his body as it
wrapped him in its folds. His arms even he could not lift, and soon
his spear escaped him, and his hand had not strength enough left to
pull the cord and give the signal.
Benito felt that he was lost. Neither Manoel nor his companions could
suspect the horrible combat which was going on beneath them between
the formidable puraque and the unhappy diver, who only fought to
suffer, without any power of defending himself.
And that at the moment when a body--the body of Torres without a
doubt!--had just met his view.
By a supreme instinct of self-preservation Benito uttered a cry. His
voice was lost in the metallic sphere from which not a sound could
And now the puraque redoubled its attacks; it gave forth shock after
shock, which made Benito writhe on the sand like the sections of a
divided worm, and his muscles were wrenched again and again beneath
the living lash.
Benito thought that all was over; his eyes grew dim, his limbs began
But before he quite lost his power of sight and reason he became the
witness of a phenomenon, unexpected, inexplicable, and marvelous in
A deadened roar resounded through the liquid depths. It was like a
thunder-clap, the reverberations of which rolled along the river bed,
then violently agitated by the electrical discharges of the gymnotus.
Benito felt himself bathed as it were in the dreadful booming which
found an echo in the very deepest of the river depths.
And then a last cry escaped him, for fearful was the vision which
appeared before his eyes!
The corpse of the drowned man which had been stretched on the sand
arose! The undulations of the water lifted up the arms, and they
swayed about as if with some peculiar animation. Convulsive throbs
made the movement of the corpse still more alarming.
It was indeed the body of Torres. One of the suns rays shot down to
it through the liquid mass, and Benito recognized the bloated, ashy
features of the scoundrel who fell by his own hand, and hose last
breath had left him beneath the waters.
And while Benito could not make a single movement with his paralyzed
limbs, while his heavy shoes kept him down as if he had been nailed
to the sand, the corpse straightened itself up, the head swayed to
and fro, and disentangling itself from the hole in which it had been
kept by a mass of aquatic weeds, it slowly ascended to the surface of
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
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
As quickly as possible the diving-dress was taken off him.
Benito had entirely lost consciousness beneath the violent shocks of
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"Yes, yes. Again you are right, Manoel," said Benito. "To Manaos, my
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
"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
"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!"
THIS WAS a contingency which neither Joam Dacosta nor his people
could have anticipated. In fact, as those who have not forgotten the
first scene in this story are aware, the document was written in a
disguised form in one of the numerous systems used in cryptography.
But in which of them?
To discover this would require all the ingenuity of which the human
brain was capable.
Before dismissing Benito and his companions, Judge Jarriquez had an
exact copy made of the document, and, keeping the original, handed it
over to them after due comparison, so that they could communicate
with the prisoner.
Then, making an appointment for the morrow, they retired, and not
wishing to lose an instant in seeing Joam Dacosta, they hastened on
to the prison, and there, in a short interview, informed him of all
that had passed.
Joam Dacosta took the document and carefully examined it. Shaking his
head, he handed it back to his son. "Perhaps," he said, "there is
therein written the proof I shall never be able to produce. But if
that proof escapes me, if the whole tenor of my life does not plead
for me, I have nothing more to expect from the justice of men, and my
fate is in the hands of God!"
And all felt it to be so. If the document remained indecipherable,
the position of the convict was a desperate one.
"We shall find it, father!" exclaimed Benito. "There never was a
document of this sort yet which could stand examination. Have
confidence--yes, confidence! Heaven has, so to speak, miraculously
given us the paper which vindicates you, and, after guiding our hands
to recover it, it will not refuse to direct our brains to unravel
Joam Dacosta shook hands with Benito and Manoel, and then the three
young men, much agitated, retired to the jangada, where Yaquita was
Yaquita was soon informed of what had happened since the evening--the
reappearance of the body of Torres, the discovery of the document,
and the strange form under which the real culprit, the companion of
the adventurer, had thought proper to write his
confession--doubtless, so that it should not compromise him if it
fell into strange hands.
Naturally, Lina was informed of this unexpected complication, and of
the discovery made by Fragoso that Torres was an old captain of the
woods belonging to the gang who were employed about the mouths of the
"But under what circumstances did you meet him?" asked the young
"It was during one of my runs across the province of Amazones,"
replied Fragoso, "when I was going from village to village, working
at my trade."
"And the scar?"
"What happened was this: One day I arrived at the mission of Aranas
at the moment that Torres, whom I had never before seen, had picked a
quarrel with one of his comrades--and a bad lot they are!--and this
quarrel ended with a stab from a knife, which entered the arm of the
captain of the woods. There was no doctor there, and so I took charge
of the wound, and that is how I made his acquaintance."
"What does it matter after all," replied the young girl, "that we
know what Torres had been? He was not the author of the crime, and it
does not help us in the least."
"No, it does not," answered Fragoso; "for we shall end by reading the
document, and then the innocence of Joam Dacosta will be palpable to
the eyes of all."
This was likewise the hope of Yaquita, of Benito, of Manoel, and of
Minha, and, shut up in the house, they passed long hours in
endeavoring to decipher the writing.
But if it was their hope--and there is no need to insist on that
point--it was none the less that of Judge Jarriquez.
After having drawn up his report at the end of his examination
establishing the identity of Joam Dacosta, the magistrate had sent it
off to headquarters, and therewith he thought he had finished with
the affair so far as he was concerned. It could not well be
On the discovery of the document, Jarriquez suddenly found himself
face to face with the study of which he was a master. He, the seeker
after numerical combinations, the solver of amusing problems, the
answerer of charades, rebuses, logogryphs, and such things, was at
last in his true element.
At the thought that the document might perhaps contain the
justification of Joam Dacosta, he felt all the instinct of the
analyst aroused. Here, before his very eyes, was a cryptogram! And so
from that moment he thought of nothing but how to discover its
meaning, and it is scarcely necessary to say that he made up his mind
to work at it continuously, even if he forgot to eat or to drink.
After the departure of the young people, Judge Jarriquez installed
himself in his study. His door, barred against every one, assured him
of several hours of perfect solitude. His spectacles were on his
nose, his snuff-box on the table. He took a good pinch so as to
develop the finesse and sagacity of his mind. He picked up the
document and became absorbed in meditation, which soon became
materialized in the shape of a monologue. The worthy justice was one
of those unreserved men who think more easily aloud than to himself.
"Let us proceed with method," he said. "No method, no logic; no
logic, no success."
Then, taking the document, he ran through it from beginning to end,
without understanding it in the least.
The document contained a hundred lines, which were divided into half
a dozen paragraphs.
"Hum!" said the judge, after a little reflection; "to try every
paragraph, one after the other, would be to lose precious time, and
be of no use. I had better select one of these paragraphs, and take
the one which is likely to prove the most interesting. Which of them
would do this better than the last, where the recital of the whole
affair is probably summed up? Proper names might put me on the track,
among others that of Joam Dacosta; and if he had anything to do with
this document, his name will evidently not be absent from its
The magistrate's reasoning was logical, and he was decidedly right in
bringing all his resources to bear in the first place on the gist of
the cryptogram as contained in its last paragraph.
Here is the paragraph, for it is necessary to again bring it before
the eyes of the reader so as to show how an analyst set to work to
discover its meaning.
_"P h y j s l y d d q f d z x g a s g z z q q e h x g k f n d r x u j
u g I o c y t d x v k s b x h h u y p o h d v y r y m h u h p u y d k
j o x p h e t o z l s l e t n p m v f f o v p d p a j x h y y n o j y
g g a y m e q y n f u q l n m v l y f g s u z m q I z t l b q q y u g
s q e u b v n r c r e d g r u z b l r m x y u h q h p z d r r g c r o
h e p q x u f I v v r p l p h o n t h v d d q f h q s n t z h h h n f
e p m q k y u u e x k t o g z g k y u u m f v I j d q d p z j q s y k
r p l x h x q r y m v k l o h h h o t o z v d k s p p s u v j h d."_
At the outset, Judge Jarrizuez noticed that the lines of the document
were not divided either into words or phrases, and that there was a
complete absence of punctuation. This fact could but render the
reading of the document more difficult.
"Let us see, however," he said, "if there is not some assemblage of
letters which appears to form a word--I mean a pronounceable word,
whose number of consonants is in proportion to its vowels. And at the
beginning I see the word _phy;_ further on the word _gas_. Halloo!
_ujugi_. Does that mean the African town on the banks of Tanganyika?
What has that got to do with all this? Further on here is the word
_ypo_. Is it Greek, then? Close by here is _rym_ and _puy,_ and
_jox,_ and _phetoz,_ and _jyggay,_ and _mv,_ and _qruz_. And before
that we have got _red_ and _let_. That is good! those are two English
words. Then _ohe--syk;_ then _rym_ once more, and then the word
Judge Jarriquez let the paper drop, and thought for a few minutes.
"All the words I see in this thing seem queer!" he said. "In fact,
there is nothing to give a clue to their origin. Some look like
Greek, some like Dutch; some have an English twist, and some look
like nothing at all! To say nothing of these series of consonants
which are not wanted in any human pronunciation. Most assuredly it
will not be very easy to find the key to this cryptogram."
The magistrate's fingers commenced to beat a tattoo on his desk--a
kind of reveille to arouse his dormant faculties.
"Let us see," he said, "how many letters there are in the paragraph."
He counted them, pen in hand.
"Two hundred and seventy-six!" he said. "Well, now let us try what
proportion these different letters bear to each other."
This occupied him for some time. The judge took up the document, and,
with his pen in his hand, he noted each letter in alphabetical order.
In a quarter of an hour he had obtained the following table:
_a_ = 3 times
_b_ = 4 --
_c_ = 3 --
_d_ = 16 --
_e_ = 9 --
_f_ = 10 --
_g_ = 13 --
_h_ = 23 --
_i_ = 4 --
_j_ = 8 --
_k_ = 9 --
_l_ = 9 --
_m_ = 9 --
_n_ = 9 --
_o_ = 12 --
_p_ = 16 --
_q_ = 16 --
_r_ = 12 --
_s_ = 10 --
_t_ = 8 --
_u_ = 17 --
_v_ = 13 --
_x_ = 12 --
_y_ = 19 --
_z_ = 12 --
Total . . . 276 times.
"Ah, ah!" he exclaimed. "One thing strikes me at once, and that is
that in this paragraph all the letters of the alphabet are not used.
That is very strange. If we take up a book and open it by chance it
will be very seldom that we shall hit upon two hundred and
seventy-six letters without all the signs of the alphabet figuring
among them. After all, it may be chance," and then he passed to a
different train of thought. "One important point is to see if the
vowels and consonants are in their normal proportion."
And so he seized his pen, counted up the vowels, and obtained the
_a_ = 3 times
_e_ = 9 --
_i_ = 4 --
_o_ = 12 --
_u_ = 17 --
_y_ = 19 --
Total . . . 276 times.
"And thus there are in this paragraph, after we have done our
subtraction, sixty-four vowels and two hundred and twelve consonants.
Good! that is the normal proportion. That is about a fifth, as in the
alphabet, where there are six vowels among twenty-six letters. It is
possible, therefore, that the document is written in the language of
our country, and that only the signification of each letter is
changed. If it has been modified in regular order, and a _b_ is
always represented by an _l,_ and _o_ by a _v,_ a _g_ by a _k,_ an
_u_ by an _r,_ etc., I will give up my judgeship if I do not read it.
What can I do better than follow the method of that great analytical
genius, Edgar Allan Poe?"
Judge Jarriquez herein alluded to a story by the great American
romancer, which is a masterpiece. Who has not read the "Gold Bug?" In
this novel a cryptogram, composed of ciphers, letters, algebraic
signs, asterisks, full-stops, and commas, is submitted to a truly
mathematical analysis, and is deciphered under extraordinary
conditions, which the admirers of that strange genius can never
forget. On the reading of the American document depended only a
treasure, while on that of this one depended a man's life. Its
solution was consequently all the more interesting.
The magistrate, who had often read and re-read his "Gold Bug," was
perfectly acquainted with the steps in the analysis so minutely
described by Edgar Poe, and he resolved to proceed in the same way on
this occasion. In doing so he was certain, as he had said, that if
the value or signification of each letter remained constant, he
would, sooner or later, arrive at the solution of the document.
"What did Edgar Poe do?" he repeated. "First of all he began by
finding out the sign--here there are only letters, let us say the
letter--which was reproduced the oftenest. I see that that is _h,_
for it is met with twenty-three times. This enormous proportion
shows, to begin with, that _h_ does not stand for _h,_ but, on the
contrary, that it represents the letter which recurs most frequently
in our language, for I suppose the document is written in Portuguese.
In English or French it would certainly be _e,_ in Italian it would
be _i_ or _a,_ in Portuguese it will be _a_ or _o_. Now let us say
that it signifies _a_ or _o."_
After this was done, the judge found out the letter which recurred
most frequently after _h,_ and so on, and he formed the following
_h_ = 23 times
_y_ = 19 --
_u_ = 17 --
_d p q_ = 16 --
_g v_ = 13 --
_o r x z_ = 12 --
_f s_ = 10 --
_e k l m n_ = 9 --
_j t_ = 8 --
_b i_ = 8 --
_a c_ = 8 --
"Now the letter _a_ only occurs thrice!" exclaimed the judge, "and it
ought to occur the oftenest. Ah! that clearly proves that the meaning
had been changed. And now, after _a_ or _o,_ what are the letters
which figure oftenest in our language? Let us see," and Judge
Jarriquez, with truly remarkable sagacity, which denoted a very
observant mind, started on this new quest. In this he was only
imitating the American romancer, who, great analyst as he was, had,
by simple induction, been able to construct an alphabet corresponding
to the signs of the cryptogram and by means of it to eventually read
the pirate's parchment note with ease.
The magistrate set to work in the same way, and we may affirm that he
was no whit inferior to his illustrious master. Thanks to his
previous work at logogryphs and squares, rectangular arrangements and
other enigmas, which depend only on an arbitrary disposition of the
letters, he was already pretty strong in such mental pastimes. On
this occasion he sought to establish the order in which the letters
were reproduced--vowels first, consonants afterward.
Three hours had elapsed since he began. He had before his eyes an
alphabet which, if his procedure were right, would give him the right
meaning of the letters in the document. He had only to successively
apply the letters of his alphabet to those of his paragraph. But
before making this application some slight emotion seized upon the
judge. He fully experienced the intellectual gratification--much
greater than, perhaps, would be thought--of the man who, after hours
of obstinate endeavor, saw the impatiently sought-for sense of the
logogryph coming into view.
"Now let us try," he said; "and I shall be very much surprised if I
have not got the solution of the enigma!"
Judge Jarriquez took off his spectacles and wiped the glasses; then
he put them back again and bent over the table. His special alphabet
was in one hand, the cryptogram in the other. He commenced to write
under the first line of the paragraph the true letters, which,
according to him, ought to correspond exactly with each of the
cryptographic letters. As with the first line so did he with the
second, and the third, and the fourth, until he reached the end of
Oddity as he was, he did not stop to see as he wrote if the
assemblage of letters made intelligible words. No; during the first
stage his mind refused all verification of that sort. What he desired
was to give himself the ecstasy of reading it all straight off at
And now he had done.
"Let us read!" he exclaimed.
And he read. Good heavens! what cacophony! The lines he had formed
with the letters of his alphabet had no more sense in them that those
of the document! It was another series of letters, and that was all.
They formed no word; they had no value. In short, they were just as
"Confound the thing!" exclaimed Judge Jarriquez.
IS IT A MATTER OF FIGURES?
IT WAS SEVEN o'clock in the evening. Judge Jarriquez had all the time
been absorbed in working at the puzzle--and was no further
advanced--and had forgotten the time of repast and the time of
repose, when there came a knock at his study door.
It was time. An hour later, and all the cerebral substance of the
vexed magistrate would certainly have evaporated under the intense
heat into which he had worked his head.
At the order to enter--which was given in an impatient tone--the door
opened and Manoel presented himself.
The young doctor had left his friends on board the jangada at work on
the indecipherable document, and had come to see Judge Jarriquez. He
was anxious to know if he had been fortunate in his researches. He
had come to ask if he had at length discovered the system on which
the cryptogram had been written.
The magistrate was not sorry to see Manoel come in. He was in that
state of excitement that solitude was exasperating to him. He wanted
some one to speak to, some one as anxious to penetrate the mystery as
he was. Manoel was just the man.
"Wir," said Manoel as he entered, "one question! Have you succeeded
better than we have?"
"Sit down first," exclaimed Judge Jarriquez, who got up and began to
pace the room. "Sit down. If we are both of us standing, you will
walk one way and I shall walk the other, and the room will be too
narrow to hold us."
Manoel sat down and repeated his question.
"No! I have not had any success!" replied the magistrate; "I do not
think I am any better off. I have got nothing to tell you; but I have
found out a certainty."
"What is that, sir?"
"That the document is not based on conventional signs, but on what is
known in cryptology as a cipher, that is to say, on a number."
"Well, sir," answered Manoel, "cannot a document of that kind always
"Yes," said Jarriquez, "if a letter is invariably represented by the
same letter; if an _a,_ for example, is always a _p,_ and a _p_ is
always an _x;_ if not, it cannot."
"And in this document?"
"In this document the value of the letter changes with the
arbitrarily selected cipher which necessitates it. So a _b_ will in
one place be represented by a _k_ will later on become a _z,_ later
on an _u_ or an _n_ or an _f,_ or any other letter."
"And then, I am sorry to say, the cryptogram is indecipherable."
"Indecipherable!" exclaimed Manoel. "No, sir; we shall end by finding
the key of the document on which the man's life depends."
Manoel had risen, a prey to the excitement he could not control; the
reply he had received was too hopeless, and he refused to accept it
At a gesture from the judge, however, he sat down again, and in a
calmer voice asked:
"And in the first place, sir, what makes you think that the basis of
this document is a number, or, as you call it, a cipher?"
"Listen to me, young man," replied the judge, "and you will be forced
to give in to the evidence."
The magistrate took the document and put it before the eyes of Manoel
and showed him what he had done.
"I began," he said, "by treating this document in the proper way,
that is to say, logically, leaving nothing to chance. I applied to it
an alphabet based on the proportion the letters bear to one another
which is usual in our language, and I sought to obtain the meaning by
following the precepts of our immortal analyst, Edgar Poe. Well, what
succeeded with him collapsed with me."
"Collapsed!" exclaimed Manoel.
"Yes, my dear young man, and I at once saw that success sought in
that fashion was impossible. In truth, a stronger man than I might
have been deceived."
"But I should like to understand," said Manoel, "and I do not----"
"Take the document," continued Judge Jarriquez; "first look at the
disposition of the letters, and read it through."
"Do you not see that the combination of several of the letters is
very strange?" asked the magistrate.
"I do not see anything," said Manoel, after having for perhaps the
hundredth time read through the document.
"Well! study the last paragraph! There you understand the sense of
the whole is bound to be summed up. Do you see anything abnormal?"
"There is, however, one thing which absolutely proves that the
language is subject to the laws of number."
"And that is?"
"That is that you see three _h's_ coming together in two different
What Jarriquez said was correct, and it was of a nature to attract
attention. The two hundred and fourth, two hundred and fifth, and two
hundred and sixth letters of the paragraph, and the two hundred and
fifty-eight, two hundred and fifty-ninth, and two hundred and
sixtieth letters of the paragraph were consecutive _h's_. At first
this peculiarity had not struck the magistrate.
"And that proves?" asked Manoel, without divining the deduction that
could be drawn from the combination.
"That simply proves that the basis of the document is a number. It
shows _ą priori_ that each letter is modified in virtue of the
ciphers of the number and according to the place which it occupies."
"Because in no language will you find words with three consecutive
repetitions of the letter _h."_
Manoel was struck with the argument; he thought about it, and, in
short, had no reply to make."
"And had I made the observation sooner," continued the magistrate, "I
might have spared myself a good deal of trouble and a headache which
extends from my occiput to my sinciput."
"But, sir," asked Manoel, who felt the little hope vanishing on which
he had hitherto rested, "what do you mean by a cipher?"
"Tell me a number."
"Any number you like."
"Give me an example and you will understand the explanation better."
Judge Jarriquez sat down at the table, took up a sheet of paper and a
pencil, and said:
"Now, Mr. Manoel, let us choose a sentence by chance, the first that
comes; for instance:
_Judge Jarriquez has an ingenious mind._
I write this phrase so as to space the letters different and I get:
That done" said the magistrate, to whom the phrase seemed to contain
a proposition beyond dispute, looking Manoel straight in the face,
"suppose I take a number by chance, so as to give a cryptographic
form to this natural succession of words; suppose now this word is
composed ot three ciphers, and let these ciphers be 2, 3, and 4. Now
on the line below I put the number 234, and repeat it as many times
as are necessary to get to the end of the phrase, and so that every
cipher comes underneath a letter. This is what we get:
_J u d g e j a r r I q u e z h a s a n I n g e n I o u s m I n d_
2 3 4 2 3 4 2 3 4 2 3 4 2 3 4 2 3 4 2 3 4 2 3 4 2 3 4 2 3 4 2 3 4
And now, Mr. Manoel, replacing each letter by the letter in advance
of it in alphabetical order according to the value of the ciper, we
_j_ + 2 = _l_
_u_ + 3 = _x_
_d_ + 4 = _h_
_g_ + 2 = _i_
_e_ + 3 = _h_
_j_ + 4 = _n_
_a_ + 2 = _c_
_r_ + 3 = _u_
_r_ + 4 = _v_
_i_ + 2 = _k_
_q_ + 3 = _t_
_u_ + 4 = _y_
_e_ + 2 = _g_
_a_ + 3 = _c_
_h_ + 4 = _t_
_a_ + 2 = _c_
_s_ + 3 = _v_
_a_ + 4 = _e_
_n_ + 2 = _p_
_i_ + 3 = _l_
_n_ + 4 = _r_
_g_ + 2 = _i_
_e_ + 3 = _h_
_n_ + 4 = _r_
_i_ + 2 = _k_
_o_ + 3 = _r_
_u_ + 4 = _y_
_s_ + 2 = _u_
and so on.
"If, on account of the value of the ciphers which compose the number
I come to the end of the alphabet without having enough complementary
letters to deduct, I begin again at the beginning. That is what
happens at the end of my name when the _z_ is replaced by the 3. As
after _z_ the alphabet has no more letters, I commence to count from
_a,_ and so get the _c_. That done, when I get to the end of this
cryptographic system, made up of the 234--which was arbitrarily
selected, do not forget!--the phrase which you recognize above is
"And now, young man, just look at it, and do you not think it is very
much like what is in the document? Well, what is the consequence?
Why, that the signification of the letters depends on a cipher which
chance puts beneath them, and the cryptographic letter which answers
to a true one is not always the same. So in this phrase the first _j_
is represented by an _l,_ the second by an _n;_ the first _e_ by an
_h,_ the second b a _g,_ the third by an _h;_ the first _d_ is
represented by an _h,_ the last by a _g;_ the first _u_ by an _x,_
the last by a _y;_ the first and second _a's_ by a _c,_ the last by
an _e;_ and in my own name one _r_ is represented by a _u,_ the other
by a _v._ and so on. Now do you see that if you do not know the
cipher 234 you will never be able to read the lines, and consequently
if we do not know the number of the document it remains
On hearing the magistrate reason with such careful logic, Manoel was
at first overwhelmed, but, raising his head, he exclaimed:
"No, sir, I will not renounce the hope of finding the number!"
"We might have done so," answered Judge Jarriquez, "if the lines of
the document had been divided into words."
"For this reason, young man. I think we can assume that in the last
paragraph all that is written in these earlier paragraphs is summed
up. Now I am convinced that in it will be found the name of Joam
Dacosta. Well, if the lines had been divided into words, in trying
the words one after the other--I mean the words composed of seven
letters, as the name of Dacosta is--it would not have been impossible
to evolve the number which is the key of the document."
"Will you explain to me how you ought to proceed to do that, sir?"
asked Manoel, who probably caught a glimpse of one more hope.
"Nothing can be more simple," answered the judge. "Let us take, for
example, one of the words in the sentence we have just written--my
name, if you like. It is represented in the cryptogram by this queer
succession of letters, _ncuvktygc_. Well, arranging these letters in
a column, one under the other, and then placing against them the
letters of my name and deducting one from the other the numbers of
their places in alphabetical order, I see the following result:
Between _n_ and _j_ we have 4 letters
-- _c_ -- _a_ -- 2 --
-- _u_ -- _r_ -- 3 --
-- _v_ -- _r_ -- 4 --
-- _k_ -- _i_ -- 2 --
-- _t_ -- _q_ -- 3 --
-- _y_ -- _u_ -- 4 --
-- _g_ -- _e_ -- 2 --
-- _c_ -- _z_ -- 3 --
"Now what is the column of ciphers made up of that we have got by
this simple operation? Look here! 423 423 423, that is to say, of
repetitions of the numbers 423, or 234, or 342."
"Yes, that is it!" answered Manoel.
"You understand, then, by this means, that in calculating the true
letter from the false, instead of the false from the true, I have
been able to discover the number with ease; and the number I was in
search of is really the 234 which I took as the key of my
"Well, sir!" exclaimed Manoel, "if that is so, the name of Dacosta is
in the last paragraph; and taking successively each letter of those
lines for the first of the seven letters which compose his name, we
ought to get----"
"That would be impossible," interrupted the judge, "except on one
"What is that?"
"That the first cipher of the number should happen to be the first
letter of the word Dacosta, and I think you will agree with me that
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