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CHAPTER XIX THE CRIME OF TIJUCO
ON THE ARRIVAL of the judge the mournful procession halted. A roaring echo had repeated after him and again repeated the cry which escaped from every mouth:
Then complete silence fell on all. The people did not want to lose one syllable of what was about to be proclaimed.
Judge Jarriquez sat down on a stone seat, and then, while Minha, Benito, Manoel, and Fragoso stood round him, while Joam Dacosta clasped Yaquita to his heart, he first unraveled the last paragraph of the document by means of the number, and as the words appeared by the institution of the true letters for the cryptological ones, he divided and punctuated them, and then read it out in a loud voice. And this is what he read in the midst of profound silence:
-Le veritable auteur du vol des diamants et de-
43 251343251 343251 34 325 134 32513432 51 34
-Ph yjslyddf dzxgas gz zqq ehx gkfndrxu ju gi
l'assassinat des soldats qui escortaient le convoi,-
32513432513 432 5134325 134 32513432513 43 251343
-ocytdxvksbx bhu ypohdvy rym huhpuydkjox ph etozsl
commis dans la nuit du vingt-deux janvier mil-
251343 2513 43 2513 43 251343251 3432513 432
-etnpmv ffov pd pajx hy ynojyggay meqynfu q1n
huit-cent vingt-six, n'est donc pas Joam Dacosta,-
5134 3251 3425 134 3251 3432 513 4325 1343251
-mvly fgsu zmqiz tlb qgyu gsqe uvb nrcc edgruzb
injustement condamne a mort, c'est moi, les miserable-
34325134325 13432513 4 3251 3432 513 43 251343251
-l4msyuhqpz drrgcroh e pqxu fivv rpl ph onthvddqf
employe de l'administration du district diamantin,-
3432513 43 251343251343251 34 32513432 513432513
-hqsntzh hh nfepmqkyuuexkto gz gkyuumfv ijdqdpzjq
out, moi seul, qui signe de mon vrai nom, Ortega.-
432 513 4325 134 32513 43 251 3432 513 432513
-syk rpl xhxq rym vkloh hh oto zvdk spp suvjhd.-
"The real author of the robbery of the diamonds and of the murder of the soldiers who escorted the convoy, committed during the night of the twenty-second of January, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-six, was thus not Joam Dacosta, unjustly condemned to death; it was I, the wretched servant of the Administration of the diamond district; yes, I alone, who sign this with my true name, Ortega."
The reading of this had hardly finished when the air was rent with prolonged hurrahs.
What could be more conclusive than this last paragraph, which summarized the whole of the document, and proclaimed so absolutely the innocence of the fazender of Iquitos, and which snatched from the gallows this victim of a frightful judicial mistake!
Joam Dacosta, surrounded by his wife, his children, and his friends, was unable to shake the hands which were held out to him. Such was the strength of his character that a reaction occurred, tears of joy escaped from his eyes, and at the same instant his heart was lifted up to that Providence which had come to save him so miraculously at the moment he was about to offer the last expiation to that God who would not permit the accomplishment of that greatest of crimes, the death of an innocent man!
Yes! There could be no doubt as to the vindication of Joam Dacosta. The true author of the crime of Tijuco confessed of his own free will, and described the circumstances under which it had been perpetrated!
By means of the number Judge Jarriquez interpreted the whole of the cryptogram.
And this was what Ortega confessed.
He had been the colleague of Joam Dacosta, employed, like him, at Tijuco, in the offices of the governor of the diamond arrayal. He had been the official appointed to accompany the convoy to Rio de Janeiro, and, far from recoiling at the horrible idea of enriching himself by means of murder and robbery, he had informed the smugglers of the very day the convoy was to leave Tijuco.
During the attack of the scoundrels, who awaited the convoy just beyond Villa Rica, he pretended to defend himself with the soldiers of the escort, and then, falling among the dead, he was carried away by his accomplices. Hence it was that the solitary soldier who survived the massacre had reported that Ortega had perished in the struggle.
But the robbery did not profit the guilty man in the long run, for, a little time afterward, he was robbed by those whom he had helped to commit the crime.
Penniless, and unable to enter Tijuco again, Ortega fled away to the provinces in the north of Brazil, to those districts of the Upper Amazon where the -capitaes da mato- are to be found. He had to live somehow, and so he joined this not very honorable company; they neither asked him who he was nor whence he came, and so Ortega became a captain of the woods, and for many years he followed the trade of a chaser of men.
During this time Torres, the adventurer, himself in absolute want, became his companion. Ortega and he became most intimate. But, as he had told Torres, remorse began gradually to trouble the scoundrel's life. The remembrance of his crime became horrible to him. He knew that another had been condemned in his place! He knew subsequently that the innocent man had escaped from the last penalty, but that he would never be free from the shadow of the capital sentence! And then, during an expedition of his party for several months beyond the Peruvian frontier, chance caused Ortega to visit the neighborhood of Iquitos, and there in Joam Garral, who did not recognize him, he recognized Joam Dacosta.
Henceforth he resolved to make all the reparation he could for the injustice of which is old comrade had been the victim. He committed to the document all the facts relative to the crime of Tijuco, writing it first in French, which had been his mother's native tongue, and then putting it into the mysterious form we know, his intention being to transmit it to the fazender of Iquitos, with the cipher by which it could be read.
Death prevented his completing his work of reparation. Mortally wounded in a scuffle with some negroes on the Madeira, Ortega felt he was doomed. His comrade Torres was then with him. He thought he could intrust to his friend the secret which had so grievously darkened his life. He gave him the document, and made him swear to convey it to Joam Dacosta, whose name and address he gave him, and with his last breath he whispered the number 432513, without which the document would remain undecipherable.
Ortega dead, we know how the unworthy Torres acquitted himself of his mission, how he resolved to turn to his own profit the secret of which he was the possessor, and how he tried to make it the subject of an odious bargain.
Torres died without accomplishing his work, and carried his secret with him. But the name of Ortega, brought back by Fragoso, and which was the signature of the document, had afforded the means of unraveling the cryptogram, dtanks to the sagacity of Judge Jarriquez. Yes, the material proof sought after for so long was the incontestable witness of the innocence of Joam Dacosta, returned to life, restored to honor.
The cheers redoubled when the worthy magistrate, in a loud voice, and for the edification of all, read from the document this terrible history.
And from that moment Judge Jarriquez, whoo possessed this indubitable proof, arranged with the chief of the police, and declined to allow Joam Dacosta, while waiting new instructions from Rio Janeiro, to stay in any prison but his own house.
There could be no difficulty about this, and in the center of the crowd of the entire population of Manaos, Joam Dacosta, accompanied by all his family, beheld himself conducted like a conquerer to the magistrate's residence.
And in that minute the honest fazender of Iquitos was well repaid for all that he had suffered during the long years of exile, and if he was happy for his family's sake more than for his own, he was none the less proud for his country's sake that this supreme injustice had not been consummated!
And in all this what had become of Fragoso?
Well, the good-hearted fellow was covered with caresses! Benito, Manoel, and Minha had overwhelmed him, and Lina had by no means spared him. He did not know what to do, he defended himself as best he could. He did not deserve anything like it. Chance alone had done it. Were any thanks due to him for having recognized Torres as a captain of the woods? No, certainly not. As to his idea of hurrying off in search of the band to which Torres had belonged, he did not think it had been worth much, and as to the name of Ortega, he did not even know its value.
Gallant Fragoso! Whether he wished it or no, he had none the less saved Joam Dacosta!
And herein what a strange succession of different events all tending to the same end. The deliverance of Fragoso at the time when he was dying of exhaustion in the forest of Iquitos; the hospitable reception he had met with at the fazenda, the meeting with Torres on the Brazilian frontier, his embarkation on the jangada; and lastly, the fact that Fragoso had seen him somewhere before.
"Well, yes!" Fragoso ended by exclaiming; "but it is not to me that all this happiness is due, it is due to Lina!"
"To me?" replied the young mulatto.
"No doubt of it. Without the liana, without the idea of the liana, could I ever have been the cause of so much happiness?"
So that Fragoso and Lina were praised and petted by all the family, and by all the new friends whom so many trials had procured them at Manaos, need hardly be insisted on.
But had not Judge Jarriquez also had his share in this rehabilitation of an innocent man? If, in spite of all the shrewdness of his analytical talents, he had not been able to read the document, which was absolutely undecipherable to any one who had not got the key, had he not at any rate discovered the system on which the cryptogram was composed? Without him what could have been done with only the name of Ortega to reconstitute the number which the author of the crime and Torres, both of whom were dead, alone knew?
And so he also received abundant thanks.
Needless to say that the same day there was sent to Rio de Janeiro a detailed report of the whole affair, and with it the original document and the cipher to enable it to be read. New instructions from the minister of justice had to be waited for, though there could be no doubt that they would order the immediate discharge of the prisoner. A few days would thus have to be passed at Manaos, and then Joam Dacosta and his people, free from all constraint, and released from all apprehension, would take leave of their host to go on board once more and continue their descent of the Amazon to Para, where the voyage was intended to terminate with the double marriage of Minha and Manoel and Lina and Fragoso.
Four days afterward, on the fourth of September, the order of discharge arrived. The document had been recognized as authentic. The handwriting was really that of Ortega, who had been formerly employed in the diamond district, and there could be no doubt that the confession of his crime, with the minutest details that were given, had been entirely written with his own hand.
The innocence of the convict of Villa Rica was at length admitted. The rehabilitation of Joam Dacosta was at last officially proclaimed.
That very day Judge Jarriquez dined with the family on board the giant raft, and when evening came he shook hands with them all. Touching were the adieus, but an engagement was made for them to see him again on their return at Manaos, and later on the fazenda of Iquitos.
On the morning of the morrow, the fifth of September, the signal for departure was given. Joam Dacosta and Yaquita, with their daughter and sons, were on the deck of the enormous raft. The jangada had its moorings slackened off and began to move with the current, and when it disappeared round the bend of the Rio Negro, the hurrahs of the whole population of Manaos, who were assembled on the bank, again and again re-echoed across the stream.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XX THE LOWER AMAZON