Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon/Part I/Chapter XX
FOR A MOMENT, alone in the room, where none could see or hear them, Joam Garral and Torres looked at each other without uttering a word. Did the adventurer hesitate to speak? Did he suspect that Joam Garral would only reply to his demands by a scornful silence?
Yes! Probably so. So Torres did not question him. At the outset of the conversation he took the affirmative, and assumed the part of an accuser.
"Joam," he said, "your name is not Garral. Your name is Dacosta!"
At the guilty name which Torres thus gave him, Joam Garral could not repress a slight shudder.
"You are Joam Dacosta," continued Torres, "who, twenty-five years ago, were a clerk in the governor-general's office at Tijuco, and you are the man who was sentenced to death in this affair of the robbery and murder!"
No response from Joam Garral, whose strange tranquillity surprised the adventurer. Had he made a mistake in accusing his host? No! For Joam Garral made no start at the terrible accusations. Doubtless he wanted to know to what Torres was coming.
"Joam Dacosta, I repeat! It was you whom they sought for this diamond affair, whom they convicted of crime and sentenced to death, and it was you who escaped from the prison at Villa Rica a few hours before you should have been executed! Do you not answer?"
Rather a long silence followed this direct question which Torres asked. Joam Garral, still calm, took a seat. His elbow rested on a small table, and he looked fixedly at his accuser without bending his head.
"Will you reply?" repeated Torres.
"What reply do you want from me?" said Joam quietly.
"A reply," slowly answered Torres, "that will keep me from finding out the chief of the police at Manaos, and saying to him, 'A man is there whose identity can easily be established, who can be recognized even after twenty-five years' absence, and this man was the instigator of the diamond robbery at Tijuco. He was the accomplice of the murderers of the soldiers of the escort; he is the man who escaped from execution; he is Joam Garral, whose true name is Joam Dacosta.'"
"And so, Torres," said Joam Garral, "I shall have nothing to fear from you if I give the answer you require?"
"Nothing, for neither you nor I will have any interest in talking about the matter."
"Neither you nor I?" asked Joam Garral. "It is not with money, then, that your silence is to be bought?"
"No! No matter how much you offered me!"
"What do you want, then?"
"Joam Garral," replied Torres, "here is my proposal. Do not be in a hurry to reply by a formal refusal. Remember that you are in my power."
"What is this proposal?" asked Joam.
Torres hesitated for a moment.
The attitude of this guilty man, whose life he held in his hands, was enough to astonish him. He had expected a stormy discussion and prayers and tears. He had before him a man convicted of the most heinous of crimes, and the man never flinched.
At length, crossing his arms, he said:
"You have a daughter!--I like her--and I want to marry her!"
Apparently Joam Garral expected anything from such a man, and was as quiet as before.
"And so," he said, "the worthy Torres is anxious to enter the family of a murderer and a thief?"
"I am the sole judge of what it suits me to do," said Torres. "I wish to be the son-in-law of Joam Garral, and I will."
"You ignore, then, that my daughter is going to marry Manoel Valdez?"
"You will break it off with Manoel Valdez!"
"And if my daughter declines?"
"If you tell her all, I have no doubt she would consent," was the impudent answer.
"All, if necessary. Between her own feelings and the honor of her family and the life of her father she would not hesitate."
"You are a consummate scoundrel, Torres," quietly said Joam, whose coolness never forsook him.
"A scoundrel and a murderer were made to understand each other."
At these words Joam Garral rose, advanced to the adventurer, and looking him straight in the face, "Torres," he said, "if you wish to become one of the family of Joam Dacosta, you ought to know that Joam Dacosta was innocent of the crime for which he was condemned."
"And I add," replied Joam, "that you hold the proof of his innocence, and are keeping it back to proclaim it on the day when you marry his daughter."
"Fair play, Joam Garral," answered Torres, lowering his voice, "and when you have heard me out, you will see if you dare refuse me your daughter!"
"I am listening, Torres."
"Well," said the adventurer, half keeping back his words, as if he was sorry to let them escape from his lips, "I know you are innocent! I know it, for I know the true culprit, and I am in a position to prove your innocence."
"And the unhappy man who committed the crime?"
"Dead!" exclaimed Joam Garral; and the word made him turn pale, in spite of himself, as if it had deprived him of all power of reinstatement.
"Dead," repeated Torres; "but this man, whom I knew a long time after his crime, and without knowing that he was a convict, had written out at length, in his own hand, the story of this affair of the diamonds, even to the smallest details. Feeling his end approaching, he was seized with remorse. He knew where Joam Dacosta had taken refuge, and under what name the innocent man had again begun a new life. He knew that he was rich, in the bosom of a happy family, but he knew also that there was no happiness for him. And this happiness he desired to add to the reputation to which he was entitled. But death came--he intrusted to me, his companion, to do what he could no longer do. He gave me the proofs of Dacosta's innocence for me to transmit them to him, and he died."
"The man's name?" exclaimed Joam Garral, in a tone he could not control.
"You will know it when I am one of your family."
"And the writing?"
Joam Garral was ready to throw himself on Torres, to search him, to snatch from him the proofs of his innocence.
"The writing is in a safe place," replied Torres, "and you will not have it until your daughter has become my wife. Now will you still refuse me?"
"Yes," replied Joam, "but in return for that paper the half of my fortune is yours."
"The half of your fortune?" exclaimed Torres; "agreed, on condition that Minha brings it to me at her marriage."
"And it is thus that you respect the wishes of a dying man, of a criminal tortured by remorse, and who has charge you to repair as much as he could the evil which he had done?"
"It is thus."
"Once more, Torres," said Joam Garral, "you are a consummate scoundrel."
"Be it so."
"And as I am not a criminal we were not made to understand one another."
"And your refuse?"
"It will be your ruin, then, Joam Garral. Everything accuses you in the proceedings that have already taken place. You are condemned to death, and you know, in sentences for crimes of that nature, the government is forbidden the right of commuting the penalty. Denounced, you are taken; taken, you are executed. And I will denounce you."
Master as he was of himself, Joam could stand it no longler. He was about to rush on Torres.
A gesture from the rascal cooled his anger.
"Take care," said Torres, "your wife knows not that she is the wife of Joam Dacosta, your children do not know they are the children of Joam Dacosta, and you are not going to give them the information."
Joam Garral stopped himself. He regained his usual command over himself, and his features recovered their habitual calm.
"This discussion has lasted long enough," said he, moving toward the door, "and I know what there is left for me to do."
"Take care, Joam Garral!" said Torres, for the last time, for he could scarcely believe that his ignoble attempt at extortion had collapsed.
Joam Garral made him no answer. He threw back the door which opened under the veranda, made a sign to Torres to follow him, and they advanced toward the center of the jangada, where the family were assembled.
Benito, Manoel, and all of them, under a feeling of deep anxiety, had risen. They could see that the bearing of Torres was still menacing, and that the fire of anger still shone in his eyes.
In extraordinary contrast, Joam Garral was master of himself, and almost smiling.
Both of them stopped before Yaquita and her people. Not one dared to say a word to them.
It was Torres who, in a hollow voice, and with his customary impudence, broke the painful silence.
"For the last time, Joam Garral," he said, "I ask you for a last reply!"
"And here is my reply."
And addressing his wife:
"Yaquita," he said, "peculiar circumstances oblige me to alter what we have formerly decided as to the marriage of Minha and Manoel."
"At last!" exclaimed Torres.
Joam Garral, without answering him, shot at the adventurer a glance of the deepest scorn.
But at the words Manoel had felt his heart beat as if it would break. The girl arose, ashy pale, as if she would seek shelter by the side of her mother. Yaquita opened her arms to protect, to defend her.
"Father," said Benito, who had placed himself between Joam Garral and Torres, "what were you going to say?"
"I was going to say," answered Joam Garral, raising his voice, "that to wait for our arrival in Para for the wedding of Minha and Manoel is to wait too long. The marriage will take place here, not later than to-morrow, on the jangada, with the aid of Padre Passanha, if, after a conversation I am about to have with Manoel, he agrees with me to defer it no longer."
"Ah, father, father!" exclaimed the young man.
"Wait a little before you call me so, Manoel," replied Joam, in a tone of unspeakable suffering.
Here Torres, with crossed arms, gave the whole family a look of inconceivable insolence.
"So that is you last word?" said he, extending his hand toward Joam Garral
"No, that is not my last word."
"What is it, then?"
"This, Torres. I am master here. You will be off, if you please, and even if you do not please, and leave the jangada at this very instant!"
"Yes, this instant!" exclaimed Benito, "or I will throw you overboard."
Torres shrugged his shoulders.
"No threats," he said; "they are of no use. It suits me also to land, and without delay. But you will remember me, Joam Garral. We shall not be long before we meet."
"If it only depends on me," answered Joam Garral, "we shall soon meet, and rather sooner, perhaps, than you will like. To-morrow I shall be with Judge Ribeiro, the first magistrate of the province, whom I have advised of my arrival at Manaos. If you dare, meet me there!"
"At Judge Ribeiro's?" said Torres, evidently disconcerted.
"At Judge Ribeiro's," answered Joam Garral.
And then, showing the pirogue to Torres, with a gesture of supreme contempt Joam Garral ordered four of his people to land him without delay on the nearest point of the island.
The scoundrel at last disappeared.
The family, who were still appalled, respected the silence of its chief; but Fragoso, comprehending scarce half the gravity of the situation, and carried away by his customary vivacity, came up to Joam Garral.
"If the wedding of Miss Minha and Mr. Manoel is to take place to-morrow on the raft----"
"Yours shall take place at the same time," kindly answered Joam Garral.
And making a sign to Manoel, he retired to his room with him.
The interview between Joam and Manoel had lasted for half an hour, and it seemed a century to the family, when the door of the room was reopened.
Manoel came out alone; his face glowed with generous resolution.
Going up to Yaquita, he said, "My mother!" to Minha he said, "My wife!" and to Benito he said, "My brother!" and, turning toward Lina and Fragoso, he said to all, "To-morrow!"
He knew all that had passed between Joam Garral and Torres. He knew that, counting on the protection of Judge Ribeiro, by means of a correspondence which he had had with him for a year past without speaking of it to his people, Joam Garral had at last succeeded in clearing himself and convincing him of his innocence. He knew that Joam Garral had boldly undertaken the voyage with the sole object of canceling the hateful proceedings of which he had been the victim, so as not to leave on his daughter and son-in-law the weight of the terrible situation which he had had to endure so long himself.
Yes, Manoel knew all this, and, further, he knew that Joam Garral--or rather Joam Dacosta--was innocent, and his misfortunes made him even dearer and more devoted to him. What he did not know was that the material proof of the innocence of the fazender existed, and that this proof was in the hands of Torres. Joam Garral wished to reserve for the judge himself the use of this proof, which, if the adventurer had spoken truly, would demonstrate his innocence.
Manoel confined himself, then, to announcing that he was going to Padre Passanha to ask him to get things ready for the two weddings.
Next day, the 24th of August, scarcely an hour before the ceremony was to take place, a large pirogue came off from the left bank of the river and hailed the jangada. A dozen paddlers had swiftly brought it from Manaos, and with a few men it carried the chief of the police, who made himself known and came on board.
At the moment Joam Garral and his family, attired for the ceremony, were coming out of the house.
"Joam Garral?" asked the chief of the police.
"I am here," replied Joam.
"Joam Garral," continued the chief of the police, "you have also been Joam Dacosta; both names have been borne by the same man--I arrest you!"
At these words Yaquita and Minha, struck with stupor, stopped without any power to move.
"My father a murderer?" exclaimed Benito, rushing toward Joam Garral.
By a gesture his father silenced him.
"I will only ask you one question," said Joam with firm voice, addressing the chief of police. "Has the warrant in virtue of which you arrest me been issued against me by the justice at Manaos--by Judge Ribeiro?"
"No," answered the chief of the police, "it was given to me, with an order for its immediate execution, by his substitute. Judge Ribeiro was struck with apoplexy yesterday evening, and died during the night at two o'clock, without having recovered his consciousness."
"Dead!" exclaimed Joam Garral, crushed for a moment by the news--"dead! dead!"
But soon raising his head, he said to his wife and children, "Judge Ribeiro alone knew that I was innocent, my dear ones. The death of the judge may be fatal to me, but that is no reason for me to despair."
And, turning toward Manoel, "Heaven help us!" he said to him; "we shall see if truth will come down to the earth from Above."
The chief of the police made a sign to his men, who advanced to secure Joam Garral.
"But speak, father!" shouted Benito, mad with despair; "say one word, and we shall contest even by force this horrible mistake of which you are the victim!"
"There is no mistake here, my son," replied Joam Garral; "Joam Dacosta and Joam Garral are one. I am in truth Joam Dacosta! I am the honest man whom a legal error unjustly doomed to death twenty-five years ago in the place of the true culprit! That I am quite innocent I swear before Heaven, once for all, on your heads, my children, and on the head of your mother!"
"All communication between you and yours is now forbidden," said the chief of the police. "You are my prisoner, Joam Garral, and I will rigorously execute my warrant."
Joam restrained by a gesture his dismayed children and servants.
"Let the justice of man be done while we wait for the justice of God!"
And with his head unbent, he stepped into the pirogue.
It seemed, indeed, as though of all present Joam Garral was the only one whom this fearful thunderbolt, which had fallen so unexpectedly on his head, had failed to overwhelm.