Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon
Chapter 20: Between the Two Men
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 longer. 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.