Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon
Chapter 2: The First Moments
SCARCELY HAD the pirogue which bore off Joam Garral, or rather Joam Dacosta--for it is more convenient that he should resume his real name--disappeared, than Benito stepped up to Manoel.
"What is it you know?" he asked.
"I know that your father is innocent! Yes, innocent!" replied Manoel, "and that he was sentenced to death twenty-three years ago for a crime which he never committed!"
"He has told you all about it, Manoel?"
"All about it," replied the young man. "The noble fazender did not wish that any part of his past life should be hidden from him who, when he marries his daughter, is to be his second son."
"And the proof of his innocence my father can one day produce?"
"That proof, Benito, lies wholly in the twenty-three years of an honorable and honored life, lies entirely in the bearing of Joam Dacosta, who comes forward to say to justice, 'Here am I! I do not care for this false existence any more. I do not care to hide under a name which is not my true one! You have condemned an innocent man! Confess your errors and set matters right.'"
"And when my father spoke like that, you did not hesitate for a moment to believe him?"
"Not for an instant," replied Manoel.
The hands of the two young fellows closed in a long and cordial grasp.
Then Benito went up to Padre Passanha.
"Padre," he said, "take my mother and sister away to their rooms. Do not leave them all day. No one here doubts my father's innocence--not one, you know that! To-morrow my mother and I will seek out the chief of the police. They will not refuse us permission to visit the prison. No! that would be too cruel. We will see my father again, and decide what steps shall be taken to procure his vindication."
Yaquita was almost helpless, but the brave woman, though nearly crushed by this sudden blow, arose. With Yaquita Dacosta it was as with Yaquita Garral. She had not a doubt as to the innocence of her husband. The idea even never occurred to her that Joam Dacosta had been to blame in marrying her under a name which was not his own. She only thought of the life of happiness she had led with the noble man who had been injured so unjustly. Yes! On the morrow she would go to the gate of the prison, and never leave it until it was opened!
Padre Passanha took her and her daughter, who could not restrain her tears, and the three entered the house.
The two young fellows found themselves alone.
"And now," said Benito, "I ought to know all that my father has told you."
"I have nothing to hide from you."
"Why did Torres come on board the jangada?"
"To see to Joam Dacosta the secret of his past life."
"And so, when we first met Torres in the forest of Iquitos, his plan had already been formed to enter into communication with my father?"
"There cannot be a doubt of it," replied Manoel. "The scoundrel was on his way to the fazenda with the idea of consummating a vile scheme of extortion which he had been preparing for a long time."
"And when he learned from us that my father and his whole family were about to pass the frontier, he suddenly changed his line of conduct?"
"Yes. Because Joam Dacosta once in Brazilian territory became more at his mercy than while within the frontiers of Peru. That is why we found Torres at Tabatinga, where he was waiting in expectation of our arrival."
"And it was I who offered him a passage on the raft!" exclaimed Benito, with a gesture of despair.
"Brother," said Manoel, "you need not reproach yourself. Torres would have joined us sooner or later. He was not the man to abandon such a trail. Had we lost him at Tabatinga, we should have found him at Manaos."
"Yes, Manoel, you are right. But we are not concerned with the past now. We must think of the present. An end to useless recriminations! Let us see!" And while speaking, Benito, passing his hand across his forehead, endeavored to grasp the details of the strange affair.
"How," he asked, "did Torres ascertain that my father had been sentenced twenty-three years back for this abominable crime at Tijuco?"
"I do not know," answered Manoel, "and everything leads me to think that your father did not know that."
"But Torres knew that Garral was the name under which Joam Dacosta was living?"
"And he knew that it was in Peru, at Iquitos, that for so many years my father had taken refuge?"
"He knew it," said Manoel, "but how he came to know it I do not understand."
"One more question," continued Benito. "What was the proposition that Torres made to my father during the short interview which preceded his expulsion?"
"He threatened to denounce Joam Garral as being Joam Dacosta, if he declined to purchase his silence."
"And at what price?"
"At the price of his daughter's hand!" answered Manoel unhesitatingly, but pale with anger.
"The scoundrel dared to do that!" exclaimed Benito.
"To this infamous request, Benito, you saw the reply that your father gave."
"Yes, Manoel, yes! The indignant reply of an honest man. He kicked Torres off the raft. But it is not enough to have kicked him out. No! That will not do for me. It was on Torres' information that they came here and arrested my father; is not that so?"
"Yes, on his denunciation."
"Very well," continued Benito, shaking his fist toward the left bank of the river, "I must find out Torres. I must know how he became master of the secret. He must tell me if he knows the real author of this crime. He shall speak out. And if he does not speak out, I know what I shall have to do."