Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon
Chapter 11: 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 vibrations 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 fortunate coincidence.
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 up?
As quickly as possible the diving-dress was taken off him.
Benito had entirely lost consciousness beneath the violent shocks of the gymnotus.
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 lips.
"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 detonation?"
"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 now--"
"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 scoundrel!"
"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 of Torres!"
"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.