Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon, by Jules Verne

Chapter IV

Moral Proofs

THE WARRANT against Joam Dacosta, alias Joam Garral, had been issued by the assistant of Judge Ribeiro, who filled the position of the magistrate in the province of Amazones, until the nomination of the successor of the late justice.

This assistant bore the name of Vicente Jarriquez. He was a surly little fellow, whom forty years’ practice in criminal procedure had not rendered particularly friendly toward those who came before him. He had had so many cases of this sort, and tried and sentenced so many rascals, that a prisoner’s innocence seemed to him à priori inadmissable. To be sure, he did not come to a decision unconscientiously; but his conscience was strongly fortified and was not easily affected by the circumstances of the examination or the arguments for the defense. Like a good many judges, he thought but little of the indulgence of the jury, and when a prisoner was brought before him, after having passed through the sieve of inquest, inquiry, and examination, there was every presumption in his eyes that the man was quite ten times guilty.

Jarriquez, however, was not a bad man. Nervous, fidgety, talkative, keen, crafty, he had a curious look about him, with his big head on his little body; his ruffled hair, which would not have disgraced the judges wig of the past; his piercing gimlet-like eyes, with their expression of surprising acuteness; his prominent nose, with which he would assuredly have gesticulated had it been movable; his ears wide open, so as to better catch all that was said, even when it was out of range of ordinary auditory apparatus; his fingers unceasingly tapping the table in front of him, like those of a pianist practicing on the mute; and his body so long and his legs so short, and his feet perpetually crossing and recrossing, as he sat in state in his magistrate’s chair.

In private life, Jarriquez, who was a confirmed old bachelor, never left his law-books but for the table which he did not despise; for chess, of which he was a past master; and above all things for Chinese puzzles, enigmas, charades, rebuses, anagrams, riddles, and such things, with which, like more than one European justice — thorough sphinxes by taste as well as by profession — he principally passed his leisure.

It will be seen that he was an original, and it will be seen also how much Joam Dacosta had lost by the death of Judge Ribeiro, inasmuch as his case would come before this not very agreeable judge.

Moreover, the task of Jarriquez was in a way very simple. He had either to inquire nor to rule; he had not even to regulate a discussion nor to obtain a verdict, neither to apply the articles of the penal code nor to pronounce a sentence. Unfortunately for the fazender, such formalities were no longer necessary; Joam Dacosta had been arrested, convicted, and sentenced twenty-three years ago for the crime at Tijuco; no limitation had yet affected his sentence. No demand in commutation of the penalty could be introduced, and no appeal for mercy could be received. It was only necessary then to establish his identity, and as soon as the order arrived from Rio Janeiro justice would have to take its course.

But in the nature of things Joam Dacosta would protest his innocence; he would say he had been unjustly condemned. The magistrate’s duty, notwithstanding the opinions he held, would be to listen to him. The question would be, what proofs could the convict offer to make good his assertions? And if he was not able to produce them when he appeared before his first judges, was he able to do so now?

Herein consisted all the interest of the examination. There would have to be admitted the fact of a defaulter, prosperous and safe in a foreign country, leaving his refuge of his won free will to face the justice which his past life should have taught him to dread, and herein would be on of those rare and curious cases which ought to interest even a magistrate hardened with all the surroundings of forensic strife. Was it impudent folly on the part of the doomed man of Tijuco, who was tired of his life, or was it the impulse of a conscience which would at all risks have wrong set right? The problem was a strange one, it must be acknowledged.

On the morrow of Joam Dacosta’s arrest, Judge Jarriquez made his way to the prison in God-the-Son Street, where the convict had been placed. The prison was an old missionary convent, situated on the bank of one of the principal iguarapes of the town. To the voluntary prisoners of former times there had succeeded in this building, which was but little adapted for the purpose, the compulsory prisoners of to-day. The room occupied by Joam Dacosta was nothing like one of those sad little cells which form part of our modern penitentiary system: but an old monk’s room, with a barred window without shutters, opening on to an uncultivated space, a bench in one corner, and a kind of pallet in the other. It was from this apartment that Joam Dacosta, on this 25th of August, about eleven o’clock in the morning, was taken and brought into the judge’s room, which was the old common hall of the convent.

Judge Jarriquez was there in front of his desk, perched on his high chair, his back turned toward the window, so that his face was in shadow while that of the accused remained in full daylight. His clerk, with the indifference which characterizes these legal folks, had taken his seat at the end of the table, his pen behind his ear, ready to record the questions and answers.

Joam Dacosta was introduced into the room, and at a sign from the judge the guards who had brought him withdrew.

Judge Jarriquez looke at the accused for some time. The latter, leaning slightly forward and maintaining a becoming attitude, neither careless nor humble, waited with dignity for the questions to which he was expected to reply.

“Your name?” said Judge Jarriquez.

“Joam Dacosta.”

“Your age?”

“Fifty-two.”

“Where do you live?”

“In Peru, at the village of Iquitos.”

“Under what name?”

“Under that of Garral, which is that of my mother.”

“And why do you bear that name?”

“Because for twenty-three years I wished to hide myself from the pursuit of Brazilian justice.”

The answers were so exact, and seemed to show that Joam Dacosta had made up his mind to confess everything concerning his past and present life, that Judge Jarriquez, little accustomed to such a course, cocked up his nose more than was usual to him.

“And why,” he continued, “should Brazilian justice pursue you?”

“Because I was sentenced to death in 1826 in the diamond affair at Tijuco.”

“You confess then that you are Joam Dacosta?”

“I am Joam Dacosta.”

All this was said with great calmness, and as simply as possible. The little eyes of Judge Jarriquez, hidden by their lids, seemed to say:

“Never came across anything like this before.”

He had put the invariable question which had hitherto brought the invariable reply from culprits of every category protesting their innocence. The fingers of the judge began to beat a gentle tattoo on the table.

“Joam Dacosta,” he asked, “what were you doing at Iquitos?”

“I was a fazender, and engaged in managing a farming establishment of considerable size.”

“It was prospering?”

“Greatly prospering.”

“How long ago did you leave your fazenda?”

“About nine weeks.”

“Why?”

“As to that, sir,” answered Dacosta, “I invented a pretext, but in reality I had a motive.”

“What was the pretext?”

“The responsibility of taking into Para a large raft, and a cargo of different products of the Amazon.”

“Ah! and what was the real motive of your departure?”

And in asking this question Jarriquez said to himself:

“Now we shall get into denials and falsehoods.”

“The real motive,” replied Joam Dacosta, in a firm voice, “was the resolution I had taken to give myself up to the justice of my country.”

“You give yourself up!” exclaimed the judge, rising from his stool. “You give yourself up of your own free will?”

“Of my own free will.”

“And why?”

“Because I had had enough of this lying life, this obligatin to live under a false name, of this impossibility to be able to restore to my wife and children that which belongs to them; in short, sir, because ——”

“Because?”

“I was innocent!”

“That is what I was waiting for,” said Judge Jarriquez.

And while his fingers tattooed a slightly more audible march, he made a sign with his head to Dacosta, which signified as clearly as possible, “Go on! Tell me your history. I know it, but I do not wish to interrupt you in telling it in your own way.”

Joam Dacosta, who did not disregard the magistrate’s far from encouraging attitude, could not but see this, and he told the history of his whole life. He spoke quietly without departing from the calm he had imposed upon himself, without omitting any circumstances which had preceded or succeeded his condemnation. In the same tone he insisted on the honored and honorable life he had led since his escape, on his duties as head of his family, as husband and father, which he had so worthily fulfilled. He laid stress only on one circumstance — that which had brought him to Manaos to urge on the revision of the proceedings against him, to procure his rehabilitation — and that he was compelled to do.

Judge Jarriques, who was naturally prepossessed against all criminals, did not interrupt him. He contented himself with opening and shutting his eyes like a man who heard the story told for the hundredth time; and when Joam Dacosta laid on the table the memoir which he had drawn up, he made no movement to take it.

“You have finished?” he said.

“Yes, sir.”

“And you persist in asserting that you only left Iquitos to procure the revision of the judgment against you.”

“I had no other intention.”

“What is there to prove that? Who can prove that, without the denunciation which had brought about your arrest, you would have given yourself up?”

“This memoir, in the first place.”

“That memoir was in your possession, and there is nothing to show that had you not been arrested, you would have put it to the use you say you intended.”

“At the least, sir, there was one thing that was not in my possession, and of the authenticity of which there can be no doubt.”

“What?”

“The letter I wrote to your predecessor, Judge Ribeiro, the letter which gave him notice of my early arrival.”

“Ah! you wrote?”

“Yes. And the letter which ought to have arrived at its destination should have been handed over to you.”

“Really!” answered Judge Jarriquez, in a slightly incredulous tone. “You wrote to Judge Ribeiro.”

“Before he was a judge in this province,” answered Joam Dacosta, “he was an advocate at Villa Rica. He it was who defended me in the trial at Tijuco. He never doubted of the justice of my cause. He did all he could to save me. Twenty years later, when he had become chief justice at Manaos, I let him know who I was, where I was, and what I wished to attempt. His opinion about me had not changed, and it was at his advice I left the fazenda, and came in person to proceed with my rehabilitation. But death had unfortunately struck him, and maybe I shall be lost, sir, if in Judge Jarriquez I do not find another Judge Ribeiro.”

The magistrate, appealed to so directly, was about to start up in defiance of all the traditions of the judicial bench, but he managed to restrain himself, and was contented with muttering:

“Very strong, indeed; very strong!”

Judge Jarriquez was evidently hard of heart, and proof against all surprise.

At this moment a guard entered the room, and handed a sealed packet to the magistrate.

He broke the seal and drew a letter from the envelope. He opened it and read it, not without a certain contraction of his eyebrows, and then said:

“I have no reason for hiding from you, Joam Dacosta, that this is the letter you have been speaking about, addressed by you to Judge Ribeiro and sent on to me. I have, therefore, no reason to doubt what you have said on the subject.”

“Not only on that subject,” answered Dacosta, “but on the subject of all the circumstances of my life which I have brought to your knowledge, and which are none of them open to question.”

“Eh! Joam Dacosta,” quickly replie dJudge Jarriquez. “You protest your innocence; but all prisoners do as much! After all, you only offer moral presumptions. Have you any material proof?”

“Perhaps I have,” answered Joam Dacosta.

At these words, Judge Jarriquez left his chair. This was too much for him, and he had to take two or three circuits of the room to recover himself.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:24