Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon, by Jules Verne

Chapter XIV

Chance!

A COMPLETE change took place in public opinion on the subject of Joam Dacosta. To anger succeeded pity. The population no longer thronged to the prison of Manaos to roar out cries of death to the prisoner. On the contrary, the most forward of them in accusing him of being the principal author of the crime of Tijuco now averred that he was not guilty, and demanded his immediate restoration to liberty. Thus it always is with the mob — from one extreme they run to the other. But the change was intelligible.

The events which had happened during the last few days — the struggle between Benito and Torres; the search for the corpse, which had reappeared under such extraordinary circumstances; the finding of the “indecipherable” document, if we can so call it; the information it concealed, the assurance that it contained, or rather the wish that it contained, the material proof of the guiltlessness of Joam Dacosta; and the hope that it was written by the real culprit — all these things had contributed to work the change in public opinion. What the people had desired and impatiently demanded forty-eight hours before, they now feared, and that was the arrival of the instructions due from Rio de Janeiro.

These, however, were not likely to be delayed.

Joam Dacosta had been arrested on the 24th of August, and examined next day. The judge’s report was sent off on the 26th. It was now the 28th. In three or four days more the minister would have come to a decision regarding the convict, and it was only too certain that justice would take its course.

There was no doubt that such would be the case. On the other hand, that the assurance of Dacosta’s innocence would appear from the document, was not doubted by anybody, neither by his family nor by the fickle population of Manaos, who excitedly followed the phases of this dramatic affair.

But, on the other hand, in the eyes of disinterested or indifferent persons who were not affected by the event, what value could be assigned to this document? and how could they even declare that it referred to the crime in the diamond arrayal? It existed, that was undeniable; it had been found on the corpse of Torres, nothing could be more certain. It could even be seen, by comparing it with the letter in which Torres gave the information about Joam Dacosta, that the document was not in the handwriting of the adventurer. But, as had been suggested by Judge Jarriquez, why should not the scoundrel have invented it for the sake of his bargain? And this was less unlikely to be the case, considering that Torres had declined to part with it until after his marriage with Dacosta’s daughter — that is to say, when it would have been impossible to undo an accomplished fact.

All these views were held by some people in some form, and we can quite understand what interest the affair created. In any case, the situation of Joam Dacosta was most hazardous. If trhe document were not deciphered, it would be just the same as if it did not exist; and if the secret of the cryptogram were not miraculously divined or revealed before the end of the three days, the supreme sentence would inevitably be suffered by the doomed man of Tijuco. And this miracle a man attempted to perform! The man was Jarriquez, and he now really set to work more in the interest of Joam Dacosta than for the satisfaction of his analytical faculties. A complete change had also taken place in his opinion. Was not this man, who had voluntarily abandoned his retreat at Iquitos, who had come at the risk of his life to demand his rehabilitation at the hands of Brazilian justice, a moral enigma worth all the others put together? And so the judge had resolved never to leave the document until he had discovered the cipher. He set to work at it in a fury. He ate no more; he slept no more! All his time was passed in inventing combinations of numbers, in forging a key to force this lock!

This idea had taken possession of Judge Jarriquez’s brain at the end of the first day. Suppressed frenzy consumed him, and kept him in a perpetual heat. His whole house trembled; his servants, black or white, dared not come near him. Fortunately he was a bachelor; had there been a Madame Jarriquez she would have had a very uncomfortable time of it. Never had a problem so taken possession of this oddity, and he had thoroughly made up his mind to get at the solution, even if his head exploded like an overheated boiler under the tension of its vapor.

It was perfectly clear to the mind of the worthy magistrate that the key to the document was a number, composed of two or more ciphers, but what this number was all investigation seemed powerless to discover.

This was the enterprise on which Jarriquez, in quite a fury, was engaged, and during this 28th of August he brought all his faculties to bear on it, and worked away almost superhumanly.

To arrive at the number by chance, he said, was to lose himself in millions of combinations, which would absorb the life of a first-rate calculator. But if he could in no respect reckon on chance, was it impossible to proceed by reasoning? Decidedly not! And so it was “to reason till he became unreasoning” that Judge Jarriquez gave himself up after vainly seeking repose in a few hours of sleep. He who ventured in upon him at this moment, after braving the formal defenses which protected his solitude, would have found him, as on the day before, in his study, before his desk, with the document under his eyes, the thousands of letters of which seemed all jumbled together and flying about his head.

“Ah!” he explaimed, “why did not the scoundrel who wrote this separate the words in this paragraph? We might — we will try — but no! However, if there is anything here about the murder and the robbery, two or three words there must be in it —‘arrayal,’ ‘diamond,’ ‘Tijuco,’ ‘Dacosta,’ and others; and in putting down their cryptological equivalents the number could be arrived at. But there is nothing — not a single break! — not one word by itself! One word of two hundred and seventy-six letters! I hope the wretch may be blessed two hundred and seventy-six times for complicating his system in this way! He ought to be hanged two hundred and seventy-six times!”

And a violent thump with his fist on the document emphasized this charitable wish.

“But,” continued the magistrate, “if I cannot find one of the words in the body of the document, I might at least try my hand at the beginning and end of each paragraph. There may be a chance there that I ought not to miss.”

And impressed with this idea Judge Jarriquez successively tried if the letters which commenced or finished the different paragraphs could be made to correspond with those which formed the most important word, which was sure to be found somewhre, that of Dacosta.

He could do nothing of the kind.

In fact, to take only the last paragraph with which he began, the formula was:

                        P  =  D                         h  =  a                         y  =  c                         f  =  o                         s  =  s                         l  =  t                         y  =  a

Now, at the very first letter Jarriquez was stopped in his calculations, for the difference in alphabetical position between the d and the p gave him not one cipher, but two, namely, 12, and in this kind of cryptograph only one letter can take the place of another.

It was the same for the seven last letters of the paragraph, p s u v j h d, of which the series also commences with a p, and which in no case could stand for the d in Dacosta, because these letters were in like manner twelve spaces apart.

So it was not his name that figured here.

The same observation applies to the words arrayal and Tijuco, which were successively tried, but whose construction did not correspond with the cryptographic series.

After he had got so far, Judge Jarriquez, with his head nearly splitting, arose and paced his office, went for fresh air to the window, and gave utterance to a growl, at the noise of which a flock of hummingbirds, murmuring among the foliage of a mimosa tree, betook themselves to flight. Then he returned to the document.

He picked it up and turned it over and over.

“The humbig! the rascal!” he hissed; “it will end by driving me mad! But steady! Be calm! Don’t let our spirits go down! This is not the time!”

And then, having refreshed himself by giving his head a thorough sluicing with cold water:

“Let us try another way,” he said, “and as I cannot hit upon the number from the arrangement of the letters, let us see what number the author of the document would have chosen in confessing that he was the author of the crime at Tijuco.”

This was another method for the magistrate to enter upon, and maybe he was right, for there was a certain amount of logic about it.

“And first let us try a date! Why should not the culprit have taken the date of the year in which Dacosta, the innocent man he allowed to be sentenced in his own place, was born? Was he likely to forget a number which was so important to him? Then Joam Dacosta was born in 1804. Let us see what 1804 will give us as a cryptographical number.”

And Judge Jarriquez wrote the first letters of the paragraph, and putting over them the number 1804 repeated thrice, he obtained

1804    1804    1804
phyj    slyd    dqfd

Then in counting up the spaced in alphabetical order, he obtained

s.yf    rdy.    cif.

And this was meaningless! And he wanted three letters which he had to replace by points, because the ciphers, 8, 4, and 4, which command the three letters, h, d, and d, do not give corresponding letters in ascending the series.

“That is not it again!” exclaimed Jarriques. “Let us try another number.”

And he asked himself, if instead of this first date the author of the document had not rather selected the date of the year in which the crime was committed.

This was in 1826.

And so proceeding as above, he obtained.

1826    1826    1826
phyj    slyd    dqfd

and that gave

o.vd    rdv.    cid.

the same meaningless series, the same absence of sense, as many letters wanting as in the former instance, and for the same reason.

“Bother the number!” exclaimed the magistrate. “We must give it up again. Let us have another one! Perhaps the rascal chose the number of contos representing the amount of the booty!”

Now the value of the stolen diamonds was estimated at eight hundred and thirty-four contos, or about 2,500,000 francs, and so the formula became

834    834    834    834
phy    jsl    ydd    qfd

and this gave a result as little gratifying as the others ——

het    bph    pa.    ic.

“Confound the document and him who imagined it!” shouted Jarriquez, throwing down the paper, which was wafted to the other side of the room. “It would try the patience of a saint!”

But the short burst of anger passed away, and the magistrate, who had no idea of being beaten, picked up the paper. What he had done with the first letters of the different paragraphs he did with the last — and to no purpose. Then he tried everything his excited imagination could suggest.

He tried in succession the numbers which represented Dacosta’s age, which would have been known to the author of the crime, the date of his arrest, the date of the sentence at the Villa Rica assizes, the date fixed for the execution, etc., etc., even the number of victims at the affray at Tijuco!

Nothing! All the time nothing!

Judge Jarriquez had worked himself into such a state of exasperation that there really was some fear that his mental faculties would lose their balance. He jumped about, and twisted about, and wrestled about as if he really had got hold of his enemy’s body. Then suddenly he cried, “Now for chance! Heaven help me now, logic is powerless!”

His hand seized a bell-pull hanging near his table. The bell rang furiously, and the magistrate strode up to the door, which he opened. “Bobo!” he shouted.

A moment or two elapsed.

Bobo was a freed negro, who was the privileged servant of Jarriquez. He did not appear; it was evident that Bobo was afraid to come into his master’s room.

Another ring at the bell; another call to Bobo, who, for his own safety, pretended to be deaf on this occasion. And now a third ring at the bell, which unhitched the crank and broke the cord.

This time Bobo came up. “What is it, sir?” asked Bobo, prudently waiting on the threshold.

“Advance, without uttering a single word!” replied the judge, whose flaming eyes made the negro quake again.

Bobo advanced.

“Bobo,” said Jarriquez, “attend to what I say, and answer immediately; do not even take time to think, or I——”

Bobo, with fixed eyes and open mouth, brought his feet together like a soldier and stood at attention.

“Are you ready?” asked his master.

“I am.”

“Now, then, tell me, without a moment’s thought — you understand — the first number than comes into your head.”

“76223,” answered Bobo, all in a breath. Bobo thought he would please his master by giving him a pretty large one!

Judge Jarriquez had run to the table, and, pencil in hand, had made out a formula with the number given by Bobo, and which Bobo had in this way only given him at a venture.

It is obvious that it was most unlikely that a number such as 76223 was the key of the document, and it produced no other result than to bring to the lips of Jarriquez such a vigorous ejaculation that Bobo disappeared like a shot!

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