WHEN THE MAGISTRATE had again taken his place, like a man who considered he was perfectly master of himself, he leaned back in his chair, and with his head raised and his eyes looking straight in front, as though not even noticing the accused, remarked, in a tone of the most perfect indifference:
Joam Dacosta reflected for a minute as if hesitating to resume the order of his thoughts, and then answered as follows:
“Up to the present, sir, I have only given you moral presumptions of my innocence grounded on the dignity, propriety, and honesty of the whole of my life. I should have thought that such proofs were those most worthy of being brought forward in matters of justice.”
Judge Jarriquez could not restrain a movement of his shoulders, showing that such was not his opinion.
“Since they are not enough, I proceed with the material proofs which I shall perhaps be able to produce,” continued Dacosta; “I say perhaps, for I do not yet know what credit to attach to them. And, sir, I have never spoken of these things to my wife or children, not wishing to raise a hope which might be destroyed.”
“To the point,” answered Jarriquez.
“I have every reason to believe, sir, that my arrest on the eve of the arrival of the raft at Manaos is due to information given to the chief of the police!”
“You are not mistaken, Joam Dacosta, but I ought to tell you that the information is anonymous.”
“It matters little, for I know that it could only come from a scoundrel called Torres.”
“And what right have you to speak in such a way of this — informer?”
“A scoundrel! Yes, sir!” replied Joam quickly. “This man, whom I received with hospitality, only came to me to propose that I should purchase his silence to offer me an odious bargain that I shall never regret having refused, whatever may be the consequences of his denunciation!”
“Always this method!” thought Judge Jarriquez; “accusing others to clear himself.”
But he none the less listened with extreme attention to Joam’s recital of his relations with the adventurer up to the moment when Torres let him know that he knew and could reveal the name of the true author of the crime of Tijuco.
“And what is the name of the guilty man?” asked Jarriquez, shaken in his indifference.
“I do not know,” answered Joam Dacosta. “Torres was too cautious to let it out.”
“And the culprit is living?”
“He is dead.”
The fingers of Judge Jarriquez tattooed more quickly, and he could not avoid exclaiming, “The man who can furnish the proof of a prisoner’s innocence is always dead.”
“If the real culprit is dead, sir, “ replied Dacosta, “Torres at least is living, and the proof, written throughout in the handwriting of the author of the crime, he has assured me is in his hands! He offered to sell it to me!”
“Eh! Joam Dacosta!” answered Judge Jarriquez, “that would not have been dear at the cost of the whole of your fortune!”
“If Torres had only asked my fortune, I would have given it to him and not one of my people would have demurred! Yes, you are right, sir; a man cannot pay too dearly for the redemption of his honor! But this scoundrel, knowing that I was at his mercy, required more than my fortune!”
“My daughter’s hand was to be the cost of the bargain! I refused; he denounced me, and that is why I am now before you!”
“And if Torres had not informed against you,” asked Judge Jarriquez —“if Torres had not met with you on your voyage, what would you have done on learning on your arrival of the death of Judge Ribeiro? Would you then have delivered yourself into the hands of justice?”
“Without the slightest hesitation,” replied Joam, in a firm voice; “for, I repeat it, I had no other object in leaving Iquitos to come to Manaos.”
This was said in such a tone of truthfulness that Judge Jarriquez experienced a kind of feeling making its way to that corner of the heart where convictions are formed, but he did not yet give in.
He could hardly help being astonished. A judge engaged merely in this examination, he knew nothing of what is known by those who have followed this history, and who cannot doubt but that Torres held in his hands the material proof of Joam Dacosta’s innocence. They know that the document existed; that it contained this evidence; and perhaps they may be led to think that Judge Jarriquez was pitilessly incredulous. But they should remember that Judge Jarriquez was not in their position; that he was accustomed to the invariable protestations of the culprits who came before him. The document which Joam Dacosta appealed to was not produced; he did not really know if it actually existed; and to conclude, he had before him a man whose guilt had for him the certainty of a settled thing.
However, he wished, perhaps through curiosity, to drive Joam Dacosta behind his last entrenchments.
“And so,” he said, “all your hope now rests on the declaration which has been made to you by Torres.”
“Yes, sir, if my whole life does not plead for me.”
“Where do you think Torres really is?”
“I think in Manaos.”
“And you hope that he will speak — that he will consent to good-naturedly hand over to you the document for which you have declined to pay the price he asked?”
“I hope so, sir,” replied Joam Dacosta; “the situation now is not the same for Torres; he has denounced me, and consequently he cannot retain any hope of resuming his bargaining under the previous conditions. But this document might still be worth a fortune if, supposing I am acquitted or executed, it should ever escape him. Hence his interest is to sell me the document, which can thus not injure him in any way, and I think he will act according to his interest.”
The reasoning of Joam Dacosta was unanswerable, and Judge Jarriquez felt it to be so. He made the only possible objection.
“The interest of Torres is doubtless to selel you the document — if the document exists.”
“If it does not exist,” answered Joam Dacosta, in a penetrating voice, “in trusting to the justice of men, I must put my trust only in God!”
At these words Judge Jarriquez rose, and, in not quite such an indifferent tone, said, “Joam Dacosta, in examining you here, in allowing you to relate the particulars of your past life and to protest your innocence, I have gone further than my instructions allow me. An information has already been laid in this affair, and you have appeared before the jury at Villa Rica, whose verdict was given unanimously, and without even the addition of extenuating circumstances. You have been found guilty of the instigation of, and complicity in, the murder of the soldiers and the robbery of the diamonds at Tijuco, the capital sentence was pronounced on you, and it was only by flight that you escaped execution. But that you came here to deliver yourself over, or not, to the hands of justice twenty-three years afterward, you would never have been retaken. For the last time, you admit that you are Joam Dacosta, the condemned man of the diamond arrayal?”
“I am Joam Dacosta.”
“You are ready to sign this declaration?”
“I am ready.”
And with a hand without a tremble Joam Dacosta put his name to the foot of the declaration and the report which Judge Jarriquez had made his clerk draw up.
“The report, addressed to the minister of justice, is to be sent off to Rio Janeiro,” said the magistrate. “Many days will elapse before we receive orders to carry out your sentence. If then, as you say, Torres possesses the proof of your innocence, do all you can yourself — do all you can through your friends — do everything, so that that proof can be produced in time. Once the order arrives no delay will be possible, and justice must take its course.”
Joam Dacosta bowed slightly.
“Shall I be allowed in the meantime to see my wife and children?” he asked.
“After to-day, if you wish,” answered Judge Jarriquez; “you are no longer in close confinement, and they can be brought to you as soon as they apply.”
The magistrate then rang the bell. The guards entered the room, and took away Joam Dacosta.
Judge Jarriquez watched him as he went out, and shook his head and muttered:
“Well, well! This is a much stranger affair than I ever thought it would be!”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01