It is indeed a document!"
"Yes," replied Benito; "and that is the document which proves my father's innocence!"
"I do not know that," replied Judge Jarriquez; "and I am much afraid it will be very difficult to know it."
"Why?" exclaimed Benito, who became pale as death.
"Because this document is a cryptogram, and----"
"We have not got the key!"
THIS WAS a contingency which neither Joam Dacosta nor his people could have anticipated. In fact, as those who have not forgotten the first scene in this story are aware, the document was written in a disguised form in one of the numerous systems used in cryptography.
But in which of them?
To discover this would require all the ingenuity of which the human brain was capable.
Before dismissing Benito and his companions, Judge Jarriquez had an exact copy made of the document, and, keeping the original, handed it over to them after due comparison, so that they could communicate with the prisoner.
Then, making an appointment for the morrow, they retired, and not wishing to lose an instant in seeing Joam Dacosta, they hastened on to the prison, and there, in a short interview, informed him of all that had passed.
Joam Dacosta took the document and carefully examined it. Shaking his head, he handed it back to his son. "Perhaps," he said, "there is therein written the proof I shall never be able to produce. But if that proof escapes me, if the whole tenor of my life does not plead for me, I have nothing more to expect from the justice of men, and my fate is in the hands of God!"
And all felt it to be so. If the document remained indecipherable, the position of the convict was a desperate one.
"We shall find it, father!" exclaimed Benito. "There never was a document of this sort yet which could stand examination. Have confidence--yes, confidence! Heaven has, so to speak, miraculously given us the paper which vindicates you, and, after guiding our hands to recover it, it will not refuse to direct our brains to unravel it."
Joam Dacosta shook hands with Benito and Manoel, and then the three young men, much agitated, retired to the jangada, where Yaquita was awaiting them.
Yaquita was soon informed of what had happened since the evening--the reappearance of the body of Torres, the discovery of the document, and the strange form under which the real culprit, the companion of the adventurer, had thought proper to write his confession--doubtless, so that it should not compromise him if it fell into strange hands.
Naturally, Lina was informed of this unexpected complication, and of the discovery made by Fragoso that Torres was an old captain of the woods belonging to the gang who were employed about the mouths of the Madeira.
"But under what circumstances did you meet him?" asked the young mulatto.
"It was during one of my runs across the province of Amazones," replied Fragoso, "when I was going from village to village, working at my trade."
"And the scar?"
"What happened was this: One day I arrived at the mission of Aranas at the moment that Torres, whom I had never before seen, had picked a quarrel with one of his comrades--and a bad lot they are!--and this quarrel ended with a stab from a knife, which entered the arm of the captain of the woods. There was no doctor there, and so I took charge of the wound, and that is how I made his acquaintance."
"What does it matter after all," replied the young girl, "that we know what Torres had been? He was not the author of the crime, and it does not help us in the least."
"No, it does not," answered Fragoso; "for we shall end by reading the document, and then the innocence of Joam Dacosta will be palpable to the eyes of all."
This was likewise the hope of Yaquita, of Benito, of Manoel, and of Minha, and, shut up in the house, they passed long hours in endeavoring to decipher the writing.
But if it was their hope--and there is no need to insist on that point--it was none the less that of Judge Jarriquez.