Suddenly Fragoso stopped as if his feet had become rooted in the ground. He had reached the entrance to a small square, on which opened one of the town gates.
There, in the midst of a dense crowd, arose the gallows, towering up some twenty feet, and from it there hung the rope!
Fragoso felt his consciousness abandon him. He fell; his eyes involuntarily closed. He did not wish to look, and these words escaped his lips: "Too late! too late!" But by a superhuman effort he raised himself up. No; it was _not_ too late, the corpse of Joam Dacosta was _not_ hanging at the end of the rope!
"Judge Jarriquez! Judge Jarriquez!" shouted Fragoso, and panting and bewildered he rushed toward the city gate, dashed up the principal street of Manaos, and fell half-dead on the threshold of the judge's house. The door was shut. Fragoso had still strength enough left to knock at it.
One of the magistrate's servants came to open it; his master would see no one.
In spite of this denial, Fragoso pushed back the man who guarded the entrance, and with a bound threw himself into the judge's study.
"I come from the province where Torres pursued his calling as captain of the woods!" he gasped. "Mr. Judge, Torres told the truth. Stop--stop the execution?"
"You found the gang?"
"And you have brought me the cipher of the document?"
Fragoso did not reply.
"Come, leave me alone! leave me alone!" shouted Jarriquez, and, a prey to an outburst of rage, he grasped the document to tear it to atoms.
Fragoso seized his hands and stopped him. "The truth is there!" he said.
"I know," answered Jarriquez; "but it is a truth which will never see the light!"
"It will appear--it must! it must!"
"Once more, have you the cipher?"
"No," replied Fragoso; "but, I repeat, Torres has not lied. One of his companions, with whom he was very intimate, died a few months ago, and there can be no doubt but that this man gave him the document he came to sell to Joam Dacosta."
"No," answered Jarriquez--"no, there is no doubt about it--as far as we are concerned; but that is not enough for those who dispose of the doomed man's life. Leave me!"
Fragoso, repulsed, would not quit the spot. Again he threw himself at the judge's feet. "Joam Dacosta is innocent!" he cried; "you will not leave him to die? It was not he who committed the crime of Tijuco; it was the comrade of Torres, the author of that document! It was Ortega!"
As he uttered the name the judge bounded backward. A kind of calm swiftly succeeded to the tempest which raged within him. He dropped the document from his clenched hand, smoothed it out on the table, sat down, and, passing his hand over his eyes--"That name?" he said--"Ortega? Let us see," and then he proceeded with the new name brought back by Fragoso as he had done with the other names so vainly tried by himself.
After placing it above the first six letters of the paragraph he obtained the following formula:
O r t e g a _P h y j s l_
"Nothing!" he said. "That give us--nothing!"
And in fact the _h_ placed under the _r_ could not be expressed by a cipher, for, in alphabetical order, this letter occupies an earlier position to that of the _r._
The _p,_ the _y,_ the _j,_ arranged beneath the letters _o, t, e,_ disclosed the cipher 1, 4, 5, but as for the _s_ and the _l_ at the end of the word, the interval which separated them from the _g_ and the _a_ was a dozen letters, and hence impossible to express by a single cipher, so that they corresponded to neither _g_ nor _a_.
And here appalling shouts arose in the streets; they were the cries of despair.
Fragoso jumped to one of the windows, and opened it before the judge could hinder him.
The people filled the road. The hour had come at which the doomed man was to start from the prison, and the crowd was flowing back to the spot where the gallows had been erected.
Judge Jarriquez, quite frightful to look upon, devoured the lines of the document with a fixed stare.