The signal was given by Manoel, and Torres and Benito stepped forward.
Benito had complete command over himself. The defender of a sacred cause, his coolness was unruffled, much more so than that of Torres, whose conscience insensible and hardened as it was, was bound at the moment to trouble him.
The two met, and the first blow came from Benito. Torres parried it. They then jumped back, but almost at the same instant they rushed together, and with their left hands seized each other by the shoulder--never to leave go again.
Torres, who was the strongest, struck a side blow with his manchetta which Benito could not quite parry. His left side was touched, and his poncho was reddened with his blood. But he quickly replied, and slightly wounded Torres in the hand.
Several blows were then interchanged, but nothing decisive was done. The ever silent gaze of Benito pierced the eyes of Torres like a sword blade thrust to his very heart. Visibly the scoundrel began to quail. He recoiled little by little, pressed back by his implacable foe, who was more determined on taking the life of his father's denouncer than in defending his own. To strike was all that Benito longed for; to parry was all that the other now attempted to do.
Soon Torres saw himself thrust to the very edge of the bank, at a spot where, slightly scooped away, it overhung the river. He perceived the danger; he tried to retake the offensive and regain the lost ground. His agitation increased, his looks grew livid. At length he was obliged to stoop beneath the arm which threatened him.
"Die, then!" exclaimed Benito.
The blow was struck full on its chest, but the point of the manchetta was stopped by a hard substance hidden beneath the poncho of the adventurer.
Benito renewed his attack, and Torres, whose return thrust did not touch his adversary, felt himself lost. He was again obliged to retreat. Then he would have shouted--shouted that the life of Joam Dacosta depended on his own! He had not time!
A second thrust of the manchetta pierced his heart. He fell backward, and the ground suddenly failing him, he was precipitated down the cliff. As a last effort his hands convulsively clutched at a clump of reeds, but they could not stop him, and he disappeared beneath the waters of the river.
Benito was supported on Manoel's shoulder; Fragoso grasped his hands. He would not even give his companions time to dress his wound, which was very slight.
"To the jangada!" he said, "to the jangada!"
Manoel and Fragoso with deep emotion followed him without speaking a word.
A quarter of an hour afterward the three reached the bank to which the raft was moored. Benito and Manoel rushed into the room where were Yaquita and Minha, and told them all that had passed.
"My son!" "My brother!"
The words were uttered at the same moment.
"To the prison!" said Benito.
"Yes! Come! come!" replied Yaquita.
Benito, followed by Manoel, hurried along his mother, and half an hour later they arrived before the prison.
Owing to the order previously given by Judge Jarriquez they were immediately admitted, and conducted to the chamber occupied by the prisoner.
The door opened. Joam Dacosta saw his wife, his son, and Manoel enter the room.
"Ah! Joam, my Joam!" exclaimed Yaquita.
"Yaquita! my wife! my children!" replied the prisoner, who opened his arms and pressed them to his heart.
"My Joam, innocent!"
"Innocent and avenged!" said Benito.
"Avenged? What do you mean?"
"Torres is dead, father; killed by my hand!"
"Dead!--Torres!--Dead!" gasped Joam Dacosta. "My son! You have ruined me!"
A FEW HOURS later the whole family had returned to the raft, and were assembled in the large room. All were there, except the prisoner, on whom the last blow had just fallen. Benito was quite overwhelmed, and accused himself of having destroyed his father, and had it not been for the entreaties of Yaquita, of his sister, of Padre Passanha, and of Manoel, the distracted youth would in the first moments of despair have probably made away with himself.