We therefore cannot tell who was the author of the crime of Tijuco, or under what conditions it was committed. To try in that direction is to lose our time."
"And time presses!" added Fragoso.
"Besides," said Manoel, "suppose we do find out who this companion of Torres was, he is dead, and he could not testify in any way to the innocence of Joam Dacosta. But it is none the less certain that the proof of this innocence exists, and there is not room to doubt the existence of a document which Torres was anxious to make the subject of a bargain. He told us so himself. The document is a complete avowal written in the handwriting of the culprit, which relates the attack in its smallest details, and which clears our father! Yes! a hundred times, yes! The document exists!"
"But Torres does not exist!" groaned Benito, "and the document has perished with him!"
"Wait, and don't despair yet!" answered Manoel. "You remember under what circumstances we made the acquaintance of Torres? It was in the depths of the forest of Iquitos. He was in pursuit of a monkey which had stolen a metal case, which it so strangely kept, and the chase had lasted a couple of hours when the monkey fell to our guns. Now, do you think that it was for the few pieces of gold contained in the case that Torres was in such a fury to recover it? and do you not remember the extraordinary satisfaction which he displayed when we gave him back the case which we had taken out of the monkey's paw?"
"Yes!" yes!" answered Benito. "This case which I held--which I gave back to him! Perhaps it contained----"
"It is more than probable! It is certain!" replied Manoel.
"And I beg to add," said Fragoso, "for now the fact recurs to my memory, that during the time you were at Ega I remained on board, at Lina's advice, to keep an eye on Torres, and I saw him--yes, I saw him--reading, and again reading, an old faded paper, and muttering words which I could not understand."
"That was the document!" exclaimed Benito, who snatched at the hope--the only one that was left. "But this document; had he not put it in some place of security?"
"No," answered Manoel--"no; it was too precious for Torres to dream of parting with it. He was bound to carry it always about with him, and doubtless in that very case."
"Wait! wait, Manoel!" exclaimed Benito; "I remember--yes, I remember. During the struggle, at the first blow I struck Torres in his chest, my manchetta was stopped by some hard substance under his poncho, like a plate of metal----"
"That was the case!" said Fragoso.
"Yes," replied Manoel; "doubt is impossible! That was the case; it was in his breast-pocket."
"But the corpse of Torres?"
"We will recover it!"
"But the paper! The water will have stained it, perhaps destroyed it, or rendered it undecipherable!"
"Why," answered Manoel, "if the metal case which held it was water-tight?"
"Manoel," replied Benito, who seized on the last hope, "you are right! The corpse of Torres must be recovered! We will ransack the whole of this part of the river, if necessary, but we will recover it!"
The pilot Araujo was then summoned and informed of what they were going to do.
"Good!" replied he; "I know all the eddies and currents where the Rio Negro and the Amazon join, and we shall succeed in recovering the body. Let us take two pirogues, two ubas, a dozen of our Indians, and make a start."
Padre Passanha was then coming out of Yaquita's room.
Benito went to him, and in a few words told him what they were going to do to get possession of the document. "Say nothing to my mother or my sister," he added; "if this last hope fails it will kill them!"
"Go, my lad, go," replied Passanha, "and may God help you in your search."
Five minutes afterward the four boats started from the raft. After descending the Rio Negro they arrived near the bank of the Amazon, at the very place where Torres, mortally wounded, had disappeared beneath the waters of the stream.
THE FIRST SEARCH
THE SEARCH had to commence at once, and that for two weighty reasons.