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CHAPTER XIX ANCIENT HISTORY
BUT THE CONVERSATION was continued by Fragoso, who immediately rejoined:
"What! you come from Tijuco, from the very capital of the diamond district?"
"Yes," said Torres. "Do you hail from that province?"
"No! I come from the Atlantic seaboard in the north of Brazil," replied Fragoso.
"You do not know this diamond country, Mr. Manoel?" asked Torres.
A negative shake of the head from the young man was the only reply.
"And you, Mr. Benito," continued Torres, addressing the younger Garral, whom he evidently wished to join in the conversation; "you have never had curiosity enough to visit the diamond arraval?"
"Never," dryly replied Benito.
"Ah! I should like to see that country," said Fragoso, who unconsciously played Torres' game. "It seems to me I should finish by picking up a diamond worth something considerable."
"And what would you do with this diamond worth something considerable, Fragoso?" queried Lina.
"Then you would get rich all of a sudden!"
"Well, if you had been rich three months ago you would never have had the idea of - that liana!"
"And if I had not had that," exclaimed Fragoso, "I should not have found a charming little wife who - well, assuredly, all is for the best!"
"You see, Fragoso," said Minha, "when you marry Lina, diamond takes the place of diamond, and you do not lose by the change!"
"To be sure, Miss Minha," gallantly replied Fragoso; "rather I gain!"
There could be no doubt that Torres did not want the subject to drop, for he went on with:
"It is a fact that at Tijuco sudden fortunes are realized enough to turn any man's head! Have you heard tell of the famous diamond of Abaete, which was valued at more than two million contos of reis? Well, this stone, which weighed an ounce, came from the Brazilian mines! And they were three convicts - yes! three men sentenced to transportation for life - who found it by chance in the River Abaete, at ninety leagues from Terro de Frio."
"At a stroke their fortune was made?" asked Fragoso.
"No," replied Torres; "the diamond was handed over to the governor-general of the mines. The value of the stone was recognized, and King John VI., of Portugal, had it cut, and wore it on his neck on great occasions. As for the convicts, they got their pardon, but that was all, and the cleverest could not get much of an income out of that!"
"You, doubtless?" said Benito very dryly.
"Yes - I? Why not?" answered Torres. "Have you ever been to the diamond district?" added he, this time addressing Joam Garral.
"Never!" said Joam, looking straight at him.
"That is a pity!" replied he. "You should go there one day. It is a very curious place, I assure you. The diamond valley is an isolated spot in the vast empire of Brazil, something like a park of a dozen leagues in circumference, which in the nature of its soil, its vegetation, and its sandy rocks surrounded by a circle of high mountains, differs considerably from the neighboring provinces. But, as I have told you, it is one of the richest places in the world, for from 1807 to 1817 the annual return was about eighteen thousand carats. Ah! there have been some rare finds there, not only for the climbers who seek the precious stone up to the very tops of the mountains, but also for the smugglers who fraudulently export it. But the work in the mines is not so pleasant, and the two thousand negroes employed in that work by the government are obliged even to divert the watercourses to get at the diamantiferous sand. Formerly it was easier work."
"In short," said Fragoso, "the good time has gone!"
"But what is still easy is to get the diamonds in scoundrel-fashion - t hat is, by theft; and - stop! in 1826, when I was about eight years old, a terrible drama happened at Tijuco, which showed that criminal would recoil from nothing if they could gain a fortune by one bold stroke. But perhaps you are not interested?"
"On the contrary, Torres; go on," replied Joam Garral, in a singularly calm voice.
"So be it," answered Torres. "Well, the story is about stealing diamonds, and a handful of those pretty stones is worth a million, sometimes two!"
And Torres, whose face expressed the vilest sentiments of cupidity, almost unconsciously made a gesture of opening and shutting his hand.
"This is what happened," he continued. "At Tijuco it is customary to send off in one delivery the diamonds collected during the year. They are divided into two lots, according to their size, after being sorted in a dozen sieves with holes of different dimensions. These lots are put into sacks and forwarded to Rio de Janeiro; but as they are worth many millions you may imagine they are heavily escorted. A workman chosen by the superintendent, four cavalrymen from the district regiment, and ten men on foot, complete the convoy. They first make for Villa Rica, where the commandant puts his seal on the sacks, and then the convoy continues its journey to Rio de Janeiro. I should add that, for the sake of precaution, the start is always kept secret. Well, in 1826, a young fellow named Dacosta, who was about twenty-two or twenty-three years of age, and who for some years had been employed at Tijuco in the offices of the governor-general, devised the following scheme. He leagued himself with a band of smugglers, and informed them of the date of the departure of the convoy. The scoundrels took their measures accordingly. They were numerous and well armed. Close to Villa Rica, during the night of the 22d of January, the gang suddenly attacked the diamond escort, who defended themselves bravely, but were all massacred, with the exception of one man, who, seriously wounded, managed to escape and bring the news of the horrible deed. The workman was not spared any more than the soldiers. He fell beneath he blows of the thieves, and was doubtless dragged away and thrown over some precipice, for his body was never found."
"And this Dacosta?" asked Joam Garral.
"Well, his crime did not do him much good, for suspicion soon pointed toward him. He was accused of having got up the affair. In vain he protested that he was innocent. Thanks to the situation he held, he was in a position to know the date on which the convoy's departure was to take place. He alone could have informed the smugglers. He was charged, arrested, tried, and sentenced to death. Such a sentence required his execution in twenty-four hourse."
"Was the fellow executed?" asked Fragoso.
"No," replied Torres; "they shut him up in the prison at Villa Rica, and during the night, a few hours only before his execution, whether alone or helped by others, he managed to escape."
"Has this young man been heard of since?" asked Joam Garral.
"Never," replied Torres. "He probably left Brazil, and now, in some distant land, lives a cheerful life with the proceeds of the robbery which he is sure to have realized."
"Perhaps, on the other hand, he died miserably!" answered Joam Garral.
"And, perhaps," added Padre Passanha, "Heaven caused him to feel remorse for his crime."
Here they all rose from the table, and, having finished their dinner, went out to breathe the evening air. The sun was low on the horizon, but an hour had still to elapse before nightfall.
"These stories are not very lively," said Fragoso, "and our betrothal dinner was best at the beginning."
"But it was your fault, Fragoso," answered Lina.
"How my fault?"
"It was you who went on talking about the district and the diamonds, when you should not have done so."
"Well, that's true," replied Fragoso; "but I had no idea we were going to wind up in that fashion."
"You are the first to blame!"
"And the first to be punished, Miss Lina; for I did not hear you laugh all through the dessert."
The whole family strolled toward the bow of the jangada. Manoel and Benito walked one behind the other without speaking. Yaquita and her daughter silently followed, and all felt an unaccountable impression of sadness, as if they had a presentiment of some coming calamity.
Torres stepped up to Joam Garral, who, with bowed head, seemed to be lost in thought, and putting his hand on his shoulder, said, "Joam Garral, may I have a few minutes' conversation with you?"
Joam looked at Torres.
"Here?" he asked.
"No; in private."
They went toward the house, entered it, and the door was shut on them.
It would be difficult to depict what every one felt when Joam Garral and Torres disappeared. What could there be in common between the adventurer and the honest fazender of Iquitos? The menace of some frightful misfortune seemed to hang over the whole family, and they scarcely dared speak to each other.
"Manoel!" said Benito, seizing his friend's arm, "whatever happens, this man must leave us tomorrow at Manaos."
"Yes!" it is imperative!" answered Manoel.
"And if through him some misfortune happens to my father - I shall kill him!"
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XX BETWEEN THE TWO MEN