Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/629

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613
BRAZILIAN DIAMONDS AND THEIR ORIGIN.

while a strip of it in the south, near the city of Serro, belongs to the basin of the Rio Doce. Capital differences are marked in the distribution of the diamond-bearing beds of these valleys.

In the basin of the Jequitinhonha, nearly all the water-courses, however insignificant, are or have been diamond-bearing from their sources to their mouths at that river. In the basins of the Rio das Velhas and of the Rio Doce, the streams cease to yield diamonds at a short distance from their source.

In these streams, the diamond is always accompanied by gold in flakes or in little nuggets; but while the diamond prevails in the center of the diamond-yielding region, as we move toward the east, the proportions are reversed: gold becomes more abundant; and finally, after having passed the city of Serro, it is the only precious substance contained in the sands. To this point penetrated, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, those bold adventurers, bands of whom, seeking gold for nearly a half-century previously, had crossed the mountains and reached the middle of the forest of the Sierra d'Espinhaço, dispossessing the tribes of savages whose last representatives still live miserably on the banks of the Rio Doce.

Often, down to 1729, the gold-hunters had noticed, in the bottoms of the bowls in which they washed the river-sands, little bright crystals, to which they attached no value. The brilliancy of these crystals, their hardness, and their regular form, as if shaped by the hand, had indeed attracted the attention of the miners, and many had saved them to use as counters in play; but gold alone had any value in the eyes of these adventurers. At this epoch, according to the least uncertain tradition, a monk, who had taken part in the search for diamonds in India, recognized the nature of these counters. He told his discovery to a certain Bernardo da Fonseca Lobo, who made it known in his name to the Portuguese Government. The king immediately took possession of all the lands where the presence of diamonds had been recognized, and where it could be suspected.

Bernardo received as his reward the title of royal notary, and the command of the militia of the most important city of the region. The name of the monk was forgotten. I do not believe that the name of either could have been popular at Minas, for their discovery, which threw hundreds of millions into the treasury of the kings of Portugal, was the origin of one of the most despotic rules that any country ever had to endure.

The first diamonds were found in the sands of the brooks; and these sands, or, to use the Portuguese expression which has passed into nearly all languages, cascalhos, still constitute the beds that are principally worked. But beds of an entirely different nature, situated, like mines of metals, in the midst of the strata, and of corresponding depth, have been x brought to notice in later years.

The diamond-bearing cascalhos not only occupy, or rather did oc-