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urging greater vigilance than ever, I seated myself on the main hatch to await the captain. It was a dark night and the only light on the vessel was a faint glow from the cabin and a glimmer in the galley; the schooner's crew were all forward, and the only sign of life was my man pacing the deck by the gangway. Where I sat I was in heavy shadow and quite invisible, but this was unintentional on my part as I had no reason nor desire to avoid being seen. Presently, from the direction of the dock, I heard approaching footsteps. Then came the challenge of my man on duty, a few words, and a moment later, the skipper clambered over the schooner's side accompanied by Barhona. They were talking earnestly in low tones, and hurriedly crossed the deck and vanished in the cabin. I had half started up as I had caught sight of the captain, but at sight of the other had drawn back. Why, I wondered, had he come aboard at the eleventh hour? What were they talking about? That I determined I would find out, and stealthily I tiptoed towards the cabin skylight. I had almost reached it when the indistinct voices from within grew louder, the companionway steps creaked, and two figures were silhouetted in the light. It was too late to retreat. All I could do would be to advance, speak to the skipper and pretend I had just arrived. But before I could act, the words of the two came clearly to my ears. Barhona was speaking.
"I tell you he is,” he declared vehemently. "He's a spy just as I said all along."
"Ye're a slick fellow,” replied the skipper. "An' I reckon mebbe ye're right. But what ye goin' fer to do 'bout it? He aint got nothin' on us an' aint goin' to, neither.”
Barhona hissed and I saw his teeth bared under his black mustache. Suggestively he drew his fingers across his throat and jerked his thumb towards the vessel's side.
The skipper chuckled. “Wall, I reckon if he comes erlong this v'yge ye can tend to that,” he assented. "Folks do fall overboard now an' ag'in."
At this instant Barhona caught sight of me. A demoniacal expression swept over his face, he uttered an oath, and like a cat sprang at me, an upraised knife gleaming in his hand.
It was all so surprising, so sudden, so totally unexpected that I was taken wholly unawares. Reaching for my pistol, I sprang back to avoid the murderous blow, my foot became entangled with a roll of canvas on deck, and I fell head over heels backward. At the same instant there was a spurt of flame from the darkness, the report of a revolver, and spinning like a top, Barhona plunged forward, his knife burying itself in the folds of the canvas over which I had tripped. Before I could rise my men had come on the run. The skipper, with goat-beard wagging and hands upraised was covered by a pistol in Manuel's hands, and José was anxiously enquiring if I were injured.
"No, bring a lantern from the cabin," I ordered him. “We'll have a look at this fellow. You did well, José, he almost got me."
José grinned, hurried for the lantern, and I turned on the skipper in fury.
Loudly he protested his innocence, declaring he had no part in the affair, and cursing the other for getting into trouble. .
As José arrived and the light fell upon Barhona's upturned face, he uttered a surprised cry.
"Dios, Senhor!” he exclaimed. “It is the man Madeira, he whom you arrested three years ago at San Paulo. Look you, there is the bullet scar across his cheek under the beard.”
No wonder the fellow had seemed vaguely familiar. He was a notorious rascal,-bandit and smuggler,-but well disguised under his heavy beard.
He was dead now at all events, and, a bit roughly, José lifted the hand that still clutched the dagger hilt. As he did so the knife blade, caught in the canvas, drew the sail cloth with it, and with a slight tinkling sound several glittering objects fell from it upon the deck. An exultant cry came from my lips and eagerly I bent forward, scarcely able to believe the evidence of my eyes. Scattered on the planking were half a dozen splendid dia-) monds! A moment's examination showed where) they had been hidden, sewed in the hem of the sail along the bolt-rope, and quickly ripping the stitches away, a score more stones were revealed. The dead man had betrayed the secret with his last act.)
The rest was easy. To save himself, the skipper turned State's Evidence and confessed. It had all been very simple. The old ship-chandler was the illicit dealer. He had concealed the stones in balls of sail twine, and, each time the skipper had ordered twine sent aboard his schooner, he had smuggled the contraband under our very noses. And no one had paid the least attention to the seaman busily stitching away at the sails on deck. Without the least danger of detection he had slipped the diamonds into the fold of canvas along the bolt-rope where no one would search, though of course that particular sail was never intended for use. Barhona, or rather Madeira, had gone beyond reach of the law; the Portuguese ship chandler was convicted and sentenced, but old goat-beard, being an American, was let off with a heavy fine and the confiscation of the AMANDA and MARY. No doubt he had made enough so that the fine was a compara tively small matter to him, and along with his sailmaker, who was also heavily fined, he left Brazil by the first opportunity. I should, I suppose, have felt highly elated at the result of my work, but some
how I did not. To be sure, the mystery was solved, the smugglers had been brought to justice, but I realized that there was little credit on my part. Had not Barhona lost his temper and attempted my life, had the sail-maker not left that most precious roll of canvas on deck the better to allay suspicion, had I not tripped clumsily over it, and had not the knife, by merest chance cut the seam at the exact spot where the stones were hidden, I am certain that I never in the world would have solved the baffling mystery of the smuggled diamonds."