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Title: Jewel Mysteries - From a Dealer's Note Book
Author: Pemberton, Max, Sir, 1863-1950
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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JEWEL MYSTERIES


[Illustration: "He had turned the pistol to his head and blown his
brains out."

    --_Page 27_]



    Jewel Mysteries

    From a Dealer's Note Book

    BY
    MAX PEMBERTON

    _Author of "The Garden of Swords,"
    "Kronstadt," "The Iron
    Pirate," etc., etc._



    R. F. FENNO & COMPANY
    _9 & 11 East Sixteenth Street, New York City: 1904_



CONTENTS.


                                            PAGE

    THE OPAL OF CARMALOVITCH                   9

    THE NECKLACE OF GREEN DIAMONDS            33

    THE COMEDY OF THE JEWELED LINKS           57

    TREASURE OF WHITE CREEK                   79

    THE ACCURSED GEMS                        109

    THE WATCH AND THE SCIMITAR               133

    THE SEVEN EMERALDS                       157

    THE PURSUIT OF THE TOPAZ                 187

    THE RIPENING RUBIES                      217

    MY LADY OF THE SAPPHIRES                 245



THE OPAL OF CARMALOVITCH.



THE OPAL OF CARMALOVITCH.


Dark was falling from a dull and humid sky, and the lamps were beginning
to struggle for brightness in Piccadilly, when the opal of Carmalovitch
was first put into my hand. The day had been a sorry one for business:
no light, no sun, no stay of the downpour of penetrating mist which had
been swept through the city by the driving south wind from the late dawn
to the mock of sunset. I had sat in my private office for six long
hours, and had not seen a customer. The umbrella-bearing throng which
trod the street before my window hurried quickly through the mud and the
slush, as people who had no leisure even to gaze upon precious stones
they could not buy. I was going home, in fact, as the one sensible
proceeding on such an afternoon, and had my hand upon the great safe to
shut it, when the mirror above my desk showed me the reflection of a
curious-looking man who had entered the outer shop, and stood already at
the counter.

At the first glance I judged that this man was no ordinary customer. His
dress was altogether singular. He had a black coat covering him from his
neck to his heels--a coat half-smothered in astrachan, and one which
could have been made by no English tailor. But his hands were ungloved,
and he wore a low hat, which might have been the hat of an office boy. I
could see from the little window of my private room, which gives my eye
command of the shop, that he had come on foot, and for lack of any
umbrella was pitiably wet. Yet there was fine bearing about him, and he
was clearly a man given to command, for my assistant mounted to my room
with his name at the first bidding.

"Does he say what he wants?" I asked, reading the large card upon which
were the words--

    "STENILOFF CARMALOVITCH";

but the man replied,--

"Only that he must see you immediately. I don't like the look of him at
all."

"Is Abel in the shop?"

"He's at the door."

"Very well; let him come to the foot of my stairs, and if I ring as
usual, both of you come up."

In this profession of jewel-selling--for every calling is a profession
nowadays--we are so constantly cheek by jowl with swindlers that the
coming of one more or less is of little moment in a day's work. At my
own place of business the material and personal precautions are so
organized that the cleverest scoundrel living would be troubled to get
free of the shop with sixpenny-worth of booty on him. I have two armed
men ready at the ring of my bell--Abel is one of them--and a private
wire to the nearest police-station. From an alcove well hidden on the
right hand of the lower room, a man watches by day the large cases where
the smaller gems are shown, and by night a couple of special guards have
charge of the safe and the premises. I touch a bell twice in my room,
and my own detective follows any visitor who gives birth in my mind to
the slightest doubt. I ring three times, and any obvious impostor is
held prisoner until the police come. These things are done by most
jewelers in the West End; there is nothing in them either unusual or
fearful. There are so many professed swindlers--so many would-be
snappers up of unconsidered and considerable trifles--that precautions
such as I have named are the least that common sense and common prudence
will allow one to take. And they have saved me from loss, as they have
saved others again and again.

I had scarce given my instructions to Michel, my assistant--a rare
reader of intention, and a fine judge of faces--when the shabby-genteel
man entered. Michel placed a chair for him on the opposite side of my
desk, and then left the room. There was no more greeting between the
newcomer and myself than a mutual nodding of heads; and he on his part
fell at once upon his business. He took a large paper parcel from the
inside pocket of his coat and began to unpack it; but there was so much
paper, both brown and tissue, that I had some moments of leisure in
which to examine him more closely before we got to talk. I set him down
in my mind as a man hovering on the boundary line of the middle age, a
man with infinite distinction marked in a somewhat worn face, and with
some of the oldest clothes under the shielding long coat that I have
ever looked upon. These I saw when he unbuttoned the enveloping cape to
get at his parcel in the inner pocket; and while he undid it, I could
observe that his fingers were thin as the talons of a bird, and that he
trembled all over with the mere effort of unloosing the string.

The operation lasted some minutes. He spoke no word during that time,
but when he had reduced the coil of brown paper to a tiny square of
wash-leather, I asked him,--

"Have you something to show me?"

He looked up at me with a pair of intensely, ridiculously blue eyes, and
shrugged his shoulders.

"Should I undo all these papers if I had not?" he responded; and I saw
at once that he was a man who, from a verbal point of view, stood
objectionably upon the defensive.

"What sort of a stone is it?" I went on in a somewhat uninterested tone
of voice; "not a ruby, I hope. I have just bought a parcel of rubies."

By way of answer he opened the little wash-leather bag, and taking up my
jewel-tongs, which lay at his hand, he held up an opal of such
prodigious size and quality that I restrained myself with difficulty
from crying out at the sight of it. It was a Cerwenitza stone, I saw at
a glance, almost a perfect circle in shape, and at least four inches in
diameter. There was a touch of the oxide in its color which gave it the
faintest suspicion of black in the shade of its lights; but for wealth
of hue and dazzling richness in its general quality, it surpassed any
stone I have ever known, even that in the imperial cabinet at Vienna.
So brilliant was it, so fascinating in the ever-changing play of its
amazing variegations, so perfect in every characteristic of the finest
Hungarian gem, that for some moments I let the man hold it out to me,
and said no word. There was running through my mind the question which
must have arisen under such circumstances: Where had he got it from? He
had stolen it, I concluded at the first thought; and again, at the
second, How else could a man who wore rags under an astrachan coat have
come to the possession of a gem upon which the most commercial instinct
would have hesitated to set a price?

I had fully determined that I was face to face with a swindler, when his
exclamation reminded me that he expected me to speak.

"Well," he said, "are you frightened to look at it?"

He had been holding out the tongs, in which he gripped the stone
lightly, for some seconds, and I had not yet ventured to touch them,
sitting, I do not doubt, with surprise written all over my face. But
when he spoke, I took the opal from him, and turned my strong glass upon
it.

"You seem to have brought me a fine thing," I said as carelessly as I
could. "Is it a stone with a history?"

"It has no history--at least, none that I should care to write."

"And yet," I continued, "there cannot be three larger opals in Europe;
do you know the stone at Vienna?"

"Perfectly; but it has not the black of this, and is coarser. This is an
older stone, so far as the birth of its discovery goes, by a hundred
years."

I thought that he was glib with his tale for a man who had such a poor
one; and certainly he looked me in the face with amazing readiness. He
had not the eyes of a rogue, and his manner was not that of one
criminally restless.

"If you will allow me," I said, when I had looked at the stone for a few
moments, "I will examine this under the brighter light there; perhaps
you would like to amuse yourself with this parcel of rubies."

This was a favorite little trick of mine. I had two or three parcels of
stones to show to any man who came to me laboring under a sorry and
palpably poor story; and one of these I then took from my desk and
spread upon the table under the eyes of the Russian. The stones were all
imitation, and worth no more than sixpence apiece. If he were a judge,
he would discover the cheat at the first sight of them; if he were a
swindler, he would endeavor to steal them. In either case the test was
useful. And I took care to turn my back upon him while I examined the
opal, to give him every opportunity of filling his pockets should he
choose.

When I had the jewel under the powerful light of an unshaded
incandescent lamp I could see that it merited all the appreciation I had
bestowed upon it at first sight. It was flawless, wanting the demerit of
a single mark which could be pointed to in depreciation of its price.
For play of color and radiating generosity of hues, I have already said
that no man has seen its equal. I put it in the scales, called Michel
to establish my own opinions, tried it by every test that can be applied
to a gem so fragile and so readily harmed, and came to the only
conclusion possible--that it was a stone which would make a sensation in
any market, and call bids from all the courts in Europe. It remained for
me to learn the history of it, and with that I went back to my desk and
resumed the conversation, first glancing at the sham parcel of rubies,
to find that the man had not even looked at them.

"It is a remarkable opal," I said; "the finest ever put before me. You
have come here to sell it, I presume?"

"Exactly. I want five thousand pounds for it."

"And if I make you a bid you are prepared to furnish me with the history
both of it and of yourself?"

He shrugged his shoulders contemptuously. "If you think that I have
stolen it we had better close the discussion at once. I am not prepared
to tell my history to every tradesman I deal with."

"In that case," said I, "you have wasted your time. I buy no jewels that
I do not know all about."

His superciliousness was almost impertinent. It would have been quite so
if it had not been dominated by an absurd and almost grotesque pride,
which accounted for his temper. I was sure then that he was either an
honest man or the best actor I had ever seen.

"Think the matter over," I added in a less indifferent tone; "I am
certain that you will then acquit me of unreasonableness. Call here
again in a day or two, and we will have a chat about it."

This softer speech availed me as little as the other. He made no sort of
answer to it, but packing his opal carefully again, he rose abruptly and
left the shop. As he went I touched my bell twice, and Abel followed him
quietly down Piccadilly, while I sent a line to Scotland Yard informing
the Commissioners of the presence of such a man as the Russian in
London, and of the Gargantuan jewel which he carried. Then I went home
through the fog and the humid night; but my way was lighted by a memory
of the magnificent gem I had seen, and the hunger for the opal was
already upon me.

The inquiry at Scotland Yard proved quite futile. The police telegraphed
to Paris, to Berlin, to St. Petersburg, to New York, but got no tidings
either of a robbery or of the man whom mere circumstances pointed at as
a pretender. This seemed to me the more amazing since I could not
conceive that a stone such as this was should not have made a sensation
in some place. Jewels above all material things do not hide their light
under bushels. Let there be a great find at Kimberley or in the Burmese
mines; let a fine emerald or a perfect turquoise be brought to Europe,
and every dealer in the country knows its weight, its color, and its
value before three days have passed. If this man, who hugged this small
fortune to him, and without it was a beggar, had been a worker at
Cerwenitza, he would have told me the fact plainly. But he spoke of the
opal being older even than the famous and commonly cited specimen at
Vienna. How came it that he alone had the history of such an ancient
gem? There was only one answer to such a question--the history of his
possession of it, at any rate, would not bear inquiry.

Such perplexity was not removed by Abel's account of his journey after
Carmalovitch. He had followed the man from Piccadilly to Oxford Circus;
thence, after a long wait in Regent's Park, where the Russian sat for at
least an hour on a seat near the Botanical Gardens entrance, to a small
house in Boscobel Place. This was evidently a lodging-house, offering
that fare of shabbiness and dirt which must perforce be attractive to
the needy. There was a light burning at the window of the pretentiously
poor drawing-room when the man arrived, and a girl, apparently not more
than twenty-five years of age, came down into the hall to greet him, the
pair afterwards showing at the window for a moment before the blinds
were drawn. An inquiry by my man for apartments in the house elicited
only a shrill cackle and a negative from a shuffling hag who answered
the knock. A tour of the little shops in the neighborhood provided the
further clue "that they paid for nothing." This suburban estimation of
personal worth was a confirmation of my conclusion drawn from the rags
beneath the astrachan coat. The Russian was a poor man; except for the
possession of the jewel he was near to being a beggar. And yet he had
not sought to borrow money of me, and he had put the price of £5,000
upon his property.

All these things did not leave my mind for the next week. I was in
daily communication with Scotland Yard, but absolutely to no purpose.
Their sharpest men handled the case, and confessed that they could make
nothing of it. We had the house in Boscobel Place watched, but, so far
as we could learn, Carmalovitch, as he called himself, never left it.
Meanwhile, I began to think that I had betrayed exceedingly poor
judgment in raising the question at all. As the days went by I suffered
that stone hunger which a student of opals alone can know. I began to
believe that I had lost by my folly one of the greatest possessions that
could come to a man in my business. I knew that it would be an act of
childishness to go to the house and re-open the negotiations, for I
could not bid for that which the first telegram from the Continent might
prove to be feloniously gotten, and the embarkation of such a sum as was
asked was a matter not for the spur of the moment, but for the closest
deliberation, to say nothing of financial preparation. Yet I would have
given fifty pounds if the owner of it had walked into my office again;
and I never heard a footstep in the outer shop during the week following
his visit but I looked up in the hope of seeing him.

A fortnight passed, and I thought that I had got to the beginning and
the end of the opal mystery, when one morning, the moment after I had
entered my office, Michel told me that a lady wished to see me. I had
scarce time to tell him that I could see no one for an hour when the
visitor pushed past him into the den, and sat herself down in the chair
before my writing-desk. As in all business, we appreciate, and listen
to, impertinence in the jewel trade; and when I observed the magnificent
impudence of the young lady, I asked Michel to leave us, and waited for
her to speak. She was a delicate-looking woman--an Italian, I thought,
from the dark hue of her skin and the lustrous beauty of her eyes--but
she was exceedingly shabbily dressed, and her hands were ungloved. She
was not a woman you would have marked in the stalls of a theater as the
fit subject for an advertising photographer; but there was great
sweetness in her face, and those signs of bodily weakness and want of
strength which so often enhance a woman's beauty. When she spoke,
although she had little English, her voice was well modulated and
remarkably pleasing.

"You are Monsieur Bernard Sutton?" she asked, putting one hand upon my
table, and the other between the buttons of her bodice.

I bowed in answer to her.

"You have met my husband--I am Madame Carmalovitch--he was here, it is
fifteen days, to sell you an opal. I have brought it again to you now,
for I am sure you wish to buy it."

"You will pardon me," I said, "but I am waiting for the history of the
jewel which your husband promised me. I rather expected that he would
have sent it."

"I know! oh, I know so well; and I have asked him many times," she
answered; "but you can believe me, he will tell of his past to no one,
not even to me. But he is honest and true; there is not such a man in
all your city--and he has suffered. You may buy this beautiful thing
now, and you will never regret it. I tell you so from all my heart."

"But surely, Madame," said I, "you must see that I cannot pay such a
price as your husband is asking for his property if he will not even
tell me who he is, or where he comes from."

"Yes, that is it--not even to me has he spoken of these things. I was
married to him six years now at Naples, and he has always had the opal
which he offers to you. We were rich then, but we have known suffering,
and this alone is left to us. You will buy it of my husband, for you in
all this London are the man to buy it. It will give you fame and money;
it must give you both, for we ask but four thousand pounds for it."

I started at this. Here was a drop of a thousand pounds upon the price
asked but fifteen days ago. What did it mean? I took up the gem, which
the woman had placed upon the table, and saw in a moment. The stone was
dimming. It had lost color since I had seen it; it had lost, too, I
judged, at least one-third of its value. I had heard the old woman's
tales of the capricious changefulness of this remarkable gem, but it was
the first time that I had ever witnessed for myself such an
unmistakeable depreciation. The woman read the surprise in my eyes, and
answered my thoughts, herself thoughtful, and her dark eyes touched with
tears.

"You see what I see," she said. "The jewel that you have in your hand is
the index to my husband's life. He has told me so often. When he is
well, it is well; when hope has come to him, the lights which shine
there are as the light of his hope. When he is ill, the opal fades; when
he dies, it will die too. That is what I believe and he believes; it is
what his father told him when he gave him the treasure, nearly all that
was left of a great fortune."

This tale astounded me; it betrayed absurd superstition, but it was the
first ray of coherent explanation which had been thrown upon the case. I
took up the thread with avidity and pursued it.

"Your husband's father was a rich man?" I asked. "Is he dead?"

She looked up with a start, then dropped her eyes quickly, and mumbled
something. Her hesitation was so marked that I put her whole story from
me as a clever fabrication, and returned again to the theory of robbery.

"Madame," I said, "unless your husband can add to that which you tell
me, I shall be unable to purchase your jewel."

"Oh, for the love of God don't say that!" she cried; "we are so poor, we
have hardly eaten for days! Come and see Monsieur Carmalovitch and he
shall tell you all; I implore you, and you will never regret this
kindness! My husband is a good friend; he will reward your friendship.
You will not refuse me this?"

It is hard to deny a pretty woman; it is harder still when she pleads
with tears in her voice. I told her that I would go and see her husband
on the following evening at nine o'clock, and counseled her to persuade
him in the between time to be frank with me, since frankness alone could
avail him. She accepted my advice with gratitude, and left as she had
come, her pretty face made handsomer by its look of gloom and
pensiveness. Then I fell to thinking upon the wisdom, or want of wisdom,
in the promise I had given. Stories of men drugged, or robbed, or
murdered by jewel thieves crowded upon my mind, but always with the
recollection that I should carry nothing to Boscobel Place. A man who
had no more upon him than a well-worn suit of clothes and a Swiss lever
watch in a silver case, such as I carry invariably, would scarce be
quarry for the most venturesome shop-hawk that the history of knavery
has made known to us. I could risk nothing by going to the house, I was
sure; but I might get the opal, and for that I longed still with a fever
for possession which could only be accounted for by the beauty of the
gem.

Being come to this determination, I left my own house in a hansom-cab on
the following evening at half-past eight o'clock, taking Abel with me,
more after my usual custom than from any prophetic alarm. I had money
upon me sufficient only for the payment of the cab; and I took the
extreme precaution of putting aside the diamond ring that I had been
wearing during the day. As I live in Bayswater, it was but a short drive
across Paddington Green and down the Marylebone Road to Boscobel Place;
and when we reached the house we found it lighted up on the drawing-room
floor as Abel had seen it at his first going there. But the hall was
quite in darkness, and I had to ring twice before the shrill-voiced dame
I had heard of answered to my knock. She carried a frowsy candle in her
hand; and was so uncanny-looking that I motioned to Abel to keep a watch
from the outside upon the house before I went upstairs to that which was
a typical lodging-house room. There was a "tapestry" sofa against one
wall; half a dozen chairs in evident decline stood in hilarious
attitudes; some seaweed, protected for no obvious reason by shades of
glass, decorated the mantelpiece, and a sampler displayed the obviously
aggravating advice to a tenant of such a place, "Waste not, want not."
But the rickety writing-table was strewn with papers, and there was half
a cigar lying upon the edge of it, and a cup of coffee there had grown
cold in the dish.

The aspect of the place amazed me. I began to regret that I had set out
upon any such enterprise, but had no time to draw back before the
Russian entered. He wore an out-at-elbow velvet coat, and the rest of
his dress was shabby enough to suit his surroundings. I noticed,
however, that he offered me a seat with a gesture that was superb, and
that his manner was less agitated than it had been at our first meeting.

"I am glad to see you," he said. "You have come to buy my opal?"

"Under certain conditions, yes."

"That is very good of you; but I am offering you a great bargain. My
price for the stone now is £3,000, one thousand less than my wife
offered it at yesterday."

"It has lost more of its color, then?"

"Decidedly; or I should not have lowered my claim--but see for
yourself."

He took the stone from the wash-leather bag, and laid it upon the
writing-table. I started with amazement and sorrow at the sight of it.
The glorious lights I had admired not twenty days ago were half gone; a
dull, salty-red tinge was creeping over the superb green and the
scintillating black which had made me covet the jewel with such longing.
Yet it remained, even in its comparative poverty, the most remarkable
gem I have ever put hand upon.

"The stone is certainly going off," I said in answer to him. "What
guarantee have I that it will not be worthless in a month's time?"

"You have my word. It is a tradition of our family that he who owns that
heirloom when it begins to fade must sell it or die--and sell it at its
worth. If I continue to possess it, the tradition must prove itself, for
I shall die of sheer starvation."

"And if another has it?"

"It will regain its lights, I have no doubt of it, for it has gone like
this before when a death has happened amongst us. If you are content to
take my word, I will return to you in six months' time and make good any
loss you have suffered by it. But I should want some money now,
to-night, before an hour--could you let me have it?"

"If I bought your stone, you could have the money for it; my man, who is
outside, would fetch my check-book."

At the word "man," he went to the window, and saw Abel standing beneath
the gas-lamp. He looked fixedly at the fellow for a moment, and then
drew down the blinds in a deliberate way which I did not like at all.

"That servant of yours has been set to watch this house for ten days,"
he said. "Was that by your order?"

I was so completely taken aback by his discovery that I sat for a moment
dumfounded, and gave him no answer. He, however, seemed trembling with
passion.

"Was it by your orders?" he asked again, standing over me and almost
hissing out his words.

"It was," I answered after a pause; "but, you see, circumstances were
suspicious."

"Suspicious! Then you _did_ believe me to be a rogue. I have shot men
for less."

I attempted to explain, but he would not hear me. He had lost command of
himself, stalking up and down the room with great strides until the
temper tautened his veins, and his lean hands seemed nothing but wire
and bones. At last, he took a revolver from the drawer in his table, and
deliberately put cartridges into it. I stood up at the sight of it and
made a step towards the window; but he pointed the pistol straight at
me, crying,--

"Sit down, if you wish to live another minute--and say, do you still
believe me to be a swindler?"

The situation was so dangerous, for the man was obviously but half sane,
that I do not know what I said in answer to him; yet he pursued my
words fiercely, scarce hearing my reply before he continued,--

"You have had my house watched, and, as I know now, you have branded my
name before the police as that of a criminal; you shall make atonement
here on the spot by buying that opal, or you do not leave the room
alive!"

It was a desperate trial, and I sat for some minutes as a man on the
borderland of death. Had I been sensible then and fenced with him in his
words I should now possess the opal; but I let out the whole of my
thoughts--and the jewel went with them.

"I cannot buy your stone," I said, "until I have your history and your
father's----" But I said no more, for at the mention of his father he
cried out like a wounded beast, and fired the revolver straight at my
head. The shot skinned my forehead and the powder behind it blackened my
face; but I had no other injury, and I sprang upon him.

For some moments the struggle was appalling. I had him gripped about the
waist with my left arm, my right clutching the hand wherein he held the
pistol. He, in turn, put his left hand upon my throat and threw his
right leg round mine with a sinewy strength that amazed me. Thus we
were, rocking like two trees blown in a gale, now swaying towards the
window, now to the door, now crashing against the table, or hurling the
papers and the ink and the ornaments in a confused heap, as, fighting
the ground foot by foot, we battled for the mastery. But I could not cry
out, for his grip about my neck was the grip of a maniac; and as it
tightened and tightened, the light grew dim before my eyes and I felt
that I was choking. This he knew, and with overpowering fury pressed his
fingers upon my throat until he cut me with his nails as with knives.
Then, at last, I reeled from the agony of it; and we fell with
tremendous force under the window, he uppermost.

Of that lifelong minute that followed, I remember but little. I know
only that he knelt upon my chest, still gripping my throat with his left
hand, and began to reach out for his revolver, which had dropped beneath
the table in our struggle. I had just seen him reach it with his
finger-tips, and so draw it inch by inch towards him, when a fearful
scream rang out in the room, and his hand was stayed. The scream was
from the woman who had come to Piccadilly the day before, and it was
followed by a terrible paroxysm of weeping, and then by a heavy fall, as
the terrified girl fainted. He let me go at this, and stood straight up;
but at the first step towards his wife he put his foot upon the great
opal, which we had thrown to the ground in our encounter, and he crushed
it into a thousand fragments.

When he saw what he had done, one cry, and one alone, escaped from him;
but before I could raise a hand to stay him, he had turned the pistol to
his head, and had blown his brains out.

       *       *       *       *       *

The story of the opal of Carmalovitch is almost told. A long inquiry
after the man's death added these facts to the few I had already
gleaned. He was the son of a banker in Buda-Pesth, a noble Russian, who
had emigrated to Hungary and taken his wealth with him to embark it in
his business. He himself had been educated partly in England, partly in
France; but at the moment when he should have entered the great firm in
Buda-Pesth, there came the Argentine crash, and his father was one of
those who succumbed. But he did more than succumb, he helped himself to
the money of his partners, and being discovered, was sentenced as a
common felon, and is at this moment in a Hungarian prison.

Steniloff, the son, was left to clear up the estate, and got from it,
when all was settled, a few thousand pounds, by the generosity of the
father's partners. Beyond these he had the opal, which the family had
possessed for three hundred years, buying it originally in Vienna. This
possession, however, had been, for the sake of some absurd tradition,
always kept a profound secret, and when the great crash came, the man
whose death I had witnessed took it as his fortune. For some years he
had lived freely at Rome, at Nice, at Naples, where he married; but his
money being almost spent, he brought his wife to England, and there
attempted to sell the jewel. As he would tell nothing of his history,
lest his father's name should suffer, he found no buyer, and dragged on
from month to month, going deeper in the byways of poverty until he came
to me. The rest I have told you.

Of the opal which I saw so wofully crushed in the lodging-house in
Boscobel Place, but one large fragment remained. I have had that set in
a ring, and have sold it to-day for fifty pounds. The money will go to
Madame Carmalovitch, who has returned to her parents in Naples. She has
suffered much.



THE NECKLACE OF GREEN DIAMONDS.



THE NECKLACE OF GREEN DIAMONDS.


I can remember perfectly well the day upon which I received the order
from my eccentric old friend, Francis Brewer, to make him a necklace of
green diamonds. It was the 2d of May in the year 1890, exactly three
days after his marriage with the fascinating little singer, Eugenie
Clarville, who had set Paris aflame with the piquancy of her acting and
her delightful command of a fifth-rate voice some six months after
Brewer had left London to take up the management of a great banking
enterprise in the French capital. He was then well into the forties; but
he had skipped through life with scarce a jostle against the venial
sins, and was as ignorant as a babe where that mortal septette of vices
which the clergy anathematize on the first Wednesday in Lent was
concerned. I have never known a more childish man, or one who held your
affection so readily with simplicity. He was large-hearted, trusting,
boyish, by no means unintellectual, and in no sense a fool. Indeed, his
commercial knowledge was highly valuable; and his energy in working up a
business was a reproach to those who, like myself, love to sit in
arm-chairs and watch the ebb of life from a plate-glass window.

When he was married he wrote to me, and I laid his letter upon my table
with a whistle. Not that he was in any way suited for the celibate
state, for his instinct was wholly cast in the marrying mould. Had I
been called upon to paint him, I should have sat him in an arm-chair by
the side of a roaring fire, with a glass of punch to toast a buxom
goodwife, and a pipe as long as the stick of my umbrella to make rings
of smoke for a new generation at his knee. Such a man should, said
common sense, have been yoked to an English dame, to one used to the
odor of the lemon, and motherly by instinct and by training. I could not
imagine him married to a lady from the vaudeville; the contrast between
his iron-headed directness and the gauze and tinsel of opera bouffe
seemed grotesque almost to incredulity. Yet there was the letter, and
there were his absurd ravings about a woman he had known distantly for
six months, and intimately for three days.

"I have married," he said in this memorable communication, "the dearest
little soul that God ever brought into the world--fresh as the breeze,
bright as the sky, eyes like the night, and temper like an angel. You
must come and see her, old boy, the moment we set foot in our house at
Villemomble. I shan't let you lose an hour; you must learn for yourself
what a magnificent Benedick I make. Why, the days go like flashes of the
sun--and there never was a happier man in or out of this jolly city.
Oh, you slow-goers in London, you poor lame cab-horses, what do you know
of life or of woman, or even of the sky above you? Come to Paris, old
man; come, I say, and we'll put you through your paces, and you shall
meet her, the very best little wife that ever fell to an old dray-horse
in this fair of high-steppers."

There was a good deal more of this sort of thing; but the kernel of the
letter was in a postscriptum, as was the essence of most of his
communications. He told me there that he desired to make some
substantial present to the girl he had just married; and he enclosed a
rough sketch of a necklace which he thought would be a pretty thing if
rare stones were used to decorate it. I fell in with his whim at once;
and as it chanced that I had just received from the Jägersfontein mine a
parcel of twenty very fine greenish diamonds, I determined to use them
in the business. I may say that these stones were of a delicious pale
green tint, almost the color of the great jewel in the vaults at
Dresden, and that their fire was amazing. I have known a gem of the hue
to be worth nearly a hundred pounds a carat; and as the lot I had
averaged two carats apiece, their worth was very considerable. I had not
learnt what were Brewer's instructions in the matter of expense; but I
wrote to him by the next post congratulating him on his marriage and
informing him that I would set the green diamonds in a necklace, and
sell them for two thousand pounds. He accepted the offer by a cablegram,
and on the following day sent a long letter of instruction, the pith of
which was the order to engrave on the inner side of the pendant the
words, _major lex amor est nobis_. I laughed at his Latin, and the
amatory exuberance which it betrayed; but fell upon the work, and
finished it in the course of three weeks, during which time I had many
and irritating requests from him for constant and detailed accounts of
its progress.

When the trinket reached him, his satisfaction was quite childish. He
wrote of his delight, and of "Eugy's," and spoilt three sheets of good
note-paper telling me of her appearance at the English ball early in
June; and of the sensation such an extraordinary bauble caused. Then I
heard from him no more until August, when I read in an evening paper
that he had been returning from Veulettes after a short holiday, and had
been in a great train smash near Rouen. A later telegram gave a list of
the dead, in which was the name of his wife; and three days after I
received from him the most pitiful letter that it has ever been my
misfortune to read. The whole wounded soul of the man seemed laid bare
upon the paper; the simplicity of his words was so touching and so
expressive of his agony, that I could scarce trust myself to go through
the long pages over which he let his sorrow flow. Yet one paragraph
remained long in my mind, for it was one that recalled the necklace of
green diamonds, and it was so astonishing that I did not doubt that
Brewer was, for the time at any rate, on the high-road to madness. "I
have put them round her dear neck," he said, "and they shall cling
always to her in her long sleep."

At the end of the month he wrote again, mentioning that, despite my
sharp remonstrance, he had seen the jewels buried with her, and that his
heart was broken. He said that he thought of coming to stay with me, and
of retiring from business; but went on in the next paragraph to confess
his inability to leave the city in which she was buried, and the places
which kept her memory so sharply before him. I wrote an answer, advising
him to plunge into work as an antidote to grief, and had posted it but
an hour when the mystery of the green diamond necklace began.

The circumstances were these. My clerk had left with the letters, and I
was sitting at my table examining a few unusually large cat's-eyes which
had been offered to me that morning. I heard the shop door open, and saw
from the small window near my desk a man in a fur coat, who seemed in
something of a hurry when he went to the counter. Three minutes
afterwards, Michel came up to me breathlessly and stammering. He carried
in his hand the identical necklace which I had made for my friend
Brewer, and which he had buried with his wife, as his letter said, not a
month before. My amazement at the sight of it was so great that for many
minutes I sat clasping and unclasping the snap of the trinket, and
reading again that strange inscription, _major lex amor est nobis_,
which had caused me so much amusement when I had first ordered it to be
cut. Then I asked Michel,--

"Who brought this?"

"A man in the shop below--the agent of Green and Sons, who have been
offered it by a customer at Dieppe."

"Have they put a price upon it?"

"They ask one thousand five hundred pounds for it."

"Oh, five hundred less than we sold it for; that is curious. Ask the man
if he will leave it on approval for a week."

"I have put the question already. His people are quite willing."

"Then write out a receipt."

He went away to do so, still fumbling and amazed. The thing was so
astounding to one who knew the whole of the circumstances, as I did,
that I told him nothing more, but examined the necklace minutely at
least half a dozen times. Was it possible that there could be two sets
of matching green diamonds, two infatuated lovers who had chosen the
same pattern of ornament, the same strange inscription, and the same
tint of stones? Such a thing was out of the question. Either Brewer had
made a mistake when he said that the necklace had been buried with his
wife--a theory which presupposed his return to his normal common
sense--or some scoundrel had stolen it from her coffin. I determined to
wire to him at once, and had written out a message when the second
mystery in the history of the trinket began to unfold itself. It came to
me in the form of a cablegram from Brewer himself, who asked me to go to
him at Paris without delay, as something which troubled him beyond
description had happened since he wrote to me.

I need not say that at the time when I received this telegram I had no
idea that a second mystery had engendered it. I believed that Brewer had
discovered the loss of the necklace, and had sent for me to trace the
thieves. This task I entered upon very willingly; and when I had
instructed Michel to ask Green & Co.--with whom we did a large
business--to give me as a special and private favor the real name of the
seller of the necklace, I took the eight o'clock train from Victoria;
and was in Paris at dawn on the following morning. Early as it was,
Brewer waited for me at the Gare du Nord, and greeted me with a welcome
which was almost hysterical in its effusiveness. This I could not
return, for the shock of the sight of him was enough to make any man
voiceless. He had aged in look twenty years in as many months. His
clothes hung in folds upon a figure that had once been the figure of a
robust and finely built man; his face was wan and colorless; there were
hollows above his temples, and furrows as of great age in the cheeks,
which erstwhile shone with all the healthy coloring that physical vigor
can give. His aspect, indeed, was pitiable; but I made a great effort to
convince him that I had not noticed it, and said cheerily,--

"Well, and how is my old friend?"

"I am a widower," he answered; and there was more pathos in the simple
remark than in any lament I ever heard from him. It was quite evident
that his one grief still reigned in his thoughts; and I made no other
attempt to conquer it.

"You have important news, or you would not have summoned me from
London," I said, as we left the station in a fiacre. "Won't you give me
an idea of it now?"

"When we reach my place I will tell you everything and show you
everything. It's very kind of you to come, very kind indeed; but I'd
sooner speak of such things at my own house."

"You are still at Villemomble?"

"Yes; but I have an apartment by the Rue de Morny, and am staying there
now; the old home is not the same. She is dead, you know."

I thought this remark very strange, and his manner of giving it no less
curious. He nodded his head gravely, and continued to nod it, repeating
the words and holding my hand like some great schoolboy who feared to be
alone. He was scarcely better when we arrived at his lodging, and he
took me to a luxurious apartment which was well worthy of his consummate
taste; but the moment he had shut the outer door his manner changed,
becoming quick, interested, and distinctly nervous.

"Bernard," he said, "I brought you to Paris because the strangest thing
possible has happened. You remember the necklace of green diamonds I
gave my poor wife, and buried with her?"

"Am I likely to forget that folly?" I asked.

"Well," he continued, "it was stolen from her grave in the little
cemetery near Raincy----"

"I know that," said I.

"You know it!" he cried, looking up aghast. "How could you know it?"

"Because it was offered to me yesterday."

"Good God!" he exclaimed, "offered to you yesterday! But it could not
have been, for my servant bought it in a shabby jeweler's near the Rue
St. Lazarre! Look for yourself, and say what do you call that?"

He had unlocked a small safe as he spoke, and he threw a jewel case upon
the table. I opened it quickly, and it was then my turn to call out as
he had done a moment before. The case contained a second necklace of
green diamonds exactly resembling the one I had made, and had then in my
pocket; and it bore even the memorable inscription--_major lex amor est
nobis_.

When I made this discovery there seemed something so uncanny and
terrible about it that the beads of perspiration stood on my forehead,
and my hand shook until I nearly dropped the case.

"Frank," I said, "there's deeper work here than you think; this is the
necklace which you believe you buried with your wife; well, what is this
one, then, that I have in my pocket?"

I opened the second case and laid the jewels side by side. You could not
have told one bauble from the other unless you had possessed such an eye
as mine, which will fidget over a sham diamond when it is yet a yard
away. He had no doubt that they were identical; and when he saw them
together, he began to cry like a frightened woman.

"What does it mean?" he asked. "Have they robbed my wife's grave? My
God!--two necklaces alike down to the very engraving. Who has done it?
Who could do such a thing with a woman who never harmed a living soul?
Bernard, if I spend every shilling I possess, I will get to the bottom
of this thing! Oh, my wife, my wife----"

His distress would have moved an adamantine heart, and was not a thing
to cavil at. The mystery, which had completely unnerved him, had
fascinated me so strangely that I determined not to leave Paris until
the last line of its solution was written. The robbery of the grave I
could quite understand, but that there should be two necklaces, one of
them with real stones and the other with imitation, was a fact before
which my imagination reeled. As for him, he continued to sit in his
arm-chair, and to fret like a child; and there I left him while I went
to consult the first detective I could run against.

The difficulties in getting at the police of Paris are proverbial. The
officials there hold it such an impertinence for a mere civilian to
inform them of anything at all, that the unfortunate pursuer of the
criminal comes at last to believe himself guilty of some crime. I put up
with some hours, badgering at the nearest bureau, and then having no
French but that which is fit for publication, I returned to the Rue de
Morny, getting on the way some glimmer of a plan into my head. I found
Brewer in the same wandering state as I had left him; and although he
listened when I spoke, I felt sure that his mind was in that infantile
condition which can neither beget a plan nor realize one. For himself,
he had a single idea; and upon that he harped _usque ad nauseam_.

"I must send for Jules," he kept muttering; "Jules knew her well; he
was one of her oldest friends; he would help me in a case like this, I
feel sure. He always told her that green diamonds were unlucky; I was
insane to touch the things, positively insane. Jules will come at once,
and I will tell him everything, and he will explain things we do not
understand. Perhaps you will send a letter to him now; Robert is in the
kitchen and he will take it."

"I will send a note with pleasure if you think this man can help us; but
who is he, and why have I not heard of him before?"

"You must have heard of him," he answered testily; "he was always with
us when she lived--always."

"Do you see him often now?"

"Yes, often; he was here a week ago; that is his photograph on the
cabinet there."

The picture was that of a finely built but very typical Frenchman, a man
with a pointed, well-brushed beard, and a neatly curled mustache. The
head was not striking, being cramped above the eyes and bulging behind
the ears; but the smile was very pleasant, and the general effect one of
geniality. I examined the photograph, and then asked casually:

"What is this M. Jules? you don't tell me the rest of his name."

"Jules Galimard. I must have mentioned him to you. He is the editor, or
something, of _Paris et Londres_. We will write for him now, and he will
come over at once."

I sent the letter to please him, asking the man to come across on
important business, and then told him of my plan.

"The first thing to do," said I, "is to go to Raincy, and to ascertain
if the grave of your wife has been tampered with--and when. If you will
stay here and nurse yourself, I will do that at once?"

He seemed to think over the proposition for some minutes; and when he
answered me he was calmer.

"I will come with you," he said; "if--if any one is to look upon her
face again, it shall be me."

I could see that a terrible love gave him strength even for such an
ordeal as this. He began to be meaningly and even alarmingly calm; and
when we set out for Raincy he betrayed no emotion whatever. I will not
describe anything but the result of that never-to-be-forgotten mission,
although the scene haunts my memory to this day. Suffice it to say that
we found indisputable evidence of a raid upon the vault; and discovered
that the necklace had been torn from the body of the woman. When nothing
more was to be learnt, I took my friend back to Paris. There I found a
letter from the office of _Paris et Londres_ saying that Galimard was at
Dieppe but would be with us in the evening.

The mystery had now taken such hold of me that I could not rest. Brewer,
whose calm was rather dangerous than reassuring, seemed strangely
lethargic when he reached his rooms, and began to doze in his arm-chair.
This was the best thing he could have done; but I had no intention of
dozing myself; and when I had wormed from him the address of the shop
where the sham necklace had been purchased--it proved to be in the Rue
Stockholm--I took a fiacre at once and left him to his dreaming. The
place was a poor one, though the taste of a Frenchman was apparent in
the display and arrangement of the few jewels, bronzes, and pictures
which were the stock-in-trade of the dealer. He himself was a lifeless
creature, who listened to me with great patience, and appeared to be
completely astounded when I told him that I desired to have an interview
with the vendor of the necklace and the green diamonds.

"You could not have come at a more fortunate moment," said he, "the
stones were pretty, I confess and I fear to have sold them for much less
than they were worth; but my client will be here in half an hour for his
money, and if you come at that time you can meet him."

This was positive and altogether unlooked-for luck. I spent the thirty
minutes' interval in a neighboring _café_, and was back at his shop as
the clocks were striking seven. His customer was already there; a man
short and thick in figure, with a characteristic French low hat stuck on
the side of his head; and an old black cutaway coat which was
conspicuously English. He wore gaiters, too--a strange sight in Paris;
and carried under his arm a rattan cane which was quite ridiculously
short. When he turned his head I saw that his hair was cropped quite
close, and that he had a great scar down one side of his face, which
gave him a hideous appearance. Yet he could not have been twenty-five
years of age; and he was one of the gayest customers I have ever met.

"Oh," he said, looking me up and down critically, and with a perky cock
of his head, "you're the cove that wants to speak to me about the
sparklers, are you? and a damned well-dressed cove, too. I thought you
were one of these French hogs."

"I wanted to have a chat about such wonderful imitations," I said, "and
am English like yourself."

At this he raked up the gold which the old dealer had placed upon the
counter for him and went to the door rapidly, where he stood with his
hands upon his hips, and a wondrous knowing smile in his bit of an eye.

"You're a pretty nark, ain't you?" he said, "a fine slap-up Piccadilly
thick-un, s' help me blazes; and you ain't got no bracelets in your
pockets, and there ain't no more of you round the corner. Oh, hell! but
this is funny!"

"I am quite alone," I said quickly, seeing that the game was nearly
lost, "and if you tell me what I want to know, I will give you as much
money as you have in your hand there, and you have my word that you
shall go quite free."

"Your word!" he replied, looking more knowing than ever; "that's a
ripping fine Bank of Engraving to go on bail on, ain't it? Who are you,
and how's your family?"

"Let's stroll down the street, any way you like," said I, "and talk of
it. Choose your own course, and then you will be sure that I am alone."

He looked at me for a minute, walking slowly. Then suddenly he stopped
abruptly, and put his hand upon a pocket at his waist.

"Guv'ner," he said, "lay your fingers on that; do you feel it? it's a
Colt, ain't it? Well, if you want to get me in on the bow, I tell you
I'll go the whole hog, so you know."

"I assure you again that I have no intention of troubling you with
anything but a few questions; and I give you my word that anything you
tell me shall not be used against you afterwards. It's the other man we
want to catch--the man who took the green diamonds which were not
shams."

This thought was quite an inspiration. He considered it for a moment,
standing still under the lamp; but at last he stamped his foot and
whistled, saying:--

"You want him, do you? well, so do I; and if I could punch his head I'd
walk a mile to do it. You come to my room, guv'ner, and I'll take my
chance of the rest."

The way lay past the Chapel of the Trinity, and so through many narrow
streets to one which seemed the center of a particularly dark and
uninviting neighborhood. The man, who told me in quite an affable mood
that his name was Bob Williams, and that he hoped to run against me at
Auteuil, had a miserable apartment on the "third" of a house in this
dingy street; and there he took me, offering me half-a-tumbler of neat
whisky, which, he went on to explain, would "knock flies" out of me. For
himself, he sat upon a low bed and smoked a clay pipe, while I had an
arm-chair, lacking springs; and one of my cigars for obvious reasons.
When we were thus accommodated he opened the ball, being no longer
nervous or hesitating.

"Well, old chap,"--I was that already to him--"what can I tell you, and
what do you know?"

"I know this much," said I; "last month the grave of Madame Brewer at
Raincy was rifled. The man who did it stole a necklace of green
diamonds, real or sham, but the latter, I am thinking."

"As true as gospel--I was the man who took them, and they were sham, and
be damned to them!"

"Well, you're a pretty ruffian," I said. "But what I want to know is,
how did you come to find out that the stones were there, and who was the
man who got the real necklace I made for Madame Brewer only a few months
ago?"

"Oh, that's what you want to know, is it? Well, it's worth something,
that is; I don't know that he ain't a pard of mine; and about no other
necklace I ain't heard nothing. You know a blarmed sight too much, it
seems to me, guv'ner."

"That may be," said I, "but you can add to what I know, and it might be
worth fifty pounds to you."

"On the cushion?"

"I don't understand."

"Well, on that table then?"

"Scarcely. Twenty-five now, and twenty-five when I find that you have
told me the truth."

"Let's see the shiners."

I counted out the money on to the bed--five English bank notes, which he
eyed suspiciously.

"May, his mark," he said, thumbing the paper. "Well, as I'm shifting for
Newmarket to-morrow that's not much odds, if you're not shoving the
queer on me."

"Do you think they're bad?"

"I'll tell you in a moment; i broken, e broken, watermark right;
guv'ner, I'll put up with 'em. Now, what do you want to know?"

"I want to know how you came to learn that the stones were in Madame
Brewer's grave?"

"A straight question. Well, I was told by a pal."

"Is he here in Paris?"

"He ought to be; he told me his name was Mougat, but I found out that it
ain't. He is a chap that writes for the papers and runs that rag with
the rum pictures in it; what do you call it, Paris and something or
other?"

"_Paris et Londres_," I ventured at hazard.

"Ay, that's the thing; I don't read much of the lingo myself, but I gave
him tips at Longchamps last month, and we came back in a dog-cart
together. It was then that he put me on to the stones and planted me
with a false name."

"What did he say?"

"Said that some mad cove at Raincy had buried a necklace worth two
thousand pounds with his wife, and that the dullest chap out could get
into the vault and lift it. I'd had a bad day, and was almost stony. He
kept harping on the thing so, suggesting that a man could get to America
with five thousand in his pocket, and no one be a penny the wiser or a
penny the worse, that I went off that night and did it, and got a fine
heap for my pains. That's what I call a mouldy pal--a pal I wouldn't
make a doormat of."

"And you sold the booty to the old Frenchman in the Rue de Stockholm?"

"Exactly! he gave me a tenner for it, and I'm crossing to England
to-night. No place like the old shop, guv'ner, when the French hogs are
sniffing about you. I guess there's a few of them will want me in Parry
in a day or two; and that reminds me, you can do the noble if you like,
and send the other chips to the Elephant Hotel at Cambridge last post
to-morrow."

I told him that I would, and left. You may ask why I had any truck with
such a complete blackguard, but the answer is obvious: I had guessed
from the first that there was something in the mystery of the green
diamonds which would not bear exposure from Brewer's point of view, and
his tale confirmed the opinion. I had learnt from it two obvious facts:
one that Jules Galimard was anything but the friend of my friend; the
other, that this man knew perfectly well that a sham diamond necklace
was buried with Madame Brewer. It came to me then, as in a flash, that
he, and he alone, must have stolen, or at least have come into
possession of, the real necklace which I had made.

How to undeceive the good soul who had entrusted me with his case was
the remaining difficulty. He had loved this woman so; and yet instinct
suggested to me that she had been unworthy of his deep affection. That
she had been untrue to him I did not know. Galimard might have stolen
the jewels from her, and have replaced them with a false set; on the
other hand, she might have been a party to the fraud. What, then, should
I say, or how much should I dare with the great responsibility before me
of crushing a man whose heart was already broken?

With such thoughts I re-entered the apartment in the Rue de Morny. As I
did so, the servant put a telegram into my hand, and told me that M.
Jules Galimard was with his master. Fate, however, seemed to have given
the man another chance, for the cipher said,--

"Green and Co. in error, they should have sent the stones only; necklace
not for sale; client's name unknown, acting for Paris agents."

I walked into the room with this message in my pocket; and when Brewer
saw me he jumped up with delight, and introduced me to a well-dressed
Frenchman who had the red rosette in the buttonhole of his faultless
frock-coat, and who showed a row of admirable teeth when he smiled to
greet me.

"Here is Jules," said Brewer, "my friend I have spoken of, M. Jules
Galimard; he has come to help us, as I said he would; there is no one
whose advice I would sooner take in this horrible matter."

I bowed stiffly to the man, and seated myself on the opposite side of
the table to him. As they seemed to wait for me to speak, I took up the
question at once.

"Well," I said, speaking to Brewer; but turning round to look at his
friend, as I uttered the words, "I have found out who sold the sham
necklace to the man in the Rue de Stockholm; the rogue is a racing tout
named Bob Williams!"

Galimard turned right round in his chair at this, and put his elbows on
the table. Brewer said, "God bless me, what a scamp!"

"And," I continued, "the extraordinary part of the affair is that this
scoundrel was put to the business by a man he met at Longchamps last
month. It is obvious that this man stole the real necklace, and now
desired all traces of his handiwork to be removed from Madame Brewer's
coffin. I have his name," with which direct remark I looked hard at the
fellow, and he rose straight up from his chair and clutched at the back
of it with his hand. For a moment he seemed speechless; but when he
found his tongue, he threw away, with dreadful maladroitness, the
opening I had given him.

"Madame gave me the jewels," he blurted out, "that I will swear before
any court."

The situation was truly terrible, the man standing gripping his chair,
Brewer staring at both of us as at lunatics.

"What do you say? What's that?" he cried; and the assertion was
repeated.

"I am no thief!" cried the man, drawing himself up in a way that was
grotesquely proud, "she gave me the jewels, your wife, a week after you
gave them to her. I had a false set made so that you should not miss
them; here is her letter in which she acknowledges the receipt of
them."

The old man--for he was an old man then in speech, in look, and in the
fearful convulsions of his face--sprung from his chair, and struck the
rascal who told him the tale full in the mouth with his clenched fist.
The fellow rolled backwards, striking his head against the iron of the
fender; and lay insensible for many minutes. During that time I called a
cab, and when he was capable of being moved, sent him away in it. I saw
clearly that for Brewer's sake the matter must be hushed at once,
blocked out as a page in a life which had been false in its every line.
Nor did I pay any attention to Galimard's raving threat that his friends
should call upon me in half an hour; but went upstairs again to find the
best soul that ever lived sitting over the fire which had been lighted
for him, and chattering with the cackle of the insane. He had the
letter, which Galimard had thrown down, in his hands, and he read it
aloud with hysterical laughter and awful emphasis.

I tried to speak to him, to reason with him, to persuade him. He heard
nothing I said, but continued to chuckle and to chatter in a way that
made my blood run cold. Then suddenly he became very calm, sitting bolt
upright in his chair, with the letter clutched tightly in his right
hand; and I saw that tears were rolling down his cheeks.

An hour later the friends of M. Jules Galimard called. They entered the
room noisily, but I hushed them, for the man was dead!



THE COMEDY OF THE JEWELED LINKS.



THE COMEDY OF THE JEWELED LINKS.


I do not know if there be any drug in the Pharmacopoeia, or any clearly
defined medical treatment, which may ever hope to grapple effectively
with the strange disease of jewel-hunger, but if there be not, I have
much pleasure in recommending this most singular ill to the notice of a
rising generation of physicians. That it is a branch of that mystery of
mysteries, _la névrose_, I have no manner of doubt, for I have seen it
in all its forms--a malignant growth which makes night of the lives it
plays upon; and flourishes to exceeding profit down in the very heart of
tragedies. For the matter of that, the flunkies, who study in the
kitchen--as the great master has told us--the characters of their
governing acquaintances in the boudoir above over a quart pot and the
_Police News_, get no little insight into the development of the social
disaster which treads often upon the heels of jewel-hunger, as they read
those extravagantly ornate reports of robbery and of mystery in which a
highly moral people revels. These are but gleaners in the field--to them
the inner life must remain hidden. No physician hoping to cope with the
affection should turn either to gossips or to slanderers for his
diagnosis. Let him get down into the caves of the trade, give his ear to
the truer narrative which the jewel dealer alone can write for him, and
he may hope for material and for success. And if he be wise, he will
study both the comedy and the tragedy which such an investigation will
bring before him, and will by this means alone set himself up as a
specialist.

It is to such a one that I would recommend perusal of the following case
which I record here as one of the comedies of my note-book--a story of
meanness, cupidity, and stupid cunning; I doubt if there be any
philosophy of medicine which could make pretense of solving it. There
were but two principal actors mentioned in the argument, and, indeed, it
might fairly be called a one-part play. The chief person concerned, Lord
Harningham, I had known for many years. He was a man of whom a
biographer wrote "that his long and unblemished career was a credit to
his country," and to whom a book on the Decalogue was inscribed as to
one _sans peur et sans réproche_. Yet they told you in the smoking-rooms
that he had starved his first wife, and left his only son as the partner
of a horse-coper in Melbourne, on the princely allowance of one hundred
and fifty pounds per annum. His wealth, said common report, was anything
from fifty thousand to a hundred thousand pounds per annum; and in his
second childhood, for he was a septuagenarian when this comedy was
played, he was suckled on the nourishing food of expiring leases and
forfeited improvements until he seemed to exude sovereigns from every
pore in his enormous body.

A meaner man never lived. All similes in converse were based upon his
exploits. "As mean as old Harningham" was a phrase you heard every day
at the "Bachelors." In the countless old stories they put upon him,
telling how, at a tenants' lunch in Bedfordshire, he had cried, "Here's
another quart of cider, and hang the expense!" how he had been seen in
Farringdon Market buying his own fish; how he haggled with cabmen
innumerable; how he had been stricken with a malignant fever on the day
he gave away a sovereign for a shilling--there was but the echo of the
general sentiment. The society prints were hilarious at the mere mention
of his name. I recollect well his anger when a wag said in one of them,
"It is rumored that Lord Harningham is shortly about to give something
away." He was in my office next day--a week rarely passed but what I saw
him--and he laid the journal upon my table, beating it flat with a
stick, and pointing at it with his ample finger as though his very touch
would wither the writer.

"Please to read that," he said with forced calm but considerable
emphasis, "and tell me if the scoundrel doesn't deserve to be hanged. He
dares to mention my name, d'ye see! To mention _me_, and speak about my
concerns. Ha! but I wish I had him under this stick!"

"Of course you don't know who wrote it," said I.

"How should I know?" he gabbled testily. "Do I go round to the taverns
swilling gin-and-water with such gutter birds? Do I hobnob with all the
half-starved limners in Fleet Street? Pshaw, you talk like a fool!"

I suffered his temper, for he was worth a couple of thousand a year to
me. Presently he became calmer, and the humor of the thing dawned upon
his dull mind.

"Ha!" he said, snuffing ferociously from the great diamond-studded box
he always carried, "I shouldn't wonder if that's Master Bertie
Watts--you know my nephew, eh? he owes you something, eh?--well, that's
like him, and his scoundrelly impudence--the vagabond!"

"Did not I read somewhere that he was going to be married?" I remarked
at hazard; but the notion tickled him immensely, and he rolled about in
his chair, shaking the snuff from his box over his fur coat, and even
upon my papers.

"Yes, you read it," he gasped at last, "a fine tale too. Why, what's he
got?--four hundred a year in Whitehall, and what he can draw out of
me--not much, Mr. Sutton--not much."

I had no doubt of that, but I kept my face while he went on to mutter
and to chortle; and I showed him a bracelet of rubies, which he desired
instantly to purchase. I had put a price of four hundred and twenty
pounds upon it, meaning to accept three hundred, so that we haggled for
two hours by the clock and had then done business. He took the rubies
away with him, while I caused the further sum to be set against him in
the ledger, where already there were so many unpaid items under the
name. He owed me eight thousand pounds at the least, but I could not
press the account, or should have lost him; and while I was often sore
troubled for lack of the money, I knew that I should get it at his
death, and so aided his jewel-hunger. This was prodigious. All the gems
that I sold--watches, necklaces, tiaras, brooches, and breastpins, were
conveyed at once to the great safe in his bedroom and there immured. No
one ever saw them but himself. His wives, both of whom were dead, had
scarce enjoyed the possession of a barmaid's jewelry. The passion of the
collector, of the hungerer after stones, alone consumed him. Of all his
meanness, this was the most contemptible--this hiding of fair treasure
from the light it lived upon--this gross hoarding of beautiful things
for one man's selfish enjoyment.

When he left Bond Street that day, crying at my door, "So I'm going to
give something away, am I?--but I ain't, Sutton, I ain't"--and walking
off as though he had found satisfaction in the negative thus conveyed to
me, I picked up the paper, and read again that young Bertie Watts was at
last engaged to the Hon. Eva Benley, and that the wedding was to be
celebrated in a month's time. Every one in town said that old Harningham
would do something for Watts when the time for the marriage actually
came; and it was gossip in the clubs that her people had given their
consent--for they were historically poor--only upon the sincere
assurance from their daughter's _fiancé_ that his uncle really was very
fond of him, and would present him with a handsome check on the wedding
day. But here was the announcement of the wedding, and the old
curmudgeon had just said--being readier in speech with me, perhaps, than
with any one of his few acquaintances--that he did not mean to give the
young people a halfpenny. It did occur to me that possibly he might have
bought the ruby bracelet for the exceedingly pretty girl to whom his
nephew was engaged; but in this I was mistaken, as you shall presently
see; and the interest of the whole problem deepened when I learnt later
on in the smoking-room of my club that the marriage was likely to be
postponed, and something of a scandal to ensue. Bertie Watts, they said,
was going about like a ravenous beast, seeking what financier he could
devour. His opinion of his uncle was expressed in phrases of which the
chief ornament was appalling curses and maledictions. He declared he
would have the whip-hand of him yet, would make him pay handsomely for
all the trouble he had put people to--in short, behaved like a man who
was absurdly in love, regardless of that financial prudence which is so
dear to the sight of parents and of guardians. Even he, however, could
not foresee the strange thing about to happen to him, or the very
curious opportunity which was shortly to be his.

A week passed. There was no definite announcement of any postponement of
the arrangements noted by _The Hyde Park Gazette_, nor did such part of
society as is represented by the tonguesters, hear that Bertie had
persuaded his uncle. The thing was a kind of deadlock in its financial
aspect, until at last the world of Belgravia knew that the young lady's
father, Lord Varnley, had consented to let the wedding be, and to trust
to Harningham's better sense when the time of the accomplishment came. I
saw Watts one day driving with his _fiancée_ near the Achilles Statue,
and thought that he looked glum enough; but he came to me on the
following morning for a diamond aigrette, and although he couldn't pay
for it I let him have it.

"It'll be all right in a month, Sutton," said he; "you know the old
chap's hard enough, but he can't let me marry on nothing a year, can he
now?"

I said that the thing was possible; and for his own sake ventured to
hint that it was even probable, an opinion which he took in no good
part, sucking his stick silently for a while, and then laughing with a
poor little chuckle that seemed to come from the very top of his head.

"Well," he exclaimed at last, "it's devilish rough on a fellow to have a
relation of that sort, isn't it?--a positive disgrace to the family. I
wonder what the old blackguard is going to give me for a wedding
present. Did he ask you to show him any American tickers, by the way? I
shouldn't wonder if he presented me with a brass clock, and Eva with a
guinea set in jet--he's mean enough."

"He bought a ruby bracelet here some days ago," I remarked, as in
parenthesis.

"Did he now?" he exclaimed in a tone of pleasure. "I wonder if it's for
the girlie! but, of course, it couldn't be. He'd die to give away
anything that once went into his old safe. Look here, Sutton, couldn't
you charge him an extra hundred, and go halves? I feel like something
desperate."

I told him that that was impossible, and he went away with the aigrette
in his pocket, and a very thoughtful expression upon his face. Before he
did so, however, he had uttered the pious wish that his uncle might die
of some tormenting visitation; and that he might be alive to dance on
the day of the funeral. I must say that I sympathized with him, for he
was a good-looking and kindly-hearted young fellow, who for many years
had been led to believe that his relations would do something for him;
and who was about to be grievously disappointed. Nor could I forget that
he was engaged to one of the prettiest girls in town--and for her sake
enjoyed a kind of reflected sympathy which was sincere enough on the
part of every man who knew him.

The date of the wedding was now fixed, being the 21st of January, to be
well ahead of Lent. I saw Watts very frequently during the following ten
days, he coming with expectant persistency to ask me if his uncle had
yet bought him anything; and remaining disappointed almost to the very
eve of his marriage. In fact, the wedding was to take place on the
Wednesday, and it was only on the previous Monday that Lord Harningham
ascended my stairs puffing and blowing, and in a shocking temper, to
make his purchase of a present.

"Sutton," he said, "this is the greatest tomfoolery on earth--that young
rascal is going to get married after all, and I suppose I'll have to
give him something."

"You can scarce do less," I said with a smile.

"Of course I can do less," he replied garrulously. "I can give him
nothing at all, d'ye see; not a brass halfpenny. Look at the ass,
maudling about the first pretty face he sees over a dinner table when he
might marry money twenty times for the asking of it. Did I make such a
fool of myself when I was his age?"

I assured him that he did nothing of the sort.

"Then what's he want to do it for? Thinks he's going to get something
out of me, perhaps--out of _me_, but he ain't--not sixpence; not if they
hadn't enough to get to the station with. Ha, ha! I'm not such a
spendthrift as I look."

He talked in this strain for some while, and then fell to haggling over
a gift. He told me that the custom of giving wedding presents was the
insane fashion of an insane age; that he consented to follow it only in
view of the fuss that society would make if his card did not lie on Lord
Varnley's table when the other presents were shown. In this bargaining
he displayed a meanness which was triumphant even for him. I must have
shown him quite a hundred rings, pins, and watches, of all values, from
fifty pounds to five hundred, before he could in any way make up his
mind, and he did not cease to rebuke me for that which he called my
preposterously extravagant insinuation. "Fifty sovereigns! a hundred
sovereigns!" he kept exclaiming; "Why, man alive, do you think I'm made
of money? Show me something cheap, something that five pounds will buy,
d'ye see? any bit of stuff's good enough for a jackanapes like that."

"But not for your card on Lord Varnley's table."

"Why, what do you mean?"

"People who are uncharitable, you know, might say that it was a
curiously insufficient present."

"D'ye think they'd say that?"

"I am sure they would."

"Pshaw!--so am I; that comes of being thought a rich man when you're as
poor as a parson. I'm quite a poor man, you know, Sutton."

I listened to him patiently, and in the end persuaded him to buy Watts
an exquisite set of jeweled links. These had a fine diamond in each of
them, but their greatest ornament was the superb enameling, worthy of
Jean Toutin or Petitot, with which all the gold was covered. I asked one
hundred and fifty pounds for these remarkable ornaments; and the old
man, struck, like the artist he was, with the perfection of the
workmanship, fixed his greedy eyes upon them, and was persuaded. He
protested that they were too good, far too good, for such a worthless
ingrate as his nephew, and that he ought to keep them in his own
collection; but at last he ordered me to send them, with his card, to
Lord Varnley's town house, and went away chafing at his own generosity,
and, as he avowed, at his stupidity.

I saw no more of him for a week. The wedding had been celebrated, and
Master Bertie Watts had conveyed away quietly to Folkestone as pretty an
English girl as ever flourished in the glare of the West. Lord and Lady
Varnley shut up their house during the week after the marriage, having
sent the very numerous wedding presents to their bankers; and society
would have forgotten the whole business if it had not paused to discuss
the important question--How were the young couple to exist in the future
on the paltry income of four or five hundred pounds a year? One half of
the world may not know how the other half lives, but that is not for
lack of effort on its part to find out. It was a matter of club-room
news that old Lord Harningham had not relented--and, beyond what his
nephew called "those twopenny-half-penny sleeve links," had not given
him a penny. How then, said this same charitable world, will these silly
children keep up their position in town when they return from the
second-rate hotel they are now staying in at Folkestone?

Curiously enough, I was able myself to answer that question in three
days' time--though at the moment I was as ignorant as any of them. The
matter came about in this way. On the very morning that Lord Varnley
went to Paris, it was known through the daily papers that there had been
a robbery at his house in Cork Street, of a green velvet case,
containing a crescent of pearls, turquoises, and diamonds. This was a
present from one of the Embassies to his daughter, and must, said the
reports, have been abstracted from the house during the press and the
confusion of the reception. Later in the afternoon I received an advice
from Scotland Yard cautioning me against the purchase of such a gem, and
inviting immediate communication if it were offered to me. The theft of
wedding presents is so common that I gave little heed to the matter; and
was already immersed in other business when Lord Harningham was
announced. He seemed rather fidgety in his manner, I thought, and hummed
and hawed considerably before he would explain his mission.

"It's about those links I gave my nephew," he said at last. "They're far
too good for him, Sutton--and they're too pretty. I never saw better
work in my life, and must have been a fool when I let them go out of my
possession--d'ye see?"

"Well, but you can't get them back now?" I remarked with a smile.

He took snuff vigorously at my reply, and then said,--

"Man, you're wrong, I've got them in my pocket."

I must have expressed my astonishment in my look, for he went on
quickly,--

"Yes, here in the green case as you sold them. Do I surprise you, eh?
Well, I'm going to give Master Bertie a bit of a check and to keep these
things; but one of the stones is off color--I noticed it at the
wedding--and I must have a new one in, d'ye see?"

"I thought that you had already handed them over," I interrupted, quite
disregarding his last request.

"So I did, so I did; but a man can take his own back again, can't he?
Well, when I saw them at the house, I concluded it was ridiculous to
give a boy like that such treasures, and so----"

"You spoke to him?"

"Hem--that is, of course, man. Pshaw! You're too inquisitive for a
jeweler: you ought to have been a lady's maid."

"Have you brought them with you now?"

"What should I be here for if I hadn't?"

He laid upon my table a green velvet case, of the exact size, color, and
shape of that which had contained the links; but when I opened it I gave
a start, and put it down quickly. The case held a crescent of pearls,
turquoises, and diamonds, which answered exactly to the description of
the one stolen from Lord Varnley's house on the day of his daughter's
wedding.

"There's some mistake here," said I, "you've evidently left the links at
home," with which remark I put the jewels under his very nose for him to
see. He looked at them for a moment, the whole of his flabby face
wrinkling and reddening; then he seemed almost to choke, and the veins
in his forehead swelled until they were as blue threads upon an ashen
and colorless countenance.

"Good God!" he ejaculated, "I've taken the wrong case."

"Your nephew gave it you, no doubt, but he must have forgotten it, for
he's advertised the loss of this crescent at Scotland Yard, and there
are detectives now trying to find it. I am cautioned not to purchase
it," I said with a laugh.

The effect of these words upon him was so curious that for some moments
I thought he had spasm of the heart. Starting up in the chair, with wild
eyes, and hands clutching at the arms to rest upon them, he made several
attempts to speak, but not a word came from his lips. I endeavored to
help him with his difficulty, but it was to little purpose.

"It seems to me, Lord Harningham," I suggested, "that you have only to
write a line of explanation to your nephew--and there's an end of the
matter."

"You think so?" he cried eagerly.

"Why not," said I, "since he returned the jewels to you?"

"But he didn't," he interrupted, cringing in the chair at this
confession of a lie; "he didn't; and he'd prosecute me; he hates me, and
this is his opportunity, d'ye see?"

"Do you mean to say," I exclaimed, beginning to understand the
situation, "that you took the case without his permission?"

"Yes, yes," he mumbled, "they were so beautiful, such work! You know
what work they were. I saw them at the wedding, and was sure that I
should not have parted with them. I meant to send him a check against
them--and when no one was looking I put what I thought was the case into
my pocket, but it was the wrong one. God help me, Sutton what shall I
do?"

Now it seemed to me that this was one of the most delightful comedies I
had ever assisted at. Technically, Lord Harningham was a thief, and
undoubtedly Bertie Watts could have prosecuted him had he chosen, though
the probability of his getting a conviction was small. But it was very
evident to me that here was the boy's opportunity, and that in the
interest of his pretty wife I should make the best of it. With this
intent, I played my first card with necessary boldness.

"Undoubtedly the case is very serious for you," said I, apparently with
sympathy, "and it is made the more serious from the strange relations
existing between your nephew and yourself. You know the law, I doubt
not, as well as I do; and that once a prosecution has been initiated at
Scotland Yard it is impossible to withdraw without a trial. Mr. Watts
might get into serious trouble for compounding a felony; and I might
suffer with him as one in the conspiracy. But I tell you what I will do;
I'll write to him to-night and sound him. Meanwhile, let me advise you
to keep out of the way, for I can't disguise the fact that you might be
arrested."

He gave a great scream at this, and the perspiration rolled from him,
falling in great drops upon the carpet. "Oh, Lord!" he kept muttering,
"oh, that I should have been such a consummate fool!--oh, Heaven help
me! To think of it--and what it will cost, I could cry, Sutton--cry like
a child."

I calmed him with difficulty, and led him down the back stairs to a cab
with a positive assurance that I would not communicate with Scotland
Yard. Then I wrote to Folkestone a letter, the precise contents of which
are immaterial, but the response to which was in the form of a telegram
worded as follows:--

"Am inexpressibly shocked and pained, but the law must take its course."

I put this into my pocket without any delay and went over to
Harningham's house in Park Lane. He had been up all night, they told me,
and the doctor had just left him; but I found him suffering only from an
enervating fear, and white as the cloth on the breakfast table before
him.

"Well," he said, "what is it, what does he say? Will he prosecute me?"

I handed him the telegram for answer, and I thought he would have
swooned. He did not know that I had in my pocket another letter from his
nephew, in which Master Bertie informed me that I was the "best chap in
the world," and I saw no reason to mention this. Indeed, I listened with
infinite gravity when the old man told me that he was irretrievably
ruined, and that his name would stand in all the clubs as that of a
common thief. Jewel-hunger plainly accounted for everything he had done;
but it was not to my end to console him, and I said in a severe and
sufficiently melancholy voice,--

"Lord Harningham, there is only one thing to do, and for your sake I
will make myself a criminal participator in the conspiracy. You must go
to Folkestone with me this afternoon, and take your check book with
you."

The groan he gave at this would have moved a man of iron. I saw tears
standing in his eyes, and his hand shook when I left him so that he
could scarce put it into mine. Yet he came to the station to meet me in
the afternoon, and by six o'clock we were in Folkestone at a shabby
second-rate hotel, called "The Cock and Lobster," inquiring for the
bride and bridegroom. Mr. and Mrs. Watts, they said, were out on the
parade; but we went to look for them, and surprised them coming from the
Lees, as handsome a couple as you could look upon. She, a pretty,
brown-haired English girl, her tresses tossed over her large eyes by the
sharp wind that swept in from the sea, was close under the arm of her
husband, who, at that stage, fearing to lose her touch, seemed engaged
in the impossible attempt to cover her entirely with one of his arms.
And in this pursuit privacy came to his aid, for the breeze was fresh
from the Channel at the beginning of night, banishing all loiterers but
those loitering in love; and the lamps flickered and went low in the
gusts as though fearing to illumine the roses upon the cheeks of a
bride.

When Master Bertie saw us he became as sedate as a Methodist minister,
and, commanding a solemn tone acted the part to perfection.

"Uncle," he said, "I would never have believed it of you. But this is
too serious a matter to mention here; let us go to the hotel."

We returned in silence, but directly we were in the hall the young man
called for his bill, and speaking almost in a boisterous tone, cried:--

"We're going to change our quarters, uncle, and will begin by moving to
the best hotel in the place. That poor girl is moped to death here, and
now you're going to pay for our honeymoon--cost doesn't matter, does it,
old man?"

The old man concerned started at this, his mouth wide open with the
surprise of it.

"What's that?" he muttered. "What're you going to do?" But I whispered
to him to be silent, and in an hour we were sitting down to a superb
dinner--which he did not touch, by the bye--in the great saloon of the
biggest hotel in the place. During the meal the bride, who scarce seemed
able to do anything else than look at her husband, made few remarks,
but Watts and I talked freely, quite ignoring the old man; and it was
not until we were in the private room that the negotiations began.

There is no need to describe them. They lasted until midnight, at which
hour the nephew of Lord Harningham had five hundred pounds in his
pocket, and an allowance of five hundred a year. From the moment of
assenting to these conditions until we entered the train next morning
the old man never opened his lips, but he kissed the bride at the door
of the hotel, and color came again to his cheeks at the warmth of her
lips. When at last we were alone in the carriage he gave a great sigh of
relief and said,----

"Sutton, thank God that's over!"

"Nearly over, my lord," I replied with emphasis.

"What do you mean?" he cried. "Do you think that any one will get to
hear of it? Why, man, what have I half-ruined myself for?"

"To keep your nephew quiet," I suggested pleasantly.

"And who else knows anything when he's settled with?" he asked angrily.

"Why," said I quite calmly, "you and I, perhaps."

He looked at me as though his glance was all-consuming and would wither
me, but I met him with a placid smile and continued,--

"It seems to me that I want what Mr. Stevenson calls 'a good memory for
forgetting.' Do you know, Lord Harningham, that if you paid my
bill--gave me, say, eight thousand pounds on account, I believe my mind
would be quite oblivious to the events of last night."

The shot struck home--in the very center of my target. He thought over
it for some while, and spoke but once between Sevenoaks and Charing
Cross. His remark was more forcible than convincing, for he exclaimed
suddenly, and _à propos_ of nothing in particular, "Sutton to blazes
with all jewels!" Then he subsided, and came with me quietly to my
rooms, where he wrote a check for eight thousand pounds and signed it
with considerable firmness. The ink was hardly dry, however, before he
dropped heavily upon the carpet, and lay prone in a fit.

The shock of parting with so much money had been too much for him. He is
now in Madeira seeking a climate.



TREASURE OF WHITE CREEK.



TREASURE OF WHITE CREEK.


She was the daughter of Colonel Kershaw Klein, and he was worth a
million, as the society papers said. I had danced with her for the first
time in the ball-room of the magnificent house her father had rented in
Grosvenor Crescent, on the occasion of her coming of age; and I agreed
with the men that she was beyond criticism, an exquisite vision of dark
and matured girlhood, so incomparably fascinating that you forget in her
company some of her bluntness in speech, and set down the voluptuousness
of her glance and mien to the southern luxuriance amidst which she had
been reared, and to those "other" notions which prevail in Chili, the
land of fleeting republics.

Some part of this perhaps unnecessary adulation may have been due to the
fact that I had helped in the production of her perfect picture on the
night of which I am speaking. The commercial element will intrude at
such times; and I could not help but see that she wore at least eight
hundred pounds' worth of my jewels. Had the value of them been double,
it would have been the same to me, for of her father's stability I had
then no doubt. He had been received and made much of in the highest
places, accorded the chief seats at the feasts; entrusted--as the old
ladies told you--with the most important missions by Government; and a
share in the Western Hill diamond mine at South Africa was not the least
substantial factor in the sum of his income. Any and every gem to which
he took a fancy I had let him have readily, being assured by an
important personage at the Embassy that his credit was unquestionable;
and it was a pretty pleasure to me when I first met his daughter to
observe how well my diamonds sat upon her, and how shapely were her arms
clasped in the ruby bracelets which had been amongst the treasures of
Bond Street but three months before. She was, indeed, a sunny child of
the South, radiating a warming light about her, tempting you to wait
long for a single press of her hand, luring you to follow the sparkle of
her eyes even when she looked at you over the shoulder of a dancer who
for the moment had the privilege of holding her in the entrancement of
the _deux temps_. There was keen contention for her programme, but
somehow I found her disposed to favor me, and danced no less than four
with her, to the infinite annoyance of the many youths who eyed me
angrily from their watching-ground by the door. They said that they had
never seen her brighter; and I was ready to believe them, for she kept
her tongue going merrily through the waltzes, and leant upon my arm in a
languorous way that was completely entrancing.

At the end of the dance--the next being some newfangled "Barn Dance"
wherein men scarce put their hands upon their partners--she said that
she would sit in the conservatory and eat ices; and for the first time
during the long evening I found myself able to talk easily with her.

"Well," she said, when we had composed ourselves behind a huge fern, and
had made a successful attack upon the _meringues glacés_, "well, this is
about splendid; don't you think so?"

I said that nothing could be more delightful.

"And to think that I've never danced with you before; why, you're just
perfect," she went on. "I haven't enjoyed myself right along like this
since I was in Valparaiso."

"Are the Chilians such wonderful dancers then?" I asked, as she looked
up at me bewitchingly.

"They just make a profession of it between the shooting times," said
she; and then changing the subject quickly, she asked, "What do you
think of the crystals now I've got them on?"

It is not particularly consoling to hear your rubies spoken of as
crystals, but her description was accompanied by such a pretty laugh,
and she opened her great black eyes so widely, that I smiled when I
answered,--

"Why, they're to be envied in such a setting."

"You're the fourth man that has said the same to-night," she exclaimed,
putting her glass down and tugging at her glove. "I think that
Britishers learn their compliments out of copy-books; they're all
presents for good girls. Let's see if you're cleverer at getting a glove
on than at making pretty speeches."

The arm that she held out was gloriously white; and as every man knows,
the operation of pulling on the glove of a pretty girl is apt to be
prolonged. There are fingers to fit, and a little thumb to stroke
daintily; while the grip upon the more substantial part of the forearm
will bear repetition so long as time serves. I must have occupied myself
at least five minutes with her buttons, she finding it necessary to
press close to me when I did so; and the task was none the less pleasant
when her rich brown hair touched my face, and her dress rustled with her
long-drawn breathing. How long the process would have lasted, or what I
should have said foolishly in the end, I do not know; but of a sudden
she drew her arm away and exclaimed,--

"Oh, I'd quite forgotten; I wanted to ask you about the bull's-eye."

[Illustration: "I wanted to ask you about the bull's-eye."

    --_Page 82_]

This was her description, I may mention without anger, of the famous
White Creek Diamond, which, as all London knows, I have had in my
possession for the last two years. Her father, who was reputed to have
some commission to buy it for a Persian, was then negotiating with me
for its purchase for the sum of one hundred and thirty thousand pounds.
He waited only, he said, for the coming of his partner from Valparaiso,
to complete the transaction; and it was owing to the intimacy which the
_pour parlers_ brought about that I found myself then in his house. How
much his daughter knew of the business, however, I could not tell, and I
answered her question by another.

"What do you know about the bull's-eye?"

"That you're trying to sell it to my father," she replied, "and that he
won't promise to give it to me."

"Have you asked him, then?"

"Have I asked him--why, look at him; isn't he ten years older since he
met you in Bond-street?"

"He certainly seems to have something on his mind," said I.

"That's me; he's got me on his mind," she remarked flippantly; "but I
wish he'd buy the bull's-eye, and give it to me for a wedding present."

"Oh, you're engaged," I ventured dolefully; "you never told me that----"

"Didn't I?" she answered, "well, of course I am, and here's my partner."

She went away on another man's arm; but she left to me a vision of dark
eyes and ivory white flesh; and her breath still seemed to blow balmily
upon my forehead. Her partner was a young man just down from Oxford,
they told me; seemingly a simple youth, to whom the whole sentence in
conversation was as much a mystery as the binomial theorem; but he
danced rather well, and I doubt not that she suffered him for that. I
watched her through the waltz, and then, after a few words with her
father, who promised to call upon me the next day concerning White Creek
treasure, I said "Good night" to her. She give me a glance which was
more entrancing than any word; and although she had the habit of looking
at a man as though she were dying for love of him, I carried it away
with me foolishly into the street, when the dawn had broken with summer
haze, and an exalting sweetness was in the air.

The invigorating breath of morning somewhat sobered my thoughts; but
none the less left the impression of her beauty fermenting in my mind. I
turned into Hyde Park, where the trees were alive with song-birds, and
the glowing flowers sparkled with the silver freshness of the dew, and
set out to walk to Bayswater. In these moments, I forgot the prosaic
necessities of forms and customs; and bethought how pleasant it would be
if some enchantment could place her at my side, a Phyllis of Mayfair,
freed from the tie of conventionality, to look at me for all time with
those eyes she had used so well but an hour ago. I forgot her manners of
speech, her unpleasing idioms, even the discordant note that her usually
melodious voice was sometimes guilty of; forgot all but her ripe beauty,
the softness of her touch, the alluring fascination of her way, the
insurpassable play of her mouth, the exquisite perfection of her figure.

Women's eyes make dreamers of us all; and though I have pride in the
thought that I am not a susceptible man, I will confess without
hesitation that I was as near to being in love on that summer morning in
July as was ever a professor of the single state who has come within
hail of his thirty-fifth year with the anti-feminine vow unweakened.

At Lancaster Gate I paused a moment, leaning upon the iron rail of the
drive to look back at the London veldt fresh to luxuriance in the dew
showers which gave many colors in the play of sunlight. There was
stillness under the trees, and the hum of the still sleeping city was
hushed, though day was seeking to enter the blind-hid windows, and
workmen slouched heavily to their labor. The scene was fresh enough,
beautiful as many of the city's scenes are beautiful; but I had scarce
time to enjoy when I saw the Oxford youth who had last danced with
Margaret Klein coming striding over the grass; a masterful pipe in his
mouth; and a very rough ulster wrapped round his almost vanishing
shoulders. He gave me a cheery nod for greeting, and to my surprise he
seated himself upon the seat beside me; and having offered me a cigar,
which I took, he found his tongue so readily that I, who had heard his
"haw-hawing" in the ball-room, concluded at once that it was assumed and
not natural to him. And in this I was right, as the first exchange of
speech with him proved.

"I've had a sharp run to catch you," said he, "for this infernal dancing
takes it out of you when you're not used to it. I wanted a word with you
particularly before this thing goes any further. Do you know anything of
these people?"

"Why," said I, "I might ask you that question, since you made yourself
so much at home there; don't you know them?"

"No, I'm hanged if I do," said he; "but, if I'm not mistaken, I shall be
on very good terms with them before the season's out. You haven't sold
them any jewels, have you?"

This was such an extraordinary question that I turned upon him with an
angry reply upon my lips; but the word changed to one of amazement when
I saw his face closely in the full sunlight. It was no longer the face
of an Oxford boy, but of a man of my own age at the least.

"Whew!" I remarked, as I looked full at him, "you've made rather a quick
change, haven't you?"

"It's the running," he replied, mopping himself with a handkerchief, and
leaving his countenance like a half-washed chess-board, "we're in for
another six hours' stew, and my phiz is plastic--I'd better be moving
on, lest I meet any of my partners; I might break some hearts, you know;
but what I wanted to say was, Don't go making a fool of yourself, Mr.
Sutton, over that little witch with the black eyes, and don't, if you
love your life, put yourself for a moment in the power of her
long-tongued father."

This utterly surprising rejoinder was given without a suspicion of
concern or bombast. Many people would have resented it as an
impertinence, and a dishonorable slander upon one whose hospitality we
had just enjoyed; but I had not been a dealer in jewels for ten years
without learning to recognize instantly the "professional" tongue; and I
knew that I was talking to a man from Scotland Yard. Yet I must confess
that I laughed inwardly at the absurdity of his fears. Few men had come
to London with stronger recommendation than Kershaw Klein, and even the
banks had trusted him implicitly.

"Are you sure that you are making no mistake?" I asked, as he buttoned
up his coat and looked about for a hansom. "You gentlemen have been
woefully out lately; I can't forget that one of you cautioned me against
Count Hevilick three months ago, and if I'd listened to him I should be
worth five thousand less than I am at this moment. If this man is what
you think, he's managed to blind a good many big people--and his own
Embassy into the bargain."

He thought for some minutes before he answered me, standing with his
hands in his pockets and his cigar pointing upwards from the extreme
corner of his mouth. His reply was given with a pitying smile, and was
patronizing--as are the replies of men convinced but unable to convince.

"Well," he said, exhaling tremendous clouds of smoke, "what I know I
know; and what I don't know my wits will find out for me. I gave you the
tip because you've done me--though you don't know it--a good many
services; but whether you take it or leave it, that's your look out.
Only, and this is my last word, don't come complaining to me if the
witch walks off with your goods--and don't write to the _Times_ if her
father cracks your skull."

He had turned on his heel before I could utter another word; and he left
me to walk slowly and thoughtfully to Bayswater, divided in my musings
between the vision of the Chilian girl's beauty and the jewels of mine
which she wore; but for which her father had not paid. I can only set it
down to absurd infatuation; but I admit unhesitatingly that I did not
very much care then whether the financial part of the business left me
lacking the money or possessed of it. A rash disregard for expense is
the surest sign that a woman has interested you; a longing to pay her
milliner's bills is a necessary instinct to the disposition for
marriage. I was at that time, and in the exhilaration of wish that came
of the power of morning, quite ready to let so perfect a creature remain
indebted to me for anything; and this was natural since the spice of a
little suspicion is often the most attractive flavor in a woman's
character. But the question of the treasure of White Creek was another
matter altogether. The great diamond was not my own, although it lay at
that time in my safe in Bond Street. It was the property of a syndicate,
in which I held a third of the shares; but the others looked to me for
the safe disposal of the stone, and for the profit of ten thousand
pounds which we hoped to get by its sale. My responsibility, then, was
no usual one; and the barest suggestion that I was trafficking with a
swindler was enough to set me itching with anxiety.

I went home in this mood, but not to sleep. A feverish dreaming--chiefly
of a seductive girl with black-brown wavy hair and black eyes that
searched and fascinated with an inexplicable spell--served me for rest;
and at eleven o'clock I was at my office, and the Chilian was with me.
He was a man of fine presence, a long black beard falling upon his ample
chest, and a certain refinement of carriage and bearing giving him a
dignity which is not usual in an American. The object of his visit was
twofold, to pay the bill he owed me, and to tell me that his partner,
Hermann Rudisic, would reach London from Valparaiso in a week's time;
when he would bring him to me to complete the purchase of the great
stone. He said further that as the season was over he had taken a place
near Basingstoke, the Woodfields it was named; and that he hoped his
daughter, who did not do well in an English climate, would benefit by
the wealth of pine-trees about the house. He finished by giving me a
reference to his London bankers, and also another to one of the best
known of the financiers in Lombard Street. In due course I communicated
with both firms, and received answers which set every doubt about the
financial position of Kershaw Klein at rest. The bankers declared that I
might trust him unhesitatingly for such a sum as I named. The other
replied that the Colonel's brother was of great standing and position in
Chili, and that he himself carried letters which proved his undoubted
probity. More complete vindication could not be had; and I went home to
laugh consumedly at the gentleman who had found such a mare's nest, and
to wonder if my friends would laugh very much if they heard--how little
I thought at that time of the old pleasantries with which I had once
greeted the tidings of a marriage.

I did not hear more of Klein for some fifteen days, at the end of which
time he wrote saying that Hermann Rudisic was with him at Basingstoke;
and that they hoped to call upon me on the following Friday. The march
of events was from that time quick. On the Thursday I read in a daily
paper of an accident in Berkshire to a Chilian visitor, who had been
thrown from his carriage and seriously hurt. The account said that his
life was despaired of, and that he was then lying at the house of his
host, the well-known Colonel Kershaw Klein, who had taken Lord Aberly's
place, the Woodfields. On the Friday morning I received a long letter
from the Colonel deploring the accident and the delay, more especially
because his commission to purchase the stone extended only to the 10th
of August, and it was then the third. He hoped, however, that matters
would look brighter at the end of that time; and would bring his partner
to London the moment he could travel.

Now, at the first thought, this intelligence set all the inherent
suspicion, which is a part of me, at work once more. Suggestions of
doubt rose again and again, instantly to be suppressed. Had I not
satisfied myself completely as to the Colonel's standing, his means, his
reputation, and his personal character? Was he not staying in Lord
Aberly's house? Had not he passed most brilliantly through a London
season? Were there not twenty members of the Bachelors' Club seeking to
pay for the sake of his daughter the fine imposed upon amorous
backsliders? If one were to suspect every man with such credentials as
these, the sooner one shut one's door, and locked one's safe for good,
the better for all hope of doing business. Of all this I was certain;
and had already come to the determination to put from my mind suspicion
both of the Count and his daughter, when there came to me by the
afternoon delivery another letter concerning the matter; but this was
anonymous, and in a hand I did not know. It was a curious scrawl written
upon a slip of account paper, and its contents were but these words:--

"You will be asked to Kershaw Klein's house in three days. I told you
the other morning not to trust yourself with the man; I say now, accept
the invitation."

This was plainly from my friend of Hyde Park; and I confess that his
pompous mysteriousness and pretence of knowledge amused me. Even he no
longer complained of Colonel Klein's reputation, nor advised me now to
avoid him. His letter finally quieted my scruples, and from that moment
I resolved to dally with them no longer; and to let no silly fears delay
the negotiations for the sale of the treasure of White Creek.

In this resolution I waited rather anxiously for the coming of Klein and
his partner, but three days went, and I saw nothing of them; it being on
the Monday morning at eleven o'clock that the former drove up to Bond
Street in a single brougham, and came with his daughter into my private
office. He seemed in a great state of distress, saying that Rudisic,
although better, was still unable to set foot to the ground: and begging
me as the time was so short to take the great jewel to Berkshire--his
house was just across the line dividing the county from Hampshire--and
there to settle the matter that very day. I heard him mechanically; my
eyes glued on the exquisite picture which his daughter made; her gown of
white delaine showing the mature contour of her figure admirably; and
her deep brown hair rolling from the shelter of a great straw hat in
silken waves upon her shoulders. If she had fascinated me at the dance,
the fascination was intensified there. I would cheerfully have risked
the best parcel of rubies in the place to have had the pleasure of
keeping her in the office even for an hour; and I did not hesitate one
moment in accepting Klein's offer.

"Come down to-day," said he, "and bring your man with you in case we
don't do business, and you have to return alone. I don't like mailing
with big stuff on me; you never know who gets wind of it. I suppose you
have somebody you could take."

Even with the girl's eyes upon me and her laughing threat to "make me
tramp at tennis awhile," I had a measure of satisfaction in this
request, and thought instantly of Abel.

"Yes," said I, with a light laugh, "I will bring my own detective. He's
down below now."

"That's right," said Klein, "and we'll catch the two-forty from
Waterloo. I've ordered the carriage to meet that, and there's just time
for a snack between whiles. Never forget your food, sir--I don't for all
the business in Europe. I once lost a commission for a railway in
Venezuela through a sandwich--but there, that's another story, and I'll
tell it you over a chop at the Criterion. I guess I've got an appetite
on, and so's Margaret, eh, little girl?"

He slapped his chest to signify that a void was there; and we all went
off down Piccadilly, returning afterwards for the gem which I had placed
in a flat-velvet case. I put it into my jewel pocket, cunningly
contrived in my vest, and with no more delay we got to Waterloo and to
our saloon, Abel traveling second class, by the bye, and in another
compartment. There was a well-turned-out wagonette to meet us when we
reached Basingstoke; and after a drive of something under an hour
through some of that glorious pine scenery of southern Berkshire, we
entered a short drive edged by thick laurels, and were shortly at the
gate of the Woodfields. Of the exterior of the house I saw nothing, for,
as I descended from the wagonette, I chanced to catch the eye of the
footman, who had a finger to his lips; and an exclamation almost broke
from my lips. Notwithstanding his disguise I recognized the man in a
moment. He was the "Oxford youth" who had given me a cigar in the park
on the morning after the dance in Grosvenor Crescent.

The discovery was not a pleasant one. It made discord of all the music
of Margaret Klein's voice--she was quickly babbling to me in the old
Georgian Hall--and forbade my taking considerable notice of the massive
oak of the double staircase, or of the exceedingly bright-nosed
"ancestors" who smiled upon us from twenty gilt frames. Abel had come up
to my room with me, I pretending that he invariably acted as my valet;
and once inside a very large but very ugly square bedchamber, whose
windows overlooked the prim lawn and terrace of flowers, I shut the door
and had a word with him.

"Abel," said I, "that footman who drove us from the station must be one
of the Scotland Yard lot; what's he doing in this house?"

Abel whistled, and by instinct, I suppose, put his hand upon his pistol
pocket.

"Have you got your revolver with you, sir?" he asked.

"Of course I have; and I'll take this opportunity to charge all the
chambers, but I don't believe for a moment there will be occasion to use
it. The man's on a false scent entirely. It's necessary at the same time
to act like wise men, and not like fools; and I must count on you to be
near me while we're in the place. If there's any knavery afoot, we
shan't hear of it until the place is asleep; but come here when I am
going to bed, and then we shall know what to do."

I sent him off with this to the servants' quarters, and dressed, though
an indescribable sense of nervousness had taken hold of me; and I found
myself peering into every cupboard and cranny like an old woman looking
for a burglar. The situation was either as dangerous as it could be, or
I was the victim of farcical fears. Yet the very shadows across the
immense floor, and the aureola upon the carpet about the dressing table
seemed to give gloom to the chamber. So thick were the walls of the old
house that no sound reached me from the rooms below; and when the gong
struck the hour for dinner its note reverberated as a wave of deadened
sound through some curtained chapel or chill vault. What did it mean, I
kept asking myself; the illness, was it sham? the man from London, was
he on a fool's errand? my visit, was it foolhardy? Had I walked into a
trap at the bidding of a pretty woman? Were all the guarantees I had
received in the Colonel's favor fraudulent or mistaken? I could not
think so. Again and again I told myself that the fellow from Scotland
Yard was an absurd crank upon a false scent, and that ninety jewelers of
a hundred would have done as I had done, and have brought the stone to
Berkshire. And with this thought I took a better courage and hastily
finished my dressing. I need scarce say that I had the jewel in my
pocket when I went to the drawing-room, and that I had already
determined that it should not leave me for a moment. I got rid, however,
of more of my fears when I entered the artistic and homely room where
Margaret Klein was waiting; and in the brighter scene of light and
laughter the absurdity of suspicion again occurred to me.

The meal was an excellent one, admirably served; the wine was perfect. I
sat at my host's right facing his daughter, who seemed to exert herself
unusually to fascinate, making delicate play with her speaking eyes; and
promising me all the possibilities of Berkshire rest, if I cared to stay
with them over the week. To this her father, the Colonel, who had the
ribbon of an Order in his buttonhole, and looked exceedingly handsome,
added:

"And I hope you will, for you're not seeming as well as you were last
week. You people in England live in too narrow a circle. A voyage across
the pond makes an epoch in your lives; you are scarce prepared to admit
yet that there is any other city but London. If you would enlarge the
scope of your actions, you would grumble less--and perhaps, if I may
say so, allow that other nations share some of your best boasted
qualities. Now I am truly cosmopolitan; I regard no city as my home; I
would as soon set out on a voyage of three thousand miles as of five. I
come to England, and I do it in ten days from Land's End to John o'
Groat's; and when I think I'll rest awhile I ask, Where is your pretty
county? and I settle for three weeks to explore it."

"I hope Mr. Sutton will do the same," said Margaret, following up his
invitation. "I want to learn all about the dames who won't know you
unless you had a grandfather; and I should like to see a curate who is
passing rich on forty pounds a year. I guess we mean to go right in now
we're amongst your best folk."

"I'll stay a day or two with pleasure if you will pilot me," said I, as
she rose to go to the drawing-room; but I little knew that my visit was
to terminate abruptly in three hours or less, or what was to happen in
the between-time.

A lean, lank-looking butler served the Colonel and myself with coffee
when she had gone; and after that my host took me to the drawing-room,
where I found her engaged in the pursuit of trying over a "coster" song.
The Colonel suggested business at once, saying:

"I'll leave you with Margaret while I go up to Hermann and learn if he's
well enough to receive us; I dare say you can amuse yourselves. I shan't
be gone five minutes."

He was really away for twenty minutes; but I did not count the time. The
whole situation seemed so curious--on the one hand a London detective
playing footman in the house, on the other a delightful host, and a girl
whose every word fascinated and whose every motion drew you
instinctively to her--that I gave up any attempt to solve it; and beyond
the knowledge that I had reason to be watchful, I put no restraint upon
myself; but sat at her side while she played the lightest of music; or
occasionally leant back to speak to me, so that her hair brushed my face
and her eyes almost looked into mine.

"It was good of you to come," she almost whispered in one of these
pauses, glancing up timorously, and speaking altogether in the
sympathetic tone.

"Do you miss the excitement of London?" I asked, letting my hand rest
for a moment on hers.

"I guess not," she replied; "but I miss some one who can talk to me as
you talk; you're going to stop awhile, aren't you?"

"I'll stop as long as you ask me to."

When he was gone she went on playing for some minutes, turning away at
last impatiently from the piano, and facing round with a serious, almost
alarmed look. What she meant to say or do I cannot tell, for at that
moment the Colonel came back and told us that his partner was in the
dressing-room upstairs, and would be glad to see me at once.

"Margaret may come too?" he asked me. "She would like to see the great
stone."

"Of course," I replied; "it will be a pleasure to show it to her."

I cannot tell you why it was, but as we rose together to leave the room
I seemed in a moment to realize that the affair had come to a crisis. In
that instant, notwithstanding guarantees, references, Margaret Klein's
fascinations, and the hundred arguments I had so often used to convince
myself of the folly of suspicion, there came to me as distinct and clear
a warning as though some human voice had given speech to it. The very
silence of the others--for they said no word, and a curious hesitation
seemed to come upon them--impressed the conviction of the monition. Once
in the hall, my uneasiness became stronger, for there at a table was the
footman I had recognized, and as he glanced at me when I passed him his
face was knit up as the face of a man thinking; and he let a glass fall
at the very moment we reached the stairs. What he wished to convey I do
not know; but although I felt there was danger in leaving the ground
floor, another force dragged me on behind the Colonel, and kept me
advancing unhesitatingly until I had reached the end of the long
picture-gallery with him, and he had knocked upon a door in the eastern
wing of the rambling mansion. What this force was I do not pretend to
explain. It may have been merely the influence of the woman; it may have
been my inherent obstinacy and belief in myself; or simple lack of
conviction which forbade any public expression of the fears I had
fomented. I know only that we waited for some seconds in the passage
until a hospital nurse opened the door, and that I found myself at last
in a very pretty boudoir, where a pale and sickly-looking man was lying
upon a couch, but propped up to greet us. The formalities of
introduction were accomplished by the Colonel with great suavity and
grace; and the nurse having set chairs at the side of the sick man's
couch, and placed a table there, she withdrew, and we were ready for the
business.

That you should understand what happened in the next few minutes it is
necessary for me to say a word upon the construction of the boudoir. It
was a room hung in pink silk and white, and it had two doors in it,
giving off to other rooms, whose size I could not see since they were in
darkness. For light, we had a lamp with a white shade upon the invalid's
table, and two others upon the mantelshelf; while we were seated in a
fashion that allayed any fears I might have had of personal and sudden
attack. The Colonel lounged in an American rocking-chair, he being
nearest to the head of the couch; his daughter leant back against a
buhl-work cabinet, she being a little way from the sick man's feet; I
had a library-chair, and was alone in an attitude which would allow me
to spring to my defence--if that were necessary--without delay. I
looked, too, at Hermann Rudisic, the Colonel's partner, and I confess
that contempt for his physical powers was my first thought. I was
convinced that if it were a question of fight, I could hold the two men
until Abel, who was in the servants' hall, came to my assistance; and
while the others were present I had no fear of any of those wild
machinations which are chiefly the property of imaginative
fiction-makers. This knowledge gave to me my nerve again, and without
more ado I took the case from my pocket and showed the stone.

The vision of the glorious gem, rippling on its surface with a myriad
lights, white, and golden, and many-colored, in the play of radiating
fire, was one that compelled the silence of amazed admiration for many
minutes. Margaret Klein first spoke, her face bent to the diamond so
that its waves of color seemed to float up to her ravished eyes; and
with a little cry wrung from her satisfaction she said,--

"Oh, Mr. Sutton, it's too beautiful to look at!"

"I am glad that it does not disappoint," said I.

"It could disappoint no one," the invalid said, stretching out a hand
which trembled to draw the treasure closer to his eyes.

"It's the whitest stone I've seen for three years," the Colonel remarked
coolly, and then, as with a new thought, he added,--

"I believe it's whiter than the Brazilian stone in my old ring. I should
like to compare them, if you'll let me? The other stuff is in my
dressing-room there; Margaret, will you get it?"

He gave her his keys, and taking a lamp from the shelf, she passed into
the chamber which was behind me. In the same moment Rudisic asked his
host to prop him up higher upon the couch, and the Colonel had just
begun to place the pillows when I heard Margaret's voice crying,--

"Father, I can't open the drawer--it's stuck; do come and help."

It was an act of consummate folly--that I concede you; but I was so
completely unaware of any signs of trickery here, and had so forgotten
my fears, that I found it the most natural thing in the world to step
into the room, and to enjoy helping the girl in her difficulty. I
discovered her before an open door--the door of a wardrobe I thought it
was for a moment, but I saw at the second look that it gave access to a
tiny chamber, whereof the walls were all drawers. Margaret Klein herself
stood within this curiously fashioned safe, built as part of the house,
and was still struggling with the refractory drawer; so that I had no
hesitation--nor, indeed, thought suspiciously--in going to her side. She
laughed slyly as we stood in the semi-dark together, and my hand falling
by chance on hers, she pressed it, and put her face very close to
mine--so close, that to have resisted kissing her would have been a
crime for which a man would have repented until his last day. I cannot
tell accurately how long I held her in a passionate embrace, feeling her
lips glued upon my own; but suddenly and quickly she pushed me from her
with a surprising strength of arm, and before I could regain my balance
she had sprung into the room, and the door of the small chamber in which
I was left swung to with a clang, striking me backwards as it pressed
upon me, and coming nigh to stunning me. So thick was this door, so
impenetrable, that its closing was succeeded by the stillness of vault
or catacomb. I had scarce realized the whole trick, or the terrible
predicament sheer folly had placed me in, when I was plunged into the
abyss of utter darkness, shut as it were into the coffin that had been
prepared for me. A frightful panic, a hideous terror, an indescribable
anger, came upon me from the very first moment of that fearful trial.
For some minutes--the first minutes of imprisonment in a room where I
could stand my height with difficulty, but whose iron sides my elbows
touched as I turned--I think my reason must have been paralyzed. Rage,
shame of my folly, yet, above all, unsurpassable fear, drove me to beat
with my fists upon the door, which gave me back the touch of solid
steel; to cry out aloud as a man in the throes of painful death; to
grind my teeth until pain shot into my brain; to forget, in fact, that I
was from that time helpless, and that others alone could give to me
life.

When the first great terror had passed, and a mental struggle had left
me with some sense, I leant against the steel door, and thought again of
my fate. I had little science, yet I knew that the hours of any man,
shut in an air-tight chamber such as that room of steel was, could be
few. I had heard that asphyxiation was a peaceful death, and think I
could have had courage to face it if a little light had been given to
me. But I was in utter weighty darkness; I could not even see that dull
red light as of one's own soul shining, which may come in the gentler
dark of night. There was only upon me that sense of impenetrable
blackness, the grim feeling that I had come to my coffin, had slept in
it, and arisen to this unspeakable terror. My whole being then seemed to
cry aloud for sight, one moment in which living light should again shine
upon me. A great craving for air; a sense of terrible effort in the
lungs, a rushing of blood to the head--these things succeeded, and as I
suffered them flashes of thought came and passed, hope extended a hand
to me, processes of reasoning told me that I should be saved, only to
convince me the more that I should die.

If I could have reasoned sanely I should have seen that my hope was all
bound up in Abel and the detective in the house. Klein, and the invalid,
and the girl--they had been gone long since, unless others had put hands
upon them. My own servant, I knew, would seek for me first; but even if
he came to the safe, how would he open it, how cut through these inches
of steel before death had ended it all? It was even possible that the
door of the strong room was a concealed door--and so afterwards I proved
it to be. In that case, how would they know even of my necessity? These
torturing reflections threw at last a glimmer of necessary activity upon
my despair. I raised my voice, though I had then the strangest sensation
in my veins, and my heart was pumping audibly; and for many minutes I
shouted with all my strength. Once I thought that I heard, even through
the door, some sound from the other room; yet when I cried louder, and
beat again upon the steel, there was no signal. I remained unheeded; my
voice gradually failed me; I could cry no longer, but began to sink
almost into a coma.

How long this coma lasted I cannot tell. I was roused from it, after a
hideous dream of waiting, by sounds of knocking upon some wall near me;
and with a new strength I shouted again, and beat again upon the door
of steel. Yet, I knew that I was not heard, for the sound of the blows
grew fainter and were passing away and life, which had come near again,
seemed to pass with them. Then was my supreme moment of misery, yet one
giving an inspiration which brought me here to write this record.
Recoiling from the door as the knocks without grew fainter, I struck my
back against the iron wall, and my pistol, which I had forgotten,
pressed into my flesh. Regardless of all thought of consequences, of the
path of the bullet, or the effect upon me of the stifling smoke, I fired
three rounds from the revolver into the room--and instantly was
breathing the densest smoke. Then a sudden faintness took me; and I
recollect only that I fell forward into a world of light, and there
slept.

[Illustration: "I fired three rounds from the revolver into the door."

    --_Page 104_]

       *       *       *       *       *

"The joke, was, seeing you living, Mr. Sutton, that Abel swallowed the
wine that butler gave him, and was made as insensibly drunk as a man who
takes stage chloroform. I knew all along that the butler was the one to
watch; and while I never thought they'd do you mischief in the
room--believing they meant to work after midnight--my men in the grounds
clapped the bracelets on the lank chap up by the woods there, and he had
the diamond on him."

"And the Colonel and his daughter and the invalid?" I asked, raising
myself in the bed of an upper chamber of the Woodfields, on the foot of
which sat my old friend, the detective of Hyde Park.

"Got clear away by a back staircase we'd never heard of, through a
cellar and a passage to the lower grounds! They knocked old Jimmy, the
local policeman, on the head by the spinney, and all they left him was a
bump as big as an orange. That girl must have had a liking for you. One
of my men nearly took her as she jumped into a dog-cart; but she threw
the keys in his face, and he brought them here. I knew nothing about
this room, and shouldn't have done except for the ring of your revolver;
but the last Lord Aberly built it to take his famous collection of
rubies and emeralds, and that lag Klein evidently heard of it, and
leased the place furnished on that account."

"How do you know that he was a swindler?"

"I heard of him in New York when I was there last winter. He was wanted
for the great mail robbery near St. Louis. A clever scoundrel, too;
deceived a heap of folk by forged letters of introduction, and the banks
by leaving big deposits with them. He must be worth a pretty pile; but I
don't doubt he came over here from America on purpose to steal your
diamonds. He was out at the Cape nine months ago, and got to hear all
about the White Creek stone. Then he must have known that Herbert Klein,
his supposed brother, and a real rich man of Valparaiso, was away
yachting in the Pacific; and so he claimed him, and traded on his
undoubted couple of million. A clever forger, and the other two with him
nearly as smart. It was lucky for you that one of the grooms here had
heard of a mysterious place in that dressing-room, and led me, when I
missed you, to tap the walls. You were nearly done for, and though you
don't know, you've been in bed pretty well a week."

"And the man's daughter?" I asked, a little anxiously.

"His daughter," he replied; "pshaw, she's his wife!--and we'll take the
pair of them yet."

But he never did, although the lank butler is now our guest at
Dartmoor.



THE ACCURSED GEMS.



THE ACCURSED GEMS.


The accursed gems lie sedately in the lowest drawer of my strong room,
shining from a couple of dozen of prim leather cases, with a light which
is full of strange memories. I call them accursed because I cannot sell
them; yet there are those with other histories, stones about which the
fancy of romance has sported, and the strong hand of tragedy has touched
with an indelible brand. It may be that the impulse of sentiment,
working deep down in the heart of the ostensibly commercial character,
forbids me to cry some of these wares in the market-place with any
vigor; it may be that the play of chance moves the mind of the
jewel-buyer to a prejudice against them. In any case, they lie in my
safe unhonored and unsung--and, lacking that which Sewell called the
"precious balsam" of reputation, are merely so much carbon or mineral
matter giving light to iron walls which give no light again.

For the stones which have no history I am not an apologist. Some day,
those excellent people who now decry them in every salon where jewels
are discussed, will give up the hope of attempting to buy them cheaply;
and I shall make my profit. Everything comes to him who _can_ wait, and
I am not in a hurry. As to the others, which have been the pivots of
romance or serious story, they may well lie as they are while they serve
my memory in the jotting down of some of these mysteries.

And that they do serve it I have no measure of doubt. Here, for
instance, is a little bag of pearls and diamonds. It contains a black
pearl from Koepang, so rich in silvery lustre, and so perfect in shape,
that it should be worth eight hundred pounds in any market in Europe; a
couple of pink pearls from the Bahamas, of fine orient yet pear-shaped,
and therefore less valuable as fashion dictates; five old Brazilian
diamonds averaging two carats each; a number of smaller diamonds for
finish; and two great white pearls, which I find at the very bottom of
the bag. Those stones were bought by the late Lord Maclaren a month
before the date announced for his marriage with the Hon. Christine King.
He had intended them as his gift to her, a handsome and sufficient gift,
it must be admitted, yet so did fickle fortune work that his very
generosity was the indirect cause of a commotion in the week of the
wedding, and of as pretty a social scandal as society has known for a
decade.

The matter was hushed up of course. For six weeks, as a wag said, it was
a nine days' wonder. Aged ladies discussed it from every point of view,
but could make nothing of it. The Society papers lacked enough
information to lie about it. The principal actors held their tongues,
and in due time the West forgot, for a new scandal arose, and the courts
supplied the craving for the doubtful, which is a part of polite
education nowadays. Yet I do not think that I make a boastful claim, in
asserting that I alone, beyond those immediately concerned, became
possessed of full knowledge of the occurrence. It was to me first of all
that Lord Maclaren related the history of it, and, despite my advice to
the contrary, laid it upon me that I should tell none in his lifetime.
He is dead now, and the publication of the story will throw a light upon
much that is well worth investigating. It may also help me to sell the
pearls, which is infinitely more important, as any unprejudiced person
will admit.

Here then is the story. I had a visit from the chief actor in it towards
the end of June in the year 1890. He came to tell me that he was to be
married quietly in the middle of the following month to the Hon.
Christine King, the very beautiful sister of Lord Cantiliffe. She was
then staying at the old family place at St. Peter's, in Kent; and she
wished to avoid a public wedding in view of the recent death of her
sister, whose beauty was no less remarkable than her own. Maclaren's
visit was but the prelude to the purchase of a present, and the business
was made the easier since he had the simplest notions as to his
requirements. He had recently come from America--without a wife
_mirabile dictu_--and there had seen a curious anchor bracelet. The
wristband of this bauble was formed of a plain gold cable, the anchor
itself of pearls and diamonds; the shackle consisted of a small circle
of brilliants; the shaft had a pink pearl at either end; the shank had a
black pearl at the foot of it, and the flukes were of white pearls with
small diamonds round them. I found it to be rather a vulgar ornament;
but his heart was set on having it, and it chanced that I had the very
pearls necessary. I told him that I would make him a model, and send it
down to his hotel at Ramsgate within a week; and that, if he then
thought the jewel to be over showy, we could refashion it. He left much
pleased, returning by the Granville express to Kent; and within the week
he had the model; and I received his instructions to proceed with the
work.

It is necessary, I think, to say a word here about this curious
character. At the time I knew him, Maclaren was a man in his fortieth
year, though he looked older. He was once vulgarly described in a club
smoking-room as being "all hair and teeth," like a buzzard; and his best
friend could not have ranked him with the handsome. Yet the women liked
him--perhaps because it was a tradition that he made love to every
pretty girl in town; and it was surprising beyond belief that he reached
his fortieth year, and remained single. When he went to America in 1888
the whole of the prophets gave him six months of celibacy; but he
cheated them, and returned without a wife. True, a copy of an American
society paper was passed round the club, where the men learnt with
surprise that New York had believed this elderly Don Juan to be engaged
to Evelyn Lenox, "the lady of the unlimited dollars," as young
Barisbroke of the Bachelors' called her; and had been very indignant
when he took passage by the _Teutonic_, and left her people to face the
titters of a triumphant rivalry. But for all that he was not married,
and could afford to laugh at the malignant scribes who made couplets of
his supposed amatory adventures in Boston; and dedicated sonnets of
apology, "_pro amore mea_," to E---- L---- and the marrying mothers of
New York generally. Such a man cared little for the threats of this
young lady's brother, or for the common rumor that she was the most
dashing girl in New York city, and would make things unpleasant for him.
He had twenty thousand a year, and for _fiancée_ one of the prettiest
roses in the whole garden of Kent. What harm then could a broker's
daughter, three thousand miles away, do to him? or how mar his
happiness?

But I am anticipating, and must hark back to the anchor with the flukes
of pearl. I sent the model down on Wednesday; on the Friday morning I
received the order to proceed with the work. Early on the following
Monday, as I read my paper in a cab on the way to Bond Street, I saw a
tremendous headline which announced the "sudden and mysterious
disappearance of Lord Maclaren." The report said that he had left his
hotel on the Saturday afternoon to walk, as the supposition went, to St.
Peters. But he had never reached Lord Cantiliffe's house; and although
search had been made by the police and by special coastguard parties, no
trace of him had been found. I need scarcely say that the murder theory
was set up at once. Clever men from town came down to wag their heads
with stupid men from Canterbury, and to discuss the "only possible
theory," of which there were a dozen or more. The police arrested all
the drunken men within a radius of ten miles, and looked for bloodstains
on their coats. The Hon. Christine King was spoken of as "distracted,"
which was possible; and the family of the missing nobleman as "plunged
into the most profound grief." Nor, as an eloquent special reporter in
his best mood explained, was this supposed tragedy made less painful by
the knowledge that the unhappy victim of accident or of murder was to
have been married within the month.

For a whole week the press had no other topic; the police telegraphed to
all the capitals; a reward of a thousand pounds was offered for
knowledge of Lord Maclaren, "last seen upon the East Cliff at Ramsgate
at three o'clock on the afternoon of Saturday, the fifth of July." A
hundred tongues gave you the exact details of an imagined assassination;
ten times that number--and these tongues chiefly feminine--told you that
he had shirked the marriage upon its very threshold. But the mystery
remained unexplained--and as the day for the wedding drew near, the
excitement amongst a section of society rose to fever heat. Had the body
been found? Had the detectives a clue? Were the strange hints--implying
that the missing man had quarrelled with his _fiancée's_ brother, and
thrown a glass of wine in his face; that he had a wife in Algiers; that
he was married a year ago at Cyprus; that he was bankrupt--merely the
fable of malicious tongues, or had they that germ of truth from which so
vast a disease of scandal can grow? I made no pretence to answer the
questions--but they interested me, and I watched for the development of
the story with the keenness of a hardened novel reader.

The day fixed for the wedding now drew near; and when the bridegroom did
not appear, the vulgar, who do not believe scandals though they like to
hear them, declared that the murder theory was true beyond question. The
rest said that he was either bankrupt or bigamist--and having consoled
themselves with the reflection, they let the matter go. It is likely
that I should have done the same had I not enjoyed a solution of the
mystery, which came to me unsought and accidentally. On a day near to
that fixed for the wedding I was at Victoria Station about eight o'clock
in the evening when I ran full upon the missing nobleman; and for some
while stood speechless with astonishment at the sight of him. His beard
was longer than ever, recalling the traditions of Killingworthe or of
Johann Mayo; his Dundreary whiskers were shaggy and unkempt; he was very
pale in the face, and wore a little yachting cap and a blue serge suit
which begarbed him ridiculously. He had no luggage with him, not even a
valise; and his first remark was given in the voice of a man afraid, and
in a measure broken.

"Ah, Sutton, that's you, is it?" he cried. "I'm glad to see you, by
Jove; have you such a thing as half-a-crown in your pocket?"

I offered him half-a-sovereign, still saying nothing; but he continued
rapidly,--

"You've heard all about it, of course--what are they saying here now? Do
they think I'm a dead man, eh?--but I won't face them yet. Upon my
life, I dare not see a soul. Come with me to an hotel; there's a good
fellow--but let's have a cognac first; I'm shivering like a child with a
fever."

I gave him some brandy at a bar, and after that we took a four-wheeled
cab--he insisting on the privacy--and drove to a private hotel in
Cecil-street, Strand. They did not know him there, and I engaged a room
for him and ordered dinner, taking these things upon myself, since he
was as helpless as a babe. After the meal he seemed somewhat better, and
I telegraphed to Ramsgate for his man, though it was impossible that the
fellow could be with him until the following morning. In the meantime I
found myself doing valet's work for him--but I had his story; and
although it was not until some months later that another supplied some
of the missing links in it, he telling me the barest outline, I will set
it down here plainly as a narrative, and without any of those "says I's"
and "says he's," which were the particular abomination of Defoe, as they
have been of many since his day.

The complete explanation of this mystery was one, I think, to astonish
most people. It was so utterly unlooked for, that I was led at the first
hearing to believe the narrator insane. He told me that at three o'clock
on the afternoon of July 5th, he had left his hotel on the East Cliff at
Ramsgate--the day being glorious, and a full sun playing upon the
Channel and many ships--and had determined to walk over to St. Peters,
where his _fiancée_ expected him to a tennis party. With this intention,
he struck along the cliff towards Broadstairs, but had gone only a few
paces, when a seaman stopped him, and touching his hat respectfully,
said that he had a message for him.

"Well, my man, what is it?" Maclaren asked--I had the dialogue from the
seaman himself--being in a hurry as those who walk the ways of love
usually are.

"My respects to your honor," replied the fellow, "but the ketch
_Bowery_, moored off the pier-head, 'ud be glad to see your honor if
convenient, and if not, maybe to-morrow?"

"What the devil does the man mean?" cried his lordship, but the seaman
plucking up courage continued,--

"An old friend of your honor's for sure he is, my guv'ner, Abraham
Burrow, what you had the acquaintance of in New York city."

"Well, and why can't he come ashore? I remember the man perfectly--I
have every cause to"--a true remark, since Abraham Burrow then owed the
speaker some two thousand pounds; and had shown no unprincipled desire
to pay it.

"The fact is, my lordship," replied the seaman, whose vocabulary was
American and strange, "the fact is he's tidy sick, on his beam ends, I
guess with brounchitis; and he won't be detaining you not as long as a
bosun's whistle if you go aboard, and be easin' of him."

Now, although this comparatively juvenile lover was in a mighty hurry to
get to St. Peter's, there was yet a powerful financial motive to send
him to the ship. He had done business with this Abraham Burrow in
America; the man had--we won't say swindled--but been smart enough there
to relieve him of a couple of thousand pounds. To hope for the recovery
of such a sum seemed as childish as a sigh for the moon. Maclaren had
not seen Burrow for twelve months, and did not know a moment before this
meeting whether he was alive or dead. Yet here he was in a yacht off
Ramsgate harbor, desiring to see his creditor, and to see him
immediately. The latter reflected that such a visit would not occupy
half an hour of his time, that it might lead to the recovery of some
part of his money, that he could make his excuses to the pretty girl
awaiting him--in short, he went with the seaman; and in a quarter of an
hour he stepped on board an exceeding well-kept yacht, which lay beyond
the buoy over against the East Pier; and all his trouble began.

The craft, as I have said, was ketch rigged, and must have been of
seventy tons or more. There was a good square saloon aft, and a couple
of tiny cabins, the one amidships, the other at the poop. When Lord
Maclaren went aboard, three seamen and a boy were the occupants of the
deck; but a King Charles spaniel barked at the top of the companion; and
a steward came presently and asked the visitor to go below. He descended
to the saloon at this; but the sick man, they told him, lay in the fore
cabin; and thither he followed his very obsequious guide.

I had the account of this episode and of much that follows from two
sources, one a man I met in New York last summer, the other, the victim
of the singularly American conspiracy. Lord Maclaren's account was
simple--"As there's a heaven above me, Sutton," said he, "I'd no sooner
put my foot in the hole when the door was slammed behind me, and bolted
like a prison gate." The American said, "I guess the old boy had hardly
walked right in, before they'd hitched up the latch, and he was shouting
glory. Then the skipper let the foresail go--for the ketch was only
lyin'-to, and in ten minutes he was standing out down the Channel. But
you never heard such a noise as there was below in all your days. Talk
about a sheet and pillow-case party in an insane asylum, that's no word
for it."

The fact that the "illustrious nobleman," as the penny society papers
called him, was trapped admitted of no question. He realized it himself
in a few moments, and sat down to wonder, "who and why the devil, etc.,"
in five languages. I need scarcely say that the thing was an utter and
inexplicable mystery to him. He thought at first that robbery was the
motive, for he had the model of the bracelet upon him; and as he sat
alone in the cabin, he really feared personal violence. He told me that
he waited to see the door open, and a villain enter, armed with Colt or
knuckleduster, after the traditional Adelphian mood; but a couple of
hours passed and no one came, and after that the only interruption to
his meditation was the steward's knock upon the cabin door, and his
polite desire to know "Will my lord take tea?" "My lord" told him to
carry his tea to a latitude where high temperatures prevail; and after
that, continued to kick lustily at the door, and to make original
observations upon the owner of the yacht, and upon her crew, until the
light failed. Yet no one heeded him; and when it was dark the roll of
the yacht to the seas made him sure that they stood well out, and were
beating with a stiff breeze.

Unto this point, temper had dominated him; but now a quiet yet very deep
alarm took its place. He began to ask himself more seriously if his
position were not one of great danger, if he had not to face some
mysterious but very daring enemy--even if he were like to come out of
the adventure with his life. Yet his mind could not bring to his
recollection any deed that had merited vindictive anger on the part of
another; nor was he a blamable man as the world goes. He paid his
debts--every three years; he was amongst the governors of five
fashionable charities, and the only scandalous case which concerned him
was arranged between the lawyers on the eve of its coming into court.
The matrons told you that he was "a dear delightful rogue"; the men said
that he was "a cunning old dog"; and between them agreed that he had
read the commandments at least. Possibly, however, those hours of
solitude in the cabin compelled him to think rather of his vices than of
his virtues--and it may be that the fear was so much the more real as
his shortcomings were secret. Be that as it may, he assured me that he
had never suffered so much as he did during that strange imprisonment,
and that he cried almost with delight when the door of the cabin opened,
and he saw the table of the saloon set for dinner, and light falling
upon it from a handsome lamp below the skylight. During one delicious
moment he thought himself the victim of a well-meaning practical
joker--the next his limbs were limp as cloth, and he sank upon a
cushioned seat with a groan which must have been heard by the men above.

This scene has been so faithfully described to me that I can see it as
clearly as though I myself stood amongst the players. On the one hand, a
pretty little American girl, with hands clasped and malicious laughter
about her rosy mouth; on the other, a shrinking, craven, abject shadow
of a man, cowering upon the cushions of a sofa, in blank astonishment,
and hiding his view of her with bony fingers. At a glance you would have
said that the girl was not twenty--but she was twenty-three, the picture
of youth, with the color of the sea-health upon her cheeks, the spray of
the sea-foam glistening in her rich brown hair. She had upon her head a
little hat of straw poised daintily; her dress was of white serge with a
scarf of yacht-club colors at the throat; but her feet were the tiniest
in the world, and the brown shoes which hid them not unfit for an
artist's model. And as she stood laughing at the man who had become her
guest upon the yacht, her attitude would have made the fortune of half
the painters in Hampstead. The two faced each other thus silently for a
few minutes, but she was the first to speak, her voice overflowing with
rippling laughter.

"Well," she said, "I call this real good of you, my lord, to come on my
yacht--when you were just off to the other girl--and your wedding's
fixed for the eighteenth of July. My word, you're the kindest-hearted
man in Europe."

He looked up at her, some shame marked in his eyes, and he said,--

"Evelyn, I--I--never thought it was you!"

"Then how pleased you must be. Oh, I'm right glad, I tell you; I'm just
as pleased as you are. To think that we've never met since you left
N'York in such a flurry that you hadn't time even to send me a line--but
of course you men are so busy and so smart that girls don't count, and I
knew you were just dying to see me, and I sent the boat off saying it
was old Burrow--how you love Burrow!--and here you are, my word!"

She spoke laboring under a heavy excitement, so that her sentences
flowed over one another. But he could scarce find a coherent word, and
began to tremble as she went on,--

"You'll stay awhile, of course, and--why, you're as pale as spectres, I
guess. Now if you look like that I shall begin to think that we're not
the old friends we were in N'York a year ago, and walk right upstairs to
Arthur. You remember my brother Arthur, of course you do. He was your
particular friend, wasn't he?--but how you boys quarrel. They really
told me two months ago in the city that Arthur was going in the shooting
business with you. Fancy that now, and at your age."

This sentence revealed what was lacking in the character of the girl; it
showed that malicious, if rather low and vulgar, cunning which prompted
the whole of this adventure; and it betrayed a revenge which was worthy
of a Frenchwoman. Maclaren had but to hear the harsh ring of the voice
to know that the girl who had threatened him months ago in New York had
met her opportunity, and that she would use it to the last possibility.
Every word that she uttered with such meaning vehemence cut him like a
knife; his hair glistened with the drops of perspiration upon it; his
right hand was passed over his forehead as though some heat was
tormenting his brain. And as her voice rose shrilly, only to be
modulated to the pretence of suavity again, he blurted out,--

"Evelyn, what are you going to do?"

"I--my dear Lord Maclaren--I am entirely in your hands; you are my
guest, I reckon, and even in America we have some idea of what that
means. Now, would you like to play cards after dinner, or shall we have
a little music?"

The steward entered the cabin at this moment, and the conversation being
interrupted, Maclaren chanced to see that the companion was free. A wild
idea of appealing to the captain of the yacht came to him, and he made a
sudden move to mount the ladder. He had but taken a couple of steps,
however, when a lusty young fellow, perhaps of twenty-five years of age,
barred the passage, and pushed him with some roughness into the cabin
again. The man closed the long, panelled door behind him; and then
addressed the unwilling guest.

"Ah, Maclaren, so that's you--devilish good of you to come aboard, I
must say."

The newcomer was Evelyn Lenox's brother, the owner of the ketch
_Bowery_. He acted his part in the comedy with more skill than his
sister, having less personal interest in it; indeed, amusement seemed
rather to hold him than earnestness. It was perfectly clear to Maclaren,
however, that he would stand no nonsense; and seeing that a further
exhibition of feeling would not help him one jot, the unhappy prisoner
succumbed. When the dinner was put upon the table, he found himself
sitting down to it mechanically, and as one in a dream. It was an
excellent meal to come from a galley; and it was made more appetizing by
the wit and sparkle of the girl who presided, and who acted her _rôle_
to such perfection. She seemed to have forgotten her anger, and cloaked
her malice with consummate art. She was a well-schooled flirt--and her
victim consoled himself with the thought, "They will put me ashore in
the morning, and I can make a tale." By ten o'clock he found himself
laughing over a glass of whisky and soda. By eleven he was dreaming that
he stood at the altar in the church of St. Peter's and that two brides
walked up the aisle together.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next picture that I have to show you of Maclaren is one which I am
able to sketch from a full report of certain events happening on the
evening of his wedding day. The yacht lay becalmed some way out in the
bay of the Somme; the sea had the luster of a mirror, golden with a
flawless sheen of brilliant light which carried the dark shadows of
smack-hulls and flapping lug-sails. There was hardly a capful of wind,
scarce an intermittent breath of breeze from the land; and the crew of
the _Bowery_ lay about the deck smoking with righteous vigor, as they
netted or stitched, or indulged in those seemingly useless occupations
which are the delight of sailors. Often however, they stayed their work
to listen to the rise and fall of sounds in the saloon aft; and once,
when Maclaren's voice was heard almost in a scream, one of them,
squirting his tobacco juice over the bulwarks, made the sapient remark,
"Well, the old cove's dander is riz now, anyway."

The scene below was played vigorously. Evelyn Lenox sat upon the sofa,
her arms resting upon the cabin table, her bright face positively alight
with triumph. Maclaren stood before her with clenched hands and gnashing
teeth. Arthur, the brother, was smoking a pipe and pretending to read a
newspaper, leaving the conversation to his guest, who had no lack of
words.

"Good God, Evelyn," he said, "you cannot mean to keep me here any
longer--to-morrow's my wedding day!"

She answered him very slowly.

"How interesting! I remember the time, not so long ago, when my wedding
day was fixed--and postponed."

He did not heed the rebuke, but continued cravenly,--

"You do not seem to understand that your brother and yourself have
perpetrated upon me an outrage which will make you detested in every
country in Europe. Great Heaven! the whole town will laugh at me. I
shan't have a friend in the place; I shall be cut at every club, as I'm
a living man."

The girl listened to him, her eyes sparkling with the excitement of it.
"Did you never stop to think," said she, "when you left America, like
the coward you were, that people would laugh at me, too, and I should
never be able to look my friends in the face again? Why, even in the
newspapers they held me up to ridicule when my heart was breaking. You
speak of suffering; well, I have suffered."

Her mood changed, as the mood of women does--suddenly. The feminine
instinct warred against the actress, and prevailed. She began to weep
hysterically, burying her head in her arms; and a painful silence fell
on the man. He seemed to wait for her to speak; but when she did so,
anger had succeeded, and she rose from her place and stamped her foot,
while rage seemed to vibrate in her nerves.

"Why do I waste my time on you?" she cried; "you who are not worth an
honest thought. Pshaw! 'Lord Maclaren, illustrious nobleman and great
sportsman'"--she was quoting from an American paper--"go and tell them
that for ten days you have humbled yourself to me, and have begged my
pity on your knees. Go and tell them that my crew have held their sides
when the parts have been changed, and you have been the woman. Oh, they
shall know, don't mistake that; your wife shall read it on her wedding
tour. I will send it to her myself, I, who have brought the laugh to my
side now, scion of a noble house. Go, and take the recollection of your
picnic here as the best present I can give to you."

I was told that Maclaren looked at her for some moments in profound
astonishment when she pointed to the cabin door. Then, without a word,
he went on deck, to find the yacht's boat manned and waiting for him. He
said himself that many emotions filled him as he stepped off the
yacht--anger at the outrage, desire for revenge, but chiefly the
emotions of the thought, was there time to reach St. Peter's for the
wedding ceremony? He did not doubt that lies would save him from the
American woman, if things so happened that he could reach England by the
morning of the next day. But could he? Where was he? Where was he to be
put ashore? He asked the men at the oars these questions in a breath,
standing up for one moment as the boat pushed off to shake his fist at
the yacht, and cry, "D--n you all!" But the answer that he got did not
reassure him. He was to be put ashore, the seaman said, at Crotoy, the
little town on a tongue of land in the bay of the Somme. There was a
steamer thence once a day to Saint Valery, from which point he could
reach Boulogne by rail. He realized in a moment that all his hope
depended on catching the steamer. If she had not sailed, he would arrive
at Boulogne before sunset, and, if need were, could get across by the
night mail and a special train from Folkestone. But if she had sailed!
This possibility he dared not contemplate.

The men were now rowing rapidly towards the shore, whose sandy dunes and
flat outlines were becoming marked above the sea-line. The yacht lay far
out, drifting on a glassy mirror of water; the sun was sinking with
great play of yellow and red fire in the arc of the west. Maclaren had
then, however, no thought for Nature's pictures, or for seascapes. One
burning anxiety alone troubled him--had the steamer sailed? He offered
the men ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred pounds if they would catch her.
The remark of one of them that she left on the top of the tide begot in
him a mad eagerness to learn the hour of high-water; but none of those
with him could remember it. He found himself swaying his body in rhythm
with the oars as coxswains do; or standing up to look at the white
houses shorewards. Another half-hour's rowing brought him a sight of the
pier; he shouted out with a laugh that might have come from a jackal
when he saw that the steamer was moored against it, and that smoke was
pouring heavily from her funnels.

"Men," he said, "if you catch that boat, I'll give you two hundred and
fifty pounds!" and later on their lethargy moved him to such disjointed
exclamations as "For the love of heaven, get on to it!" "Now, then, a
little stronger--fine fellows, all of you--a marriage depends upon
this." "I'll give you a gold watch apiece, as I'm alive." "By----, she's
moving--no, she isn't, there's time yet, if you'll put your backs on to
it--time, time--oh, Lord, what a crawl, what a cursed crawl!"

If one had peered into the faces of the yachtsmen critically, one might
have detected the ripples of smirks about their lips; but Maclaren could
not take his eyes away from the steamer, and the import of the
suppressed amusement was lost upon him. The little town of Crotoy, with
the garish _établissement des bains_, the picturesque church, and the
time-wrecked ramparts escarped by the ceaseless play of currents, was
then not half a mile away; but a bell was ringing on the pier, and there
was all the hurry and the press known in "one packet" or "one train"
towns. Those who had much to do did it slowly, that they might enjoy
leisure to blow whistles or to shout; those who had little atoned by
great displays of ineffective activity. Some ran wildly to and fro near
the steamer; others bawled incomprehensible ejaculations, and incited,
both those who were to leave by the ship, and those who were not, to
hurry, or they would be late. Presently the little passenger steamer
whistled with a hoarse and lowing shriek, and cast foam behind her
wheels. Maclaren observed the motion, and cried out as a man in pain,
waving his arms wildly. Those on shore mistook as much as they could see
of his surprising signals for a parting salute to the vessel; and she
left ten minutes after her time--without him.

He was hot from the battle of excitement, rivulets of perspiration
trickling upon his face; but he had breath to curse the crew of the
yacht's boat for five minutes when he stepped ashore; and the request of
the coxswain to drink his health stirred up uncounted gifts for
oath-making within him. In a quarter of an hour he was raving about the
town of Crotoy, threatening to do himself injury if a boat were not
forthcoming to carry him to St. Valery, whence he could get train to
Boulogne. But the day was nigh gone, and the local seamen were at their
homes. Few cared for his commission, and the man who took it ultimately
set him down just twenty minutes after the last train had left.

       *       *       *       *       *

The accounts given in the society papers for the abandonment of the
wedding between Lord Maclaren and the Hon. Christine King were many. The
true one is found in the simple statement that his lordship did not
reach England until the evening of the day which had been fixed for the
ceremony. So the presents were returned--and I kept the pearls which
were to have made the famous anchor bracelet. And when I think the
matter over, I cannot wonder at Maclaren's hatred of them, or of his
wish that I should burn them.

"Sutton," he said, "I was more than a fool. I ought to have remembered
that Evelyn Lenox was with me when I saw the piece of stuff similar to
that I wanted you to make. Why, I got the very notion of it from her,
and it was only when one of your idiots let a society journalist know
what you were doing for me that she heard of the marriage, and of my
being at Ramsgate."

But the rest of his remarks were purely personal.



THE WATCH AND THE SCIMITAR.



THE WATCH AND THE SCIMITAR.


The city of Algiers, the beautiful El Djzaïr, as the guide-book maker
calls it, has long ceased to charm the true son of the East, _blasé_
with the nomadic fulness of the ultimate Levant, or charged with those
imaginary Oriental splendors which are nowhere writ so large as in the
catalogues and advertisements of the later day upholsterer. This is not
the fault of the new Icosium, as any student of the Moorish town knows
well; nor is it to be laid to the account of the French usurpation, and
that strange juncture of Frank and Fatma, which has brought the
boulevard to the city of the Corsairs and banished Mohammed to the
shadow of the Kasbah. Rather, it is the outcome of coupons and of
co-operative enthusiasm, which sends the roamer to many lands, of which
he learns the names, and amongst many people with whose customs he
claims familiarity.

To know Algiers, something more than a three days' _pension_ in the
Hôtel de la Régence is necessary; though that is the temporal limit for
many who return to Kensington or Mayfair to protest that "it is so
French, you know." I can recollect well the monitions and advice which I
received two years gone when I ventured a voyage to Burmah--in the
matter of the ruby interest--and determined to see Cairo, Tunis, and the
City of Mosques on my return westward. Many told me that I would do
better to reach Jaffa and Jerusalem, others advised the seven churches
of Asia; many spoke well of Rhodes; all agreed, whether they had been
there or whether they had not, that Algiers was eaten up with
Chauvinism, and scarce worthy a passing call. Barisbroke at the club,
who is always vigorous in persuading other people not to do things,
summed it up in one of his characteristically inane jokes. "It's had its
Dey," said he, and buried himself in his paper as though the project
ended then and there upon his own _ipse dixit_. This marked and decided
consensus of opinion could have had but one result--it sent me to the
town of Hercules at the first opportunity.

If the truth is to be told, the visit was in some part one of pleasure,
but in the more part a question of sequins. I had done well in the
remoter East, and had sent some fine parcels of rubies, sapphires, and
pearls to Bond Street; but a side-wind of curiosity casting me up upon
the shores of Tunis, I had bought there, in the house of a very
remarkable Jew, a bauble whose rival in strange workmanship and splendor
of effect I have not yet met with. It was, to describe it simply, the
model of a Moorish scimitar perhaps four inches long, the sheath
exquisitely formed of superb brilliants, the blade itself of platinum,
and in the haft not only a strange medley of stones, but a little watch
with a thin sheet of very fine pearl for a face, and a superb diamond as
the cup of the hands. Although the jewels in this were worth perhaps
five hundred pounds, the workmanship was so fine, and the whole bauble
had such an original look, that I paid eight hundred pounds for it
cheerfully, and thought myself lucky to get it at that. What is more to
the point, however, is the fact that the hazard which gave me the
possession of the scimitar sent me also to Algiers to hunt there for
like curiosities--and in the end brought me a large knowledge of the
Moorish town, and nearly cost me my life.

I had intended to stay in the town for three days, but on the very
evening of my coming to the Hôtel d'Orleans in the Boulevard de la
Republique, I met a French lieutenant of artillery, a man by name Eugene
Chassaigne; an exceedingly pleasant fellow, and one who had some Arabic,
but small appreciation of anything beyond the "to-day" of life. He
laughed at my notion of buying anything in the upper city, and urged me
not to waste time plodding in dirty bazaars and amongst still dirtier
dealers. For himself his one idea was to be _dans le mouvement_; but he
brought me to know, on the second day of my visit, a singularly docile
Moor, Sidi ben Ahmed by name; and told me that if I still persisted in
my intention, the fellow would serve well for courier, valet, or in any
office I chose to place him. And in this he spoke no more than the
truth, as I was very soon to prove.

I have always thought when recalling this sheep-like Moor to my
recollection, that the Prophet had done him a very poor turn in locating
him so far away from the blessings of company-promotion and rickety
building societies. His face would have been his fortune at any public
meeting; and as for thoroughness, his love of detail was amazing. Before
I had been in his hands for twenty-four hours he knew me; being able to
tell you precisely how much linen I carried, the number of gold pieces
in my purse, my taste in fish and fruits, my object in coming to his
country. And this was vexatious; for all the vendors of Benares ware
fashioned in Birmingham, all the sellers of gaudy burnouses, the
hucksters of the tawdriest carpets and the most flimsy scimitars, held
concert on the steps of the hotel every time I showed my face within
twenty paces of the door. Sidi alone was immobile, stolid "_Nom d'un
chien_--they are _blagueurs_ all," said he; and I agreed with him.

If these things troubled my man, the jewel I had purchased in Tunis
troubled him still more. How he learned that I had it heaven alone could
tell; but he did not fail to come to me at _déjeuner_ each morning and
to repeat with unfailing regularity the monition, "If Allah wills, the
jewel is stolen." I used to tolerate this at first; but in the end he
exasperated me; and upon the seventh morning I showed him the model and
said emphatically, "Sidi, you will please to observe that Allah does not
will the loss of the jewel--let us change the subject." He gave me no
answer, but on the next morning I had from him the customary
greeting--and the laugh was all upon his side, for the scimitar was
gone.

I say that the laugh was with Sidi, but in very truth I do not believe
that this worthy fellow ever laughed in his life. He possessed a stolid
immobility of countenance that would have remained in repose even at the
sound of the last trumpet. The intelligence which I conveyed to him, I
doubt not with pathetic anger, and much bad language, moved him no more
than the soft south wind moved the statue of the first Governor-General
out by the mosque there. He examined my ravished bag with a provoking
silence; muttered a few pessimistic sentences in Arabic; and then fell
back upon the Koran and the platitudes of his prophet. If he had been an
Englishman, I should have suspected him without hesitation; but he bore
such a character, he had been so long a servant of the hotel, he was by
his very stolidity so much above doubt, that this course was impossible;
and being unable to accuse him, I bade him take me to the nearest bureau
of police, that I might satisfy my conscience with the necessary farce.
This he did without a protest, but I saw that he looked upon me with a
pitying gaze, as one looks upon a child that is talking nonsense.

Although I flatter myself that I concealed my annoyance under a placid
exterior, this loss affected me more than I cared to tell. For one
thing, the jewel was very valuable (I was certain that I could have
obtained a thousand pounds for it in Bond Street); I was convinced,
moreover, that I should hardly discover its fellow if I searched Europe
through. During my stay at the Hôtel d'Orleans I had kept it locked in a
well-contrived leather pouch in my traveling trunk; and as this pouch
had been opened with my own keys it was evident that the thief had
access to my bedroom during the night--a conclusion which led me to
think again of this stolid Moor, and to declare that the case against
him was singularly convincing. So strong, in fact, were my suspicions
that I made it my first care to go to the _maître_ of the hotel and to
demand satisfaction from him with all the justifiable indignation which
fitted the case. When he heard my tale, his face would have given
Rembrandt a study.

"How?" said he. "Monsieur is robbed, and _chez-moi_?"

I repeated that I was, and told him that if he did not recover the
bauble in twenty-four hours, consequences would follow which would be
disastrous to his establishment. Then I asked him frankly about the Moor
Sidi; but he protested with tears in his eyes that he would as soon
accuse his own mother. He did not deny that some one in his house might
know something about it; and presently he had marshaled the whole of his
servants in the central court, addressing them with the fierce
accusation of a _juge d'instruction_. It is superfluous to add that we
made no headway, and that all his "desolation" left me as far from the
jewels I had lost as I was at the beginning of it.

From the hotel to the bureau of the police was an easy transition, but a
very hopeless one. A number of extremely polite, and elaborately
braided, officials heard me with interest and pity; and having covered
some folios of paper with notes declared that nothing could be done. For
themselves, their theory was that the Moor Sidi had been talking about
my treasure, and that some other domestic in the Hôtel de la Régence had
opened my door while I slept and got possession of the ornament with
little risk. But that any one should recover the property was in their
idea a preposterous assumption.

"It is on its way to Paris," said one of them as he closed his note-book
with a snap, "and there's an end of it. We shall, without doubt, watch
the servants of the hotel closely for some time, but that should not
encourage you. It is possible that the man Mohammed, the porter of the
place, may know something of the affair. We shall have his house
searched to-day, but, my friend, _ne vous montez pas la tête_, we are
not in Paris, and the upper town is worse than a beehive. I am afraid
that your hope of seeing the thing again is small."

I was afraid so, too; but being accustomed to strange losses and to
strange recoveries, I determined to venture something in the hazard, and
to remain in Algiers for a few weeks, at any rate. The most difficult
part of my work lay in my ignorance of the city, and in that matter Sidi
alone could help me. Every day we went with measured and expectant tread
through that labyrinth of fantastic and half-dark streets, where
repulsive hags grin at the wickets below, and dark eyes coquette at the
gratings above; every day we delved in booths and bazaars, we haggled
with the jewel sellers, we bartered with the gold workers, but to no
purpose. I had come to think at last that the loss was not worth further
trouble; and had made up my mind to return to London, when I
recollected with some self-reproach that I had as yet neglected one of
the very simplest means to grapple with the occasion--that I had, in
fact, offered no reward for the recovery of the jeweled scimitar, and to
this omission owed, I did not doubt, the utter absence of clue or
conviction.

When I was yet angry with myself at this absurd oversight I had a second
thought which was even more useful, and one to which I owed much before
I had done with the matter. I remembered that the French police had set
down my loss to the loud talk of Sidi amongst the others at the hotel.
Why, then, I asked, should not this man also scatter the tidings that I
would give so many hundreds of francs for the recovery of the scimitar?
No sooner had I got the idea than I acted upon it.

"Sidi," said I, when he came to me on the next morning, "I have heard
much of your cleverness, but you have not yet found my property; now I
will give a thousand francs to the man who brings it here within a
week."

To my utter surprise he bowed his head with his old gravity, and
answered, "If Allah wills, the jewel is found."

This was amazing, no doubt, and in its way a triumph of impudence. If he
could find it with that ease, then he must have known by whom it was
stolen. I turned upon him at once with the accusation, but he stood with
the gravity of granite and responded to all my threats with the simple
greeting, as of a father to a son,--

"And upon you be peace."

To have argued with such a rogue would have been as useful as a
demonstration in theology before a mollah; to have accused him boldly of
the theft would have been absurd, even had I not possessed such a wealth
of testimony in his favor. I sent him about his business, therefore, and
went in search of my friend Chassaigne, who had been away since I lost
the trinket, but was then at the arsenal again. The lieutenant took the
news with edifying calmness, but assured me that I had at last taken the
only course which was at all likely to result in success.

"Our friend the Moor," said he, "is the most honorable of his kind in
Algiers, where all are rogues. I do not believe for a moment that he
stole the jewels, although his father, his uncle, or his own brother may
have done so. Your reward may tempt him to return them if the police set
up a hue and cry; but if he suggests that you go up in the old town to
receive them, tell him you will do nothing of the sort. There are far
too many dark eyes and sharp knives there for an Englishman's taste, and
a Moor still has claims in Paradise for every Frank he sticks. If you
took the other course, and sought your money from this hotel-keeper, he
would bring a hundred to swear that you did not lose the stones in the
hotel, and you would be where you are. It's annoying to adopt a _laissez
aller_ policy, but I fear you can do nothing else."

I thought that he was right, but my habitual obstinacy was all upon me,
and I found myself as much determined to recover the jewels I had lost
as if they had been worth ten thousand pounds. I was quite sure that
the police would do nothing, and save that they informed me in a
cumbrous document that they had searched the house of Mohammed the
porter, and of five others, my surmise proved a true one. It was left to
Sidi, and for Sidi I waited on the morning of the ninth day with an
expectancy which was unwarrantably large. He came to me at his usual
hour, eight o'clock, and when he had salaamed, he said,--

"If Allah is willing, the jewel is found--but the money is not enough."

"Not enough!" said I, choking almost with anger, "the money is not
enough! Why, you brazen-faced blackguard, what do you mean?"

He replied with an appeal to the beard of the Prophet, and an evident
word of contempt for my commercial understanding. The irony of the whole
situation was so great, and his immobility so stupendous, that I quickly
forbore my anger and said,--

"Very well, Sidi, we will make it fifteen hundred francs." And with that
he went off again, and I saw him no more until the next day, when he
repeated the _incha Alläh_ and the intimation that the price was too
low. On this occasion my anger overcame me. I seized him by the throat,
and shaking him roughly, said,--

"You consummate rascal, I believe you have the jewels all the time; if
you don't bring them in an hour, I will take you to the police myself."

My anger availed me no more than my forbearance. It did but awaken that
inherent dignity before which I cowed; and when I had done with him, he
left me and came no more for three days. On the third morning when he
returned he looked at me with reproach marked in his deep black eyes;
and raising his hands to heaven he protested once more in the old words,
and to the old conclusion. I was then so wearied of the very sound of
his voice that I took him by the shoulders and held him down upon an
ottoman until he would consent to bargain with me, shekel by shekel for
the return of my gems; and in the end he consented to make me the
longest speech that I had yet had from his lips.

"By the beard of my father," said he, "I protest to milord that neither
I nor my people have the precious thing he wots of; but the dog of a
thief, upon whose head be desolation, is known to me. For money he took
the jewel, for money he shall lay it again at milord's feet; yet not
here, but in the house of his people, where none shall see and none
shall know."

A long argument, and some fine bargaining, enabled me to get to the
bottom of the whole story; but only under a solemn oath that the keeping
of the secret should be shared by no one. With much fine recital and
many appeals to the holy marabouts to bear witness, Sidi demonstrated
that the thief was no other than Mohammed the porter, who had the stone
hidden with extraordinary cunning, and from whom it was to be got only
at my own personal risk.

"Under the shadow of the Kasbah it lies," said he; "under the shadow of
the Kasbah must you seek it with those I shall send to you, and no
others. Obey them in all things; be silent when they are silent, speak
when they speak, fly and lose not haste when they bid you fly."

This was all very vague, but a deeper acquaintance with his purpose made
it the more clear. In answer to my question why he could not bring the
jewel to the hotel, he said that it would never be surrendered except to
a certain force; and with that force he would supply me. He himself
seemed to be under an oath to bear no hand to the emprise; and he was
emphatic in laying down the condition that I must go absolutely alone;
or, said he, "the hand of Fatma shall not be passed nor that which you
seek come to you."

Now, the proper spirit in which to have received this suggestion would
have been that of an uncompromising negative. Chassaigne had cautioned
me particularly against going into the old town, and here was I
hearkening to a proposition to visit it not only by night, but in the
company of those who possibly were honest, but more possibly were
cut-throats. I knew well enough what he would say to the venture; and
truly I was much disposed to refuse it at the beginning, and to go to
London as I had at first intended. This I told Sidi, and he gave me for
answer a shrug of the shoulders, which implied that if I did, my
property, for which I hoped to get a thousand pounds, would certainly
remain behind me. Nor did threats and entreaties move him one iota from
his position, neither on that day nor on the next two; so that I saw in
the end that I had better decide quickly, or take ship and fly a city of
indolent Frenchmen and rascally Moors.

It would prove tedious to recount to you the various processes of
reasoning by which, finally, I found myself of a mind to court this
hazard and agreed to Sidi's terms. He on his part had vouched for my
safety; and after all, the man who ever wraps his life in cotton-wool,
as it were, must see little beyond the stuffy box on his own habitation.
Here was a chance to see the Moors _chez-eux_, possibly to risk a broken
head with them; in any case, a chance which an adventurous man might be
thankful for, and which I took.

Having once agreed to Sidi's terms, he set upon the realization of the
project with unusual ardor. The very next evening was chosen for the
undertaking, the hour being close upon ten, and the Moor himself
accompanying me some part of the way. He had advised me to equip myself
_en Arabe_ for the business; and this I did with some little discomfort,
especially in the manipulation of the long burnouse, and in the carriage
of appalling headgear which he would not allow me to dispense with. I
had put these things on at the hotel; but as it is not unusual for a
Frank to ape the Moor when wishing to explore the upper town at night, I
escaped unpleasant curiosity, and arrived at the steep ascent of the Rue
de la Lyre, feeling that I was like, at any rate, to get more excitement
out of the old city than nine-tenths of the Englishmen who visit her.

Almost at the top of the street the Moor's friends met me. I could see
little of their faces, for they covered them as much as possible with
their somber-hued cloaks, but they salaamed profoundly on greeting me;
and Sidi took his leave when he had exchanged a few words in Arabic with
them. From that time onward they did not speak, but went straight
forward into the old quarter, and soon we had entered a narrow way where
flights of stairs, frequently recurring, led one up towards the Kasbah.
Here the gables seemed to be exchanging whispered confidences as they
craned forwards across the stone-paved ascent; you could see the zenith
of the silver sky shot with starlight through the jutting angles of
rickety roofs and bulging eaves; the hand of Fatma protected the hidden
doors of the pole-shored but singularly picturesque houses; the sound of
tom-toms and _derboukas_ came from the courts of the Kahouaji. The peace
of the scene, deriving something from the distant and seductive
harmonies, got color from the slanting flood of moonlight which streamed
upon the pavement, from the swell of song floating upward from the
hidden courts. Here and there one imagined that black eyes looked down
upon one from the gratings of the shadowed windows above; a Biskri,
strong of limb and bronzed, lurked now and then in the dark angles of
the quaint labyrinth; a few Moors passing down to the lower city
inclined their heads gravely as we passed them. But for the most part
the children of the Prophet had gone to their recreations or their
sleep; the narrow path of stairs was untenanted, the silence and
softness of an African night held sway with all its potent beauty.

We must have mounted for ten minutes or more before my guides stopped at
a large house in a particularly uninviting looking _cul-de-sac_; and
having spoken a few words with an old crone at the wicket, we gained
admittance to a large court, and found it packed with a very curious
company. It was a picturesque place, gloriously tiled, and surrounded by
a gallery supported on slender columns of exquisite shape, terminating
in Moorish arches and fretwork balustrades. There the women, numbering
some score, sat; but I, knowing the danger of betraying the faintest
interest in a Moor's household, averted my eyes at once, and examined
more minutely the strange scene below. Here was a dense throng
surrounding a dervish who danced until he foamed; a throng of bronzed
and bearded Arabs sipping coffee and smoking hubble-bubble pipes with
profound gravity; a throng which seemed incapable of expressing any sort
of emotion, either of pleasure or of pain. At the further end of the
court, where many luxuriant palms and jars of gorgeous flowers gave
ornament to a raised daïs, musicians squatted upon their haunches,
playing upon divers strange instruments, guitars, flutes, and the
gourd-like _derbouka_, and sent up a hideous and unbroken wave of
discordant harmony which made the teeth chatter and seemed to agitate
one's very marrow. It was a strange scene, full of life and color, and
above all of activity; and to what it owed its origin I have not learnt
to this day. I know only that our coming with such a lack of ceremony
did not disconcert either the host or his guests. They paused a moment
to give us an "Es-salaam âlikoum," to which we returned the expected
"Oua âlikoum es-salaam;" and with that we sat amongst the company, but
in a very conspicuous place, and took coffee with the gravity of the
others.

I must confess that the surprise of finding myself in such a place was
very great. I had gone with the Moors to recover a thousand pounds'
worth of property, but how the visit brought me nearer to that, or to
any purpose whatever, I could not see. I knew that I was the only
European in the company, and all tradition as well as common-sense told
me of my danger. Yet I had gone of my own will, and the Moor Sidi had
encouraged me to the risk, which after all, I thought, was worth
bartering for the sight of so strange an entertainment. Indeed, it is
not in accord with my fatalistic creed to conjure up terrors of the mind
in moments of comparative tranquillity; and when I realized that the
question of wisdom, or want of wisdom, was no longer under discussion, I
fell in with the spirit of this singular festivity--and waited for
enlightenment.

The feast of performance was now going briskly. A conjurer trod upon the
heels of the dervish, and performed a few palpable feats which deceived
no one but himself; and after that we had the expected dancing girls,
and the Ouled-Naïls. Nor were the latter the central piece, as it were,
of our host's program; for presently the Moors about me ceased their
babbling; there was a restless chatter in the gallery above, the old
host whispered something to his attendant, and new musicians, who had
relieved the others, struck up a hideous banging of tom-toms,
flageolets, and guitars. At that very moment, when I had come to the
conclusion that Sidi ben Ahmed had made a fool of me, and that my
errand was to end idly, one of my guides spoke for the first time,
putting his mouth close to my ear, and using very passable English.
"Now," said he, "be ready;" but whether he meant me to prepare for some
saltatory display, or for action, he did not condescend to say; and
before I could ask him a great applause greeted the advent of a dancing
girl, who bounded into the arena with a conventional run, and at once
began her amazing gyrations.

She was a beautiful girl, not more than eighteen years of age, I should
think, and probably a Circassian. She had clear-cut features, a
complexion bright with the freshness of youth, a figure of fine balance
and maturity; but the most striking thing about her was her hair. More
abundant or glossier tresses I have never seen. In color, a deep
golden-red, this magnificent silky gift was bunched upon her head in a
great coil at the back, and fell thence almost to her feet. It covered
her when she chose as the burnouses covered the Moors who watched her;
and she used it in her dancing with a _chic_ and skill unimaginable. In
one moment coiling it about her body so that she seemed wrapped in a
sheen of gold; in the next cast like an outspread fan behind her, she
presented a picture ravishing beyond description, and one which drew
shouts of "Zorah, Zorah!" even from the women in the galleries above. I
sat under the spell, enraptured like the rest; and as the girl floated
with a dreamy lightness, or pirouetted with amazing agility, or swept
past me with a motion that was the very essence of grace, I was ready
to declare that the dance was unrivaled by anything I had seen in any of
the capitals.

Now, the girl must have been dancing for a couple of minutes, and the
audience was thoroughly held by her prodigious cleverness, when I,
engrossed as the others, was suddenly interrupted in my contemplation of
her by the action of the Moors, my guides. To my utter surprise they all of
a sudden stood up on either side of me, and one of them crying to me in
English as before to be ready, the other seemed to wait for the girl
Zorah, who, with streaming hair and body thrown well back, was dancing
down towards us.

A few of the company near to us turned their heads, and cried out at the
interruption; but the girl came on with quick steps, and when she was
just upon us, the Moor who waited seized her by her hair, and putting
his hands in the great coil upon her head, he unrolled it with a strong
grasp, and the missing scimitar, to my unutterable surprise, rolled out
upon the pavement.

I am willing to confess that for one moment the whole action dazed me so
completely that I stood like a fool gaping at the jewel, and at the
girl, who had begun to cling to the Moor and to scream. The thing was so
unlooked for, so strange, so incredible, that I could do nothing but ask
myself if it were really my bauble that lay upon the floor, or was I the
victim of an incomprehensible trick? Yet there was the jewel, and there
at my elbow were the two Moors, now all ready for the action aftermath.
Scarce, in fact, had one of them picked up my property and crammed it
into my hand before the uproar began, the whole roomful of erstwhile
sedate-looking men springing to their feet and turning upon us. For an
instant, the Moor who had snatched the jewel for me kept them back with
an harangue in Arabic of which I did not understand one word; but his
best and only card failed him at the first playing, and it remained to
face the danger and to fight it.

Of the extraordinary scene that followed I remember but little. It
seemed to me that I was surrounded in an instant by hungry, gleaming
hawk-like eyes which glowed with mischief; that women screamed, that
lamps were overturned; that I saw knives flashing on every side of me.
Had Sidi's men then failed him or displayed any craven cunning, I take
it that my body might have been hurled from the Kasbah within a minute
of the recovery of the jewel; but they showed quite an uncommon fidelity
and courage. Standing on either side of me so that my body was almost
wedged between theirs, they suddenly flashed long knives in the air, and
cut and parried with wondrous dexterity. For myself, I had only my
fists, and these I used with a generous freedom, thinking even in the
danger that a Moor's face is a substantial one to hit; and that a little
boxing goes a long way with him. Yet I could not help but realize that
the minute was a supreme one, and as the crowd of demoniacal and
shouting figures pressed nearer and nearer, threatening to bear us down
in the _mêlée_, I heard my heart thumping, and began to grow giddy.

As the press became more furious, the two men who had done so well were
gradually carried away from me. I found myself at last in the lower
corner of the room, surrounded by four burly fellows (the main body of
the company swarming round the Moors, my guides); and of these but one
had a knife in his hand. With this, taking the aggressive, he made a
prodigious cut at me, which slit my left arm from the shoulder almost to
the elbow; but I had no pain from the wound in the excitement of the
moment; and I sent him howling like a dervish with a heavy blow low down
upon the chest. Of the others, one I hit on the chin, whereupon he cried
like a woman; but the remaining two sprang upon me with altogether an
unlooked-for activity; and bore me down with a heavy crash upon the
pavement. I thought then that the end had come; for not only was I half
stunned with the blow, but the man who knelt upon my chest gripped my
throat with grim ferocity and threatened to squeeze the life out of me
as I lay. In that supreme moment I recollect that the lights of the room
danced before my eyes in surprising shapes; that I saw a vision of
dark-eyed but screaming women in the gallery above; that the jewel in my
vest cut my skin under the pressure of the Moor's knee; and that I fell
to wondering if I would live one minute or five. Then, as a new and
violent shouting reached me, even above the singing in my ears, the Moor
suddenly let go his hold, the light of the scene gave way to utter
impenetrable darkness, and I fainted.

[Illustration: Buying the scimitar.

    --_Page 152_]

       *       *       *       *       *

Next day I took _déjeuner_ at the Café Apollon with my arm in a sling,
and Chassaigne's talk to whet my appetite. He had occupied himself
during the morning in cross-examining Sidi, from whom he had wormed the
whole secret of the robbery.

"It is as clear as the sun," said he, "the porter Mohammed was advised
to steal the jewel by the man I unfortunately recommended to you.
Mohammed, knowing that the police would search his house and watch him,
hid the jewel in his wife's hair."

"His wife!" said I. "Was this dancing girl married to a scamp like
that?"

"Certainly; these Circassians don't make great matches, if they make a
good many of them. Their husbands are generally loafers about the cafés;
and this girl was no more fortunate in that way than most of her
sisters. You see, the fun of the business is that Sidi got two thousand
francs from this man for telling him how to steal your jewels, and
another two thousand from you for stealing them back again. That's why
he did not go with you himself last night. Luckily, I went into your
hotel at ten o'clock, and learning from the man where you had gone, I
followed you with a dozen of my fellows."

"You came at a happy time, my dear fellow," said I, "in another five
minutes I should have needed only an executor."

"That's true; you were nearly dead when I had the pleasure of kicking
the man who sat on your head. But it was your own fault, you must
admit."

"Any way," said I, "I got the stones, and that's something."

He agreed to this, and when I had thanked him for the great service he
had done me, we parted. That night I left Algiers, carrying with me the
pacific benediction of the admirable Moor, Sidi, who, despite the fact
that I had kicked him down the steps of the hotel in the morning, came
with me to the steamer, and patronized me to the end of it. I can hear
to this day his last and final salutation:--

"Blessed be Allah, the jewel is found!"



THE SEVEN EMERALDS.



THE SEVEN EMERALDS.


The man stood upon the weir-bridge watching me, a conspicuous man with
strange clothes for river-work upon him, and a haunting activity which
drove him from the lock to the inn, and again from the inn to the lock
with a crazy restlessness which was maddening. I had been for some hours
whipping the mill-stream, which lies over against the lockhouse at
Pangbourne; but meeting with no success amongst the chub, which on this
particular July evening were aggravatingly indifferent even to the
succulent frog, I had punted to the bushes in the open river; and there
lit my pipe and fell to speculation upon him who favored me with so
close an attention. I have said that he was a conspicuous man, and to
this I owed it that I had seen him. He wore the straw hat of Jesus
College, Cambridge, and a velvet coat which shone brown and greasy in
the falling sunlight; but his legs were encased in salmon-pink riding
breeches, and he had brown boots reaching to his knees. Beyond this, he
was singularly handsome, so far as I could judge with the river's
breadth between us; and his hair was fair with a ridiculous golden
strain quite unlooked for in one who has grown to manhood. Why he
watched me so closely I could not even conjecture, but the fact was not
to be disputed. I had lain by the mill since the forenoon, and since the
forenoon he had hugged to the weir-bridge or to the lockhouse, giving no
attention to the score of small boats and launches which passed up or
down to Goring or Mapledurham; or even to the many pretty women who
basked upon the cushions of punts or pair-oars. I alone was the object
of his gaze, and for me he seemed to wait through the afternoon and
until the twilight.

Now, had the man hailed me, I should have gone shorewards at once, for
my curiosity had been petted by his attentions until it waxed warm and
harassing, but this he did not do; keeping his eyes upon me even when I
had rested from casting and sat idling in the punt. It would have been
easy, I concede, to have gone up river toward Goring and so to have
avoided him; but this would have cut short the chance of explanation,
and have left ungratified my desire to know who he was, and wherefrom
came his embarrassing interest in my failure to ensnare the exasperating
chub. So I sat there, in turn wondering if he were honest or a rogue, an
adventurer or an idler, a river-man or a fop from Piccadilly. And as the
problem was beyond me, I left it at last; and taking up my punt-pole I
gave three or four vigorous thrusts which sent me immediately to the
landing-stage of the Swan Inn, and thence to my room.

It may be urged that this was an indifferent way of dealing with the man
in the velvet coat if I wished to know more of him; but I had taken that
little parlor of the inn which juts out upon the hard of the boathouse;
and I could see from my open windows both the panorama of the lock and
that of the open reach away towards the islands. It was now close upon
the hour of seven, and the most part of the river lay in cooling shadow.
I could hear by no means inharmonious music floating out over the water
from a girl's guitar; there were several launches waiting for the
lock-gates; and I recall well the face of a very remarkable woman, who
presently came to the landing-stage in a gig, the cushions of which were
of an aggressive yellow, but one which was a striking contrast to her
black hair and ivory-white skin. Quite apart, however, from her
indisputable beauty, I had reason to watch this conspicuous oarswoman,
for no sooner had she come to the landing-stage than the man in the
velvet coat went to her assistance, and taking a number of bags and
baskets from the boat, accompanied her up the village high street, and
so carried her from my view.

Here then, thought I, is the end of my mystery. The man had been waiting
for the return of his wife, when I, with preposterous conceit, plumed
myself that he had been looking to speak with me. What creatures of
ideas we are! And when I reflected upon it, certainly it was monstrous
absurd to think that one man should wish to watch another failing to
catch fish through a long summer's afternoon. Indeed, I laughed heartily
at myself as the maid set my dinner, and I put my creel and rod upon the
piano (one puts everything upon the piano in a Thames village) before
daring the very substantial, if rural, repast served to me.

One dines up river, as most people know, in semi-public state. Loafers,
loiterers, fruit-sellers, boatmen--all these congregate near the open
window, and discuss verbally the dishes which the diner discusses more
substantially. Custom so stales us that this publicity in no way
interferes with our pleasure. I have so long learned to tolerate the
presence before my casement of oarsman, pedlar, and even the less
welcome bargee, that these now are almost as salt to my appetite. And
for the matter of that, on the evening of which I am writing, the crowd
was less than usual, being composed of one vendor of fruit, three men in
obviously Cheapside blazers, and an old woman who sold boot-laces and
discussed the weather with me through the casement at one and the same
time. She was such a merry old soul, and gave me so much of her history
and of that of her son, who was "fightin' for his quane and counthry" in
a place which she could not mind herself of, that I forgot the
ridiculous romance of the velvet-coated man, and even his existence,
until of a sudden he presented himself, no longer watching me upon the
bridge, but standing at the casement, and asking to be admitted.

"I'm most horribly sorry," said he, "to intrude upon you at your dinner,
but my train leaves for town in ten minutes, and I particularly want
your opinion upon something which they tell me you know more about than
any man in England."

"By all means," said I. "But your estimate of my opinion is hopelessly
flattering; it concerns jewels, I suppose?"

"Exactly," said he; "and I shall be under very large obligations to you
if you will tell me whether two emeralds I have in my pocket are of any
value, and if so, where would be the best place to dispose of them?"

He took a little paper box from his coat, and laid it near to my plate.
I saw that it was a box which had contained tabloids of nitro-glycerine
(a drug prescribed for diseases of the heart); and that it had been sold
by a chemist of the name of Benjamin Wain, whose shop was in the High
Street at Reading. These things I observed with my intuitive habit of
grasping detail, learnt in long contention with rogues; and then forgot
them as the man opened a screw of tissue paper, and I beheld two of the
finest emeralds I have seen during my career. The stones were perfectly
matched, of a rich velvety, but brilliant color, and came, I did not
doubt after my first sight of them, from the Upper Orinoco or from
Columbia. Their weight I judged to be about five carats each, and I knew
that if they were without a flaw, which very few emeralds are, they
would be worth fifteen hundred pounds at a very low estimate. All this
passed through my mind like a flash; but with admiration of the gems,
which brought covetousness in its path, there came at once the other
thought--what is this man doing here with these stones, and how comes it
that he can carry them and yet be unconscious of their value? But this I
endeavored to conceal, and waited for him to speak.

"Well," said he, after a pause, "do you find much the matter with
them?"

"I should want my glass to see," said I with caution; "the light is
failing, and my eyes are not as good as they were."

"You mean a magnifying glass, I suppose?" said he, producing a lens from
his pocket. "Well, I happen to have one."

Why it was I cannot tell you, but this trifling circumstance I marked
down in my mind as my first sound cause of suspicion against him.
Perhaps I coupled it with that spontaneous distrust which I felt when
first he spoke, for the very softness of his voice was obviously
assumed; and now that I saw him near to me, I did not fail to notice
that the velvet coat was much worn, and the rowing club tie he wore
frayed beyond respectability. But I took his lens, and, having examined
the stones long and critically under it, I found them to be without flaw
or blemish. Then I gave him my opinion.

"They are fine stuff," said I; "do you happen to know where they come
from?"

I looked him full in the face when I spoke, and observed a slight
drawing of the lines above his mouth. When he answered me I was sure
that he had thought out a lie--and with effort.

"I believe they come from Salzburg," he stammered; "at least I have
heard so."

"That could not possibly be," said I; "the worst emeralds we have are
the best product of that mine. I fancy they are from Venezuela."

"Ah, that's the place," said he, "I remember it now; but I've a wretched
head for geography."

While he said this the train to London steamed out of the railway
station, which is not a stone's throw from the inn, and he, forgetful of
his tale to me, sat watching it unconcernedly. I had discovered him in a
second lie, and I waited to entrap him to a third with the practised
pleasure of a cross-examiner.

"Do you sell these stones for yourself or as an agent?" I asked,
assuming some authority as I felt surer of him. His hesitation in
answering was merely momentary, but it was enough for my purpose.

"For myself," said he; and then with clumsy maladroitness he added,
"They were left to me by my father, and I have never had the heart to
offer them to any one. I'll tell you what, though; if you'll give me a
thousand pounds for the pair, you shall keep them."

"That's a long price," said I; "and if you don't mind the suggestion, my
dinner's getting cold."

I had spoken thus with the design of putting him off; but he was
undisguisedly an ill-bred man, and I saw that I could have bought the
emeralds from him for five hundred pounds. My hint--if such you could
call it--fell upon deaf ears; and he, seeming not to hear it, continued
to argle-bargle, but betraying himself in every word he said.

"Come, now," he cried, "you don't want to be hard upon me; give me a
check for five hundred, and send the balance to Brighton in a week if
you find them as good as you think. That's a fair offer, isn't it?"

"The offer is fair enough," said I; "but you forget that I did not come
here to buy emeralds. I am in Pangbourne to catch chub, as you saw this
afternoon."

"I'm afraid I can't agree to that," he replied with a laugh; "I did not
see you catch chub this afternoon--I saw you miss three."

"The bait was poor," I said meaningly; "fish are as canny as men, and
don't take pretty things if they think there's a hook in them."

This I gave him with such a stare that he rose up suddenly from his
chair, and, having made a bungling parcel of his jewels, went off by
himself. He had to pass my window as he left the inn, and as he crossed
the road I called after him, saying--

"You'll be losing your train to London."

"Be d----d to that!" said he; and with such a salute he turned the angle
of the road, and I lost sight of him.

But I thought much of his emeralds through the night, both in my walk
across the old wooden bridge to Whitchurch, when the river lay dark and
gloomy with the sough of the breeze in the reeds and sedge-grass; and
again as I lay in the old wooden "best-bed" of the inn, and contemplated
the "sampler" which bore witness to the energy of one Jane Atkins, whose
work it was. By what chance had the man found me out? Whence came his
seedy clothes and his jewels? Who was the pretty woman who had gone up
from the hard with him? He had come by the stones fraudulently, of
course; had the case been different he would have sent them to London to
a house of substance, and there got his price for them. At one time I
felt that it lay upon me to advise the police in Reading of the offer I
had received; at another, there came some regret for the stones, and at
the manner of his departure. The season had been one of emeralds. I
could have sold the pair he had for some profit, and, as my greed told
me, I could have bought them cheap. At the end of it I fell asleep to
dream that I rowed to Mapledurham in an emerald boat, and that a man
with emerald eyes steered me abominably.

On the next day, quite early in the morning, I set out in a dog-cart for
Reading, having a _rendezvous_ with Barisbroke at the Kennet's mouth,
whence we were to start for a day's sport upon that fish-breeding river.
My drive took me by the old Bath-road, turning to the left midway up the
village street; but I had not gone very far upon the Reading-road before
I saw the handsome woman--the wife, as I assumed, of the velvet-coated
man--now dressed with exceeding poorness, and carrying a heavy bag
towards the biscuit town. At this point the sun beat early upon the
sandy way with a shimmer of white and misty light, which promised great
heat of the forenoon; there was scarce a quiver of wind in the woods to
the left of me, and I did not doubt that walking was a great labor. Yet,
when I reined in the cob, and asked the woman, if at least I might not
carry her bag to Reading and leave it for her, she thanked me somewhat
curtly, I thought, and evidently resented any notice of her difficulty.
It occurred to me, as I drove on, that the man, who had been with her on
the previous day, had really left by the last train for London; but when
I came into Reading, and was about to cross the High Street, to reach
Earleigh, I saw the name Benjamin Wain superscribed above a little
chemist's shop, and I stopped at once. I know that a country tradesman
will gossip like a fishwife; and I asked the man for some preparation
which he could not possibly find in the pharmacopoeia, and so began to
feel my ground.

"You're well ahead of the times here," said I, looking at his show-case,
which was wofully destitute of drugs. "I shouldn't have thought that
you'd be asked for tabloids in a place like Reading."

"Oh, but we are," said he, readily; "it's a wonderfully advanced town is
Reading--you won't get much in Regent Street which is not here. I've
lived in Reading all my life--and seen changes, sir, indeed I have!"

"You know most of the people then?" said I, with a purpose.

"Ay," said he, "I've born and buried a many, so to speak; seen children
grow to men and women, and men and women grow to children--you wouldn't
think it perhaps!"

"No," said I, "you don't show it; but your reputation, if I may say so,
goes beyond this place. I was in Pangbourne yesterday, where a tall,
yellow-haired man was speaking of you; who is he, I wonder?"

"A tall, yellow-haired man!" he exclaimed, putting his finger in the
center of his forehead as if in aid of memory; "I didn't know there were
such in Reading. A tall, yellow--let me see, now----"

"You sold him some tabloids of nitro-glycerine; perhaps that will help
to his identification?" said I.

"Ah, now I know you're wrong," said he; "there's only one man within
five miles of here who uses that stuff, and he hasn't got yellow
hair--ha, ha, he hasn't got any at all."

"Who is he?" I asked with growing curiosity.

"Why, old Jabez Ladd, the miser, out at Yore Park; he takes that stuff
for his heart, sir. Wonderful weak heart he has, too; but he hasn't got
yellow hair--no, I may say with conviction that he has no hair at all."

I had learnt all I needed, for the mere mention of the name Jabez Ladd
was sufficient for me. At the man's words a whole freshet of ideas
seemed to rush to my mind. I had known the miser for years as one of the
hardest jewel buyers in the country; I had sold him thousands of pounds'
worth of stuff; I had heard the strangest traditions of his astounding
meanness and self-denial. They even said that he forbade himself a
candle after dusk, and that his fare was oatmeal and brown bread; while
he lived in a house which would not have been a poor retreat for a
millionaire. This I knew, but the words of the apothecary had made other
things clear to me--one, that the yellow-haired man had got his emeralds
in a box which must have come from Ladd's house, since he alone in the
neighborhood took tabloids of nitro-glycerine; another, that the man's
very shabbiness and obvious shuffling pointed very strongly to the
conclusion that he should be watched.

Of these things was I sure as I met Barisbroke, and I turned them over
in my mind often during the moderate sport of the forenoon, and after.
Not that I had any troublesome friendship for Ladd, who was no sort of a
man to think about; yet I could not forget that he was a buyer, and it
seemed both wise and likely to be profitable to warn him. Possibly I had
reared a fine superstructure of suspicion upon a mere flimsy basis of
prejudice; but in any case I could do no harm, I thought, and might even
sell the old scoundrel a parcel of jewels in the attempt. His house, as
I then knew, lay over by the hills of Caversham; and I remembered that I
could take it by a circuitous route which would bring me to Pangbourne,
after I had passed through Mapledurham and Whitchurch. In the end, I
resolved at least to see the old man; and when I had dined at a
ridiculously early hour with Barisbroke, I crossed the river by the
white bridge, and in thirty minutes I was at the gate of Yore Hall.

I am no archæologist, and have an exceedingly poor eye for a building;
but my first impression of this hall was a pleasing one. It is true that
the wooden gate of the drive was broken down, and the garden-land beyond
it nothing but a tangle of swaying grass, thistle, and undergrowth,
preparing one for poor things to come; but the house itself was a
massive and even a grand attempt at a towered and battlemented
structure, built in stout stone with Norman windows, and the pretense of
a keep, which gave strength to its air of antiquity. When I came near to
it, I saw that many of the gargoyles had fallen from the roof of the
left wing, which seemed to be unfinished, and the parapet was broken
away and decaying above the porch; while--and this was even more
singular--there did not seem a single curtain to the house. It was now
upon the hour of seven, and a glimmer of sunlight shining redly upon the
latticed casements lit up the façade with a greater brilliance than one
looks to see out of Italy. There were rooks circling and cawing in the
great elms by the moat which ran round three sides of the house; I could
hear the baying of a hound in the courtyard by the stables--but of man
or woman I saw nothing, though I rang the great bell thrice, and birds
fled from the eaves at the clatter, and the rabbits that had sported by
the thicket disappeared in the warren.

Some minutes after the third ring, and when I was preparing to drive off
and leave Jabez Ladd to his own affairs, the stable door opened, and a
girl came out, dressed, it seemed to me, curiously in a smart white
frock; but with untidy hair, though much of it; and an exceedingly
pretty face, which had been the prettier for a little scouring. The
creature had great dark eyes like a _grisette_ of Bordeaux; and when she
saw me, stood swaying upon her feet, and laughing as she bit at her
apron-strings, as though my advent was an exceedingly humorous thing.
Then she said,--

"Is it Mr. Ladd you're wanting?"

I told her that it was.

"You'll not be a county man?" she asked.

"I'm from London," said I, "and my name is Bernard Sutton. Tell Mr.
Ladd that I'll not keep him five minutes."

"There's no need," said she, simpering again; "he's been a-bed since the
milk."

"In bed!" cried I amazed.

"Yes," said she, "it's over late for company; but if ye'll write
something I'll run up with it; the housekeeper's away sick."

She seemed to think that all this was a good joke, and wondered, I doubt
not, that I did not simper at her again. I was on the very point of
whipping up the nag, and leaving such a curious household, when one of
the landing windows went up with a creak, and Ladd himself, with a
muffler round his throat, was visible.

"What d'ye want in my grounds?" he roared. "Here, you hussy, what are ye
chattering there for?--thought I was asleep did ye--ha!"

"Good evening, Mr. Ladd," said I, quietly; "I'm sorry, but I appear to
have disturbed you. I've a word for your ear if you'll come down."

"Hullo," cried he, in his cracked and piercing voice; "why it's you, is
it? egad, I thought you were the butcher! What's your business?--I'm
biding in bed, as you can see."

"I can't shout," said I, "and my business is private."

"Won't it wait?" he snarled. "You haven't come to sell me anything?"

"I don't sell stuff in the street," said I; "come down and I'll talk to
you. But if you don't want to hear--well, go to bed."

His curiosity got the better of him at this point, and he snapped out
the words, "I'm coming down," and then disappeared from the window. But
he had no intention of opening the front door, as I found presently when
of a sudden he appeared at a casement upon the ground floor, and resumed
the conversation.

"You're not asking after my health," said he, "but I'll let you know
that I'm eat up with cold; can ye have done with it straight off?"

"Yes," said I, leaning over from the dog-cart to spare my voice. "Do you
know a tall man with yellow hair who's got two emeralds to sell?"

At these words his face whitened in the sunlight, and he opened his
great mouth as though to speak, but no sound came. Then quickly he drew
a small box from his pocket, such as I had seen in the hands of the
velvet-coated man, and took a tabloid from it.

"I'll be about letting you in," said he, as he went to shut down the
casement.

But I said, "I think not, there's a drive of five miles to Whitchurch
before me, and this horse trips."

"For the love of God," cried he, suddenly putting off all
self-restraint, "don't go till I've heard you--man, my life may depend
upon it!"

"How's that?" said I.

"I'm going to tell you," said he; "and if ye'll stay, we'll crack a
bottle of port together."

He had whetted my curiosity now, and presently I heard him nagging at
the pretty girl who had first greeted me. After that he threw the
stable door wide open, and dressed only, as I could see, in a loose
dressing-gown and a pair of carpet slippers, he led the horse to a stall
that had the half of a roof; crying to the maid to get her down to the
house of a man he named, there to beg a feed of corn and the loan of a
boy. But while he was doing it, he shivered incessantly, and seemed
eaten up with fear.

"You appear to think that I'm putting up with you," said I, when I heard
his orders; "there's no need to look after the nag--I shan't be here ten
minutes."

"Not ten minutes!" he exclaimed, still with quavering voice. "Oh, but
you will--when you've heard my talk. Would you see me murdered?"

I did not answer, being in the main amused at his attempts to get the
horse out of the trap, and particularly to unbuckle the very stiff
belly-band. The girl had gone tripping off with herself to the village
as I thought; but though at that time I had no intention of staying
beyond an hour with him, I unshafted the animal myself, and tethered the
beast to the rickety manger, throwing my own rug across his loins; then
I followed Ladd through a black and smoke-washed kitchen to a dingy
apartment near the hall, and, the place being shuttered, he kindled a
common paraffin lamp, which might have cost a shilling but would have
been dear at two.

"I'll be getting the port," said he, casting a wistful look at me in the
hope, perhaps, that I should decline his invitation to a glass, "you'll
not mind refreshment after your drive?"

"Thanks; you may be sure I won't," said I; and while he was gone
fumbling down the passage, I saw that his dining-room had once been a
fine apartment, oak-panelled and spacious; and that ancestors, whose
rubicund jowls spoke of "two-bottle" men, now seemed to survey the
economy below with agony unspeakable. For the rest, there was little in
the room but depressing Victorian chairs in mahogany, and a piano with a
high back, such as our grandmothers played upon.

When Ladd came back, he had a bottle in his hand. I smiled openly when I
saw that it was a pint; but he decanted it with a fine show of
generosity, and pushing a glass to me, took up the matter which
interested him at once.

"Where did ye see my nephew?" he asked, while I sipped the wine with
satisfaction; "it'll have been in London, perhaps?"

"I saw him--if he was your nephew--at Pangbourne last night," said I;
"he had a pretty woman with him, and wanted to sell me two emeralds."

"That must have been the wife he married in San Francisco," cried he,
"but she has no sinecure; you didn't hear that I paid his passage abroad
last spring after he'd robbed me of a thousand----Well and it was
emeralds he wanted to sell you?"

"Two of the finest I have ever seen," said I, "and matching perfectly."

The import of the emeralds had evidently been lost upon him until this
time; but now of a sudden he realized that he might be concerned in the
business, and his agitation was renewed. "I wonder what emeralds they
were?" he asked as if of himself; then turning to me, he exclaimed,
"Will you come upstairs with me a minute?"

He did not wait for me to answer, but led the way up bare stone steps to
a landing off which there led two long passages; and in a big and not
uncomfortable bedroom he showed me three safes, one a little one, which
he opened, and took therefrom a case containing seven emeralds of a size
and quality apparently similar to the two I had seen at Pangbourne. But
when he gave them to me to examine I saw at once that five of them were
genuine and two were false.

"Well," said he, after I had looked at them long and closely, "how do
you like them?"

"I like them well enough," said I; "at least, I like five of them, but
the other two are glass!"

At this he cried, "Oh, my God!" and clutched the stones from me with the
trembling fingers of a madman. When he had seen them for himself--being
judge enough to follow me in my conclusions--he began to roar out oaths
and complaints most pitifully, cursing his nephew as I have never heard
a man cursed before or since. In my endeavor to calm him, I asked how it
could possibly be that this fellow he feared had got access to his safe;
but he poured out only an incoherent tale, begging me to send for the
police, then not to leave him, then falling to prophecy, and declaring
that he would be murdered before the month was out. It was altogether
the most moving sight I have ever seen--pointing strongly to the
conclusion that the man was mad; and, in fact, where his jewels were
concerned, sanity was not his strong point.

By and by he got sufficient reason to tell me that he had the
administration of some of his nephew's property, and that in his work he
had first fallen foul of a man, headstrong, vindictive, by no means
honest, and, in some moods, dangerous. Yet, even knowing his relative's
character and the threats he had urged against him, he could not tell
how the safe was broken, or by what means the emeralds had gone. He was
not even aware that his nephew was in England; and I had been the first
to bring intelligence of his coming. I asked him, naturally, if these
two stones represented the whole of his loss, and at that he fell off
again to his raving, but took two keys of the larger safes from a secret
drawer in the smaller as I could see; and began to pour upon the faded
bed-cover a wealth of treasure which might have bought a city. Here were
rubies of infinite perfection, diamonds set in a hundred shapes, ropes
of pearls, boxes of opals, bracelets of every known pattern, rings
scarce to be numbered, aigrettes, necklaces--in short, such a stupendous
show that the dark and dingy bedroom was lighted with wondrous light, a
myriad rays flashing up from the bed, until the whole place seemed
touched with a wand, and changed to a chamber of a thousand colors.
Before the bed of jewels the old man stood chattering and moaning; now
bathing, as it were, in the gems, now letting them ripple over his
hands, or addressing tender endearments to them; or clutching them with
nervous avidity as though he feared even my companionship.

In the midst of this strange scene, and while we were both held
spellbound by the wondrous vision of wealth, a sudden exclamation drew
the miser from his employment. It came from the girl who had been sent
to the village, she now standing in the doorway of the bedroom, and
crying, "Oh, good Lord!" as she saw the glitter of the gems. But Ladd
turned upon her at the words, and grasped her by the wrists, crying out
as he had cried when first he knew that he was robbed.

"You hussy," he hissed, bending her by the arms backward almost to the
floor; "what do you watch me for? What do you mean by coming here? Where
are the emeralds you have stolen? Tell me, wench; do you hear? Tell me,
or I shall hurt you!"

He held her in so firm a grasp that I feared she would suffocate, and
went to pull him off; at which action he turned to cry out against me;
but the anger had played upon him so that he fainted suddenly all across
the bed, and amongst the jewels. The girl, whom he had forced upon the
floor, now rose impudently, and said,--

"Did ye ever see the like of him?--but I'll make him pay for it! Oh, you
needn't look, he's that way often. He'll come to in a minute; but he
won't find me in the house to-morrow--wages or no wages."

"Do what you like," I cried to her angrily, "but don't chatter. Have you
got any brandy in the house?"

"Brandy! and for him!" said she, arranging her dress which he had torn.
"Is it me that should be running for it? Not if I know it; brandy, I
like that!"

"Then leave the room," I exclaimed imperatively; and with that she went
off, banging the door behind her, and I was alone with the man and his
jewels. I think it was the strangest situation I have ever known. Some
thousands of pounds' worth of gems lay scattered upon the coverlet, upon
the sheets, and even upon the carpet. Ladd himself lay like the figure
upon a tomb, white and motionless; there was only the light of a common
paraffin lamp; and three parts of the room lay in darkness. My first
thought was for the man's life, and remembering that I had a flask in my
pocket, I forced brandy between his clenched teeth, and laid him flat
upon his back. In a few moments there was a perceptible, though very
quick beat of his pulse, and after that, when he had taken more of the
spirit, he opened his eyes, and endeavored to raise himself; but I
forbade him roughly, and gathering up his gems I bundled them in the
greater safe, and turned the key upon them. He however, watched me with
glazing eyes, scarce being able, for lack of strength, to utter a word;
but he motioned for me to give him the key, and this he placed under the
pillow of his bed, and fell presently into a gentle sleep, which was of
good omen.

I should mention that it was now full dark outside, and, as I judged,
about the hour of ten. I had got the man's jewels into his safe for him,
and he was sleeping; but where the bewitching little hussy was I did
not know; or what was the value of the old man's fears about his nephew.
It was clear to me, however, that he had been robbed, probably by the
immediate agency of the girl who acted as his servant; and it was
equally obvious that I had no alternative but to stay by him, even if
prospect of probable business in the future had not moved me to do so.
An inspection of his room by the flickering light of the lamp disclosed
to me a small dressing-room leading from it, this containing a sofa; and
when I had quite assured myself that my patient, as I chose to regard
him, slept easily, and that his pulse was no longer intermittent nor
faint, I took my boots off and lay down upon the hard horsehair
antiquity which was to serve me for bed. Strange to say, in half an hour
I fell into a dreamless sleep, for I was heavy with fatigue, and had
walked many hours upon the Kennett's bank; but when I awoke, the room
was utterly dark, and the screams of a dying man rang in my ears.

In moments of emergency one's individuality asserts itself in curious
actions. I am somewhat stolid, and a poor subject for panics, and I
remember on this particular occasion that my first act was to draw on my
boots with deliberation, and even to turn in the tags carefully before I
struck a match, and got a sight of the scene which I remember so well
though many months have passed since its happening. When I had light, I
found Ladd standing by the door of his large safe, which was open, but
there was a deep crimson stain upon his shirt, and he no longer had
the voice to scream. In fact, he was dying then; and presently he fell
prone with a deep gasp, and I knew that he was dead. In the same instant
a black shadow, as of a man, passed between me and the flicker of the
light; and as the match went out the door of the chamber swung upon its
hinges, and the assassin passed from the room.

Now, Ladd had scarce fallen before I was in the dark passage, listening
with great tension of the ear for a sound of the hiding man's footstep.
But the place was as still as the grave; and then there came upon me the
horrid thought that the fellow lurked with me about the room's door, and
presently would serve me as he had served the other. Cold with fear at
the possibility, I struck a match, and advanced along the passage, using
half a box of lucifers in the attempt. At the corner I came suddenly
upon a cranny; and as the light died away, two gleaming eyes shot up
glances to mine, and a man sprang out flashing a blade in the air, but
rushing past me, and fleeing like the wind towards the southern
wing--the unfinished one. So swift did he go that I saw nothing of his
face, and it seemed scarce a moment before I heard a door open, and
another great cry, followed by a splashing of water and utter silence.

[Illustration: "Two gleaming eyes shot up glances to mine."

    --_Page 179_]

This second cry took, I think, what little nerve I had left; and while
the echo of it was still in the passages my last match went out. The
place was now black with unbroken darkness; every step that I took
appeared to reach mysterious stairs and to send me staggering; but at
last a sudden patch of moonlight from a corner encouraged me to go on,
and I reached the spot where the man had disappeared. At that point a
door creaked and banged upon its hinges, but the white light coming
through it saved me from the fate of him who had gone before. It showed
me at a glance that the door was built in a side of the unfinished wall
of the wing, and that the man, who evidently had mistaken it for the
entrance to the back staircase, which I saw a few feet farther on, had
crashed down fifty feet into the moat below, carrying, as I supposed,
his plunder in his hands. Then I knew the meaning of the gurgling cry
and the horrid thud; and terror seemed to strike me to my very marrow.

How I got out of the house I do not know to this day. Thrice I made a
circuit of winding corridors only to find myself again before the room
where Ladd's body lay in the circle of moonlight which the window
focused upon the safe; thrice I reached doors which seemed to give
access to the yard; but led only into gloomy shuttered chambers where
curious shapes of the yellow rays came through the dusty crevices. At
last, however, I reached the frowsy kitchen, and the yard, and stood a
minute to breathe the chill night air, and to think what was to be done;
whither first to go; to whom to appeal. The whine of a voice from the
stable seemed to answer me. I entered the roofless shanty, and there
found the dark-eyed girl sitting upon a rotting garden roller, and
quivering in every limb. She too was dressed ready to accompany the man
who then lay in the moat, I did not doubt; but at the first sight of me
she started up with blanched face, and clinging to me she cried,--"Take
me away; oh, my God, take me away from it!" and rather incoherently she
muttered that she was innocent, and protested it in a score of phrases.
I saw a flush of dawn-light upon her babyish face as she spoke, and it
occurred to me when I was putting the horse to the dog-cart that she was
unmistakably pretty, and that her customary occupation was not that of a
housemaid. But I only said to her,--

"Keep anything you have to say for the police. I am going to fetch
them." And with that I drove off, and the last I saw of my lady showed
her as she sat moaning on the straw, her hair tumbling upon her
shoulders, and her face buried in her hands.

       *       *       *       *       *

The trial of this woman, and her acquittal by the jury, are well
remembered in Caversham; nor is the mystery of Jabez Ladd's jewels and
their disappearance by any means an infrequent topic for alehouses. What
became of the precious stones which Arthur Vernon Ladd, the old man's
nephew, took from the safe on the night he murdered his uncle, one man
alone knows--and that is myself. The people of the town will tell you
that the moat was dragged and drained with no result. I myself saw the
body of the murderer--the velvet-coated man of Pangbourne; but although
at least a couple of thousand pounds worth of jewels were missing from
the safe, there was not one of them about him, or to be found upon the
_concrete_ bottom of the moat into which he had dropped with the blood
of Ladd fresh upon his hands. In vain the police searched the girl--her
name was Rachel Peters, she said--and her boxes; equally in vain the old
house was ransacked from top to bottom. The thing was a black mystery;
it was gossip not only for inns and beerhouses, but for the county. The
report of it spread even to America, and to this moment it has remained
unsolved.

The jewels being undiscoverable, and Ladd having been murdered to my
knowledge by his nephew, the girl, Rachel Peters, was, as I have said,
discharged. She returned to the old house for her boxes, and immediately
disappeared from the knowledge of the county. Ten months later I saw her
dancing on the stage of an opera house in Florida, and she was wearing
_five of the seven emeralds_ which Ladd had lost! The spectacle seemed
so amazing to me that I sought her out between the acts, and found her
as full of _chic_ and _verve_ as a Parisian _soubrette_. Nor did she
disguise anything from me, telling me everything over a cigarette with a
relish and a sparkle which was astounding to see.

"Yes," said she--but I give her story in plain words, for her way of
telling it is not to be written down--"I had known Vernon Ladd for
years. I doubt if there was a worse man in Europe; but I was frightened
of him, and I entered old Ladd's service at his wish to help him to
steal the jewels. We got at the emeralds first, because they were in the
small safe; but we didn't know where the keys of the other safe were,
and we put two sham emeralds in the case to keep the old boy quiet while
we worked. That night you came to the house Vernon Ladd was already
inside, concealed behind the old man's bed; and he watched you open the
great safe and spread the jewels. The mischief of it was that Ladd woke
up five minutes too soon, and caught the boy by the throat--you know
what he got for that, for you saw it and you know how Vernon mistook the
door, and went down in a hurry. Well, when you'd gone for the police, I
ran round to the back of the house, and what should I see but the bag of
jewels stuck on a ledge just under the landing window. He'd dropped them
as he fell, and there they were lying so plain that one could have seen
them a mile off. I just ran up and reached them with my arm, but when I
was in the stable again, and thinking of hiding them, I heard you
driving up the road, and I slipped the bag in the first thing handy--it
was your own fishing creel.

"No, you never found them, did you? just because they were hanging up
there plain for every one to see. When the judge discharged me at the
Court, I went again to the house to get my box, never thinking to see
the stones; but you'd gone away without the creel, and it was the first
thing I touched lying in the straw of the stable. You may be sure it
didn't lie there long. I'd saved up enough money for a passage to the
States, and when I got here I started as an actress, as I was before,
and I sold the things one by one. These emeralds are all that's
left--and if you're a brick, you'll buy them!"

This was her story. She was a clever woman, and having been discharged
on the accusation of robbing the dead miser Ladd, could not be sent to
her trial again. Her invitation for me to buy the emeralds was tempting.
I had already purchased two from the unhappy lady of Pangbourne, who was
married to the velvet-coated Vernon Ladd, and is now living in seclusion
in Devonshire. The other five would have made the set of great value.
Ladd had no heirs; it was altogether a nice point. I debated it.



THE PURSUIT OF THE TOPAZ.



THE PURSUIT OF THE TOPAZ.


I was struggling heroically to force my arms through the sleeves of a
well-starched shirt, when the man knocked upon the door of my bedroom
for the second time. I had heard him faintly five minutes before, when
my head was as far in a basin as the limitations of Parisian toilet-ware
would allow it to go; but now he knocked imperiously, and when I opened
to him he stood hesitatingly with a foolish leer upon his face, and that
which he meant for discretion upon his lips.

"Well," said I, "what the devil do you want? Can't you see I'm
dressing?"

At this he looked with obvious pity for me towards the basin, but
quickly recovered himself.

"Dame," said he, with a fine Gascon accent, "there is a lady waiting for
monsieur in the _salon_."

"A lady!" cried I with surprise; "who is she?"

"I am but three days in Paris," replied he, "and she is a stranger to
me. If monsieur prefers it, I will ask her some questions."

"You will please do nothing of the sort; did she give her name?"

"I seem to remember that she did, but it has escaped me. I shall say
that you are engaged, and will see her to-morrow; monsieur leaves Paris
at nine o'clock _hein_?"

He said this with another vulgar leer, but I turned round upon him
fiercely, for I had begun to brush what is left of my hair.

"You impudent poltroon!" exclaimed I; "leave the room instantly, and
tell the lady that I will be with her in five minutes."

"Ah," said he, "it is like that then? Very good; I shall safeguard your
interests; trust in me. May I be permitted to light the candles?"

He said this with a fine eye to the bill; but I sent him away after some
display of temper, and finished my dressing quickly, wondering all the
time who the woman was, and what she wanted of me. Although I have lived
in Paris nigh as much as in London, I have cultivated few acquaintances
there other than those arising in the path of business. The domestic
side of Parisian life has never appealed to me; I am equally callous to
the vaunted attractions of the dismal halls of light and twaddle with
which the foreigner usually boasts acquaintance. It was, therefore, not
only with profound surprise, but also with a piquant curiosity, that I
fell to speculating upon the identity of my visitor, and the mission
which brought her to me.

At the time of this occurrence I had been in the French capital for one
week, being carried there by the announcement of the sale of the
Countess Boccalini's jewels. After my usual custom, I had engaged rooms
in the little Hôtel de Bard, which is almost the neighbor of the Grand
Hotel, and had passed the week in the haggling and disputation which
are the salt of life to a jeweler. The result was the purchase of a
superb necklace of brilliants, which subsequently I sold here for nine
thousand pounds, and of a quantity of smaller stones, and of
chrysoprase, the gem which is now becoming exceedingly fashionable in
London. But on the night of which I am writing, my trading was done, and
a ridiculous promise to go to the Opera Ball alone kept me in Paris. How
the promise came to be given to my friend Tussal I cannot remember; but
he had assured me that the ball was the event of April, and that my
education would remain imperfect until I had gazed upon the spectacle of
_calicots_ and _flaneurs_ rioting in the great house which Garnier
designed and Delaunay painted. And so pressing was he, and so largely
did I trade with him, that I yielded at last to his solicitations, and
agreed to accept a seat in his box.

By the terms of his invitation I was to meet him at the Grand Café at
midnight, and thence was to proceed to the Opera House at half-past
twelve. I had determined to dine quietly at my own hotel, and afterwards
to spend the intervening hours at the Théâtre de la Porte St. Martin;
for which purpose I dressed at a comparatively early hour; and dressing,
received the stiff-necked Gascon's message that a lady wished to see me.
Yet for what purpose she came, or who she might be, I had not an idea;
and I turned over a hundred theories in my mind as I descended to the
little reception room of the hotel, and there found her sitting by the
uncovered table with a railway guide before her, but obviously
agitated, and as obviously pretty.

When looking back upon the extraordinary mystery of which this childish
girl was for me the center, I have often remembered that she was one of
the few Frenchwomen I have met who had a thoroughly English face. Her
skin was white and pink, untouched by that olive tint which is so
prevalent in Paris; her eyes were wondrously blue; she had rich brown
hair shot with golden tresses, which gave to the whole a magnificent
luster; she was entirely free of that restless gesture which is the
despair of a man of nerves. As I first saw her, she wore a captivating
apology for a bonnet, which seemed to consist of a spray of jet and a
hairpin; but her hands were gloved as only a Frenchwoman's hands are,
and a long cloak of steel-gray cloth edged with fur, fell about her
shoulders, yet permitted one to see an exquisite outline of figure
beneath. Indeed, she made a perfect little picture, and her exceeding
prettiness lost nothing for the rush of color to her cheeks when I spoke
to her.

"I am Bernard Sutton," said I; "if it is possible that I can be of any
service to you, the privilege is mine----"

"Thank you, a thousand times," said she, speaking with an accent which
added to the charm of her English. "I have heard of you often from
Madame Carmalovitch, whose husband owned the famous opal; you were very
kind to her----"

"I was exceedingly sorry for her," I replied; "are you a relation of
hers?"

"Oh, no!" she exclaimed; "I am Mademoiselle Edile Bernier, and I live
with my mother at 32, Rue Boissière. You will laugh to hear why I come
to you. It is about something you alone can advise me upon, and, of
course, you will guess it at once."

"I won't waste your time by being ambiguous," said I; "you have come to
consult me about some jewels; pray let me see them."

There was no one else in the _salon_ at that time, the few people in the
hotel being at dinner. The girl had, therefore, no hesitation in opening
a bracelet case, which she had carried under her cloak, and showing me a
plain band of gold which served as a mount for a small circle of
turquoise and an exceedingly large rose-pink topaz, which possessed all
the lustre of a diamond. I saw at once that the gem was from Brazil, and
was large enough and rich enough to be worth a considerable sum, but I
have never known hunger for the topaz myself, and when I had taken one
look at the bracelet I handed it back to her.

"It's exceedingly pretty," said I, "and your stones are very good. There
is a little green at the base of the larger turquoises, but you will
hardly match the topaz in Paris. Are you seeking to know the value of
it?"

"I would never ask that," she answered quickly; "it was a gift from my
_fiancé_, Monsieur Georges Barré, whom you may know by name."

I vow it was very bewitching to watch the rosy blush which suffused her
cheek when she made this confession. Yet she spoke with the ring of
pride in her voice, and I replied to her encouragingly while she put
her treasure beneath her cloak, as though she feared that other eyes
than hers should rest even upon the case of it.

"Monsieur Barré is well known to me by name," said I; "his bust of
Victor Hugo from last year's salon is at this moment the chief ornament
of my library. I must now congratulate him for the second time."

At this she laughed, but the ripples died away quickly upon her face,
and the look of haunting fear again troubled her eyes. I observed that
she was reticent in speaking plainly to me, and did my best to help her
out with it.

"You have not yet put to me," said I, "the precise question which
brought you here. It concerns the bracelet, of course?"

"Ye--yes," said she; "but I am very much afraid you will laugh at me. I
wanted to ask you if, in your judgment--that is, with your
experience--there is any reason why I should not wear my present at the
Opera Ball to-night?"

Her confusion, when thus she had unburdened herself, was overwhelming.
She scarce dared to lift her eyes to mine as she spoke, and one of her
hands played restlessly with the railway guide, while the other was
closed firmly about her bracelet. Nor did I, who know the potency of
woman's superstition in the matter of their jewels, feel the touch of a
desire to draw amusement from her dilemma.

"Come," said I, with all the gentleness of voice I could command; "you
have been reading something silly. The topaz is the emblem of fidelity,
it is also a traditional cure for indigestion. In other words, the
ancients were wise enough to know that love and good cooking are not so
far apart after all. Wear your jewel at the opera by all means, and
regard it as an antidote to the _confetti_ you will consume."

She heard me thus far with a restrained smile upon her face, and indeed,
she half rose as though to end the interview; but the evidence of fear
was still about her eyes, and there was the note of unsatisfied
questioning in her voice when she said,--

"I was sure you would tell me that--but I am keeping you from your
dinner, and have already troubled you too much I fear."

My answer to this appeal was to close the door of the _salon_, which had
been open during our interview, and to draw a chair close to hers.

"Mademoiselle Bernier," said I, "the most important part of the
intelligence you meant to bring to me remains unspoken. Let me encourage
you to tell me everything freely, and be assured that without your
express permission nothing you may say will be remembered by me."

"Thank you, very much," she said quietly, evidently regaining complete
confidence; "but I have nothing to conceal. A week ago, Monsieur Barré
gave me this bracelet with the stipulation that I should wear it at the
ball to-night. Two days ago, I received this letter, which I hesitated
to show even to you, lest it should be an injustice to the man I love."

She passed, with her words, a dirty scrap of a note to me, the leaf of a
sheet of the commonest lined scribbling paper; and I read upon it,
written in very bad French, the warning--

"Mademoiselle. If you wear the topaz bracelet at the Opera Ball to-night
you carry death upon your arm."

Thrice I read this; and as I repeated the words, the third time aloud, I
saw, shaping about the simplicity of the girl, a mystery which seemed as
deep, and at first sight as unfathomable, as any as I had known. As for
the momentary victim of it she sat watching me while I, all amazed, held
the paper still in my hand, and did not hide my surprise, or, indeed,
attempt to.

"Mademoiselle," said I, "you speak to me of very deep matters, I fear.
But, of course, you have shown this letter to your relatives?"

"I have but one relative in the world," said she, "my mother, who is a
paralytic. I dare not mention such a thing to her; she would die of
fear."

"And you yourself have no suspicion, no faint idea of the cause of such
a letter as that?"

"I cannot even attempt to guess at it."

"There are none of your lady friends who would hazard a joke with you?"

"Oh, no; they could not think of such a joke as that, and my few friends
love me, I believe."

I had now begun to pace up and down the room, being in a very whirl of
theory and conjecture. And, in truth, the problem presented so many
possibilities that it might well have troubled a man whose whole
occupation was the solution of mysteries. Not that I lacked any clue,
for my knowledge, such as it is, of the heartburnings, the jealousies,
and the crimes which hover over the possession of precious stones at
once compelled me to the conclusion, either that M. Georges Barré had
been the victim of a previous _affaire du coeur_, or that his _fiancée_
had been won only over trampled hopes and vain rivalries. In either case
(the case of the woman who resented the man's marriage, or the man who
resented the woman's) was there ample warranty for such a letter as
Mademoiselle Bernier had received. Yet was I too slow to venture the
question with her, and did so at last in sheer pity for her
childishness.

"Tell me," said I, stopping of a sudden before her, "what led you to
me?"

"Madame Carmalovitch," said she. "I went to her first, but she knew you
were in Paris, and would not rest until I had consented to see you. She
would have come with me, but is latterly almost always unable to face
the night air."

"You have no one else you would care to consult in such a case?"

"No one," said she.

"And if you go to the ball to-night without your bracelet----?"

She looked up at me with tears in her eyes when she answered,--

"Georges would never forgive me."

"Could you make no excuse to remain at home?"

"Oh, don't ask me to do that," she exclaimed pitifully, "I have lived
for the ball since the beginning of the year!"

It was a woman's plea, and not to be resisted. I saw at once that she
_would_ go to the dance whatever words fell from me, and I turned from
the subject to one more important.

"Since you are determined to be there to night," said I, "perhaps you
will give me Monsieur Georges Barré's address?"

"Oh, for the love of God, don't tell him!" she cried; "he would never
forgive me if I distrusted his present."

"My dear lady, I quite understand that. Really, you credit me with being
a very poor diplomatist. When I see him I doubt if I shall even mention
your name to him."

"You promise me that?"

"I promise you, at least, that he shall never know of your coming to me.
But I must exact another promise from you--it is that you will not wear
the topaz until you have my permission."

"But Georges expects me to wear it at the ball."

"He would not expect you to risk your life. And there is no reason, so
far as I can see, why I should not be able to give you permission, or to
refuse it, by eleven o'clock. You do not go to the opera until midnight,
I presume?"

"Monsieur Barré has promised to call in the Rue Boissière at a quarter
past twelve. He has an _appartement_ in the Hôtel Scribe. I can scarce
go with him and leave his gift at home."

"Of course you can't, but I would suggest that, unless you hear from me
by midnight, you carry it beneath your cloak as you do now. I shall meet
you in the Opera House, at any rate. Meanwhile, I have one more question
to put to you, forgive it from a man who is nearly old enough to be your
father. Before you became the _fiancée_ of Monsieur Barré was
there--well, was there any other in your thoughts?"

She looked at me with frankness shining clearly from her eyes, when she
said,--

"Never for a moment. I was in a convent until last year, and I have not
spoken to six men since I left."

"That is all I want to know. We will both dine now; but first let me
look at your bracelet once more."

She handed me the case again; and I, leaving her for a moment to fetch
my glass, put the jewel under the strong light of the chandelier, and
examined every inch of it within and without. I discovered then that
which had escaped me upon first acquaintance with it. In one of the
crevices of the clasp there was a blood-stain, unmistakable, even fresh,
yet so concealed by the embossment of the jewels that I did not wonder
she had remained in ignorance of it. But when I gave it to her again I
doubt not that I was very serious, and this she observed, and made
comment upon.

"You see something now which you did not see ten minutes ago," she
cried; "you will surely tell me?"

"I see a very pretty pink topaz," said I, forcing a smile, "and a young
lady who is missing her dinner. Come, have some confidence in me, and
put all these thoughts out of your mind until I ask you to remember them
again."

"I will," said she, "and can never thank you enough; you do not know
what a trouble you have taken from my mind."

Here was the end of our interview, for we had come to the door of the
courtyard as we spoke, and I put her at once into the neat little
brougham which was waiting for her. There were but two other men, the
concierge, and a short, exceedingly dark man in evening dress, about the
place at that time; and as the brougham drove away it occurred to me
that the latter fellow was watching me rather closely, upon which I had
a good look at him; but he turned away sharply to the coffee-room, while
I went to my dinner in as fine a state of bewilderment as I have known.
Never in my long years' work had I come across such a case, or one to
which a clue, save on the hypothesis of jealousy, was so completely
wanting. Yet if jealousy were the motive of the warning, how, I asked,
came the bloodstains upon the bracelet? And if the gem had any
connection with a previous affair of Barré's why did he give it to his
_fiancée_? The latter supposition seemed, in itself, sufficient to upset
the whole suggestion; nor could I find another; but I determined to call
upon the sculptor at once, and to use every device at my command in the
interests of the helpless girl who had called upon me.

It was now near to ten o'clock, and, having dined hastily, I passed
through the courtyard on my way to the Hôtel Scribe. There I saw, to my
surprise, that the ill-visaged Italian--for so I judged he was--still
loitered about the place; but again appeared to avoid scrutiny. This
second appearance of his seemed to me--I knew not why--as the shaping of
a story from the air; but I had no courage then to speak to him, and I
walked on down the boulevard, perceiving as I went that flambeaus
already lighted the great Opera House, and that the _canaille_ were
preparing for the riot. When at last I came to the hotel, and sent up my
card, the answer was that Monsieur Barré had just left, and was not
expected to return until the next morning.

How completely this answer undid my purpose I could never set down. The
man was my only possible hope. In the haste of my conclusions I had
never found time to remember that I might not catch him; that every
_flaneur_ was hither and thither like a will-o'-the-wisp on such a
night. In vain I asked, nay, implored, for information--they could give
me none; and when further importunity was plainly a farce, I had no
alternative but to go to the Rue Boissière, in the ultimate hope that
Barré's destination was there, and that he had called upon his _fiancée_
before the hour of the appointment. But upon this I was determined, that
until I had found him Mademoiselle Bernier should not wear the bracelet,
though I stood at her side from that hour to midnight.

My first attempt culminating unfruitfully, I quitted the passage of the
hotel, being still bent upon the journey to the Rue Boissière, and was
again upon the pavement before the café, when I saw the Italian for the
third time. He stood upon the very edge of the curbstone, undisguisedly
waiting for me, so that upon a sudden impulse, which had wisdom in it, I
walked over to him, and this time he did not turn away.

"Forgive the question," said I, in my miserable French, "but you are
betraying an interest in my movements which is unusual; in fact, you
have followed me from my hotel, I think?"

"Exactly," he replied, having even less of the tongue than I had, though
I make no attempt to reproduce the vagaries of his idiom. "I followed
you here, as you say----"

"For what purpose, may I ask?"

"To warn you!"

"To warn me!"

"Certainly, since you carry in your pocket the topaz bracelet."

"Oh," said I, taken aback at his false conclusion, "it is that, is it? I
am much obliged to you, but I don't happen to possess such a thing."

"_Mon Dieu!_" said he; "then she did not sell it to you?"

"She certainly did not!"

"And she will wear it at the ball to-night?"

"Of course!"

"Mother of God! she is a dead woman then."

It is often possible to tell from the chord of voice a man strikes in
conversation whether he be friend or enemy. I knew from the sympathetic
note in this earnest exclamation that I had to do with one who wished
well to Mademoiselle Bernier; but the very sorrow of the words struck me
chill with fear. It was plain that I must shape a bold course if I would
learn the whole moment of the mystery, and observing that the stranger
was a man of much shabbiness and undoubted poverty--if that might be
judged by his dress--I played the only possible card at once.

"Look here," said I, "this is no time for words like this. Come into the
café with me, and I will pay you fifty pounds for what you know. It
shall be worth a hundred if you convince me that you have done a
substantial kindness to Mademoiselle Bernier."

He looked at his watch before he made answer. Then he said,--

"The offer is a fair one, but I do not seek your money. We have two
hours in which to save her, but before I go with you, you shall swear to
me that anything I may tell you will never be used against me here or in
any other country."

"Of course," said I; "you don't think I am a policeman, do you? I have
no other interest but that of the lady."

"Nor I," said he; and he followed me into the café, but the place was so
intolerably full that I bade him come with me to a little wine-shop in
the Rue Lafayette, and there we found a vacant table, and I ordered his
absinthe and a glass of coffee for myself. Scarcely, however, had he
lighted his cigarette before he began to talk of the matter we had come
upon.

"First," said he, "tell me, did Mademoiselle speak of a letter she had
received?"

"She not only spoke of it, but she gave it to me to read," I replied.

"Well," said he, "I wrote it."

"I gathered that from your words," said I next; "and of course you wrote
it for very good reasons?"

"You shall hear them," said he, sipping freely of his drink. "That
bracelet was last worn at the _Mi-Carême_ Ball in Marseilles by a girl
named Berthe Duval. She was carried from the ball-room stabbed horribly,
at one o'clock in the morning. She died in my arms, for in one week she
was to have been my wife."

"And the assassin?" I asked.

"Was hunted for by the police in vain," he continued. "I myself offered
every shilling that I had to find him, but, despite the activity of us
all, he was never so much as named. Let us go back another year--it is
painful enough for me because such a retrogression recalls to me the one
passion of my life--a passion beside which the affair at Marseilles is
not to be spoken of. God knows that the memory of the woman I refer to
is at this moment eating out my heart. She was an Italian girl, sixteen
years old when she died, and I think--why should I not?--that the world
has never held a more beautiful creature. Well, she wore the bracelet,
now about twenty-six months ago, at the _Mardi Gras_ Ball in Savona, and
she fell dead before my very eyes ten minutes after she had entered the
ball-room. She had drunk of poisoned coffee, and no man but one knew by
whose hand the death had come to her."

"You say no man but one; that one was----"

"Myself!"

"Then you knew who killed the other victim at Marseilles?"

"I knew, as you say; but to know and to arrest are different things."

"Have you any idea as to the man's whereabouts now?"

"Every idea; he was in Paris three days ago--he was in Paris to-day. I
should judge it more than likely that he will be at the Opera Ball
to-night."

Before he could say more I rose from my chair and summoned the head
waiter of the place to me. Then I wrote an urgent message upon a leaf of
my note-book, and despatched it by a cab to 32, Rue Boissière. The
message implored Mademoiselle Bernier, as she valued her life, to leave
the bracelet at home for this night at any rate.

"Now," said I, "we can talk still at our leisure. You have taken me back
to Marseilles fourteen months ago; let us have the chapter in your life
which precedes that one."

He finished off his absinthe, and called for another glass before he
would answer me. At last he said,--

"You ask me to speak of things which I would well forget. I have
sufficient confidence in you, however, to trust my safety in your hands.
The story is not a long one. Three years ago I was a struggling painter
in Savona, giving half my life to a study of the pictures in the
cathedral--you may know the work of Antonio Semini there--and the other
half to the worship of Pauline di Chigi, the daughter of a silversmith
who lives over against the Hotel Royal. Needless to tell you of my
poverty, or of my belief in myself. I lived then in the day-dreams which
come at the seed-time of art; they were broken only by the waywardness
of the girl, by her womanly fickleness, by the riches of the men who
sought her. It would weary you to hear of my long nights of agony
following the momentary success of this man or that who wooed her, of my
curses upon my own poverty, of my bitterness, and sometimes even of my
hopelessness. There is something of this sort in the life of every poor
man, but the romance will scarce bear the light of other eyes; it has a
place in my story only in so far as it prompted me to steal the topaz,
if stealing is the word for the act which gave me its possession.

"But _arrivons_! In the end of the January of last year, I, struggling
to embrace a career in which I have failed because I have genius and no
talent, obtained a commission from the Dominican monks to go to the
Valley of San Bernardo, and to take up my residence there while I
retouched some of the more modern and more faded pictures in the
sanctuary of Nostra Signora di Misericordia. The shrine and village lie
in the mountains five miles above Savona. The former is now regaining
its splendor, though grievously pillaged by the French and by later
vandals. The work would have been recreation to me had it not been for
Pauline, whom I left to the persecution of a fat and soulless trader,
and to the solicitations of her father that she would marry him. The new
lover loaded her with presents and with the follies of speech which a
middle-aged man who is amorous can be guilty of. I could give her
nothing but the promise of a future, and that being without market value
did not convince her. While she would make pretence of affection for me
when we were alone, she did nothing to repulse the other. Thus I left
Savona with her kisses on my lips, and rage of her wantonness in my
heart; and for three weeks I labored patiently in the mountain village;
and my art lifted me even beyond the spell of the girl.

"It was at the end of the third week that my thoughts were ardently
recalled to her by a circumstance which cannot fail to appear remarkable
to you. I was walking in the late afternoon of the Sunday in the path
which leads one high amongst the mountains, here rising green and
purple, and afar with snowcaps above this lovely spot; and, chancing to
turn aside from the road and to plunge into a shrubbery, I sat at last
upon the log of a tree perched at the side of as wild a glen as I have
seen in Italy. Below me were rocks of marble-black, yellow, red--all
colors; aloe trees flourished abundantly, springing from every cranny of
the dell; and though the reign of winter was not done, flowers blossomed
everywhere, and multitudinous shrubs were rich in green and buds. Here I
sat for an hour buried in my musings, and when at last I left it was by
an overgrown path across the dingle. I found then that the opposite
side of the place was vastly steeper than the one by which I had
descended; in fact, I mounted it with difficulty; and when near to the
summit, I clung to the saplings and the branches for sheer foothold.
This action brought all my trouble, for of a sudden, just as I had come
to the top, a shrub to which I was holding gave at the roots, and
giving, sent me rolling to the bottom again with a great quantity of
soft earth all about me and my bones aching indescribably.

"For some minutes I sat, being dizzy and shaken, on the soft grass. When
I could look around me I saw a strange thing. In a mound of the mould
which had fallen there was a crucifix of gold. Thickly covered with the
clammy earth as it was, dulled and tarnished with long burial, the value
of the thing was unmistakable. Rubies were set in the hands for blood,
there was a crown of diamonds for thorns; the whole was ornamented with
a sprinkling of jewels, whose fire was brilliant even through the pasty
clay which clung upon the cross. I need scarce tell you that all the
curiosity which is a part of me was whetted at this unexpected sight;
and believing that I had come upon a very mine of treasure, I shook the
mould off me, and went quickly by the easier path to the hill-top and
the place of the landslip.

[Illustration: "When I could look around me, I saw a strange thing."

    --_Page 206_]

"Twilight was now rushing through the mountains, and a steely light,
soon to turn into darkness, fell upon the ravine; yet I was able still
to see clearly enough for my purpose--and for my disappointment. It is
true that the slip of the earth from the hillside disclosed a
cavernous hole which had been dug, no doubt, many years ago; but of the
kind of treasure whose image had leaped into my mind I saw little. The
few bright things that lay about in the part of the trough which
remained were entirely such vessels as serve priests in the Mass. There
was a pyx in silver, a paten in gold, and two smaller ones; a monstrance
with some exceedingly fine diamonds and the topaz in it, and a gold
chalice much indented. I judged at once that these things had been
buried either when the French plunderers came to Italy, or after the
trouble of '70. It was equally clear that they were the property of the
Dominicans whose house was hard by; and either that their present
hiding-place was unknown, or that they had been left in concealment for
some reason of diplomacy. In any case, the value of the stones in the
monstrance was unquestionable; but I am an Italian, as you see, and I
believed then, as now, in nothing but omens. For a long while no thought
of touching these things, scarce even of handling them--so strong in
human flesh is the grain of early superstition--came to me. I sat there
gazing at them and watching the light of the topaz sparkling even above
the radiance of the smaller diamonds--sat, in fact, until it was quite
dark and the miasma rose from the valley. Then, in one of those flashes
of thought which often mean much to a man, I had it in my mind that both
the diamonds and the topaz above them would sit well upon the arms of
Pauline; I even saw her in my fancy coquetting to me for the present. I
began to laugh aloud at the other thoughts, to call them echoes of
childish schooling, to handle the chalice and the ring of jewels, and to
tell myself that there would be no bigger fool in Europe if I did not
take them. Need I tell you that the reasoning convinced me? and quickly,
as the cold of the mist grew more intense, I took the baubles in my
hand, still lacking the courage to secure the chalice and the crucifix,
and rose to leave the place.

"Now, for the first time, I think, you are beginning to see the point of
my story. The strangest part of it yet remains. I have told you that
dark had fallen upon the ravine as I rose up to quit it, and that mists
rose thick from the valley with the early night. You will, therefore,
easily understand my discomfiture when, reflected upon the white curtain
of fog, I saw the dancing light of a lantern. In the next moment a man,
young but ragged, with a full-bearded face, and the cape of a priest
about his shoulders, stood swinging his lantern before me, and looking
down at the tomb of the jewels by our feet. I know not why, but there
was something of such power and command writ upon the monk's face that I
have never called him by any other name than the Christ. With what
feelings he inspired me I cannot tell you. Terror, human terror, is no
word for my experience; my whole being seemed stricken with an
apprehension which tortured me and made my brain burn. God! the memory
shakes me even now, and I have seen him thrice since, and the fear is
greater every time I look upon his face.

"Thus I stood facing the man when he opened his lips to curse me. I
believe now, and shall always believe, that he is nothing but a madman,
whose brain has failed from long fasting. Be that as it may, his words
ring yet in my ears. If you search the world through, read the curse
upon Barbarossa, and all the volumes of anathema, you will never find
such a blasting accusation as the man spoke when he saw the monstrance
in my hand. So dreadful was it that I reeled before him; and, losing all
command, I struck him down with my stick and fled the place. The next
day I quitted the valley of San Bernardo, and in a week Pauline was
wearing the topaz, set by her father as a bracelet, and the diamonds
sparkled upon her fingers. She covered me with kisses for the gift, and
in her embraces I forgot the madman of the hills, and my melancholy
passed.

"The rest of my story you know. Pauline wore the topaz at the _Mardi
Gras_ Ball, and died ten minutes after she had entered the room. A year
later, having fled from Italy, I became engaged _pour passer le temps_
to Berthe Duval, at Marseilles. A man has many love affairs, but only
one passion. I was not in love with her, but she was rich, and troubled
herself to get a smattering of art-talk, which amused me. One day she
found the topaz in my studio and begged it of me. She died as you have
heard; and I, poor as always, and now pursued by the damning curse, came
to Paris, selling the topaz on my way here to M. Georges Barré. I have
never ceased to regret that which I did; I have lamented it the most
since I saw the exquisite creature who is to be his wife. And when,
three days ago, I discovered the madman who had cursed me at San
Bernardo in the very Rue Boissière where Mademoiselle Bernier lives, I
determined to save her though the deed cost me a confession and my
liberty."

       *       *       *       *       *

He had ceased to speak, and had drunk off the remainder of his absinthe,
while his amazing story, which I could in no way believe, went whirling
through my brain, and yet gave to me no shape of reality. At the first I
was led to think that he was the madman, and I cracked for sitting there
and hearing the extraordinary narration he had contrived; but there was
something in his manner which forbade any long continuance of the
assumption; and while I had no leisure to bring critical scrutiny upon
his tale, it yet impressed me to immediate action.

"Come," said I, "presuming that your picture is not highly colored, it
is quite time we were at the opera; it is striking half-past twelve now.
You know what women are. Mademoiselle Bernier may wear the bracelet in
the face of everything I have said; and I am inclined to think with you
that it is not wise for her to do so."

"God forbid that she should," said he; and with that we went out
together.

The weather at that time was cold and cheerless; a bleak wind swept
round the corners of the streets; and the lights which illumined the
peristyle of the great building swayed and flickered with lapping
tongues of red and yellow. But once inside, the glow of light and color
passed description. Here, whirling, shouting, dancing, leaping, the
maskers rioted, almost drowning with their clamor the blare of the band;
the superb entrance hall was ablaze with the flash of tawdry jewels and
shining raiment; kings and queens, knights and courtiers, _calicots_ and
clowns, swarmed up the massive staircase, struggling, screaming,
pushing, regardless of everything but the madness of the scene within.
It was with the greatest difficulty that I reached Tussal's box, and
therefrom looking down upon the wild carnival, seeing at the first but a
medley of form and color, a reckless horde of dancers, grisettes,
shepherdesses, over whose heads _confetti_ hurtled, or the _spirales_
which the youths love. What with the dust and the scream of voices, and
the chatter of the thousand tongues, and the heroic efforts of the
fiddlers, it was almost impossible to locate anything or any one; but
the Italian, readier than I, pointed out to me at last the one we
sought; and I observed her sitting in a box quite close to us, where she
seemed to talk with all a girl's _esprit_ to the young sculptor at her
side. A fairer spectacle never was than that of this childish creature,
quaintly dressed in a simple gown of white and black, with a necklace of
pearls about her throat, and a bouquet of roses in her hand; but the
very sight of her turned me sick with fear, for she wore upon her arm
the cursed topaz, and you could see the light of it half over the house.

The Italian and I perceived the thing at the one time; indeed, we rose
from our seats together.

"For the love of Heaven go to her!" said he; "tell the whole story to
both of them; she may not have ten minutes to live."

He had need to say no more, for I was in the _foyer_ as he spoke; but
scarce had I opened the door of Barré's box--which was upon the ground
floor, almost at the level of the dancers--when an appalling scream rose
up even above the clamor of the throng. For one moment, as I stood
quaking with my fears, and sore tempted to draw back, I saw nothing but
a haze of white smoke, a vision of lurid faces and black forms, and
sharper than them all, the figure of Barré himself bending over the body
of the insensible girl. Then, amidst the babbling of voices, and the
sobbing of women, and the cry of the man, which was the most bitter cry
imaginable, I heard the words, "Stop the student in the black cloak--he
has shot Mademoiselle!"

But the girl lay dead, with a bullet through her heart.

       *       *       *       *       *

The tragedy at the Opera House was talk for many days in Paris; but the
assassin was never taken, nor indeed, heard of. The police inclined to
the theory that some masquerader had discharged a pistol by accident in
the heat of the riot; and to this theory most people inclined. But there
was a large sympathy for M. Georges Barré, who lay near to death for
many weeks after the shock, and who quitted the capital subsequently to
take up his residence in London. I told him the story the Italian had
narrated to me so soon as he was well enough to hear it; but, like the
police of Paris who had it also, I could see that he did not believe a
word of it. He sold me the topaz bracelet, however, and I have it to
this day, for I want the courage to sell it.

Of the Italian I never heard again. I saw him last immediately after the
drama of the ball, when he lurched away from me, wringing his hands
pitifully, begging me to tell his story to the police, and crying that a
curse was upon him. But I take it, in conjunction with his confession,
as a little curious that a madman, described as an ecclesiastic of
Savona, should have thrown himself before a train in the Gare du Nord
two days after the death of Mademoiselle Bernier.



THE RIPENING RUBIES.



THE RIPENING RUBIES.


"The plain fact is," said Lady Faber, "we are entertaining thieves. It
positively makes me shudder to look at my own guests, and to think that
some of them are criminals."

We stood together in the conservatory of her house in Portman Square,
looking down upon a brilliant ball-room, upon a glow of color, and the
radiance of unnumbered gems. She had taken me aside after the fourth
waltz to tell me that her famous belt of rubies had been shorn of one of
its finest pendants; and she showed me beyond possibility of dispute
that the loss was no accident, but another of those amazing thefts which
startled London so frequently during the season of 1893. Nor was hers
the only case. Though I had been in her house but an hour, complaints
from other sources had reached me. The Countess of Dunholm had lost a
crescent brooch of brilliants; Mrs. Kenningham-Hardy had missed a spray
of pearls and turquoise; Lady Hallingham made mention of an emerald
locket which was gone, as she thought, from her necklace; though, as she
confessed with a truly feminine doubt, she was not positive that her
maid had given it to her. And these misfortunes, being capped by the
abstraction of Lady Faber's pendant, compelled me to believe that of all
the startling stories of thefts which the season had known the story of
this dance would be the most remarkable.

These things and many more came to my mind as I held the mutilated belt
in my hand and examined the fracture, while my hostess stood, with an
angry flush upon her face, waiting for my verdict. A moment's inspection
of the bauble revealed to me at once its exceeding value, and the means
whereby a pendant of it had been snatched.

"If you will look closely," said I, "you will see that the gold chain
here has been cut with a pair of scissors. As we don't know the name of
the person who used them, we may describe them as pickpocket's
scissors."

"Which means that I am entertaining a pickpocket," said she, flushing
again at the thought.

"Or a person in possession of a pickpocket's implements," I suggested.

"How dreadful," she cried, "not for myself, though the rubies are very
valuable, but for the others. This is the third dance during the week at
which people's jewels have been stolen. When will it end?"

"The end of it will come," said I, "directly that you, and others with
your power to lead, call in the police. It is very evident by this time
that some person is socially engaged in a campaign of wholesale robbery.
While a silly delicacy forbids us to permit our guests to be suspected
or in any way watched, the person we mention may consider himself in a
terrestrial paradise, which is very near the seventh heaven of delight.
He will continue to rob with impunity, and to offer up his thanks for
that generosity of conduct which refuses us a glimpse of his hat, or
even an inspection of the boots in which he may place his plunder."

"You speak very lightly of it," she interrupted, as I still held her
belt in my hands. "Do you know that my husband values the rubies in each
of those pendants at eight hundred pounds?"

"I can quite believe it," said I; "some of them are white as these are,
I presume; but I want you to describe it for me, and as accurately as
your memory will let you."

"How will that help to its recovery?" she asked, looking at me
questioningly.

"Possibly not at all," I replied; "but it might be offered for sale at
my place, and I should be glad if I had the means of restoring it to
you. Stranger things have happened."

"I believe," said she sharply, "you would like to find out the thief
yourself."

"I should not have the smallest objection," I exclaimed frankly; "if
these robberies continue, no woman in London will wear real stones; and
I shall be the loser."

"I have thought of that," said she; "but, you know, you are not to make
the slightest attempt to expose any guest in my house; what you do
outside is no concern of mine."

"Exactly," said I, "and for the matter of that I am likely to do very
little in either case; we are working against clever heads; and if my
judgment be correct, there is a whole gang to cope with. But tell me
about the rubies."

"Well," said she, "the stolen pendant is in the shape of a rose. The
belt, as you know, was brought by Lord Faber from Burmah. Besides the
ring of rubies, which each drop has, the missing star includes four
yellow stones, which the natives declare are ripening rubies. It is only
a superstition, of course; but the gems are full of fire, and as
brilliant as diamonds."

"I know the stones well," said I; "the Burmese will sell you rubies of
all colors if you will buy them, though the blue variety is nothing more
than the sapphire. And how long is it since you missed the pendant?"

"Not ten minutes ago," she answered.

"Which means that your next partner might be the thief?" I suggested.
"Really, a dance is becoming a capital entertainment."

"My next partner is my husband," said she, laughing for the first time,
"and whatever you do, don't say a word to him. He would never forgive me
for losing the rubies."

When she was gone, I, who had come to her dance solely in the hope that
a word or a face there would cast light upon the amazing mystery of the
season's thefts, went down again where the press was and stood while the
dancers were pursuing the dreary paths of a "square." There before me
were the hundred types one sees in a London ball-room--types of
character and of want of character, of age aping youth, and of youth
aping age, of well-dressed women and ill-dressed women, of dandies and
of the bored, of fresh girlhood and worn maturity. Mixed in the dazzling
_mêlée_, or swaying to the rhythm of a music-hall melody, you saw the
lean forms of boys; the robust forms of men; the pretty figures of the
girls just out; the figures, not so pretty of the matrons, who, for the
sake of the picturesque, should long ago have been in. As the picture
changed quickly, and fair faces succeeded to dark faces, and the
coquetting eyes of pretty women passed by with a glance to give place to
the uninteresting eyes of the dancing man, I asked myself what hope
would the astutest spy have of getting a clue to the mysteries in such a
room; how could he look for a moment to name one man or one woman who
had part or lot in the astounding robberies which were the wonder of the
town? Yet I knew that if nothing were done, the sale of jewels in London
would come to the lowest ebb the trade had known, and that I,
personally, should suffer loss to an extent which I did not care to
think about.

I have said often, in jotting down from my book a few of the most
interesting cases which have come to my notice, that I am no detective,
nor do I pretend to the smallest gift of foresight above my fellow man.
Whenever I have busied myself about some trouble it has been from a
personal motive which drove me on, or in the hope of serving some one
who henceforth should serve me. And never have I brought to my aid other
weapon than a certain measure of common sense. In many instances the
purest good chance has given to me my only clue; the merest accident has
set me straight when a hundred roads lay before me. I had come to Lady
Faber's house hoping that the sight of some stranger, a chance word, or
even an impulse might cast light upon the darkness in which we had
walked for many weeks. Yet the longer I stayed in the ball-room the more
futile did the whole thing seem. Though I knew that a nimble-fingered
gentleman might be at my very elbow, that half-a-dozen others might be
dancing cheerfully about me in that way of life to which their rascality
had called them, I had not so much as a hand-breadth of suspicion; saw
no face that was not the face of the dancing ass, or the smart man about
town; did not observe a single creature who led me to hazard a question.
And so profound at last was my disgust that I elbowed my way from the
ball-room in despair; and went again to the conservatory where the palms
waved seductively, and the flying corks of the champagne bottles made
music harmonious to hear.

There were few people in this room at the moment--old General Sharard,
who was never yet known to leave a refreshment table until the supper
table was set; the Rev. Arthur Mellbank, the curate of St. Peter's,
sipping tea; a lean youth who ate an ice with the relish of a schoolboy;
and the ubiquitous Sibyl Kavanagh, who has been vulgarly described as a
garrison hack. She was a woman of many partialties, whom every one saw
at every dance, and then asked how she got there--a woman with
sufficient personal attraction left to remind you that she was _passé_,
and sufficient wit to make an interval tolerable. I, as a rule, had
danced once with her, and then avoided both her program and her chatter;
but now that I came suddenly upon her, she cried out with a delicious
pretence of artlessness, and ostentatiously made room for me at her
side.

"_Do_ get me another cup of tea," she said; "I've been talking for ten
minutes to Colonel Harner, who has just come from the great thirst land,
and I've caught it."

"You'll ruin your nerves," said I, as I fetched her the cup, "and you'll
miss the next dance."

"I'll sit it out with you," she cried gushingly; "and as for nerves, I
haven't got any. I must have shed them with my first teeth. But I want
to talk to you--you've heard the news, of course! Isn't it dreadful?"

She said this with a beautiful look of sadness, and for a moment I did
not know to what she referred. Then it dawned upon my mind that she had
heard of Lady Faber's loss.

"Yes," said I, "it's the profoundest mystery I have ever known."

"And can't you think of any explanation at all?" she asked, as she drank
her tea at a draught. "Isn't it possible to suspect some one just to
pass the time?"

"If you can suggest any one," said I, "we will begin with pleasure."

"Well, there's no one in this room to think of, is there?" she asked
with her limpid laugh; "of course you couldn't search the curate's
pockets, unless sermons were missing instead of rubies?"

"This is a case of 'sermons in stones,'" I replied, "and a very serious
case. I wonder you have escaped with all those pretty brilliants on your
sleeves."

"But I haven't escaped," she cried; "why, you're not up to date. Don't
you know that I lost a marquise brooch at the Hayes's dance the other
evening? I have never heard the last of it from my husband, who will not
believe for a minute that I did not lose it in the crowd."

"And you yourself believe----"

"That it was stolen, of course. I pin my brooches too well to lose
them--some one took it in the same cruel way that Lady Faber's rubies
have been taken. Isn't it really awful to think that at every party we
go to thieves go with us? It's enough to make one emigrate to the
shires."

She fell to the flippant mood again, for nothing could keep her from
that; and as there was obviously nothing to be learnt from her, I
listened to her chatter sufferingly.

"But we were going to suspect people," she continued suddenly, "and we
have not done it. As we can't begin with the curate, let's take the slim
young man opposite. Hasn't he what Sheridan calls--but there, I mustn't
say it; you know--a something disinheriting countenance?"

"He eats too many jam tarts and drinks too much lemonade to be a
criminal," I replied; "besides, he is not occupied, you'll have to look
in the ball-room."

"I can just see the top of the men's heads," said she, craning her neck
forward in the effort. "Have you noticed that when a man is dancing,
either he star-gazes in ecstasy, as though he were in heaven, or looks
down to his boots--well, as if it were the other thing?"

"Possibly," said I; "but you're not going to constitute yourself a
_vehmgericht_ from seeing the top of people's heads."

"Indeed," she cried, "that shows how little you know; there is more
character in the crown of an old man's head than is dreamt of in your
philosophy, as what's-his-name says. Look at that shining roof bobbing
up there, for instance; that is the halo of port and honesty--and a
difficulty in dancing the polka. Oh! that mine enemy would dance the
polka--especially if he were stout."

"Do you really possess an enemy?" I asked, as she fell into a vulgar
burst of laughter at her own humor; but she said,--

"Do I possess one? Go and discuss me with the other women--that's what I
tell all my partners to do; and they come back and report to me. It's as
good as a play!"

"It must be," said I, "a complete extravaganza. But your enemy has
finished his exercise, and they are going to play a waltz. Shall I take
you down?"

"Yes," she cried, "and don't forget to discuss me. Oh, these crushes!"

She said this as we came to the press upon the corner of the stairs
leading to the ball-room, a corner where she was pushed desperately
against the banisters. The vigor of the polka had sent an army of
dancers to the conservatory, and for some minutes we could neither
descend nor go back; but when the press was somewhat relieved, and she
made an effort to progress, her dress caught in a spike of the
iron-work, and the top of a panel of silk which went down one side of it
was ripped open and left hanging. For a minute she did not notice the
mishap; but as the torn panel of silk fell away slightly from the more
substantial portion of her dress, I observed, pinned to the inner side
of it, a large crescent brooch of diamonds. In the same instant she
turned with indescribable quickness, and made good the damage. But her
face was scarlet in the flush of its color; and she looked at me with
questioning eyes.

"What a miserable accident," she said. "I have spoilt my gown."

"Have you?" said I sympathetically, "I hope it was not my
clumsiness--but really there doesn't seem much damage done. Did you tear
it in front?"

There was need of very great restraint in saying this. Though I stood
simply palpitating with amazement, and had to make some show of
examining her gown, I knew that even an ill-judged word might undo the
whole good of the amazing discovery, and deprive me of that which
appeared to be one of the most astounding stories of the year. To put an
end to the interview, I asked her laughingly if she would not care to
see one of the maids upstairs; and she jumped at the excuse, leaving me
upon the landing to watch her hurriedly mounting to the bedroom story
above.

When she was gone, I went back to the conservatory and drank a cup of
tea, always the best promoter of clear thought; and for some ten minutes
I turned the thing over in my mind. Who was Mrs. Sibyl Kavanagh, and why
had she sewn a brooch of brilliants to the inside of a panel of her
gown--sewn it in a place where it was as safely hid from sight as though
buried in the Thames? A child could have given the answer--but a child
would have overlooked many things which were vital to the development of
the unavoidable conclusion of the discovery. The brooch that I had seen
corresponded perfectly with the crescent of which Lady Dunholme was
robbed--yet it was a brooch which a hundred women might have possessed;
and if I had simply stepped down and told Lady Faber, "the thief you are
entertaining is Mrs. Sibyl Kavanagh," a slander action with damages had
trodden upon the heels of the folly. Yet I would have given a hundred
pounds to have been allowed full inspection of the whole panel of the
woman's dress--and I would have staked an equal sum that there had been
found in it the pendant of the ripening rubies; a pendant which seemed
to me the one certain clue that would end the series of jewel robberies,
and the colossal mystery of the year. Now, however, the woman had gone
upstairs to hide in another place whatever she had to hide; and for the
time it was unlikely that a sudden searching of her dress would add to
my knowledge.

A second cup of tea helped me still further on my path. It made quite
clear to me the fact that the woman was the recipient of the stolen
jewels, rather than the actual taker of them. She, clearly, could not
use the scissors which had severed Lady Faber's pendant from the ruby
belt. A skilful man had in all probability done that--but which man, or
perhaps men? I had long felt that the season's robberies were the work
of many hands. Chance had now marked for me one pair; but it was vastly
more important to know the others. The punishment of the woman would
scarce stop the widespread conspiracy; the arrest of her for the
possession of a crescent brooch, hid suspiciously it is true, but a
brooch of a pattern which abounded in every jeweler's shop from
Kensington to Temple Bar, would have been consummate lunacy. Of course,
I could have taken cab to Scotland Yard, and have told my tale; but with
no other support, how far would that have availed me? If the history of
the surpassingly strange case were to be written, I knew that I must
write it, and lose no moment in the work.

I had now got a sufficient grip upon the whole situation to act
decisively, and my first step was to re-enter the ball-room, and to take
a partner for the next waltz. We had made some turns before I discovered
that Mrs. Kavanagh was again in the room, dancing with her usual dash,
and seemingly in no way moved by the mishap. As we passed in the press,
she even smiled at me, saying, "I've set full sail again;" and her whole
bearing convinced me of her belief that I had seen nothing.

At the end of my dance my own partner, a pretty little girl in pink,
left me with the remark, "You're awfully stupid to-night! I ask you if
you've seen _Manon Lescaut_, and the only thing you say is, 'The panel
buttons up, I thought so.'" This convinced me that it was dangerous to
dance again, and I waited in the room only until the supper was ready,
and Mrs. Kavanagh passed me, making for the dining-room, on the arm of
General Sharard. I had loitered to see what jewels she wore upon her
dress; and when I had made a note of them, I slipped from the front door
of the house unobserved, and took a hansom to my place in Bond Street.

At the second ring of the bell my watchman opened the door to me; and
while he stood staring with profound surprise, I walked straight to one
of the jewel cases in which our cheaper jewels are kept, and took
therefrom a spray of diamonds, and hooked it to the inside of my coat.
Then I sent the man upstairs to awaken Abel, and in five minutes my
servant was with me, though he wore only his trousers and his shirt.

"Abel," said I, "there's good news for you. I'm on the path of the gang
we're wanting."

"Good God, sir!" cried he, "you don't mean that!"

"Yes," said I, "there's a woman named Sibyl Kavanagh in it to begin
with, and she's helped herself to a couple of diamond sprays, and a
pendant of rubies at Lady Faber's to-night. One of the sprays I know
she's got; if I could trace the pendant to her, the case would begin to
look complete."

"Whew!" he ejaculated, brightening up at the prospect of business. "I
knew there was a woman in it all along--but this one, why, she's a
regular flier, ain't she, sir?"

"We'll find out her history presently. I'm going straight back to
Portman Square now. Follow me in a hansom, and when you get to the
house, wait inside my brougham until I come. But before you do that, run
round to Marlborough Street police-station and ask them if we can have
ten or a dozen men ready to mark a house in Bayswater some time between
this and six o'clock to-morrow morning."

"You're going to follow her home then?"

"Exactly, and if my wits can find a way I'm going to be her guest for
ten minutes after she quits Lady Faber's. They're sure to let you have
the men either at Marlborough Street or at the Harrow Road station. This
business has been a disgrace to them quite long enough."

"That's so, sir; King told me yesterday that he'd bury his head in the
sand if something didn't turn up soon. You haven't given me the exact
address though."

"Because I haven't got it. I only know that the woman lives somewhere
near St. Stephen's Church--she sits under, or on, one of the curates
there. If you can get her address from her coachman, do so. But go and
dress and be in Portman Square at the earliest possible moment."

It was now very near one o'clock, indeed the hour struck as I passed the
chapel in Orchard Street; and when I came into the square I found my own
coachman waiting with the brougham at the corner by Baker Street. I
told him, before I entered the house, to expect Abel; and not by any
chance to draw up at Lady Faber's. Then I made my way quietly to the
ball-room and observed Mrs. Kavanagh--I will not say dancing, but
hurling herself through the last figure of the lancers. It was evident
that she did not intend to quit yet awhile; and I left her to get some
supper, choosing a seat near to the door of the dining-room, so that any
one passing must be seen by me. To my surprise, I had not been in the
room ten minutes when she suddenly appeared in the hall, unattended, and
her cloak wrapped round her; but she passed without perceiving me; and
I, waiting until I heard the hall door close, went out instantly and got
my wraps. Many of the guests had left already, but a few carriages and
cabs were in the square, and a linkman seemed busy in the distribution
of unlimited potations. It occurred to me that if Abel had not got the
woman's address, this man might give it to me, and I put the plain
question to him.

"That lady who just left," said I, "did she have a carriage or a cab?"

"Oh, you mean Mrs. Kevenner," he answered thickly, "she's a keb, she is,
allus takes a hansom, sir; 192, Westbourne Park; I don't want to ask
when I see her, sir."

"Thank you," said I, "she has dropped a piece of jewelry in the hall,
and I thought I would drive round and return it to her."

He looked surprised, at the notion, perhaps, of any one returning
anything found in a London ball-room but I left him with his
astonishment and entered my carriage. There I found Abel crouching down
under the front seat, and he met me with a piteous plea that the woman
had no coachman, and that he had failed to obtain her address.

"Never mind that," said I, as we drove off sharply, "what did they say
at the station?"

"They wanted to bring a force of police round, and arrest every one in
the house, sir. I had trouble enough to hold them in, I'm sure. But I
said that we'd sit down and watch if they made any fuss, and then they
gave in. It's agreed now that a dozen men will be at the Harrow Road
station at your call till morning. They've a wonderful confidence in
you, sir."

"It's a pity they haven't more confidence in themselves--but, anyway, we
are in luck. The woman's address is 192, Westbourne Park, and I seem to
remember that it is a square."

"I'm sure of it," said he; "it's a round square in the shape of an
oblong, and one hundred and ninety two is at the side near Durham
something or other; we can watch it easily from the palings."

After this, ten minutes' drive brought us to the place, and I found it
as he had said, the "square" being really a triangle. Number one hundred
and ninety two was a big house, its outer points gone much to decay, but
lighted on its second and third floors; though so far as I could see,
for the blinds of the drawing-room were up, no one was moving. This did
not deter me, however, and, taking my stand with Abel at the corner
where two great trees gave us perfect shelter, we waited silently for
many minutes, to the astonishment of the constable upon the beat, with
whom I soon settled; and to his satisfaction.

"Ah," said he, "I knew they was rum 'uns all along; they owe fourteen
pounds for milk, and their butcher ain't paid; young men going in all
night, too--why, there's one of them there now."

I looked through the trees at his words, and saw that he was right. A
youth in an opera hat and a black coat was upon the doorstep of the
house; and as the light of a street lamp fell upon his face, I
recognized him. He was the boy who had eaten of the jam-tarts so
plentifully at Lady Faber's--the youth with whom Sibyl Kavanagh had
pretended to have no acquaintance when she talked to me in the
conservatory. And at the sight of him, I knew that the moment had come.

"Abel," I said, "it's time you went. Tell the men to bring a short
ladder with them. They'll have to come in by the balcony--but only when
I make a sign. The signal will be the cracking of the glass of that lamp
you can see upon the table there. Did you bring my pistol?"

"Would I forget that?" he asked; "I brought you two, and look out! for
you may want them."

"I know that," said I, "but I depend upon you. Get back at the earliest
possible moment, and don't act until I give the signal. It will mean
that the clue is complete."

He nodded his head, and disappeared quickly in the direction where the
carriage was; but I went straight up to the house, and knocked loudly
upon the door. To my surprise, it was opened at once by a thick-set man
in livery, who did not appear at all astonished to see me.

"They're upstairs, sir, will you go up?" said he.

"Certainly," said I, taking him at his word. "Lead the way."

This request made him hesitate.

"I beg your pardon," said he, "I think I have made a mistake--I'll speak
to Mrs. Kavanagh."

Before I could answer he had run up the stairs nimbly; but I was quick
after him; and when I came upon the landing, I could see into the front
drawing, room, where there sat the woman herself, a small and oldish man
with long black whiskers, and the youth who had just come into the room,
but the back room which gave off from the other with folding-doors, was
empty; and there was no light in it. All this I perceived in a momentary
glance, for no sooner had the servingman spoken to the woman, than she
pushed the youth out upon the balcony, and came hurriedly to the
landing, closing the door behind her.

"Why, Mr. Sutton," she cried, when she saw me, "this is a surprise; I
was just going to bed."

"I was afraid you would have been already gone," said I with the
simplest smile possible, "but I found a diamond spray in Lady Faber's
hall just after you had left. The footman said it must be yours, and as
I am going out of town to-morrow, I thought I would risk leaving it
to-night."

I handed to her as I spoke the spray of diamonds I had taken from my
own show-case in Bond Street; but while she examined it she shot up at
me a quick searching glance from her bright eyes, and her thick sensual
lips were closed hard upon each other. Yet, in the next instant, she
laughed again, and handed me back the jewel.

"I'm indeed very grateful to you," she exclaimed, "but I've just put my
spray in its case; you want to give me some one else's property."

"Then it isn't yours?" said I, affecting disappointment. "I'm really
very sorry for having troubled you."

"It is I that should be sorry for having brought you here," she cried.
"Won't you have a brandy and seltzer or something before you go?"

"Nothing whatever, thanks," said I. "Let me apologize again for having
disturbed you--and wish you 'Good-night.'"

She held out her hand to me, seemingly much reassured; and as I began to
descend the stairs, she re-entered the drawing-room for the purpose, I
did not doubt, of getting the man off the balcony. The substantial
lackey was then waiting in the hall to open the door for me; but I went
down very slowly, for in the truth the whole of my plan appeared to have
failed; and at that moment I was without the veriest rag of an idea. My
object in coming to the house had been to trace, and if possible to lay
hands upon the woman's associates, taking her, as I hoped, somewhat by
surprise; yet though I had made my chain more complete, vital links were
missing; and I stood no nearer to the forging of them. That which I had
to ask myself, and to answer in the space of ten seconds, was the
question, "Now, or to-morrow?"--whether I should leave the house without
effort, and wait until the gang betrayed itself again; or make some bold
stroke which would end the matter there and then. The latter course was
the one I chose. The morrow, said I, may find these people in Paris or
in Belgium; there never may be such a clue again as that of the ruby
pendant--there never may be a similar opportunity of taking at least
three of those for whom we had so long hunted. And with this thought a
whole plan of action suddenly leaped up in my mind; and I acted upon it,
silently and swiftly and with a readiness which to this day I wonder at.

I now stood at the hall-door, which the lackey held open. One searching
look at the man convinced me that my design was a sound one. He was
obtuse, patronizing,--but probably honest. As we faced each other I
suddenly took the door-handle from him, and banged the door loudly,
remaining in the hall. Then I clapped my pistol to his head (though for
this offence I surmise that a judge might have given me a month), and I
whispered fiercely to him:--

"This house is surrounded by police; if you say a word I'll give you
seven years as an accomplice of the woman upstairs, whom we are going to
arrest. When she calls out, answer that I'm gone, and then come back to
me for instructions. If you do as I tell you, you shall not be
charged--otherwise, you go to jail."

At this speech the poor wretch paled before me, and shook so that I
could feel the tremor all down the arm of his which I held.

"I--I won't speak, sir," he gasped. "I won't, I do assure you--to think
as I should have served such folk."

"Then hide me, and be quick about it--in this room here, it seems dark.
Now run upstairs and say I'm gone."

I had stepped into a little breakfast-room at the back of the
dining-room, and there had gone unhesitatingly under a round table. The
place was absolutely dark, and was a vantage ground, since I could see
therefrom the whole of the staircase; but before the footman could mount
the stairs, the woman came half-way down them, and, looking over the
hall, she asked him,--

"Is that gentleman gone?"

"Just left, mum," he replied.

"Then go to bed, and never let me see you admit a stranger like that
again."

She went up again at this, and he turned to me, asking,--

"What shall I do now, sir? I'll do anything if you'll speak for me, sir;
I've got twenty years' kerecter from Lord Walley; to think as she's a
bad 'un--it's hardly creditable."

"I shall speak for you," said I, "if you do exactly what I tell you. Are
any more men expected now?"

"Yes, there's two more; the capting and the clergymin, pretty clergymin
he must be, too."

"Never mind that; wait and let them in. Then go upstairs and turn the
light out on the staircase as if by accident. After that you can go to
bed."

"Did you say the police was 'ere?" he asked in his hoarse whisper; and I
said,--

"Yes, they're everywhere, on the roof, and in the street, and on the
balcony. If there's the least resistance, the house will swarm with
them."

What he would have said to this I cannot tell, for at that moment there
was another knock upon the front door, and he opened it instantly. Two
men, one in clerical dress, and one, a very powerful man, in a Newmarket
coat, went quickly upstairs, and the butler followed them. A moment
later the gas went out on the stairs; and there was no sound but the
echo of the talk in the front drawing-room.

The critical moment in my night's work had now come. Taking off my
boots, and putting my revolver at the half-cock, I crawled up the stairs
with the step of a cat, and entered the back drawing-room. One of the
folding doors of this was ajar, so that a false step would probably have
cost me my life--and I could not possibly tell if the police were really
in the street, or only upon their way. But it was my good luck that the
men talked loudly, and seemed actually to be disputing. The first thing
I observed on looking through the open door was that the woman had left
the four to themselves. Three of them stood about the table whereon the
lamp was; the dumpy man with the black whiskers sat in his arm-chair.
But the most pleasing sight of all was that of a large piece of
cotton-wool spread upon the table, and almost covered with brooches,
lockets, and sprays of diamonds; and to my infinite satisfaction I saw
Lady Faber's pendant of rubies lying conspicuous even amongst the wealth
of jewels which the light showed.

There then was the clue; but how was it to be used? It came to me
suddenly that four consummate rogues such as these were would not be
unarmed. Did I step into the room, they might shoot me at the first
sound: and if the police had not come, that would be the end of it. Had
opportunity been permitted to me, I would, undoubtedly, have waited five
or ten minutes to assure myself that Abel was in the street without. But
this was not to be. Even as I debated the point, a candle's light shone
upon the staircase; and in another moment Mrs. Kavanagh herself stood in
the doorway watching me. For one instant she stood, but it served my
purpose; and as a scream rose upon her lips, and I felt my heart
thudding against my ribs, I threw open the folding doors, and
deliberately shot down the glass of the lamp which had cast the aureola
of light upon the stolen jewels.

As the glass flew, for my reputation as a pistol shot was not belied in
this critical moment, Mrs. Kavanagh ran in a wild fit of hysterical
screaming to her bedroom above--but the four men turned with loud cries
to the door where they had seen me; and as I saw them coming, I prayed
that Abel might be there. This thought need not have occurred to me.
Scarce had the men taken two steps when the glass of the balcony
windows was burst in with a crash, and the whole room seemed to fill
with police.

       *       *       *       *       *

I cannot now remember precisely the sentences which were passed upon the
great gang (known to police history as the Westbourne Park gang) of
jewel thieves; but the history of that case is curious enough to be
worthy of mention. The husband of the woman Kavanagh--he of the black
whiskers--was a man of the name of Whyte, formerly a manager in the
house of James Thorndike, the Universal Provider near the Tottenham
Court Road. Whyte's business had been to provide all things needful for
dances; and, though it astonishes me to write it, he had even found
dancing men for many ladies whose range of acquaintance was narrow. In
the course of business, he set up for himself eventually; and as he
worked, the bright idea came to him, why not find as guests men who may
snap up, in the heat and the security of the dance, such unconsidered
trifles as sprays, pendants, and lockets. To this end he married, and
his wife being a clever woman who fell in with his idea, she--under the
name of Kavanagh--made the acquaintance of a number of youths whose
business it was to dance; and eventually wormed herself into many good
houses. The trial brought to light the extraordinary fact that no less
than twenty-three men and eight women were bound in this amazing
conspiracy, and that Kavanagh acted as the buyer of the property they
stole, giving them a third of the profits, and swindling them
outrageously. He, I believe, is now taking the air at Portland; and the
other young men are finding in the exemplary exercise of picking oakum,
work for idle hands to do.

As for Mrs. Kavanagh, she was dramatic to the end of it; and, as I
learnt from King, she insisted on being arrested in bed.



MY LADY OF THE SAPPHIRES.



MY LADY OF THE SAPPHIRES.


A photograph of My Lady of the Sapphires is hung immediately opposite to
the writing-table in my private office. It is there much on the
principle which compels a monk to set a skull upon his praying-stool, or
a son of Mohammed to ejaculate pious phrases at the call of the muezzin.
"_Nemo solus sapit_," wrote Plautus. Had Fate cast him in the mould of a
jeweler, rather than that of a playwright, he would have set down a
stronger phrase.

I first saw My Lady two years ago, though it was only upon the day of my
introduction that I learnt her name. She had then, though I knew it not,
been before the town for many weeks as a physiognomist, a mistress of
the stars, a reader of faces, and in many other capacities interesting
to the idle and the credulous. Society, which laughed at her
predictions, paid innumerable guineas for the possession of them; great
dames sat in her boudoir and discussed amatory possibilities; even the
youth of the city, drawn by the prettiness of her manner and her
unquestionable good looks, came cheerfully to hear that they would have
money "from two sources," or had passed through the uninteresting
complaints of infancy without harm. In her way, she was the event of the
season. Dowagers scolded her, but came again and again to probe family
secrets, and learn the hidden things about their husbands; men flocked
to her to know what possibility there was of an early return to the
bliss of single life; mere boys ventured upon the hazard of a little
mild flirtation--and were at once shown the door by a formidable lackey.
Throughout her career scandal never lifted its voice against her. She
was engaged ultimately to Jack Lucas, and her marriage was as brilliant
as her career had been fortunate.

When a curious chance and combination of events first brought me to
acquaintance with her she was in the very height of her practice.
Carriages crowded daily in Dover Street where, with her mother, she had
rooms--and it was the thing to consult her. Yet, until I dined casually
one night with Colonel Oldfield, the collector of cat's-eyes, and
Bracebridge, at the Bohemian Club, hard by her house, I had never heard
of her. The conversation turned during the soup--when talk is always
watery--upon the press of broughams in the street without, and Oldfield
mentioned her history to me, and the surprising nature of many things
she had told him.

"It is easy enough," said he, "to look at a man's hand and deduce
scarlet-fever and measles somewhere between two and twelve years of age;
but when a woman tells you calmly that you were ready to die for two
other women at the age of one-and-twenty, it's a thing to make you
pause."

"Which I hope you did," exclaimed Bracebridge. "Love is distinctly a
matter for specialization."

"I did pause, sir," said the colonel severely, "and that's where her
cleverness comes in. She told me that neither of the women cared the
snap of a finger for me, and I have really come to the conclusion that
she was right. Years put a glamour upon most things, but it is hard,
even at fifty, to recall a woman's 'no' of thirty years ago."

"Memory is a dangerous vice which should be controlled," said
Bracebridge; "if you want peace, you must learn to forget. There should
be no yesterday for the man of the world. But I know the morbid kind of
recollection you speak about. There was a fellow here only the other
night who kept a proposal book. He put the 'noes' on one side, and the
'ayes' on the other, and balanced the columns every Christmas. One day
he left the book in a cab, and has spent his time since going to
Scotland Yard for it. That comes of reminiscences!"

"I agree with you in the main," said the Colonel! "there is very little
in any man's private life which is of concern to any one but himself.
The lady we are speaking of knows this, and makes her fortune by her
knowledge. The truth is that we all love a little plain-spokenness.
There is far too much praise about. Tell a fool that he is not a clever
man discreetly, and you flatter him; inform him that he is a brainless
ass, and he will kick you. But when you put a black cap on your head,
and take a wand in your hand, and charge a guinea for the spectacle, the
fool will hear of his folly cheerfully."

"Then the girl you mention is a mere vulgar fortune-teller," said I,
intervening for the first time. "It's astonishing how little difference
there is, when you come to reckon it up, between the tastes of a grand
dame and the tastes of her cook. The one goes in at the front door to
get her hand read for a guinea; the other goes out of the back to have
an equally plausible delineation for sixpence. Credulity does not know
any distinction of class; in the case I mention rank is represented by
one pound odd. Those of us who have no particular objection to spill
salt, shiver to see the new moon through glass. That man alone who tells
you frankly that he believes in all superstitions is free from the
blemish. But common fortune-telling, I confess, leaves me unmoved."

"If it began and ended in the mere vulgar allotment of tragedy and of
marriage, I should agree with you," said Bracebridge, speaking with
unusual seriousness; "but I am inclined to think that this is a case of
noteworthy cleverness, or at least of uncommon wit. The girl, possibly,
is a charlatan: but if one half said of her be true, she is the _best_
at the profession we have known. And after all, it's an achievement to
be _the_ best at some occupation, if it's only that of picking pockets."

"Speaking of that," said Oldfield, "I once knew a man in the '60th' who
was proud because a society paper described him as the finest idler in
Europe. That was a negative distinction of surpassing beauty, you must
admit. In the lady's case, however, there is something substantial to
praise. She can talk of things of which I would not attempt to spell
the name, with a fluency which is charming, if it is not accurate; she
has a room full of unreadable books; and I believe there are a dozen men
in town who will swear that she has made diamonds before their very
eyes. That should interest you, Sutton. A woman who is the possessor of
what she calls the 'alkahest' or universal solvent, is not to be
interviewed for a guinea every day. Besides, she might give you some
useful hints."

"And who knows," said Bracebridge, "what might come of it. I presume you
pay three pounds odd an ounce for the genuine metal to-day. Under
certain contingencies, you might get it for threepence, and a wife into
the bargain."

I listened to their banter with amusement for some minutes, and then cut
in a little seriously.

"I did not know," said I, "that physiognomy and alchemy usually ran well
in double harness, but I must take your word for it. Anything of this
sort is always amusing to a jeweler, though he is apt to get a little
too much of it. The last gold maker who came to me began by promising to
make a million in six months, and ended by wanting to borrow
half-a-crown. I've seen scores of that sort."

"You may laugh at her as much as you please," said Oldfield; "but of one
thing be assured. If I am any judge of precious stones at all, she can
make rubies, and good ones too. She cast one for me when I was last at
her place, and I offered her fifty pounds upon the spot for it. A quack
would have taken the money, but she refused it; you couldn't want any
better proof of her _bona fides_ than that."

"Pardon me," I interrupted, "but I can't accept the conclusion. Probably
the ruby you thought she made was the only one in the place. It was like
the stock knife of the Cheap Jack. You couldn't expect her to part with
it."

"Certainly I did. If she had made only one stone, I should have jumped
to your opinion; but she turned them out by the dozen. Most of them were
small; some were altogether too insignificant to notice. One only, as I
say, was substantial; and in explanation of that, she admitted her want
of control over the action of the crystals in the crucible. Sometimes
they will prove worth money; more often they are quite without value.
But she has hopes that the day will come when she will complete a
discovery which will astonish the universe."

"They all hope that," said I; "but the universe remains unmoved."

"And, of course, you don't believe a word of it," cried Bracebridge, as
he helped himself to salad. "Well, it's part of your business, I
suppose, to believe only in what you see, and not altogether in that.
But the Colonel's right about the girl, and I can second every word he
says. She made a piece of gold as big as your thumbnail before my very
eyes. There was no pretense or humbug about it; and I may tell you that
she'll only do this sort of thing for those she knows well. If you went
to her to-morrow, and said, 'I want to see your experiments,' she'd
laugh at you, and send you away feeling like a fool."

"And seriously," said I, beginning to experience a glimmer of interest,
"you believe that she has discovered something of importance?"

"Seriously I do; and if you went to her house you would swear by her for
the next month, possibly for two."

"You don't convince me at all," I replied, trying to look utterly
unconcerned. "I have known too many gold-makers for that. Some of them
are now in workhouses; others are in prison. One of the last got three
months for stealing an overcoat, which was ridiculously unromantic."

"Not at all," said the Colonel; "theft is a complex subject capable of
analysis. A thief is a man who buys in the cheapest market. We all try
to do that in our way. There is no earthly reason why a _savant_, who is
near to possessing the philosopher's stone, should not be charged before
a magistrate with stealing a red herring. Life is all contrast, and the
contrast we speak of is a very pretty one. Go and see her at your
earliest opportunity."

"That's my advice too," said Bracebridge; "and if you've a fancy to
watch her at the crucible, I'll speak for you. What's more, I'll bet you
an even hundred pounds that you admit my conclusions."

"Which are?" I asked.

"That she has come nearer to the solution of the diamond problem than
any man or woman living or dead."

"I don't bet on certainties," said I; "but if you care to trouble the
lady to burn her doubtlessly pretty hands on my account, well, let's
have the interview by all means. If she convinces me that she can make
any sort of precious stone worth selling in the market, I'll give a
hundred pounds to a children's hospital--the Colonel can name it."

"Is it a serious offer?" asked the Colonel, looking, as I thought, a
little meaningly at Bracebridge, but I said,--

"I was never more serious, and town will be quite dismal enough after
this week" (it was the week of Goodwood). "Fix it up as early as you
can; and conjure the lady, whose name I have not yet had the pleasure of
hearing, to take care of your reputation. If she can cast me a ruby or a
sapphire worth looking at, I will set it in diamonds and make her a
present of it. You may tell her so from me."

"I'll give her your message undiluted," said Bracebridge, with a great
deal of content, "but I'll warrant that she'll have the laugh of you,
and so shall we."

They said no more upon the matter until the end of the dinner, and it
was not referred to in the smoking room after. We quitted the club at an
early hour to hear a song at a music-hall which the Colonel raved about;
and after that I left them and returned to Bayswater, with the
recollection of my rash promise gone clean out of my head. I did not
even recall it on the following morning, and it was some three days
after that I received a note from the Colonel saying that he had, during
Bracebridge's absence from town, made an appointment for me with Miss
Jessie Fleming--for such was the fair alchemist's name--and that she
would be glad to tell me anything she could about her work on the
following afternoon at half-past two o'clock. The letter at once
brought to my mind the whole of the conversation, at the club. I
remembered with a smile of contempt that the lady was to show me, during
a short interview, how the whole of a jeweler's occupation was soon to
be done with; how diamonds and sapphires and even the precious metal
itself, were presently to be as common as pebbles in a brook; and I
concluded with easy assurance that if any children's hospital depended
upon my being convinced, it would have to close its doors at an early
date. I had seen so much of this sort of thing; so many stories of
fortunes lying in a metal pot had been whispered into my ear; this could
be but an addition to the list; it remained to see if it would be an
amusing addition.

I will confess readily that if the pretender had been a man, I would
have declined curtly to see him. The whole of those who had come to me
hitherto with a pretended insight into the arcana of metals were
men--mostly half-pay officers--whose wits were half gone with their
money. Here, however, was, by all accounts, a charming professor of the
lost art. The season was beginning to be dull; there were no more "at
homes"; possibly she would amuse me. I had given my promise to the
men--and to put it briefly I found myself at Miss Jessie Fleming's door
on the following day, not a little expectant, disdainfully incredulous,
and exceedingly anxious to prove for myself if the physiognomist's
personal attractions were even a tithe of those which had been claimed
for her by so many long headed and usually sensible men.

My knock at the modest-looking portal was answered by a formidable
flunky, who did not wait to hear my name, but conducted me up a
staircase draped almost to darkness with heavy curtains, and so to a
well-furnished waiting-room on the first floor. Here three women, all
well known in society, were engaged in an heroic effort to appear
absorbed in the illustrated papers; but they were obviously
uncomfortable at my presence, and cast furtive looks over the pages as
though in appeal to me to make no mention of anything I had seen. I had
no opportunity, however, to abate their fear of publicity; for scarce
was I come into the room when the flunky appeared again at the
folding-doors which cut it off from the sanctum of My Lady, and beckoned
me to follow him.

I had come out on this expedition purely, as I have said, to be amused.
When I found myself at last before the new Pythia of London, enthroned
as she was for the immediate interpretation of the oracle, I confess
that I did not foresee any disappointment of the venture. The room was
half in darkness, but there was light enough by which to observe many
fine pieces of china and delicate sketches upon its gold and green
walls; and to note the quaint conceits of the whole scheme of
decoration. A lamp of Eastern shape spread a soft red glow upon sofas
and seductive lounges; a conservatory, heaped up with shade-suggesting
palms, gave off at one end of it through doors of exquisitely colored
glass; there was a strange tripod of brass before the fireplace; and
flowers everywhere, seeming to grow from the very grate, to flourish in
all the crannies, to cover tables and bookcases, and even to decorate
the dress of the young girl who now stood to receive me, and welcomed me
with cordiality.

My first impression of the physiognomist--an impression which remains
with me--was the outcome of her extremely youthful appearance. I am
certain that whatever age she might have been she did not look it. Youth
in rich generosity was stamped upon her slightest action and her most
serious word. It flashed from her eyes, was seen in the unsurpassable
freshness of her complexion, in the golden sheen of her hair, in the
rotundity of her arms, and the development of her slight but well-formed
figure. If she had any serious mood, it was not apparent when first I
spoke to her; nor did a rapid analysis of her face tell me of any
uncommon mental power. Her chin was a firm one, it is true; but I
noticed that she had little height of head above her ears, and that
there was even something of weakness in her forehead. At the same time
there could not be two opinions of the general charm of her manner; and
she possessed in a very large degree that magnetic power of attracting
sympathy and admiration which is peculiarly the attribute of women.

Directly I had come into the pretentious chamber of audience, and the
flunky had closed the folding-doors behind me, this fascinating little
prophetess began to talk, her words rippling over one another like the
waves of a river; her natural excitement betraying itself in the obvious
restraint of her gestures.

"I'm so glad it's you!" she exclaimed, clasping her hands together, as
though in ecstasy. "Those old women bother me to death, and there have
been twelve of them here this morning. Colonel Oldfield told me all
about you yesterday, and I was interested at once. We must have a good
long talk. Oh, do listen to that dreadful creature; she talks in scales
beginning at the lower C and going up to no possible note in the music
of heaven or earth. I suppose she won't go away."

Her remark, and the clapping of her little hands to equally little ears,
followed upon the sound of altercation between one of the ladies in the
waiting-room and the flunky of formidable mien. Apparently the lady
would not depart without a _séance_, and the footman was compelling her.
In the end she went, declaring the whole thing a cheat, and "that chit
of a girl" a particular imposture. When the sound of her voice had died
away upon the stairs, My Lady took up the thread of her remarks.

"Now," said she, "I want to have a good look at you, and you must have a
good look at me. People like ourselves should know each other to begin
with. Don't think I'm going to bore you with the nonsense I trade
in--you are far too clever for that, and would find me out in a minute.
You see, I'm like a man with a good cellar: I keep the old wine for the
old birds who are not caught with chaff. That's a delightfully mixed
metaphor, isn't it? and not very polite, when I think of it. But come
and sit down near the light, where I can see you."

She spoke so quickly that I did not pretend to hear half of that which
she said, or to answer her; but I seated myself upon the ottoman near
the entrance to the conservatory; and when she had thrown open the glass
doors, she herself took the low arm-chair facing me. I saw then that she
wore a strange dress in the Egyptian fashion, and that her breast was
all covered with jingling gold medals, while her hair was similarly
ornamented.

"Come," she said, resting her head upon her hand, "I want to know from
you _why_ you are here. It is not for me to tell you about your life, is
it?"

"I will be frank," I replied; "it is not. My life has already spoken a
good deal for itself. What I did come here to see was the making of
diamonds. They tell me you possess the philosopher's stone, or something
near to it."

She looked at me with a penetrating gaze, and then laughed a little
hardly.

"And you believed it?" she asked presently.

"Not for a moment," said I; "but I thought it was not unlikely that you
had some amusing trick which you would not mind showing me. I am very
much interested in jewels, you know."

"So am I," she exclaimed, but with the air of one whose mind is away
from the words--"there is nothing more beautiful or more mysterious on
earth than a diamond. It just seems to be a prison for lovely things of
which it gives us the lights when we treat it well. And you thought I
might amuse you with a trick? That was a poor compliment, wasn't it?"

The thing was said with a swift reversion of her mind to the subject,
as I could see; and there was a world of humor in her eyes when she
turned them on me.

"It was no poor compliment," said I, "since you have convinced such a
man as Colonel Oldfield that you can make rubies. He is a judge of
jewels, too."

"And a very good one," she replied; "but really there was nothing in my
experiment. What I do has been done by French chemists for twenty years
past. The Colonel came here with an open mind--but you, you closed the
doors of yours as you came upstairs."

I protested feebly, but she did not listen to my answer.

"Yes," she exclaimed, speaking very rapidly, "I have been thinking about
you as you sat there, and I am sure that I know you now. You are a man
so well accustomed to steer in the shallows of your business that you
never look beyond them. You make a gospel of distrust, and you consider
confidence the sign of a weak intellect. You have been often deceived,
for your breadth of view is not large; and you will be often deceived
again. It is impossible for you to conceive beauty which is not
saleable; and for romance you have no place in your heart. You have come
here, saying all the way, 'I am going to interview an impostor; she will
not amuse me--most possibly she will bore me. It is ten thousand to one
that her experiments are all rubbish, but I will take the ten thousandth
chance, in the hope that she might have found out something which I can
sell--sell--sell.' Yet you are honest in a measure, since you ask me
for a trick, knowing well that a trick is all you can reasonably expect
from me. You are, in short, not very far removed from that dreadful
person 'the pure man of business'; and you feel wofully strange already
in the presence of one whose occupation is romance, and whose profession
is undisguisedly practised in the offices of mystery. Do I speak the
truth?"

She bent forward so that I could look straight into her eyes as she
finished the excited sketch of character; and while with any other
speaker my vanity had been sore wounded, I listened to her with no other
feeling than those of growing admiration. The potency of her personality
was beyond description; I have never met a woman who could communicate
her own magnetism so quickly when she chose to talk seriously. And
beyond this, I had already corrected my assumption that she was not
clever. She had, indeed, one of the quickest brains I have ever dealt
with.

"You are very hard on me," said I, as she waited for me to speak, "but I
cannot say that you do not get to the bottom of the affair. You do me an
injustice, however, when you say that my visit is purely commercial. No
one in London would be more unselfishly interested than myself if any
progress were made with the thousand attempts to manufacture jewels. If
you have succeeded, even in a small degree, your fortune is made."

"Do you think that?" she cried. "Well, a word from Mr. Bernard Sutton is
a word indeed; but we shall see. Meanwhile, we are going to have some
fruit and wine. Don't you find it fearfully close in here?--that's the
heat from my furnace in the conservatory there. I've had a little one
put up especially for my experiments. As you were coming, we had to get
the metal melted; and we've had a fire there since last night."

"You will experiment for me, then?" said I, with considerable interest.

"If you are very good," she replied, "I may show you something; but
first you must taste my sherbet, and tell me all about the diamonds
which I have bought and not made. You've heard, perhaps, that I waste
all my money on jewelry."

I told her that I had not, but the flunky appearing at that moment, she
did not pursue the subject, occupying herself in mixing me an
effervescing draught in a great crystal goblet. The drink was gratifying
on the hot day; and when I had taken it there was a warm coursing of
blood through my veins as though I had drunk of rich Burgundy.

"Now," said she, when the man had gone, but had left the little table
piled up with fruit--"now we can talk seriously. Let us carry the liquid
with us--that's what Jack Lucas always calls it; he gets me that sherbet
from some place in the East with an unpronounceable name. I am going to
put you into an arm-chair, and you are not to ask a single question
until I have finished. Have you got any cigarettes with you?--you may
smoke if you are very good."

We went into the conservatory, which was ridiculously small, and close
almost to suffocation, and there I saw many evidences of her attempt to
fathom the unfathomable mysteries. There were racks with bottles round
three sides of the apartment, and in the corner of the other side there
stood a common little furnace such as smiths use. These, with a number
of brass plates covered with hieroglyphics, some presses in steel, a
basket containing strips of metal and a quantity of crystals, were her
whole equipment for the business before her; but there was a low
arm-chair in the shape of those used for dental horrors; and there she
asked me to sit while she herself prepared for the undertaking.

"The first thing for you to do," said she, "is to make yourself
comfortable. A man who is ill at ease is in the worst possible mental
state, for he cannot concentrate himself. Just at present I want you to
concentrate yourself on that cigarette and the fizzing stuff. When
everything is ready I shall call out."

With this said, she set the fruit and the cup at the side of my chair,
and then rolled up the sleeves of her dress quickly, putting on an apron
which covered her finery; and she looked for all the world like an
unusually pretty housemaid. I watched her with even a larger interest
than I had done; and I remember thinking, as I settled in the great
lounge, that whatever her mental claims might be upon the admiration of
the city, her personal qualities were undeniable.

These were especially to be observed when she began to busy herself with
the furnace and the tiny crucibles upon it, the glow of soft light
seeming to emphasize the youthfulness of her perfect face, and to
converge upon it as light focussed upon a picture. She had now fallen
into a very serious mood, and after she had used the bellows vigorously
at her fire, and placed the smallest of the crucibles upon it again, she
sat herself upon a stool at the side of my chair, and resting her head
upon her open hand--her favorite attitude--she spoke with evident
earnestness.

"The mysteries of jewels," she exclaimed, "and the mysteries of gold
have eaten the heart out of many a clever man, from Gebir to Sir Isaac
Newton. If you will read the history of the philosophers, even of some
in the story of that which we call the modern ages, you will find
amongst the greatest the names of those who sought for an 'alkahest' or
universal solvent. Even the wisest of men have hoped for a full
knowledge of the arcana of metals. Paracelsus himself believed in the
fifth, or the quintessence of creation. Roger Bacon, to whom death came
out of neglect, prescribed as the elixir of life gold dissolved in
nitro-hydrochloric acid. Why should I tell you how science now laughs at
these old philosophers, and lumps them together as little better than
maniacs? Yet does she laugh at them with good reason? Is it not just
possible that she will be ultimately the means of turning the laugh upon
herself? In our day she has come very near to knowing of the
transmutability of metals. Allotropy has turned the eyes of many back to
the remoter past. The chemist is beginning to ask himself, Were these
men such fools? The near future may cast a light upon long centuries of
darkness. But those only will reap who come to the work with open minds,
with the certain conviction that in all pertaining to this vast science
we are still children. Do you follow me in this?"

"Perfectly," I replied; and assuredly a prettier lecture was never
given. The girl's eyes seemed to flash lights as she warmed to her
subject; her enthusiasm was so contagious that I found myself softening
before it. She was earnest, at any rate; and most of her kind were
quacks.

"If you grant this long premiss, and do not consider that all inquiry is
necessarily useless," she continued, "you solve the greater difficulties
which surround my conceptions. It remains to ask, What steps must the
chemist follow who would seek to turn from his crucible the perfect
jewel? Let us take the sapphire as an instance. It is my favorite stone,
one compelling, as the ancients declare, the wearer to all good works.
Well, the sapphire in all its beautiful tints is only a variety of
corundum, colored by metallic oxide. It is a common crystal, a six-sided
prism terminated in a six-sided pyramid. It is taken from gneiss, and we
know to-day that alumina is the basis of it, as it is the basis of so
many precious stones. Granted this, what is the work before the chemist?
Is it not simply to cast in his crucible the crystals of the base, to
color them with the metallic oxide, if he can and to harden them so that
they will bear the test? The process is a long one--it needs days to
bring it to perfection: the annealing, the polishing, the setting--these
are not work for an hour. What I have to show you now are but the
stages of it. These you shall see and judge for yourself; but I ask you
very sincerely to weigh up this great question for yourself, not to be
led by the incredulity of the fanatic, and to believe with me that we
are on the brink of a discovery which shall pour jewels on the world as
the sea casts pebbles upon a beach."

I said nothing in answer to this remarkable delivery, for the truth was
that I watched the girl rather than heard her words. Her earnestness,
nay, her enthusiasm, was so pretty to see that all my interest seemed
absorbed in her; and now, when she rose swiftly and drew the curtains
over the windows, leaving the place illuminated only by one rose-colored
lamp, I followed all her actions as one follows the change of a picture.

"Let us keep away the daylight," said she, "and then we can see the
crystals forming. By-and-by I will show you the perfect jewel. Now
look."

What she did in the next few minutes I am quite unable to say, so swift
were her movements and so hurried her talk. But I remember that she
opened the furnace door, allowing soft rays of deep yellow light to
flood the room; and then quickly she cast a dozen crystals upon the
table from the glowing crucible; and from a press near to her hand she
took three more and laid them on the plate. The largest of the crystals,
which was blue as a sapphire, and possessed little light at a distance,
she presently picked up with tiny tongs, and coming over to me, she
knelt at my side, holding the jewel before my eyes, and clasping my
left hand in hers. And then she cried with the wildest excitement in her
voice, and her breast heaving with her emotion,--

"Oh, look at it! is there anything more beautiful on earth than a
perfect sapphire? and I made it, it is all my work, all my own!"

While she cried thus she held my hand firmly, and the pressure of her
own was hot as fire, but this I only remembered afterwards, for
gradually, as I looked at the jewel critically, it took the color and
the shape of a perfect gem. It was not a large stone, perhaps one of
three carats, but the longer I looked upon it the more brilliant and
beautiful did it appear to be. Never had I seen more perfect shape or
promise of light when set; and with the realization of the discovery my
head reeled as the possibility that this mere girl had succeeded where
so many had failed loomed at last before me. It was true, then, as
Oldfield said, that she could manufacture a perfect jewel before his
eyes. Here was one which, if well cut, I could sell for a hundred
pounds. She had made that, as I could swear: why should she not make a
hundred, a thousand? My heart leaped at the conclusion.

"Tell me," said I, "you had no help in this work?"

"You saw that I had none," she cried. "Look at the other crystals; there
are five of them. You have seen them come straight from the
crucible--and you know that I have succeeded. Will you buy my sapphire?
Buy it in proof that I have conquered you. When you return to-morrow I
will tell you everything. I am exhausted now. The work always excites
me terribly. My nerves are all unstrung; I can do no more to-day."

"If you will sell me the stone you hold in those tongs, I will give you
fifty pounds for it," I said, concluding that, even had I been tricked,
a real jewel, and a very good one, was before my eyes. But at this
promise she cried out with joy, and putting the stone in a little box
with lightning speed, she handed it to me.

"Pay me to-morrow, any time," she said. "It was good of you to come
here, and to listen to me. I am very grateful. When you come again you
shall know all my secret. Only think well of me and be my friend."

With this she led the way quickly into her own room, and the lackey
appeared in answer to her ring. The interview was at an end, abruptly as
it seemed to me, and I left her with a strange feeling of dizziness, and
my head burning with excitement--but her sapphire was in my pocket.

       *       *       *       *       *

When I met Bracebridge, who was waiting in my room for me, he had an
ugly leer upon his face.

"Well," said he, "I fancy my hundred's all right?"

"What hundred?"

"With Oldfield," said he. "I bet him a hundred she'd sell you a piece of
glass for a sapphire; and I don't suppose you'll deny that she did it?"

"I'm not going to deny anything of the sort," said I; "she did sell me
glass, and of the commonest kind. I am now seeking an undiscovered
superlative. The biggest fool in London is no designation for me."

"Ah," said he, "you should take it quietly. She's done a complete dozen
of us at the game. That paraphernalia which Jack Lucas rigged up in her
conservatory for her is the medium, I fancy. Lucas, you know, is a
professor or something at Emmanuel, Cambridge. He taught her all that
jargon about crystals."

"But," said I, as I pitched her glass into the fireplace, "what I want
to know is, how did I come to think that the stuff was real? I could
have sworn to it."

"So could we all," he replied, with a great burst of laughter; "but I'll
tell you in a word--she hypnotized you. I always said you were a grand
subject."

I looked him in the face for a minute, during which he made an heroic
attempt to be serious. But it was too much for him. Presently he gave
one great shout of hilarity which you could have heard half-way down the
street, and then rolled about in his chair uncontrollably.

"You seem to find it amusing," said I, "but I fail to catch the point."

"You'll be seeing it by-and-by," said he, and at that he went off to the
club to be first with it.


THE END.


       *       *       *       *       *



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[Transcriber's Notes:


Italic typeface in the original book is indicated with _underscores_.

Minor changes have been made to correct typesetters' errors; otherwise,
every effort has been made to remain true to the author's words and
intent.

Page 38, changed "a" to "at" ("a customer at Dieppe").

Page 140, changed "absense" to "absence" ("the utter absence of clue").

Page 150, added the word "all" ("they all of a sudden").

Page 217, changed "colour" to "color" ("upon a glow of color").

Page 267, changed "conversatory" to "conservatory" ("rigged up in her
conservatory").

The following spelling variants have been retained as printed:

  "Dunholm" and "Dunholme"
  "Kennet" and "Kennett"]





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