Part 1 out of 4
Andrew Sly. The two independently prepared versions have been
thoroughly compared and had many minor errors corrected to
make this text.
An African Millionaire
Episodes in the Life of the Illustrious Colonel Clay
By Grant Allen
First published in 1897
1. The Episode of the Mexican Seer
2. The Episode of the Diamond Links
3. The Episode of the Old Master
4. The Episode of the Tyrolean Castle
5. The Episode of the Drawn Game
6. The Episode of the German Professor
7. The Episode of the Arrest of the Colonel
8. The Episode of the Seldon Gold-Mine
9. The Episode of the Japanned Dispatch-Box
10. The Episode of the Game of Poker
11. The Episode of the Bertillon Method
12. The Episode of the Old Bailey
THE EPISODE OF THE MEXICAN SEER
My name is Seymour Wilbraham Wentworth. I am brother-in-law and
secretary to Sir Charles Vandrift, the South African millionaire and
famous financier. Many years ago, when Charlie Vandrift was a small
lawyer in Cape Town, I had the (qualified) good fortune to marry his
sister. Much later, when the Vandrift estate and farm near Kimberley
developed by degrees into the Cloetedorp Golcondas, Limited, my
brother-in-law offered me the not unremunerative post of secretary;
in which capacity I have ever since been his constant and attached
He is not a man whom any common sharper can take in, is Charles
Vandrift. Middle height, square build, firm mouth, keen eyes--the
very picture of a sharp and successful business genius. I have only
known one rogue impose upon Sir Charles, and that one rogue, as the
Commissary of Police at Nice remarked, would doubtless have imposed
upon a syndicate of Vidocq, Robert Houdin, and Cagliostro.
We had run across to the Riviera for a few weeks in the season. Our
object being strictly rest and recreation from the arduous duties
of financial combination, we did not think it necessary to take our
wives out with us. Indeed, Lady Vandrift is absolutely wedded to the
joys of London, and does not appreciate the rural delights of the
Mediterranean littoral. But Sir Charles and I, though immersed in
affairs when at home, both thoroughly enjoy the complete change from
the City to the charming vegetation and pellucid air on the terrace
at Monte Carlo. We _are_ so fond of scenery. That delicious view
over the rocks of Monaco, with the Maritime Alps in the rear, and
the blue sea in front, not to mention the imposing Casino in the
foreground, appeals to me as one of the most beautiful prospects in
all Europe. Sir Charles has a sentimental attachment for the place.
He finds it restores and freshens him, after the turmoil of London,
to win a few hundreds at roulette in the course of an afternoon
among the palms and cactuses and pure breezes of Monte Carlo. The
country, say I, for a jaded intellect! However, we never on any
account actually stop in the Principality itself. Sir Charles thinks
Monte Carlo is not a sound address for a financier's letters. He
prefers a comfortable hotel on the Promenade des Anglais at Nice,
where he recovers health and renovates his nervous system by taking
daily excursions along the coast to the Casino.
This particular season we were snugly ensconced at the Hôtel des
Anglais. We had capital quarters on the first floor--salon, study,
and bedrooms--and found on the spot a most agreeable cosmopolitan
society. All Nice, just then, was ringing with talk about a curious
impostor, known to his followers as the Great Mexican Seer, and
supposed to be gifted with second sight, as well as with endless
other supernatural powers. Now, it is a peculiarity of my able
brother-in-law's that, when he meets with a quack, he burns to
expose him; he is so keen a man of business himself that it gives
him, so to speak, a disinterested pleasure to unmask and detect
imposture in others. Many ladies at the hotel, some of whom had met
and conversed with the Mexican Seer, were constantly telling us
strange stories of his doings. He had disclosed to one the present
whereabouts of a runaway husband; he had pointed out to another the
numbers that would win at roulette next evening; he had shown a
third the image on a screen of the man she had for years adored
without his knowledge. Of course, Sir Charles didn't believe a word
of it; but his curiosity was roused; he wished to see and judge for
himself of the wonderful thought-reader.
"What would be his terms, do you think, for a private séance?" he
asked of Madame Picardet, the lady to whom the Seer had successfully
predicted the winning numbers.
"He does not work for money," Madame Picardet answered, "but for
the good of humanity. I'm sure he would gladly come and exhibit for
nothing his miraculous faculties."
"Nonsense!" Sir Charles answered. "The man must live. I'd pay him
five guineas, though, to see him alone. What hotel is he stopping at?"
"The Cosmopolitan, I think," the lady answered. "Oh no; I remember
now, the Westminster."
Sir Charles turned to me quietly. "Look here, Seymour," he
whispered. "Go round to this fellow's place immediately after
dinner, and offer him five pounds to give a private séance at once
in my rooms, without mentioning who I am to him; keep the name quite
quiet. Bring him back with you, too, and come straight upstairs
with him, so that there may be no collusion. We'll see just how much
the fellow can tell us."
I went as directed. I found the Seer a very remarkable and
interesting person. He stood about Sir Charles's own height, but was
slimmer and straighter, with an aquiline nose, strangely piercing
eyes, very large black pupils, and a finely-chiselled close-shaven
face, like the bust of Antinous in our hall in Mayfair. What gave him
his most characteristic touch, however, was his odd head of hair,
curly and wavy like Paderewski's, standing out in a halo round his
high white forehead and his delicate profile. I could see at a
glance why he succeeded so well in impressing women; he had the
look of a poet, a singer, a prophet.
"I have come round," I said, "to ask whether you will consent to
give a séance at once in a friend's rooms; and my principal wishes
me to add that he is prepared to pay five pounds as the price of the
Señor Antonio Herrera--that was what he called himself--bowed to
me with impressive Spanish politeness. His dusky olive cheeks were
wrinkled with a smile of gentle contempt as he answered gravely--
"I do not sell my gifts; I bestow them freely. If your friend--your
anonymous friend--desires to behold the cosmic wonders that are
wrought through my hands, I am glad to show them to him.
Fortunately, as often happens when it is necessary to convince
and confound a sceptic (for that your friend is a sceptic I feel
instinctively), I chance to have no engagements at all this
evening." He ran his hand through his fine, long hair reflectively.
"Yes, I go," he continued, as if addressing some unknown presence
that hovered about the ceiling; "I go; come with me!" Then he put on
his broad sombrero, with its crimson ribbon, wrapped a cloak round
his shoulders, lighted a cigarette, and strode forth by my side
towards the Hôtel des Anglais.
He talked little by the way, and that little in curt sentences. He
seemed buried in deep thought; indeed, when we reached the door and
I turned in, he walked a step or two farther on, as if not noticing
to what place I had brought him. Then he drew himself up short, and
gazed around him for a moment. "Ha, the Anglais," he said--and I may
mention in passing that his English, in spite of a slight southern
accent, was idiomatic and excellent. "It is here, then; it is here!"
He was addressing once more the unseen presence.
I smiled to think that these childish devices were intended to
deceive Sir Charles Vandrift. Not quite the sort of man (as the City
of London knows) to be taken in by hocus-pocus. And all this, I saw,
was the cheapest and most commonplace conjurer's patter.
We went upstairs to our rooms. Charles had gathered together a
few friends to watch the performance. The Seer entered, wrapt in
thought. He was in evening dress, but a red sash round his waist
gave a touch of picturesqueness and a dash of colour. He paused for
a moment in the middle of the salon, without letting his eyes rest
on anybody or anything. Then he walked straight up to Charles, and
held out his dark hand.
"Good-evening," he said. "You are the host. My soul's sight tells
"Good shot," Sir Charles answered. "These fellows have to be
quick-witted, you know, Mrs. Mackenzie, or they'd never get on
The Seer gazed about him, and smiled blankly at a person or two
whose faces he seemed to recognise from a previous existence. Then
Charles began to ask him a few simple questions, not about himself,
but about me, just to test him. He answered most of them with
surprising correctness. "His name? His name begins with an S I
think:--You call him Seymour." He paused long between each clause, as
if the facts were revealed to him slowly. "Seymour--Wilbraham--Earl
of Strafford. No, not Earl of Strafford! Seymour Wilbraham
Wentworth. There seems to be some connection in somebody's mind now
present between Wentworth and Strafford. I am not English. I do not
know what it means. But they are somehow the same name, Wentworth
He gazed around, apparently for confirmation. A lady came to his
"Wentworth was the surname of the great Earl of Strafford," she
murmured gently; "and I was wondering, as you spoke, whether
Mr. Wentworth might possibly be descended from him."
"He is," the Seer replied instantly, with a flash of those dark
eyes. And I thought this curious; for though my father always
maintained the reality of the relationship, there was one link
wanting to complete the pedigree. He could not make sure that
the Hon. Thomas Wilbraham Wentworth was the father of Jonathan
Wentworth, the Bristol horse-dealer, from whom we are descended.
"Where was I born?" Sir Charles interrupted, coming suddenly to his
The Seer clapped his two hands to his forehead and held it between
them, as if to prevent it from bursting. "Africa," he said slowly,
as the facts narrowed down, so to speak. "South Africa; Cape of Good
Hope; Jansenville; De Witt Street. 1840."
"By Jove, he's correct," Sir Charles muttered. "He seems really to
do it. Still, he may have found me out. He may have known where he
"I never gave a hint," I answered; "till he reached the door, he
didn't even know to what hotel I was piloting him."
The Seer stroked his chin softly. His eye appeared to me to have a
furtive gleam in it. "Would you like me to tell you the number of
a bank-note inclosed in an envelope?" he asked casually.
"Go out of the room," Sir Charles said, "while I pass it round the
Señor Herrera disappeared. Sir Charles passed it round cautiously,
holding it all the time in his own hand, but letting his guests see
the number. Then he placed it in an envelope and gummed it down
The Seer returned. His keen eyes swept the company with a
comprehensive glance. He shook his shaggy mane. Then he took
the envelope in his hands and gazed at it fixedly. "AF, 73549,"
he answered, in a slow tone. "A Bank of England note for fifty
pounds--exchanged at the Casino for gold won yesterday at
"I see how he did that," Sir Charles said triumphantly. "He must
have changed it there himself; and then I changed it back again.
In point of fact, I remember seeing a fellow with long hair loafing
about. Still, it's capital conjuring."
"He can see through matter," one of the ladies interposed. It was
Madame Picardet. "He can see through a box." She drew a little gold
vinaigrette, such as our grandmothers used, from her dress-pocket.
"What is in this?" she inquired, holding it up to him.
Señor Herrera gazed through it. "Three gold coins," he replied,
knitting his brows with the effort of seeing into the box: "one,
an American five dollars; one, a French ten-franc piece; one,
twenty marks, German, of the old Emperor William."
She opened the box and passed it round. Sir Charles smiled a quiet
"Confederacy!" he muttered, half to himself. "Confederacy!"
The Seer turned to him with a sullen air. "You want a better sign?"
he said, in a very impressive voice. "A sign that will convince you!
Very well: you have a letter in your left waistcoat pocket--a
crumpled-up letter. Do you wish me to read it out? I will, if you
It may seem to those who know Sir Charles incredible, but, I am
bound to admit, my brother-in-law coloured. What that letter
contained I cannot say; he only answered, very testily and
evasively, "No, thank you; I won't trouble you. The exhibition you
have already given us of your skill in this kind more than amply
suffices." And his fingers strayed nervously to his waistcoat
pocket, as if he was half afraid, even then, Señor Herrera would
I fancied, too, he glanced somewhat anxiously towards Madame
The Seer bowed courteously. "Your will, señor, is law," he said. "I
make it a principle, though I can see through all things, invariably
to respect the secrecies and sanctities. If it were not so, I might
dissolve society. For which of us is there who could bear the whole
truth being told about him?" He gazed around the room. An unpleasant
thrill supervened. Most of us felt this uncanny Spanish American
knew really too much. And some of us were engaged in financial
"For example," the Seer continued blandly, "I happened a few weeks
ago to travel down here from Paris by train with a very intelligent
man, a company promoter. He had in his bag some documents--some
confidential documents:" he glanced at Sir Charles. "You know the
kind of thing, my dear sir: reports from experts--from mining
engineers. You may have seen some such; marked _strictly private_."
"They form an element in high finance," Sir Charles admitted coldly.
"Pre-cisely," the Seer murmured, his accent for a moment less
Spanish than before. "And, as they were marked _strictly private_,
I respect, of course, the seal of confidence. That's all I wish to
say. I hold it a duty, being intrusted with such powers, not to use
them in a manner which may annoy or incommode my fellow-creatures."
"Your feeling does you honour," Sir Charles answered, with some
acerbity. Then he whispered in my ear: "Confounded clever scoundrel,
Sey; rather wish we hadn't brought him here."
Señor Herrera seemed intuitively to divine this wish, for he
interposed, in a lighter and gayer tone--
"I will now show you a different and more interesting embodiment
of occult power, for which we shall need a somewhat subdued
arrangement of surrounding lights. Would you mind, señor host--for
I have purposely abstained from reading your name on the brain of
any one present--would you mind my turning down this lamp just a
little? ... So! That will do. Now, this one; and this one. Exactly!
that's right." He poured a few grains of powder out of a packet into
a saucer. "Next, a match, if you please. Thank you!" It burnt with a
strange green light. He drew from his pocket a card, and produced a
little ink-bottle. "Have you a pen?" he asked.
I instantly brought one. He handed it to Sir Charles. "Oblige me,"
he said, "by writing your name there." And he indicated a place in
the centre of the card, which had an embossed edge, with a small
middle square of a different colour.
Sir Charles has a natural disinclination to signing his name without
knowing why. "What do you want with it?" he asked. (A millionaire's
signature has so many uses.)
"I want you to put the card in an envelope," the Seer replied, "and
then to burn it. After that, I shall show you your own name written
in letters of blood on my arm, in your own handwriting."
Sir Charles took the pen. If the signature was to be burned as soon
as finished, he didn't mind giving it. He wrote his name in his
usual firm clear style--the writing of a man who knows his worth
and is not afraid of drawing a cheque for five thousand.
"Look at it long," the Seer said, from the other side of the room.
He had not watched him write it.
Sir Charles stared at it fixedly. The Seer was really beginning to
produce an impression.
"Now, put it in that envelope," the Seer exclaimed.
Sir Charles, like a lamb, placed it as directed.
The Seer strode forward. "Give me the envelope," he said. He took it
in his hand, walked over towards the fireplace, and solemnly burnt
it. "See--it crumbles into ashes," he cried. Then he came back to
the middle of the room, close to the green light, rolled up his
sleeve, and held his arm before Sir Charles. There, in blood-red
letters, my brother-in-law read the name, "Charles Vandrift," in
his own handwriting!
"I see how that's done," Sir Charles murmured, drawing back. "It's
a clever delusion; but still, I see through it. It's like that
ghost-book. Your ink was deep green; your light was green; you made
me look at it long; and then I saw the same thing written on the
skin of your arm in complementary colours."
"You think so?" the Seer replied, with a curious curl of the lip.
"I'm sure of it," Sir Charles answered.
Quick as lightning the Seer again rolled up his sleeve. "That's
your name," he cried, in a very clear voice, "but not your whole
name. What do you say, then, to my right? Is this one also a
complementary colour?" He held his other arm out. There, in
sea-green letters, I read the name, "Charles O'Sullivan Vandrift."
It is my brother-in-law's full baptismal designation; but he has
dropped the O'Sullivan for many years past, and, to say the truth,
doesn't like it. He is a little bit ashamed of his mother's family.
Charles glanced at it hurriedly. "Quite right," he said, "quite
right!" But his voice was hollow. I could guess he didn't care to
continue the séance. He could see through the man, of course; but it
was clear the fellow knew too much about us to be entirely pleasant.
"Turn up the lights," I said, and a servant turned them. "Shall I
say coffee and benedictine?" I whispered to Vandrift.
"By all means," he answered. "Anything to keep this fellow from
further impertinences! And, I say, don't you think you'd better
suggest at the same time that the men should smoke? Even these
ladies are not above a cigarette--some of them."
There was a sigh of relief. The lights burned brightly. The Seer for
the moment retired from business, so to speak. He accepted a partaga
with a very good grace, sipped his coffee in a corner, and chatted
to the lady who had suggested Strafford with marked politeness. He
was a polished gentleman.
Next morning, in the hall of the hotel, I saw Madame Picardet again,
in a neat tailor-made travelling dress, evidently bound for the
"What, off, Madame Picardet?" I cried.
She smiled, and held out her prettily-gloved hand. "Yes, I'm off,"
she answered archly. "Florence, or Rome, or somewhere. I've drained
Nice dry--like a sucked orange. Got all the fun I can out of it.
Now I'm away again to my beloved Italy."
But it struck me as odd that, if Italy was her game, she went by the
omnibus which takes down to the train de luxe for Paris. However,
a man of the world accepts what a lady tells him, no matter how
improbable; and I confess, for ten days or so, I thought no more
about her, or the Seer either.
At the end of that time our fortnightly pass-book came in from
the bank in London. It is part of my duty, as the millionaire's
secretary, to make up this book once a fortnight, and to compare
the cancelled cheques with Sir Charles's counterfoils. On this
particular occasion I happened to observe what I can only describe
as a very grave discrepancy,--in fact, a discrepancy of 5000 pounds.
On the wrong side, too. Sir Charles was debited with 5000 pounds
more than the total amount that was shown on the counterfoils.
I examined the book with care. The source of the error was obvious.
It lay in a cheque to Self or Bearer, for 5000 pounds, signed by Sir
Charles, and evidently paid across the counter in London, as it bore
on its face no stamp or indication of any other office.
I called in my brother-in-law from the salon to the study. "Look
here, Charles," I said, "there's a cheque in the book which you
haven't entered." And I handed it to him without comment, for I
thought it might have been drawn to settle some little loss on the
turf or at cards, or to make up some other affair he didn't desire
to mention to me. These things will happen.
He looked at it and stared hard. Then he pursed up his mouth and
gave a long low "Whew!" At last he turned it over and remarked,
"I say, Sey, my boy, we've just been done jolly well brown,
I glanced at the cheque. "How do you mean?" I inquired.
"Why, the Seer," he replied, still staring at it ruefully. "I
don't mind the five thou., but to think the fellow should have
gammoned the pair of us like that--ignominious, I call it!"
"How do you know it's the Seer?" I asked.
"Look at the green ink," he answered. "Besides, I recollect the
very shape of the last flourish. I flourished a bit like that in
the excitement of the moment, which I don't always do with my
"He's done us," I answered, recognising it. "But how the dickens
did he manage to transfer it to the cheque? This looks like your
own handwriting, Charles, not a clever forgery."
"It is," he said. "I admit it--I can't deny it. Only fancy his
bamboozling me when I was most on my guard! I wasn't to be taken
in by any of his silly occult tricks and catch-words; but it never
occurred to me he was going to victimise me financially in this
way. I expected attempts at a loan or an extortion; but to collar
my signature to a blank cheque--atrocious!"
"How did he manage it?" I asked.
"I haven't the faintest conception. I only know those are the
words I wrote. I could swear to them anywhere."
"Then you can't protest the cheque?"
"Unfortunately, no; it's my own true signature."
We went that afternoon without delay to see the Chief Commissary
of Police at the office. He was a gentlemanly Frenchman, much less
formal and red-tapey than usual, and he spoke excellent English
with an American accent, having acted, in fact, as a detective in
New York for about ten years in his early manhood.
"I guess," he said slowly, after hearing our story, "you've been
victimised right here by Colonel Clay, gentlemen."
"Who is Colonel Clay?" Sir Charles asked.
"That's just what I want to know," the Commissary answered, in
his curious American-French-English. "He is a Colonel, because he
occasionally gives himself a commission; he is called Colonel Clay,
because he appears to possess an india-rubber face, and he can
mould it like clay in the hands of the potter. Real name, unknown.
Nationality, equally French and English. Address, usually Europe.
Profession, former maker of wax figures to the Museé Grévin. Age,
what he chooses. Employs his knowledge to mould his own nose
and cheeks, with wax additions, to the character he desires to
personate. Aquiline this time, you say. Hein! Anything like these
He rummaged in his desk and handed us two.
"Not in the least," Sir Charles answered. "Except, perhaps, as to the
neck, everything here is quite unlike him."
"Then that's the Colonel!" the Commissary answered, with decision,
rubbing his hands in glee. "Look here," and he took out a pencil
and rapidly sketched the outline of one of the two faces--that of
a bland-looking young man, with no expression worth mentioning.
"There's the Colonel in his simple disguise. Very good. Now watch
me: figure to yourself that he adds here a tiny patch of wax to his
nose--an aquiline bridge--just so; well, you have him right there;
and the chin, ah, one touch: now, for hair, a wig: for complexion,
nothing easier: that's the profile of your rascal, isn't it?"
"Exactly," we both murmured. By two curves of the pencil, and a
shock of false hair, the face was transmuted.
"He had very large eyes, with very big pupils, though," I objected,
looking close; "and the man in the photograph here has them small
"That's so," the Commissary answered. "A drop of belladonna
expands--and produces the Seer; five grains of opium contract--and
give a dead-alive, stupidly-innocent appearance. Well, you leave
this affair to me, gentlemen. I'll see the fun out. I don't say I'll
catch him for you; nobody ever yet has caught Colonel Clay; but
I'll explain how he did the trick; and that ought to be consolation
enough to a man of your means for a trifle of five thousand!"
"You are not the conventional French office-holder, M. le
Commissaire," I ventured to interpose.
"You bet!" the Commissary replied, and drew himself up like a
captain of infantry. "Messieurs," he continued, in French, with the
utmost dignity, "I shall devote the resources of this office to
tracing out the crime, and, if possible, to effectuating the arrest
of the culpable."
We telegraphed to London, of course, and we wrote to the bank, with
a full description of the suspected person. But I need hardly add
that nothing came of it.
Three days later the Commissary called at our hotel. "Well,
gentlemen," he said, "I am glad to say I have discovered
"What? Arrested the Seer?" Sir Charles cried.
The Commissary drew back, almost horrified at the suggestion.
"Arrested Colonel Clay?" he exclaimed. "Mais, monsieur, we are only
human! Arrested him? No, not quite. But tracked out how he did it.
That is already much--to unravel Colonel Clay, gentlemen!"
"Well, what do you make of it?" Sir Charles asked, crestfallen.
The Commissary sat down and gloated over his discovery. It was
clear a well-planned crime amused him vastly. "In the first place,
monsieur," he said, "disabuse your mind of the idea that when
monsieur your secretary went out to fetch Señor Herrera that night,
Señor Herrera didn't know to whose rooms he was coming. Quite
otherwise, in point of fact. I do not doubt myself that Señor
Herrera, or Colonel Clay (call him which you like), came to Nice
this winter for no other purpose than just to rob you."
"But I sent for him," my brother-in-law interposed.
"Yes; he _meant_ you to send for him. He forced a card, so to
speak. If he couldn't do that I guess he would be a pretty poor
conjurer. He had a lady of his own--his wife, let us say, or his
sister--stopping here at this hotel; a certain Madame Picardet.
Through her he induced several ladies of your circle to attend his
séances. She and they spoke to you about him, and aroused your
curiosity. You may bet your bottom dollar that when he came to
this room he came ready primed and prepared with endless facts
about both of you."
"What fools we have been, Sey," my brother-in-law exclaimed. "I see
it all now. That designing woman sent round before dinner to say I
wanted to meet him; and by the time you got there he was ready
for bamboozling me."
"That's so," the Commissary answered. "He had your name ready
painted on both his arms; and he had made other preparations of
still greater importance."
"You mean the cheque. Well, how did he get it?"
The Commissary opened the door. "Come in," he said. And a young man
entered whom we recognised at once as the chief clerk in the Foreign
Department of the Crédit Marseillais, the principal bank all along
"State what you know of this cheque," the Commissary said, showing
it to him, for we had handed it over to the police as a piece of
"About four weeks since--" the clerk began.
"Say ten days before your séance," the Commissary interposed.
"A gentleman with very long hair and an aquiline nose, dark,
strange, and handsome, called in at my department and asked if I
could tell him the name of Sir Charles Vandrift's London banker.
He said he had a sum to pay in to your credit, and asked if we
would forward it for him. I told him it was irregular for us to
receive the money, as you had no account with us, but that your
London bankers were Darby, Drummond, and Rothenberg, Limited."
"Quite right," Sir Charles murmured.
"Two days later a lady, Madame Picardet, who was a customer of ours,
brought in a good cheque for three hundred pounds, signed by a
first-rate name, and asked us to pay it in on her behalf to Darby,
Drummond, and Rothenberg's, and to open a London account with them
for her. We did so, and received in reply a cheque-book."
"From which this cheque was taken, as I learn from the number,
by telegram from London," the Commissary put in. "Also, that on
the same day on which your cheque was cashed, Madame Picardet,
in London, withdrew her balance."
"But how did the fellow get me to sign the cheque?" Sir Charles
cried. "How did he manage the card trick?"
The Commissary produced a similar card from his pocket. "Was that
the sort of thing?" he asked.
"Precisely! A facsimile."
"I thought so. Well, our Colonel, I find, bought a packet of such
cards, intended for admission to a religious function, at a shop
in the Quai Massena. He cut out the centre, and, see here--" The
Commissary turned it over, and showed a piece of paper pasted neatly
over the back; this he tore off, and there, concealed behind it, lay
a folded cheque, with only the place where the signature should be
written showing through on the face which the Seer had presented
to us. "I call that a neat trick," the Commissary remarked, with
professional enjoyment of a really good deception.
"But he burnt the envelope before my eyes," Sir Charles exclaimed.
"Pooh!" the Commissary answered. "What would he be worth as a
conjurer, anyway, if he couldn't substitute one envelope for another
between the table and the fireplace without your noticing it? And
Colonel Clay, you must remember, is a prince among conjurers."
"Well, it's a comfort to know we've identified our man, and the
woman who was with him," Sir Charles said, with a slight sigh of
relief. "The next thing will be, of course, you'll follow them up
on these clues in England and arrest them?"
The Commissary shrugged his shoulders. "Arrest them!" he exclaimed,
much amused. "Ah, monsieur, but you are sanguine! No officer of
justice has ever succeeded in arresting le Colonel Caoutchouc, as
we call him in French. He is as slippery as an eel, that man. He
wriggles through our fingers. Suppose even we caught him, what could
we prove? I ask you. Nobody who has seen him once can ever swear
to him again in his next impersonation. He is impayable, this good
Colonel. On the day when I arrest him, I assure you, monsieur, I
shall consider myself the smartest police-officer in Europe."
"Well, I shall catch him yet," Sir Charles answered, and relapsed
THE EPISODE OF THE DIAMOND LINKS
"Let us take a trip to Switzerland," said Lady Vandrift. And any one
who knows Amelia will not be surprised to learn that we _did_ take a
trip to Switzerland accordingly. Nobody can drive Sir Charles, except
his wife. And nobody at all can drive Amelia.
There were difficulties at the outset, because we had not ordered
rooms at the hotels beforehand, and it was well on in the season;
but they were overcome at last by the usual application of a golden
key; and we found ourselves in due time pleasantly quartered in
Lucerne, at that most comfortable of European hostelries, the
We were a square party of four--Sir Charles and Amelia, myself and
Isabel. We had nice big rooms, on the first floor, overlooking the
lake; and as none of us was possessed with the faintest symptom of
that incipient mania which shows itself in the form of an insane
desire to climb mountain heights of disagreeable steepness and
unnecessary snowiness, I will venture to assert we all enjoyed
ourselves. We spent most of our time sensibly in lounging about the
lake on the jolly little steamers; and when we did a mountain climb,
it was on the Rigi or Pilatus--where an engine undertook all the
muscular work for us.
As usual, at the hotel, a great many miscellaneous people showed a
burning desire to be specially nice to us. If you wish to see how
friendly and charming humanity is, just try being a well-known
millionaire for a week, and you'll learn a thing or two. Wherever
Sir Charles goes he is surrounded by charming and disinterested
people, all eager to make his distinguished acquaintance, and all
familiar with several excellent investments, or several deserving
objects of Christian charity. It is my business in life, as his
brother-in-law and secretary, to decline with thanks the excellent
investments, and to throw judicious cold water on the objects of
charity. Even I myself, as the great man's almoner, am very much
sought after. People casually allude before me to artless stories
of "poor curates in Cumberland, you know, Mr. Wentworth," or widows
in Cornwall, penniless poets with epics in their desks, and young
painters who need but the breath of a patron to open to them the
doors of an admiring Academy. I smile and look wise, while I
administer cold water in minute doses; but I never report one of
these cases to Sir Charles, except in the rare or almost unheard-of
event where I think there is really something in them.
Ever since our little adventure with the Seer at Nice, Sir Charles,
who is constitutionally cautious, had been even more careful than
usual about possible sharpers. And, as chance would have it, there
sat just opposite us at table d'hôte at the Schweitzerhof--'tis
a fad of Amelia's to dine at table d'hôte; she says she can't bear
to be boxed up all day in private rooms with "too much family"--a
sinister-looking man with dark hair and eyes, conspicuous by his
bushy overhanging eyebrows. My attention was first called to the
eyebrows in question by a nice little parson who sat at our side,
and who observed that they were made up of certain large and bristly
hairs, which (he told us) had been traced by Darwin to our monkey
ancestors. Very pleasant little fellow, this fresh-faced young
parson, on his honeymoon tour with a nice wee wife, a bonnie Scotch
lassie with a charming accent.
I looked at the eyebrows close. Then a sudden thought struck me. "Do
you believe they're his own?" I asked of the curate; "or are they
only stuck on--a make-up disguise? They really almost look like it."
"You don't suppose--" Charles began, and checked himself suddenly.
"Yes, I do," I answered; "the Seer!" Then I recollected my blunder,
and looked down sheepishly. For, to say the truth, Vandrift had
straightly enjoined on me long before to say nothing of our painful
little episode at Nice to Amelia; he was afraid if _she_ once heard
of it, _he_ would hear of it for ever after.
"What Seer?" the little parson inquired, with parsonical curiosity.
I noticed the man with the overhanging eyebrows give a queer sort
of start. Charles's glance was fixed upon me. I hardly knew what
"Oh, a man who was at Nice with us last year," I stammered out,
trying hard to look unconcerned. "A fellow they talked about,
that's all." And I turned the subject.
But the curate, like a donkey, wouldn't let me turn it.
"Had he eyebrows like that?" he inquired, in an undertone. I was
really angry. If this _was_ Colonel Clay, the curate was obviously
giving him the cue, and making it much more difficult for us to
catch him, now we might possibly have lighted on the chance of
"No, he hadn't," I answered testily; "it was a passing expression.
But this is not the man. I was mistaken, no doubt." And I nudged
The little curate was too innocent for anything. "Oh, I see," he
replied, nodding hard and looking wise. Then he turned to his wife
and made an obvious face, which the man with the eyebrows couldn't
fail to notice.
Fortunately, a political discussion going on a few places farther
down the table spread up to us and diverted attention for a moment.
The magical name of Gladstone saved us. Sir Charles flared up. I
was truly pleased, for I could see Amelia was boiling over with
curiosity by this time.
After dinner, in the billiard-room, however, the man with the big
eyebrows sidled up and began to talk to me. If he _was_ Colonel
Clay, it was evident he bore us no grudge at all for the five
thousand pounds he had done us out of. On the contrary, he seemed
quite prepared to do us out of five thousand more when opportunity
offered; for he introduced himself at once as Dr. Hector Macpherson,
the exclusive grantee of extensive concessions from the Brazilian
Government on the Upper Amazons. He dived into conversation with
me at once as to the splendid mineral resources of his Brazilian
estate--the silver, the platinum, the actual rubies, the possible
diamonds. I listened and smiled; I knew what was coming. All he
needed to develop this magnificent concession was a little more
capital. It was sad to see thousands of pounds' worth of platinum
and car-loads of rubies just crumbling in the soil or carried away
by the river, for want of a few hundreds to work them with properly.
If he knew of anybody, now, with money to invest, he could recommend
him--nay, offer him--a unique opportunity of earning, say, 40 per
cent on his capital, on unimpeachable security.
"I wouldn't do it for every man," Dr. Hector Macpherson remarked,
drawing himself up; "but if I took a fancy to a fellow who had
command of ready cash, I might choose to put him in the way of
feathering his nest with unexampled rapidity."
"Exceedingly disinterested of you," I answered drily, fixing my
eyes on his eyebrows.
The little curate, meanwhile, was playing billiards with Sir
Charles. His glance followed mine as it rested for a moment on
the monkey-like hairs.
"False, obviously false," he remarked with his lips; and I'm bound
to confess I never saw any man speak so well by movement alone;
you could follow every word though not a sound escaped him.
During the rest of that evening Dr. Hector Macpherson stuck to me
as close as a mustard-plaster. And he was almost as irritating. I
got heartily sick of the Upper Amazons. I have positively waded in
my time through ruby mines (in prospectuses, I mean) till the mere
sight of a ruby absolutely sickens me. When Charles, in an unwonted
fit of generosity, once gave his sister Isabel (whom I had the
honour to marry) a ruby necklet (inferior stones), I made Isabel
change it for sapphires and amethysts, on the judicious plea that
they suited her complexion better. (I scored one, incidentally, for
having considered Isabel's complexion.) By the time I went to bed
I was prepared to sink the Upper Amazons in the sea, and to stab,
shoot, poison, or otherwise seriously damage the man with the
concession and the false eyebrows.
For the next three days, at intervals, he returned to the charge. He
bored me to death with his platinum and his rubies. He didn't want a
capitalist who would personally exploit the thing; he would prefer
to do it all on his own account, giving the capitalist preference
debentures of his bogus company, and a lien on the concession. I
listened and smiled; I listened and yawned; I listened and was rude;
I ceased to listen at all; but still he droned on with it. I fell
asleep on the steamer one day, and woke up in ten minutes to hear
him droning yet, "And the yield of platinum per ton was certified
to be--" I forget how many pounds, or ounces, or pennyweights.
These details of assays have ceased to interest me: like the man
who "didn't believe in ghosts," I have seen too many of them.
The fresh-faced little curate and his wife, however, were quite
different people. He was a cricketing Oxford man; she was a breezy
Scotch lass, with a wholesome breath of the Highlands about her. I
called her "White Heather." Their name was Brabazon. Millionaires
are so accustomed to being beset by harpies of every description,
that when they come across a young couple who are simple and
natural, they delight in the purely human relation. We picnicked
and went excursions a great deal with the honeymooners. They were
so frank in their young love, and so proof against chaff, that we
all really liked them. But whenever I called the pretty girl "White
Heather," she looked so shocked, and cried: "Oh, Mr. Wentworth!"
Still, we were the best of friends. The curate offered to row us in
a boat on the lake one day, while the Scotch lassie assured us she
could take an oar almost as well as he did. However, we did not
accept their offer, as row-boats exert an unfavourable influence
upon Amelia's digestive organs.
"Nice young fellow, that man Brabazon," Sir Charles said to me one
day, as we lounged together along the quay; "never talks about
advowsons or next presentations. Doesn't seem to me to care two pins
about promotion. Says he's quite content in his country curacy;
enough to live upon, and needs no more; and his wife has a little, a
very little, money. I asked him about his poor to-day, on purpose to
test him: these parsons are always trying to screw something out of
one for their poor; men in my position know the truth of the saying
that we have that class of the population always with us. Would
you believe it, he says he hasn't any poor at all in his parish!
They're all well-to-do farmers or else able-bodied labourers, and
his one terror is that somebody will come and try to pauperise them.
'If a philanthropist were to give me fifty pounds to-day for use at
Empingham,' he said, 'I assure you, Sir Charles, I shouldn't know
what to do with it. I think I should buy new dresses for Jessie, who
wants them about as much as anybody else in the village--that is to
say, not at all.' There's a parson for you, Sey, my boy. Only wish
we had one of his sort at Seldon."
"He certainly doesn't want to get anything out of you," I answered.
That evening at dinner a queer little episode happened. The man
with the eyebrows began talking to me across the table in his usual
fashion, full of his wearisome concession on the Upper Amazons. I
was trying to squash him as politely as possible, when I caught
Amelia's eye. Her look amused me. She was engaged in making signals
to Charles at her side to observe the little curate's curious
sleeve-links. I glanced at them, and saw at once they were a
singular possession for so unobtrusive a person. They consisted
each of a short gold bar for one arm of the link, fastened by a
tiny chain of the same material to what seemed to my tolerably
experienced eye--a first-rate diamond. Pretty big diamonds, too,
and of remarkable shape, brilliancy, and cutting. In a moment I
knew what Amelia meant. She owned a diamond rivière, said to be
of Indian origin, but short by two stones for the circumference
of her tolerably ample neck. Now, she had long been wanting two
diamonds like these to match her set; but owing to the unusual
shape and antiquated cutting of her own gems, she had never
been able to complete the necklet, at least without removing an
extravagant amount from a much larger stone of the first water.
The Scotch lassie's eyes caught Amelia's at the same time, and she
broke into a pretty smile of good-humoured amusement. "Taken in
another person, Dick, dear!" she exclaimed, in her breezy way,
turning to her husband. "Lady Vandrift is observing your diamond
"They're very fine gems," Amelia observed incautiously. (A most
unwise admission if she desired to buy them.)
But the pleasant little curate was too transparently simple a soul
to take advantage of her slip of judgment. "They _are_ good stones,"
he replied; "very good stones--considering. They're not diamonds
at all, to tell you the truth. They're best old-fashioned Oriental
paste. My great-grandfather bought them, after the siege of
Seringapatam, for a few rupees, from a Sepoy who had looted them
from Tippoo Sultan's palace. He thought, like you, he had got a good
thing. But it turned out, when they came to be examined by experts,
they were only paste--very wonderful paste; it is supposed they had
even imposed upon Tippoo himself, so fine is the imitation. But they
are worth--well, say, fifty shillings at the utmost."
While he spoke Charles looked at Amelia, and Amelia looked at
Charles. Their eyes spoke volumes. The rivière was also supposed to
have come from Tippoo's collection. Both drew at once an identical
conclusion. These were two of the same stones, very likely torn
apart and disengaged from the rest in the mêlée at the capture of
the Indian palace.
"Can you take them off?" Sir Charles asked blandly. He spoke in
the tone that indicates business.
"Certainly," the little curate answered, smiling. "I'm accustomed to
taking them off. They're always noticed. They've been kept in the
family ever since the siege, as a sort of valueless heirloom, for
the sake of the picturesqueness of the story, you know; and nobody
ever sees them without asking, as you do, to examine them closely.
They deceive even experts at first. But they're paste, all the same;
unmitigated Oriental paste, for all that."
He took them both off, and handed them to Charles. No man in England
is a finer judge of gems than my brother-in-law. I watched him
narrowly. He examined them close, first with the naked eye, then
with the little pocket-lens which he always carries. "Admirable
imitation," he muttered, passing them on to Amelia. "I'm not
surprised they should impose upon inexperienced observers."
But from the tone in which he said it, I could see at once he had
satisfied himself they were real gems of unusual value. I know
Charles's way of doing business so well. His glance to Amelia meant,
"These are the very stones you have so long been in search of."
The Scotch lassie laughed a merry laugh. "He sees through them
now, Dick," she cried. "I felt sure Sir Charles would be a judge
Amelia turned them over. I know Amelia, too; and I knew from the
way Amelia looked at them that she meant to have them. And when
Amelia means to have anything, people who stand in the way may just
as well spare themselves the trouble of opposing her.
They were beautiful diamonds. We found out afterwards the little
curate's account was quite correct: these stones _had_ come from
the same necklet as Amelia's rivière, made for a favourite wife of
Tippoo's, who had presumably as expansive personal charms as our
beloved sister-in-law's. More perfect diamonds have seldom been
seen. They have excited the universal admiration of thieves and
connoisseurs. Amelia told me afterwards that, according to legend,
a Sepoy stole the necklet at the sack of the palace, and then fought
with another for it. It was believed that two stones got spilt
in the scuffle, and were picked up and sold by a third person--a
looker-on--who had no idea of the value of his booty. Amelia had
been hunting for them for several years to complete her necklet.
"They are excellent paste," Sir Charles observed, handing them back.
"It takes a first-rate judge to detect them from the reality. Lady
Vandrift has a necklet much the same in character, but composed
of genuine stones; and as these are so much like them, and would
complete her set, to all outer appearance, I wouldn't mind giving
you, say, 10 pounds for the pair of them."
Mrs. Brabazon looked delighted. "Oh, sell them to him, Dick," she
cried, "and buy me a brooch with the money! A pair of common
links would do for you just as well. Ten pounds for two paste
stones! It's quite a lot of money."
She said it so sweetly, with her pretty Scotch accent, that I
couldn't imagine how Dick had the heart to refuse her. But he
did, all the same.
"No, Jess, darling," he answered. "They're worthless, I know; but
they have for me a certain sentimental value, as I've often told
you. My dear mother wore them, while she lived, as ear-rings; and
as soon as she died I had them set as links in order that I might
always keep them about me. Besides, they have historical and family
interest. Even a worthless heirloom, after all, _is_ an heirloom."
Dr. Hector Macpherson looked across and intervened. "There is a
part of my concession," he said, "where we have reason to believe a
perfect new Kimberley will soon be discovered. If at any time you
would care, Sir Charles, to look at my diamonds--when I get them--it
would afford me the greatest pleasure in life to submit them to your
Sir Charles could stand it no longer. "Sir," he said, gazing across
at him with his sternest air, "if your concession were as full of
diamonds as Sindbad the Sailor's valley, I would not care to turn my
head to look at them. I am acquainted with the nature and practice
of salting." And he glared at the man with the overhanging eyebrows
as if he would devour him raw. Poor Dr. Hector Macpherson subsided
instantly. We learnt a little later that he was a harmless lunatic,
who went about the world with successive concessions for ruby mines
and platinum reefs, because he had been ruined and driven mad by
speculations in the two, and now recouped himself by imaginary
grants in Burmah and Brazil, or anywhere else that turned up handy.
And his eyebrows, after all, were of Nature's handicraft. We were
sorry for the incident; but a man in Sir Charles's position is such
a mark for rogues that, if he did not take means to protect himself
promptly, he would be for ever overrun by them.
When we went up to our salon that evening, Amelia flung herself on
the sofa. "Charles," she broke out in the voice of a tragedy queen,
"those are real diamonds, and I shall never be happy again till I
"They are real diamonds," Charles echoed. "And you shall have them,
Amelia. They're worth not less than three thousand pounds. But I
shall bid them up gently."
So, next day, Charles set to work to higgle with the curate.
Brabazon, however, didn't care to part with them. He was no
money-grubber, he said. He cared more for his mother's gift and a
family tradition than for a hundred pounds, if Sir Charles were to
offer it. Charles's eye gleamed. "But if I give you _two_ hundred!"
he said insinuatingly. "What opportunities for good! You could
build a new wing to your village school-house!"
"We have ample accommodation," the curate answered. "No, I don't
think I'll sell them."
Still, his voice faltered somewhat, and he looked down at them
Charles was too precipitate.
"A hundred pounds more or less matters little to me," he said; "and
my wife has set her heart on them. It's every man's duty to please
his wife--isn't it, Mrs. Brabazon?--I offer you three hundred."
The little Scotch girl clasped her hands.
"Three hundred pounds! Oh, Dick, just think what fun we could have,
and what good we could do with it! Do let him have them."
Her accent was irresistible. But the curate shook his head.
"Impossible," he answered. "My dear mother's ear-rings! Uncle
Aubrey would be so angry if he knew I'd sold them. I daren't face
"Has he expectations from Uncle Aubrey?" Sir Charles asked of
Mrs. Brabazon laughed. "Uncle Aubrey! Oh, dear, no. Poor dear old
Uncle Aubrey! Why, the darling old soul hasn't a penny to bless
himself with, except his pension. He's a retired post captain."
And she laughed melodiously. She was a charming woman.
"Then I should disregard Uncle Aubrey's feelings," Sir Charles
"No, no," the curate answered. "Poor dear old Uncle Aubrey! I
wouldn't do anything for the world to annoy him. And he'd be sure
to notice it."
We went back to Amelia. "Well, have you got them?" she asked.
"No," Sir Charles answered. "Not yet. But he's coming round, I
think. He's hesitating now. Would rather like to sell them himself,
but is afraid what 'Uncle Aubrey' would say about the matter. His
wife will talk him out of his needless consideration for Uncle
Aubrey's feelings; and to-morrow we'll finally clench the bargain."
Next morning we stayed late in our salon, where we always
breakfasted, and did not come down to the public rooms till just
before déjeûner, Sir Charles being busy with me over arrears of
correspondence. When we _did_ come down the concierge stepped
forward with a twisted little feminine note for Amelia. She took
it and read it. Her countenance fell. "There, Charles," she cried,
handing it to him, "you've let the chance slip. I shall _never_ be
happy now! They've gone off with the diamonds."
Charles seized the note and read it. Then he passed it on to me.
It was short, but final:--
"Thursday, 6 a.m.
"DEAR LADY VANDRIFT--_Will_ you kindly excuse our having gone off
hurriedly without bidding you good-bye? We have just had a horrid
telegram to say that Dick's favourite sister is _dangerously_ ill of
fever in Paris. I wanted to shake hands with you before we left--you
have all been so sweet to us--but we go by the morning train,
absurdly early, and I wouldn't for worlds disturb you. Perhaps some
day we may meet again--though, buried as we are in a North-country
village, it isn't likely; but in any case, you have secured the
grateful recollection of Yours very cordially, JESSIE BRABAZON.
"P.S.--Kindest regards to Sir Charles and those _dear_ Wentworths,
and a kiss for yourself, if I may venture to send you one."
"She doesn't even mention where they've gone," Amelia exclaimed,
in a very bad humour.
"The concierge may know," Isabel suggested, looking over my
We asked at his office.
Yes, the gentleman's address was the Rev. Richard Peploe Brabazon,
Holme Bush Cottage, Empingham, Northumberland.
Any address where letters might be sent at once, in Paris?
For the next ten days, or till further notice, Hôtel des Deux
Mondes, Avenue de l'Opéra.
Amelia's mind was made up at once.
"Strike while the iron's hot," she cried. "This sudden illness,
coming at the end of their honeymoon, and involving ten days' more
stay at an expensive hotel, will probably upset the curate's budget.
He'll be glad to sell now. You'll get them for three hundred. It
was absurd of Charles to offer so much at first; but offered once,
of course we must stick to it."
"What do you propose to do?" Charles asked. "Write, or telegraph?"
"Oh, how silly men are!" Amelia cried. "Is this the sort of business
to be arranged by letter, still less by telegram? No. Seymour must
start off at once, taking the night train to Paris; and the moment
he gets there, he must interview the curate or Mrs. Brabazon. Mrs.
Brabazon's the best. She has none of this stupid, sentimental
nonsense about Uncle Aubrey."
It is no part of a secretary's duties to act as a diamond broker.
But when Amelia puts her foot down, she puts her foot down--a fact
which she is unnecessarily fond of emphasising in that identical
proposition. So the self-same evening saw me safe in the train on
my way to Paris; and next morning I turned out of my comfortable
sleeping-car at the Gare de Strasbourg. My orders were to bring back
those diamonds, alive or dead, so to speak, in my pocket to Lucerne;
and to offer any needful sum, up to two thousand five hundred
pounds, for their immediate purchase.
When I arrived at the Deux Mondes I found the poor little curate
and his wife both greatly agitated. They had sat up all night, they
said, with their invalid sister; and the sleeplessness and suspense
had certainly told upon them after their long railway journey. They
were pale and tired, Mrs. Brabazon, in particular, looking ill and
worried--too much like White Heather. I was more than half ashamed
of bothering them about the diamonds at such a moment, but it
occurred to me that Amelia was probably right--they would now have
reached the end of the sum set apart for their Continental trip,
and a little ready cash might be far from unwelcome.
I broached the subject delicately. It was a fad of Lady Vandrift's,
I said. She had set her heart upon those useless trinkets. And she
wouldn't go without them. She must and would have them. But the
curate was obdurate. He threw Uncle Aubrey still in my teeth. Three
hundred?--no, never! A mother's present; impossible, dear Jessie!
Jessie begged and prayed; she had grown really attached to Lady
Vandrift, she said; but the curate wouldn't hear of it. I went up
tentatively to four hundred. He shook his head gloomily. It wasn't
a question of money, he said. It was a question of affection. I saw
it was no use trying that tack any longer. I struck out a new line.
"These stones," I said, "I think I ought to inform you, are really
diamonds. Sir Charles is certain of it. Now, is it right for a man
of your profession and position to be wearing a pair of big gems
like those, worth several hundred pounds, as ordinary sleeve-links?
A woman?--yes, I grant you. But for a man, is it manly? And you a
He looked at me and laughed. "Will nothing convince you?" he cried.
"They have been examined and tested by half a dozen jewellers, and
we know them to be paste. It wouldn't be right of me to sell them
to you under false pretences, however unwilling on my side. I
_couldn't_ do it."
"Well, then," I said, going up a bit in my bids to meet him,
"I'll put it like this. These gems are paste. But Lady Vandrift
has an unconquerable and unaccountable desire to possess them.
Money doesn't matter to her. She is a friend of your wife's. As a
personal favour, won't you sell them to her for a thousand?"
He shook his head. "It would be wrong," he said,--"I might even add,
"But we take all risk," I cried.
He was absolute adamant. "As a clergyman," he answered, "I feel
I cannot do it."
"Will _you_ try, Mrs. Brabazon?" I asked.
The pretty little Scotchwoman leant over and whispered. She coaxed
and cajoled him. Her ways were winsome. I couldn't hear what she
said, but he seemed to give way at last. "I should love Lady
Vandrift to have them," she murmured, turning to me. "She _is_ such
a dear!" And she took out the links from her husband's cuffs and
handed them across to me.
"How much?" I asked.
"Two thousand?" she answered, interrogatively. It was a big rise,
all at once; but such are the ways of women.
"Done!" I replied. "Do you consent?"
The curate looked up as if ashamed of himself.
"I consent," he said slowly, "since Jessie wishes it. But as a
clergyman, and to prevent any future misunderstanding, I should
like you to give me a statement in writing that you buy them on my
distinct and positive declaration that they are made of paste--old
Oriental paste--not genuine stones, and that I do not claim any
other qualities for them."
I popped the gems into my purse, well pleased.
"Certainly," I said, pulling out a paper. Charles, with his
unerring business instinct, had anticipated the request, and given
me a signed agreement to that effect.
"You will take a cheque?" I inquired.
"Notes of the Bank of France would suit me better," he answered.
"Very well," I replied. "I will go out and get them."
How very unsuspicious some people are! He allowed me to go off--with
the stones in my pocket!
Sir Charles had given me a blank cheque, not exceeding two thousand
five hundred pounds. I took it to our agents and cashed it for notes
of the Bank of France. The curate clasped them with pleasure. And
right glad I was to go back to Lucerne that night, feeling that I
had got those diamonds into my hands for about a thousand pounds
under their real value!
At Lucerne railway station Amelia met me. She was positively
"Have you bought them, Seymour?" she asked.
"Yes," I answered, producing my spoils in triumph.
"Oh, how dreadful!" she cried, drawing back. "Do you think they're
real? Are you sure he hasn't cheated you?"
"Certain of it," I replied, examining them. "No one can take me in,
in the matter of diamonds. Why on earth should you doubt them?"
"Because I've been talking to Mrs. O'Hagan, at the hotel, and she
says there's a well-known trick just like that--she's read of it in
a book. A swindler has two sets--one real, one false; and he makes
you buy the false ones by showing you the real, and pretending he
sells them as a special favour."
"You needn't be alarmed," I answered. "I am a judge of diamonds."
"I shan't be satisfied," Amelia murmured, "till Charles has seen
We went up to the hotel. For the first time in her life I saw Amelia
really nervous as I handed the stones to Charles to examine. Her
doubt was contagious. I half feared, myself, he might break out into
a deep monosyllabic interjection, losing his temper in haste, as he
often does when things go wrong. But he looked at them with a smile,
while I told him the price.
"Eight hundred pounds less than their value," he answered, well
"You have no doubt of their reality?" I asked.
"Not the slightest," he replied, gazing at them. "They are genuine
stones, precisely the same in quality and type as Amelia's necklet."
Amelia drew a sigh of relief. "I'll go upstairs," she said slowly,
"and bring down my own for you both to compare with them."
One minute later she rushed down again, breathless. Amelia is far
from slim, and I never before knew her exert herself so actively.
"Charles, Charles!" she cried, "do you know what dreadful thing
has happened? Two of my own stones are gone. He's stolen a couple
of diamonds from my necklet, and sold them back to me."
She held out the rivière. It was all too true. Two gems were
missing--and these two just fitted the empty places!
A light broke in upon me. I clapped my hand to my head. "By Jove,"
I exclaimed, "the little curate is--Colonel Clay!"
Charles clapped his own hand to his brow in turn. "And Jessie," he
cried, "White Heather--that innocent little Scotchwoman! I often
detected a familiar ring in her voice, in spite of the charming
Highland accent. Jessie is--Madame Picardet!"
We had absolutely no evidence; but, like the Commissary at Nice,
we felt instinctively sure of it.
Sir Charles was determined to catch the rogue. This second deception
put him on his mettle. "The worst of the man is," he said, "he has a
method. He doesn't go out of his way to cheat us; he makes us go out
of ours to be cheated. He lays a trap, and we tumble headlong into
it. To-morrow, Sey, we must follow him on to Paris."
Amelia explained to him what Mrs. O'Hagan had said. Charles took it
all in at once, with his usual sagacity. "That explains," he said,
"why the rascal used this particular trick to draw us on by. If we
had suspected him he could have shown the diamonds were real, and
so escaped detection. It was a blind to draw us off from the fact
of the robbery. He went to Paris to be out of the way when the
discovery was made, and to get a clear day's start of us. What a
consummate rogue! And to do me twice running!"
"How did he get at my jewel-case, though?" Amelia exclaimed.
"That's the question," Charles answered. "You _do_ leave it about so!"
"And why didn't he steal the whole rivière at once, and sell the
gems?" I inquired.
"Too cunning," Charles replied. "This was much better business. It
isn't easy to dispose of a big thing like that. In the first place,
the stones are large and valuable; in the second place, they're
well known--every dealer has heard of the Vandrift rivière, and seen
pictures of the shape of them. They're marked gems, so to speak. No,
he played a better game--took a couple of them off, and offered them
to the only one person on earth who was likely to buy them without
suspicion. He came here, meaning to work this very trick; he had
the links made right to the shape beforehand, and then he stole the
stones and slipped them into their places. It's a wonderfully clever
trick. Upon my soul, I almost admire the fellow."
For Charles is a business man himself, and can appreciate business
capacity in others.
How Colonel Clay came to know about that necklet, and to appropriate
two of the stones, we only discovered much later. I will not here
anticipate that disclosure. One thing at a time is a good rule in
life. For the moment he succeeded in baffling us altogether.
However, we followed him on to Paris, telegraphing beforehand to the
Bank of France to stop the notes. It was all in vain. They had been
cashed within half an hour of my paying them. The curate and his
wife, we found, quitted the Hôtel des Deux Mondes for parts unknown
that same afternoon. And, as usual with Colonel Clay, they vanished
into space, leaving no clue behind them. In other words, they
changed their disguise, no doubt, and reappeared somewhere else that
night in altered characters. At any rate, no such person as the
Reverend Richard Peploe Brabazon was ever afterwards heard of--and,
for the matter of that, no such village exists as Empingham,
We communicated the matter to the Parisian police. They were _most_
unsympathetic. "It is no doubt Colonel Clay," said the official
whom we saw; "but you seem to have little just ground of complaint
against him. As far as I can see, messieurs, there is not much to
choose between you. You, Monsieur le Chevalier, desired to buy
diamonds at the price of paste. You, madame, feared you had bought
paste at the price of diamonds. You, monsieur the secretary, tried
to get the stones from an unsuspecting person for half their value.
He took you all in, that brave Colonel Caoutchouc--it was diamond
Which was true, no doubt, but by no means consoling.
We returned to the Grand Hotel. Charles was fuming with indignation.
"This is really too much," he exclaimed. "What an audacious rascal!
But he will never again take me in, my dear Sey. I only hope he'll
try it on. I should love to catch him. I'd know him another time,
I'm sure, in spite of his disguises. It's absurd my being tricked
twice running like this. But never again while I live! Never again,
I declare to you!"
"Jamais de la vie!" a courier in the hall close by murmured
responsive. We stood under the verandah of the Grand Hotel, in the
big glass courtyard. And I verily believe that courier was really
Colonel Clay himself in one of his disguises.
But perhaps we were beginning to suspect him everywhere.
THE EPISODE OF THE OLD MASTER
Like most South Africans, Sir Charles Vandrift is anything but
sedentary. He hates sitting down. He must always "trek." He cannot
live without moving about freely. Six weeks in Mayfair at a time is
as much as he can stand. Then he must run away incontinently for
rest and change to Scotland, Homburg, Monte Carlo, Biarritz. "I
won't be a limpet on the rock," he says. Thus it came to pass that
in the early autumn we found ourselves stopping at the Métropole
at Brighton. We were the accustomed nice little family party--Sir
Charles and Amelia, myself and Isabel, with the suite as usual.
On the first Sunday morning after our arrival we strolled out,
Charles and I--I regret to say during the hours allotted for Divine
service--on to the King's Road, to get a whiff of fresh air, and a
glimpse of the waves that were churning the Channel. The two ladies
(with their bonnets) had gone to church; but Sir Charles had risen
late, fatigued from the week's toil, while I myself was suffering
from a matutinal headache, which I attributed to the close air in
the billiard-room overnight, combined, perhaps, with the insidious
effect of a brand of soda-water to which I was little accustomed; I
had used it to dilute my evening whisky. We were to meet our wives
afterwards at the church parade--an institution to which I believe
both Amelia and Isabel attach even greater importance than to the
sermon which precedes it.
We sat down on a glass seat. Charles gazed inquiringly up and down
the King's Road, on the look-out for a boy with Sunday papers.
At last one passed. "Observer," my brother-in-law called out
"Ain't got none," the boy answered, brandishing his bundle in our
faces. "'Ave a Referee or a Pink 'Un?"
Charles, however, is not a Refereader, while as to the Pink 'Un, he
considers it unsuitable for public perusal on Sunday morning. It may
be read indoors, but in the open air its blush betrays it. So he
shook his head, and muttered, "If you pass an Observer, send him on
here at once to me."
A polite stranger who sat close to us turned round with a pleasant
smile. "Would you allow me to offer you one?" he said, drawing a
copy from his pocket. "I fancy I bought the last. There's a run
on them to-day, you see. Important news this morning from the
Charles raised his eyebrows, and accepted it, as I thought, just a
trifle grumpily. So, to remove the false impression his surliness
might produce on so benevolent a mind, I entered into conversation
with the polite stranger. He was a man of middle age, and medium
height, with a cultivated air, and a pair of gold pince-nez; his
eyes were sharp; his voice was refined; he dropped into talk before
long about distinguished people just then in Brighton. It was clear
at once that he was hand in glove with many of the very best kind.
We compared notes as to Nice, Rome, Florence, Cairo. Our new
acquaintance had scores of friends in common with us, it seemed;
indeed, our circles so largely coincided, that I wondered we had
never happened till then to knock up against one another.
"And Sir Charles Vandrift, the great African millionaire," he said
at last, "do you know anything of _him_? I'm told he's at present
down here at the Métropole."
I waved my hand towards the person in question.
"_This_ is Sir Charles Vandrift," I answered, with proprietary pride;
"and _I_ am his brother-in-law, Mr. Seymour Wentworth."
"Oh, indeed!" the stranger answered, with a curious air of drawing
in his horns. I wondered whether he had just been going to pretend
he knew Sir Charles, or whether perchance he was on the point of
saying something highly uncomplimentary, and was glad to have
By this time, however, Charles laid down the paper and chimed into
our conversation. I could see at once from his mollified tone that
the news from the Transvaal was favourable to his operations in
Cloetedorp Golcondas. He was therefore in a friendly and affable
temper. His whole manner changed at once. He grew polite in return
to the polite stranger. Besides, we knew the man moved in the best
society; he had acquaintances whom Amelia was most anxious to secure
for her "At Homes" in Mayfair--young Faith, the novelist, and Sir
Richard Montrose, the great Arctic traveller. As for the painters,
it was clear that he was sworn friends with the whole lot of them.
He dined with Academicians, and gave weekly breakfasts to the
members of the Institute. Now, Amelia is particularly desirous
that her salon should not be considered too exclusively financial
and political in character: with a solid basis of M.P.'s and
millionaires, she loves a delicate under-current of literature,
art, and the musical glasses. Our new acquaintance was extremely
communicative: "Knows his place in society, Sey," Sir Charles said
to me afterwards, "and is therefore not afraid of talking freely,
as so many people are who have doubts about their position." We
exchanged cards before we rose. Our new friend's name turned out
to be Dr. Edward Polperro.
"In practice here?" I inquired, though his garb belied it.
"Oh, not medical," he answered. "I am an LL.D. don't you know. I
interest myself in art, and buy to some extent for the National
The very man for Amelia's "At Homes"! Sir Charles snapped at him
instantly. "I've brought my four-in-hand down here with me," he
said, in his best friendly manner, "and we think of tooling over
to-morrow to Lewes. If you'd care to take a seat I'm sure Lady
Vandrift would be charmed to see you."
"You're very kind," the Doctor said, "on so casual an introduction.
I'm sure I shall be delighted."
"We start from the Métropole at ten-thirty," Charles went on.
"I shall be there. Good morning!" And, with a satisfied smile, he
rose and left us, nodding.
We returned to the lawn, to Amelia and Isabel. Our new friend passed
us once or twice. Charles stopped him and introduced him. He was
walking with two ladies, most elegantly dressed in rather peculiar
artistic dresses. Amelia was taken at first sight by his manner.
"One could see at a glance," she said, "he was a person of culture
and of real distinction. I wonder whether he could bring the P.R.A.
to my Parliamentary 'At Home' on Wednesday fortnight?"
Next day, at ten-thirty, we started on our drive. Our team has been
considered the best in Sussex. Charles is an excellent, though
somewhat anxious--or, might I say better, somewhat careful?--whip.
He finds the management of two leaders and two wheelers fills his
hands for the moment, both literally and figuratively, leaving very
little time for general conversation. Lady Belleisle of Beacon
bloomed beside him on the box (her bloom is perennial, and applied
by her maid); Dr. Polperro occupied the seat just behind with myself
and Amelia. The Doctor talked most of the time to Lady Vandrift: his
discourse was of picture-galleries, which Amelia detests, but in
which she thinks it incumbent upon her, as Sir Charles's wife, to
affect now and then a cultivated interest. Noblesse oblige; and the
walls of Castle Seldon, our place in Ross-shire, are almost covered
now with Leaders and with Orchardsons. This result was first arrived
at by a singular accident. Sir Charles wanted a leader--for his
coach, you understand--and told an artistic friend so. The artistic
friend brought him a Leader next week with a capital L; and Sir
Charles was so taken aback that he felt ashamed to confess the
error. So he was turned unawares into a patron of painting.
Dr. Polperro, in spite of his too pronouncedly artistic talk, proved
on closer view a most agreeable companion. He diversified his art
cleverly with anecdotes and scandals; he told us exactly which
famous painters had married their cooks, and which had only married
their models; and otherwise showed himself a most diverting talker.
Among other things, however, he happened to mention once that he
had recently discovered a genuine Rembrandt--a quite undoubted
Rembrandt, which had remained for years in the keeping of a
certain obscure Dutch family. It had always been allowed to be a
masterpiece of the painter, but it had seldom been seen for the
last half-century save by a few intimate acquaintances. It was a
portrait of one Maria Vanrenen of Haarlem, and he had bought it
of her descendants at Gouda, in Holland.
I saw Charles prick up his ears, though he took no open notice.
This Maria Vanrenen, as it happened, was a remote collateral
ancestress of the Vandrifts, before they emigrated to the Cape in
1780; and the existence of the portrait, though not its whereabouts,
was well known in the family. Isabel had often mentioned it. If it
was to be had at anything like a reasonable price, it would be a
splendid thing for the boys (Sir Charles, I ought to say, has two
sons at Eton) to possess an undoubted portrait of an ancestress
Dr. Polperro talked a good deal after that about this valuable find.
He had tried to sell it at first to the National Gallery; but
though the Directors admired the work immensely, and admitted its
genuineness, they regretted that the funds at their disposal this
year did not permit them to acquire so important a canvas at a
proper figure. South Kensington again was too poor; but the Doctor
was in treaty at present with the Louvre and with Berlin. Still,
it was a pity a fine work of art like that, once brought into the
country, should be allowed to go out of it. Some patriotic patron
of the fine arts ought to buy it for his own house, or else
munificently present it to the nation.
All the time Charles said nothing. But I could feel him cogitating.
He even looked behind him once, near a difficult corner (while the
guard was actually engaged in tootling his horn to let passers-by
know that the coach was coming), and gave Amelia a warning glance
to say nothing committing, which had at once the requisite effect
of sealing her mouth for the moment. It is a very unusual thing
for Charles to look back while driving. I gathered from his doing
so that he was inordinately anxious to possess this Rembrandt.
When we arrived at Lewes we put up our horses at the inn,
and Charles ordered a lunch on his wonted scale of princely
magnificence. Meanwhile we wandered, two and two, about the town
and castle. I annexed Lady Belleisle, who is at least amusing.
Charles drew me aside before starting. "Look here, Sey," he
said, "we must be _very_ careful. This man, Polperro, is a chance
acquaintance. There's nothing an astute rogue can take one in over
more easily than an Old Master. If the Rembrandt is genuine I
ought to have it; if it really represents Maria Vanrenen, it's a
duty I owe to the boys to buy it. But I've been done twice lately,
and I won't be done a third time. We must go to work cautiously."
"You are right," I answered. "No more seers and curates!"
"If this man's an impostor," Charles went on--"and in spite of what
he says about the National Gallery and so forth, we know nothing of
him--the story he tells is just the sort of one such a fellow would
trump up in a moment to deceive me. He could easily learn who I
was--I'm a well-known figure; he knew I was in Brighton, and he
may have been sitting on that glass seat on Sunday on purpose to
"He introduced your name," I said, "and the moment he found out who
I was he plunged into talk with me."
"Yes," Charles continued. "He may have learned about the portrait
of Maria Vanrenen, which my grandmother always said was preserved
at Gouda; and, indeed, I myself have often mentioned it, as you
doubtless remember. If so, what more natural, say, for a rogue than
to begin talking about the portrait in that innocent way to Amelia?
If he wants a Rembrandt, I believe they can be turned out to order
to any amount in Birmingham. The moral of all which is, it behoves
us to be careful."
"Right you are," I answered; "and I am keeping my eye upon him."
We drove back by another road, overshadowed by beech-trees in
autumnal gold. It was a delightful excursion. Dr. Polperro's heart
was elated by lunch and the excellent dry Monopole. He talked
amazingly. I never heard a man with a greater or more varied flow
of anecdote. He had been everywhere and knew all about everybody.
Amelia booked him at once for her "At Home" on Wednesday week,
and he promised to introduce her to several artistic and literary
That evening, however, about half-past seven, Charles and I strolled
out together on the King's Road for a blow before dinner. We dine at
eight. The air was delicious. We passed a small new hotel, very
smart and exclusive, with a big bow window. There, in evening dress,
lights burning and blind up, sat our friend, Dr. Polperro, with a
lady facing him, young, graceful, and pretty. A bottle of champagne
stood open before him. He was helping himself plentifully to
hot-house grapes, and full of good humour. It was clear he and the
lady were occupied in the intense enjoyment of some capital joke;
for they looked queerly at one another, and burst now and again
into merry peals of laughter.
I drew back. So did Sir Charles. One idea passed at once through
both our minds. I murmured, "Colonel Clay!" He answered, "_and_
They were not in the least like the Reverend Richard and Mrs.
Brabazon. But that clinched the matter. Nor did I see a sign of the
aquiline nose of the Mexican Seer. Still, I had learnt by then to
discount appearances. If these were indeed the famous sharper and
his wife or accomplice, we must be very careful. We were forewarned
this time. Supposing he had the audacity to try a third trick of
the sort upon us we had him under our thumbs. Only, we must take
steps to prevent his dexterously slipping through our fingers.
"He can wriggle like an eel," said the Commissary at Nice. We both
recalled those words, and laid our plans deep to prevent the man's
wriggling away from us on this third occasion.
"I tell you what it is, Sey," my brother-in-law said, with
impressive slowness. "This time we must deliberately lay ourselves
out to be swindled. We must propose of our own accord to buy the
picture, making him guarantee it in writing as a genuine Rembrandt,
and taking care to tie him down by most stringent conditions. But
we must seem at the same time to be unsuspicious and innocent as
babes; we must swallow whole whatever lies he tells us; pay his
price--nominally--by cheque for the portrait; and then, arrest him
the moment the bargain is complete, with the proofs of his guilt
then and there upon him. Of course, what he'll try to do will be to
vanish into thin air at once, as he did at Nice and Paris; but, this
time, we'll have the police in waiting and everything ready. We'll
avoid precipitancy, but we'll avoid delay too. We must hold our
hands off till he's actually accepted and pocketed the money; and
then, we must nab him instantly, and walk him off to the local Bow
Street. That's my plan of campaign. Meanwhile, we should appear
all trustful innocence and confiding guilelessness."
In pursuance of this well-laid scheme, we called next day on Dr.
Polperro at his hotel, and were introduced to his wife, a dainty
little woman, in whom we affected not to recognise that arch Madame
Picardet or that simple White Heather. The Doctor talked charmingly
(as usual) about art--what a well-informed rascal he was, to be
sure!--and Sir Charles expressed some interest in the supposed
Rembrandt. Our new friend was delighted; we could see by his
well-suppressed eagerness of tone that he knew us at once for
probable purchasers. He would run up to town next day, he said, and
bring down the portrait. And in effect, when Charles and I took our
wonted places in the Pullman next morning, on our way up to the
half-yearly meeting of Cloetedorp Golcondas, there was our Doctor,
leaning back in his arm-chair as if the car belonged to him. Charles
gave me an expressive look. "Does it in style," he whispered,
"doesn't he? Takes it out of my five thousand; or discounts the
amount he means to chouse me of with his spurious Rembrandt."
Arrived in town, we went to work at once. We set a private detective
from Marvillier's to watch our friend; and from him we learned that
the so-called Doctor dropped in for a picture that day at a dealer's
in the West-end (I suppress the name, having a judicious fear of
the law of libel ever before my eyes), a dealer who was known to be
mixed up before then in several shady or disreputable transactions.
Though, to be sure, my experience has been that picture dealers
are--picture dealers. Horses rank first in my mind as begetters and
producers of unscrupulous agents, but pictures run them a very good
second. Anyhow, we found out that our distinguished art-critic
picked up his Rembrandt at this dealer's shop, and came down with
it in his care the same night to Brighton.
In order not to act precipitately, and so ruin our plans, we induced
Dr. Polperro (what a cleverly chosen name!) to bring the Rembrandt
round to the Métropole for our inspection, and to leave it with us
while we got the opinion of an expert from London.
The expert came down, and gave us a full report upon the alleged
Old Master. In his judgment, it was not a Rembrandt at all, but
a cunningly-painted and well-begrimed modern Dutch imitation.
Moreover, he showed us by documentary evidence that the real
portrait of Maria Vanrenen had, as a matter of fact, been brought
to England five years before, and sold to Sir J. H. Tomlinson, the
well-known connoisseur, for eight thousand pounds. Dr. Polperro's
picture was, therefore, at best either a replica by Rembrandt; or
else, more probably, a copy by a pupil; or, most likely of all,
a mere modern forgery.
We were thus well prepared to fasten our charge of criminal
conspiracy upon the self-styled Doctor. But in order to make
assurance still more certain, we threw out vague hints to him that
the portrait of Maria Vanrenen might really be elsewhere, and even
suggested in his hearing that it might not improbably have got into
the hands of that omnivorous collector, Sir J. H. Tomlinson. But
the vendor was proof against all such attempts to decry his goods.
He had the effrontery to brush away the documentary evidence, and to
declare that Sir J. H. Tomlinson (one of the most learned and astute
picture-buyers in England) had been smartly imposed upon by a needy
Dutch artist with a talent for forgery. The real Maria Vanrenen, he
declared and swore, was the one he offered us. "Success has turned
the man's head," Charles said to me, well pleased. "He thinks we
will swallow any obvious lie he chooses to palm off upon us. But the
bucket has come once too often to the well. This time we checkmate
him." It was a mixed metaphor, I admit; but Sir Charles's tropes
are not always entirely superior to criticism.
So we pretended to believe our man, and accepted his assurances.
Next came the question of price. This was warmly debated, for form's
sake only. Sir J. H. Tomlinson had paid eight thousand for his
genuine Maria. The Doctor demanded ten thousand for his spurious
one. There was really no reason why we should higgle and dispute,
for Charles meant merely to give his cheque for the sum and then
arrest the fellow; but, still, we thought it best for the avoidance
of suspicion to make a show of resistance; and we at last beat him
down to nine thousand guineas. For this amount he was to give us a
written warranty that the work he sold us was a genuine Rembrandt,
that it represented Maria Vanrenen of Haarlem, and that he had
bought it direct, without doubt or question, from that good lady's
descendants at Gouda, in Holland.
It was capitally done. We arranged the thing to perfection. We had a
constable in waiting in our rooms at the Métropole, and we settled
that Dr. Polperro was to call at the hotel at a certain fixed hour
to sign the warranty and receive his money. A regular agreement on
sound stamped paper was drawn out between us. At the appointed time
the "party of the first part" came, having already given us over
possession of the portrait. Charles drew a cheque for the amount
agreed upon, and signed it. Then he handed it to the Doctor.
Polperro just clutched at it. Meanwhile, I took up my post by
the door, while two men in plain clothes, detectives from the
police-station, stood as men-servants and watched the windows. We
feared lest the impostor, once he had got the cheque, should dodge
us somehow, as he had already done at Nice and in Paris. The moment
he had pocketed his money with a smile of triumph, I advanced to him
rapidly. I had in my possession a pair of handcuffs. Before he knew
what was happening, I had slipped them on his wrists and secured
them dexterously, while the constable stepped forward. "We have got
you this time!" I cried. "We know who you are, Dr. Polperro. You
are--Colonel Clay, alias Señor Antonio Herrera, alias the Reverend
Richard Peploe Brabazon."
I never saw any man so astonished in my life! He was utterly
flabbergasted. Charles thought he must have expected to get clear
away at once, and that this prompt action on our part had taken
the fellow so much by surprise as to simply unman him. He gazed
about him as if he hardly realised what was happening.
"Are these two raving maniacs?" he asked at last, "or what do they
mean by this nonsensical gibberish about Antonio Herrera?"
The constable laid his hand on the prisoner's shoulder.
"It's all right, my man," he said. "We've got warrants out against
you. I arrest you, Edward Polperro, alias the Reverend Richard
Peploe Brabazon, on a charge of obtaining money under false
pretences from Sir Charles Vandrift, K.C.M.G., M.P., on his sworn
information, now here subscribed to." For Charles had had the
thing drawn out in readiness beforehand.
Our prisoner drew himself up. "Look here, officer," he said, in an
offended tone, "there's some mistake here in this matter. I have
never given an alias at any time in my life. How do you know this
is really Sir Charles Vandrift? It may be a case of bullying
personation. My belief is, though, they're a pair of escaped
"We'll see about that to-morrow," the constable said, collaring him.
"At present you've got to go off with me quietly to the station,
where these gentlemen will enter up the charge against you."
They carried him off, protesting. Charles and I signed the
charge-sheet; and the officer locked him up to await his examination
next day before the magistrate.
We were half afraid even now the fellow would manage somehow to
get out on bail and give us the slip in spite of everything;
and, indeed, he protested in the most violent manner against the
treatment to which we were subjecting "a gentleman in his position."
But Charles took care to tell the police it was all right; that he
was a dangerous and peculiarly slippery criminal, and that on no
account must they let him go on any pretext whatever, till he had
been properly examined before the magistrates.
We learned at the hotel that night, curiously enough, that there
really _was_ a Dr. Polperro, a distinguished art critic, whose
name, we didn't doubt, our impostor had been assuming.
Next morning, when we reached the court, an inspector met us with a
very long face. "Look here, gentlemen," he said, "I'm afraid you've
committed a very serious blunder. You've made a precious bad mess of
it. You've got yourselves into a scrape; and, what's worse, you've
got us into one also. You were a deal too smart with your sworn
information. We've made inquiries about this gentleman, and we find
the account he gives of himself is perfectly correct. His name _is_
Polperro; he's a well-known art critic and collector of pictures,
employed abroad by the National Gallery. He was formerly an official
in the South Kensington Museum, and he's a C.B. and LL.D., very
highly respected. You've made a sad mistake, that's where it is; and
you'll probably have to answer a charge of false imprisonment, in
which I'm afraid you have also involved our own department."
Charles gasped with horror. "You haven't let him out," he cried, "on
those absurd representations? You haven't let him slip through your
hands as you did that murderer fellow?"
"Let him slip through our hands?" the inspector cried. "I only wish
he would. There's no chance of that, unfortunately. He's in the
court there, this moment, breathing out fire and slaughter against
you both; and we're here to protect you if he should happen to fall
upon you. He's been locked up all night on your mistaken affidavits,
and, naturally enough, he's mad with anger."
"If you haven't let him go, I'm satisfied," Charles answered.
"He's a fox for cunning. Where is he? Let me see him."
We went into the court. There we saw our prisoner conversing
amicably, in the most excited way, with the magistrate (who, it
seems, was a personal friend of his); and Charles at once went
up and spoke to them. Dr. Polperro turned round and glared at him
through his pince-nez.
"The only possible explanation of this person's extraordinary and
incredible conduct," he said, "is, that he must be mad--and his
secretary equally so. He made my acquaintance, unasked, on a glass
seat on the King's Road; invited me to go on his coach to Lewes;
volunteered to buy a valuable picture of me; and then, at the
last moment, unaccountably gave me in charge on this silly and
preposterous trumped-up accusation. I demand a summons for false
Suddenly it began to dawn upon us that the tables were turned. By
degrees it came out that we had made a mistake. Dr. Polperro was
really the person he represented himself to be, and had been always.
His picture, we found out, was the real Maria Vanrenen, and a
genuine Rembrandt, which he had merely deposited for cleaning and
restoring at the suspicious dealer's. Sir J. H. Tomlinson had been
imposed upon and cheated by a cunning Dutchman; _his_ picture, though
also an undoubted Rembrandt, was _not_ the Maria, and was an inferior
specimen in bad preservation. The authority we had consulted turned
out to be an ignorant, self-sufficient quack. The Maria, moreover,
was valued by other experts at no more than five or six thousand
guineas. Charles wanted to cry off his bargain, but Dr. Polperro
naturally wouldn't hear of it. The agreement was a legally binding
instrument, and what passed in Charles's mind at the moment had
nothing to do with the written contract. Our adversary only
consented to forego the action for false imprisonment on condition
that Charles inserted a printed apology in the Times, and paid him
five hundred pounds compensation for damage to character. So that
was the end of our well-planned attempt to arrest the swindler.
Not quite the end, however; for, of course, after this, the whole
affair got by degrees into the papers. Dr. Polperro, who was a
familiar person in literary and artistic society, as it turned out,
brought an action against the so-called expert who had declared
against the genuineness of his alleged Rembrandt, and convicted him
of the grossest ignorance and misstatement. Then paragraphs got
about. The World showed us up in a sarcastic article; and Truth,
which has always been terribly severe upon Sir Charles and all the
other South Africans, had a pungent set of verses on "High Art in
Kimberley." By this means, as we suppose, the affair became known
to Colonel Clay himself; for a week or two later my brother-in-law
received a cheerful little note on scented paper from our persistent
sharper. It was couched in these terms:--
"Oh, you innocent infant!
"Bless your ingenuous little heart! And did it believe, then, it
had positively caught the redoubtable colonel? And had it ready a
nice little pinch of salt to put upon his tail? And is it true its
respected name is Sir Simple Simon? How heartily we have laughed,
White Heather and I, at your neat little ruses! It would pay you,
by the way, to take White Heather into your house for six months
to instruct you in the agreeable sport of amateur detectives. Your
charming naivete quite moves our envy. So you actually imagined a
man of my brains would condescend to anything so flat and stale as
the silly and threadbare Old Master deception! And this in the
so-called nineteenth century! O sancta simplicitas! When again
shall such infantile transparency be mine? When, ah, when? But never
mind, dear friend. Though you didn't catch me, we shall meet before
long at some delightful Philippi.
"Yours, with the profoundest respect and gratitude,
"Otherwise RICHARD PEPLOE BRABAZON."
Charles laid down the letter with a deep-drawn sigh. "Sey, my boy,"
he mused aloud, "no fortune on earth--not even mine--can go on
standing it. These perpetual drains begin really to terrify me. I
foresee the end. I shall die in a workhouse. What with the money he
robs me of when he _is_ Colonel Clay, and the money I waste upon him
when he _isn't_ Colonel Clay, the man is beginning to tell upon my
nervous system. I shall withdraw altogether from this worrying life.
I shall retire from a scheming and polluted world to some untainted
spot in the fresh, pure mountains."
"You _must_ need rest and change," I said, "when you talk like that.
Let us try the Tyrol."
THE EPISODE OF THE TYROLEAN CASTLE
We went to Meran. The place was practically decided for us by
Amelia's French maid, who really acts on such occasions as our
guide and courier.
She is _such_ a clever girl, is Amelia's French maid. Whenever we
are going anywhere, Amelia generally asks (and accepts) her advice
as to choice of hotels and furnished villas. Césarine has been all
over the Continent in her time; and, being Alsatian by birth, she of
course speaks German as well as she speaks French, while her long
residence with Amelia has made her at last almost equally at home
in our native English. She is a treasure, that girl; so neat and
dexterous, and not above dabbling in anything on earth she may be
asked to turn her hand to. She walks the world with a needle-case
in one hand and an etna in the other. She can cook an omelette on
occasion, or drive a Norwegian cariole; she can sew, and knit, and
make dresses, and cure a cold, and do anything else on earth you ask
her. Her salads are the most savoury I ever tasted; while as for her
coffee (which she prepares for us in the train on long journeys),
there isn't a chef de cuisine at a West-end club to be named in the
same day with her.
So, when Amelia said, in her imperious way, "Césarine, we want to go
to the Tyrol--now--at once--in mid-October; where do you advise us
to put up?"--Césarine answered, like a shot, "The Erzherzog Johann,
of course, at Meran, for the autumn, madame."
"Is he ... an archduke?" Amelia asked, a little staggered at such
apparent familiarity with Imperial personages.
"Ma foi! no, madame. He is an hotel--as you would say in England,
the 'Victoria' or the 'Prince of Wales's'--the most comfortable
hotel in all South Tyrol; and at this time of year, naturally, you
must go beyond the Alps; it begins already to be cold at Innsbruck."
So to Meran we went; and a prettier or more picturesque place, I
confess, I have seldom set eyes on. A rushing torrent; high hills
and mountain peaks; terraced vineyard slopes; old walls and towers;
quaint, arcaded streets; a craggy waterfall; a promenade after
the fashion of a German Spa; and when you lift your eyes from the
ground, jagged summits of Dolomites: it was a combination such as
I had never before beheld; a Rhine town plumped down among green
Alpine heights, and threaded by the cool colonnades of Italy.
I approved Césarine's choice; and I was particularly glad she
had pronounced for an hotel, where all is plain sailing, instead