Part 2 out of 4
of advising a furnished villa, the arrangements for which would
naturally have fallen in large part upon the shoulders of the
wretched secretary. As in any case I have to do three hours' work
a day, I feel that such additions to my normal burden may well
be spared me. I tipped Césarine half a sovereign, in fact, for
her judicious choice. Césarine glanced at it on her palm in her
mysterious, curious, half-smiling way, and pocketed it at once with
a "Merci, monsieur!" that had a touch of contempt in it. I always
fancy Césarine has large ideas of her own on the subject of tipping,
and thinks very small beer of the modest sums a mere secretary can
alone afford to bestow upon her.
The great peculiarity of Meran is the number of schlosses (I believe
my plural is strictly irregular, but very convenient to English
ears) which you can see in every direction from its outskirts. A
statistical eye, it is supposed, can count no fewer than forty of
these picturesque, ramshackled old castles from a point on the
Küchelberg. For myself, I hate statistics (except as an element in
financial prospectuses), and I really don't know how many ruinous
piles Isabel and Amelia counted under Césarine's guidance; but I
remember that most of them were quaint and beautiful, and that their
variety of architecture seemed positively bewildering. One would be
square, with funny little turrets stuck out at each angle; while
another would rejoice in a big round keep, and spread on either side
long, ivy-clad walls and delightful bastions. Charles was immensely
taken with them. He loves the picturesque, and has a poet hidden
in that financial soul of his. (Very effectually hidden, though, I
am ready to grant you.) From the moment he came he felt at once
he would love to possess a castle of his own among these romantic
mountains. "Seldon!" he exclaimed contemptuously. "They call Seldon
a castle! But you and I know very well, Sey, it was built in 1860,
with sham antique stones, for Macpherson of Seldon, at market rates,
by Cubitt and Co., worshipful contractors of London. Macpherson
charged me for that sham antiquity a preposterous price, at
which one ought to procure a real ancestral mansion. Now, _these_
castles are real. They are hoary with antiquity. Schloss Tyrol is
Romanesque--tenth or eleventh century." (He had been reading it up
in Baedeker.) "That's the sort of place for _me_!--tenth or eleventh
century. I could live here, remote from stocks and shares, for ever;
and in these sequestered glens, recollect, Sey, my boy, there are
no Colonel Clays, and no arch Madame Picardets!"
As a matter of fact, he could have lived there six weeks, and then
tired for Park Lane, Monte Carlo, Brighton.
As for Amelia, strange to say, she was equally taken with this new
fad of Charles's. As a rule she hates everywhere on earth save
London, except during the time when no respectable person can be
seen in town, and when modest blinds shade the scandalised face of
Mayfair and Belgravia. She bores herself to death even at Seldon
Castle, Ross-shire, and yawns all day long in Paris or Vienna. She
is a confirmed Cockney. Yet, for some occult reason, my amiable
sister-in-law fell in love with South Tyrol. She wanted to vegetate
in that lush vegetation. The grapes were being picked; pumpkins hung
over the walls; Virginia creeper draped the quaint gray schlosses
with crimson cloaks; and everything was as beautiful as a dream of
Burne-Jones's. (I know I am quite right in mentioning Burne-Jones,
especially in connection with Romanesque architecture, because I
heard him highly praised on that very ground by our friend and
enemy, Dr. Edward Polperro.) So perhaps it was excusable that
Amelia should fall in love with it all, under the circumstances;
besides, she is largely influenced by what Césarine says, and
Césarine declares there is no climate in Europe like Meran in
winter. I do not agree with her. The sun sets behind the hills at
three in the afternoon, and a nasty warm wind blows moist over
the snow in January and February.
However, Amelia set Césarine to inquire of the people at the hotel
about the market price of tumbledown ruins, and the number of such
eligible family mausoleums just then for sale in the immediate
neighbourhood. Césarine returned with a full, true, and particular
list, adorned with flowers of rhetoric which would have delighted
the soul of good old John Robins. They were all picturesque, all
Romanesque, all richly ivy-clad, all commodious, all historical,
and all the property of high well-born Grafs and very honourable
Freiherrs. Most of them had been the scene of celebrated tournaments;
several of them had witnessed the gorgeous marriages of Holy Roman
Emperors; and every one of them was provided with some choice and
selected first-class murders. Ghosts could be arranged for or not,
as desired; and armorial bearings could be thrown in with the moat
for a moderate extra remuneration.
The two we liked best of all these tempting piles were Schloss
Planta and Schloss Lebenstein. We drove past both, and even I
myself, I confess, was distinctly taken with them. (Besides, when
a big purchase like this is on the stocks, a poor beggar of a
secretary has always a chance of exerting his influence and earning
for himself some modest commission.) Schloss Planta was the most
striking externally, I should say, with its Rhine-like towers, and
its great gnarled ivy-stems, that looked as if they antedated the
House of Hapsburg; but Lebenstein was said to be better preserved
within, and more fitted in every way for modern occupation. Its
staircase has been photographed by 7000 amateurs.
We got tickets to view. The invaluable Césarine procured them for
us. Armed with these, we drove off one fine afternoon, meaning to
go to Planta, by Césarine's recommendation. Half-way there, however,
we changed our minds, as it was such a lovely day, and went on up
the long, slow hill to Lebenstein. I must say the drive through the
grounds was simply charming. The castle stands perched (say rather
poised, like St. Michael the archangel in Italian pictures) on a
solitary stack or crag of rock, looking down on every side upon
its own rich vineyards. Chestnuts line the glens; the valley of
the Etsch spreads below like a picture.
The vineyards alone make a splendid estate, by the way; they produce
a delicious red wine, which is exported to Bordeaux, and there
bottled and sold as a vintage claret under the name of Chateau
Monnivet. Charles revelled in the idea of growing his own wines.
"Here we could sit," he cried to Amelia, "in the most literal sense,
under our own vine and fig-tree. Delicious retirement! For my part,
I'm sick and tired of the hubbub of Threadneedle Street."
We knocked at the door--for there was really no bell, but a
ponderous, old-fashioned, wrought-iron knocker. So deliciously
mediæval! The late Graf von Lebenstein had recently died, we
knew; and his son, the present Count, a young man of means, having
inherited from his mother's family a still more ancient and
splendid schloss in the Salzburg district, desired to sell this
outlying estate in order to afford himself a yacht, after the manner
that is now becoming increasingly fashionable with the noblemen and
gentlemen in Germany and Austria.
The door was opened for us by a high well-born menial, attired in
a very ancient and honourable livery. Nice antique hall; suits of
ancestral armour, trophies of Tyrolese hunters, coats of arms of
ancient counts--the very thing to take Amelia's aristocratic and
romantic fancy. The whole to be sold exactly as it stood; ancestors
to be included at a valuation.
We went through the reception-rooms. They were lofty, charming, and
with glorious views, all the more glorious for being framed by those
graceful Romanesque windows, with their slender pillars and quaint,
round-topped arches. Sir Charles had made his mind up. "I must and
will have it!" he cried. "This is the place for me. Seldon! Pah,
Seldon is a modern abomination."
Could we see the high well-born Count? The liveried servant
(somewhat haughtily) would inquire of his Serenity. Sir Charles
sent up his card, and also Lady Vandrift's. These foreigners know
title spells money in England.
He was right in his surmise. Two minutes later the Count entered
with our cards in his hands. A good-looking young man, with the
characteristic Tyrolese long black moustache, dressed in a
gentlemanly variant on the costume of the country. His air was a
jager's; the usual blackcock's plume stuck jauntily in the side of
the conical hat (which he held in his hand), after the universal
He waved us to seats. We sat down. He spoke to us in French; his
English, he remarked, with a pleasant smile, being a négligeable
quantity. We might speak it, he went on; he could understand pretty
well; but he preferred to answer, if we would allow him, in French
"French," Charles replied, and the negotiation continued thenceforth
in that language. It is the only one, save English and his ancestral
Dutch, with which my brother-in-law possesses even a nodding
We praised the beautiful scene. The Count's face lighted up with
patriotic pride. Yes; it was beautiful, beautiful, his own green
Tyrol. He was proud of it and attached to it. But he could endure
to sell this place, the home of his fathers, because he had a finer
in the Salzkammergut, and a pied-à-terre near Innsbruck. For Tyrol
lacked just one joy--the sea. He was a passionate yachtsman. For
that he had resolved to sell this estate; after all, three country
houses, a ship, and a mansion in Vienna, are more than one man can
"Exactly," Charles answered. "If I can come to terms with you about
this charming estate I shall sell my own castle in the Scotch
Highlands." And he tried to look like a proud Scotch chief who
harangues his clansmen.
Then they got to business. The Count was a delightful man to do
business with. His manners were perfect. While we were talking to
him, a surly person, a steward or bailiff, or something of the sort,
came into the room unexpectedly and addressed him in German, which
none of us understand. We were impressed by the singular urbanity
and benignity of the nobleman's demeanour towards this sullen
dependant. He evidently explained to the fellow what sort of
people we were, and remonstrated with him in a very gentle way for
interrupting us. The steward understood, and clearly regretted his
insolent air; for after a few sentences he went out, and as he did
so he bowed and made protestations of polite regard in his own
language. The Count turned to us and smiled. "Our people," he said,
"are like your own Scotch peasants--kind-hearted, picturesque, free,
musical, poetic, but wanting, hélas, in polish to strangers." He
was certainly an exception, if he described them aright; for he made
us feel at home from the moment we entered.
He named his price in frank terms. His lawyers at Meran held the
needful documents, and would arrange the negotiations in detail with
us. It was a stiff sum, I must say--an extremely stiff sum; but no
doubt he was charging us a fancy price for a fancy castle. "He will
come down in time," Charles said. "The sum first named in all these
transactions is invariably a feeler. They know I'm a millionaire;
and people always imagine millionaires are positively made of
I may add that people always imagine it must be easier to squeeze
money out of millionaires than out of other people--which is the
reverse of the truth, or how could they ever have amassed their
millions? Instead of oozing gold as a tree oozes gum, they mop it
up like blotting-paper, and seldom give it out again.
We drove back from this first interview none the less very well
satisfied. The price was too high; but preliminaries were arranged,
and for the rest, the Count desired us to discuss all details with
his lawyers in the chief street, Unter den Lauben. We inquired about
these lawyers, and found they were most respectable and respected
men; they had done the family business on either side for seven
They showed us plans and title-deeds. Everything quite en régle.
Till we came to the price there was no hitch of any sort.
As to price, however, the lawyers were obdurate. They stuck out for
the Count's first sum to the uttermost florin. It was a very big
estimate. We talked and shilly-shallied till Sir Charles grew angry.
He lost his temper at last.
"They know I'm a millionaire, Sey," he said, "and they're playing
the old game of trying to diddle me. But I won't be diddled. Except
Colonel Clay, no man has ever yet succeeded in bleeding me. And
shall I let myself be bled as if I were a chamois among these
innocent mountains? Perish the thought!" Then he reflected a little
in silence. "Sey," he mused on, at last, "the question is, _are_
they innocent? Do you know, I begin to believe there is no such
thing left as pristine innocence anywhere. This Tyrolese Count knows
the value of a pound as distinctly as if he hung out in Capel Court
Things dragged on in this way, inconclusively, for a week or two.
_We_ bid down; the lawyers stuck to it. Sir Charles grew half sick
of the whole silly business. For my own part, I felt sure if the
high well-born Count didn't quicken his pace, my respected relative
would shortly have had enough of the Tyrol altogether, and be proof
against the most lovely of crag-crowning castles. But the Count
didn't see it. He came to call on us at our hotel--a rare honour for
a stranger with these haughty and exclusive Tyrolese nobles--and
even entered unannounced in the most friendly manner. But when it
came to L. s. d., he was absolute adamant. Not one kreutzer would
he abate from his original proposal.
"You misunderstand," he said, with pride. "We Tyrolese gentlemen are
not shopkeepers or merchants. We do not higgle. If we say a thing we
stick to it. Were you an Austrian, I should feel insulted by your
ill-advised attempt to beat down my price. But as you belong to a
great commercial nation--" he broke off with a snort and shrugged
his shoulders compassionately.
We saw him several times driving in and out of the schloss, and
every time he waved his hand at us gracefully. But when we tried to
bargain, it was always the same thing: he retired behind the shelter
of his Tyrolese nobility. We might take it or leave it. 'Twas still
The lawyers were as bad. We tried all we knew, and got no forrarder.
At last Charles gave up the attempt in disgust. He was tiring, as I
expected. "It's the prettiest place I ever saw in my life," he said;
"but, hang it all, Sey, I _won't_ be imposed upon."
So he made up his mind, it being now December, to return to London.
We met the Count next day, and stopped his carriage, and told him
so. Charles thought this would have the immediate effect of bringing
the man to reason. But he only lifted his hat, with the blackcock's
feather, and smiled a bland smile. "The Archduke Karl is inquiring
about it," he answered, and drove on without parley.
Charles used some strong words, which I will not transcribe (I am a
family man), and returned to England.
For the next two months we heard little from Amelia save her regret
that the Count wouldn't sell us Schloss Lebenstein. Its pinnacles
had fairly pierced her heart. Strange to say, she was absolutely
infatuated about the castle. She rather wanted the place while
she was there, and thought she could get it; now she thought
she couldn't, her soul (if she has one) was wildly set upon it.
Moreover, Césarine further inflamed her desire by gently hinting
a fact which she had picked up at the courier's table d'hôte at
the hotel--that the Count had been far from anxious to sell his
ancestral and historical estate to a South African diamond king.
He thought the honour of the family demanded, at least, that he
should secure a wealthy buyer of good ancient lineage.
One morning in February, however, Amelia returned from the Row all
smiles and tremors. (She had been ordered horse-exercise to correct
the increasing excessiveness of her figure.)
"Who do you think I saw riding in the Park?" she inquired. "Why,
the Count of Lebenstein."
"No!" Charles exclaimed, incredulous.
"Yes," Amelia answered.
"Must be mistaken," Charles cried.
But Amelia stuck to it. More than that, she sent out emissaries to
inquire diligently from the London lawyers, whose name had been
mentioned to us by the ancestral firm in Unter den Lauben as
their English agents, as to the whereabouts of our friend; and
her emissaries learned in effect that the Count was in town and
stopping at Morley's.
"I see through it," Charles exclaimed. "He finds he's made a
mistake; and now he's come over here to reopen negotiations."
I was all for waiting prudently till the Count made the first move.
"Don't let him see your eagerness," I said. But Amelia's ardour
could not now be restrained. She insisted that Charles should
call on the Graf as a mere return of his politeness in the Tyrol.
He was as charming as ever. He talked to us with delight about the
quaintness of London. He would be ravished to dine next evening with
Sir Charles. He desired his respectful salutations meanwhile to
Miladi Vandrift and Madame Ventvorth.
He dined with us, almost en famille. Amelia's cook did wonders. In
the billiard-room, about midnight, Charles reopened the subject.
The Count was really touched. It pleased him that still, amid the
distractions of the City of Five Million Souls, we should remember
with affection his beloved Lebenstein.
"Come to my lawyers," he said, "to-morrow, and I will talk it all
over with you."
We went--a most respectable firm in Southampton Row; old family
solicitors. They had done business for years for the late Count, who
had inherited from his grandmother estates in Ireland; and they were
glad to be honoured with the confidence of his successor. Glad, too,
to make the acquaintance of a prince of finance like Sir Charles
Vandrift. Anxious (rubbing their hands) to arrange matters
satisfactorily all round for everybody. (Two capital families with
which to be mixed up, you see.)
Sir Charles named a price, and referred them to his solicitors.
The Count named a higher, but still a little come-down, and left
the matter to be settled between the lawyers. He was a soldier and
a gentleman, he said, with a Tyrolese toss of his high-born head;
he would abandon details to men of business.
As I was really anxious to oblige Amelia, I met the Count
accidentally next day on the steps of Morley's. (Accidentally,
that is to say, so far as he was concerned, though I had been
hanging about in Trafalgar Square for half an hour to see him.)
I explained, in guarded terms, that I had a great deal of influence
in my way with Sir Charles; and that a word from me-- I broke
off. He stared at me blankly.
"Commission?" he inquired, at last, with a queer little smile.
"Well, not exactly commission," I answered, wincing. "Still, a
friendly word, you know. One good turn deserves another."
He looked at me from head to foot with a curious scrutiny. For one
moment I feared the Tyrolese nobleman in him was going to raise its
foot and take active measures. But the next, I saw that Sir Charles
was right after all, and that pristine innocence has removed from
this planet to other quarters.
He named his lowest price. "M. Ventvorth," he said, "I am a Tyrolese
seigneur; I do not dabble, myself, in commissions and percentages.
But if your influence with Sir Charles--we understand each other, do
we not?--as between gentlemen--a little friendly present--no money,
of course--but the equivalent of say 5 per cent in jewellery, on
whatever sum above his bid to-day you induce him to
"Ten per cent is more usual," I murmured.
He was the Austrian hussar again. "Five, monsieur--or nothing!"
I bowed and withdrew. "Well, five then," I answered, "just to oblige
A secretary, after all, can do a great deal. When it came to the
scratch, I had but little difficulty in persuading Sir Charles, with
Amelia's aid, backed up on either side by Isabel and Césarine, to
accede to the Count's more reasonable proposal. The Southampton Row
people had possession of certain facts as to the value of the wines
in the Bordeaux market which clinched the matter. In a week or two
all was settled; Charles and I met the Count by appointment in
Southampton Row, and saw him sign, seal, and deliver the title-deeds
of Schloss Lebenstein. My brother-in-law paid the purchase-money
into the Count's own hands, by cheque, crossed on a first-class
London firm where the Count kept an account to his high well-born
order. Then he went away with the proud knowledge that he was owner
of Schloss Lebenstein. And what to me was more important still,
I received next morning by post a cheque for the five per cent,
unfortunately drawn, by some misapprehension, to my order on the
self-same bankers, and with the Count's signature. He explained in
the accompanying note that the matter being now quite satisfactorily
concluded, he saw no reason of delicacy why the amount he had
promised should not be paid to me forthwith direct in money.
I cashed the cheque at once, and said nothing about the affair, not
even to Isabel. My experience is that women are not to be trusted
with intricate matters of commission and brokerage.
Though it was now late in March, and the House was sitting, Charles
insisted that we must all run over at once to take possession of our
magnificent Tyrolese castle. Amelia was almost equally burning with
eagerness. She gave herself the airs of a Countess already. We took
the Orient Express as far as Munich; then the Brenner to Meran,
and put up for the night at the Erzherzog Johann. Though we had
telegraphed our arrival, and expected some fuss, there was no
demonstration. Next morning we drove out in state to the schloss,
to enter into enjoyment of our vines and fig-trees.
We were met at the door by the surly steward. "I shall dismiss
that man," Charles muttered, as Lord of Lebenstein. "He's too
sour-looking for my taste. Never saw such a brute. Not a smile
He mounted the steps. The surly man stepped forward and murmured a
few morose words in German. Charles brushed him aside and strode on.
Then there followed a curious scene of mutual misunderstanding. The
surly man called lustily for his servants to eject us. It was some
time before we began to catch at the truth. The surly man was the
_real_ Graf von Lebenstein.
And the Count with the moustache? It dawned upon us now. Colonel
Clay again! More audacious than ever!
Bit by bit it all came out. He had ridden behind us the first day
we viewed the place, and, giving himself out to the servants as
one of our party, had joined us in the reception-room. We asked
the real Count why he had spoken to the intruder. The Count
explained in French that the man with the moustache had introduced
my brother-in-law as the great South African millionaire, while he
described himself as our courier and interpreter. As such he had
had frequent interviews with the real Graf and his lawyers in
Meran, and had driven almost daily across to the castle. The owner
of the estate had named one price from the first, and had stuck to
it manfully. He stuck to it still; and if Sir Charles chose to buy
Schloss Lebenstein over again he was welcome to have it. How the
London lawyers had been duped the Count had not really the slightest
idea. He regretted the incident, and (coldly) wished us a very good
There was nothing for it but to return as best we might to the
Erzherzog Johann, crestfallen, and telegraph particulars to the
police in London.
Charles and I ran across post-haste to England to track down the
villain. At Southampton Row we found the legal firm by no means
penitent; on the contrary, they were indignant at the way we had
deceived them. An impostor had written to them on Lebenstein
paper from Meran to say that he was coming to London to negotiate
the sale of the schloss and surrounding property with the
famous millionaire, Sir Charles Vandrift; and Sir Charles had
demonstratively recognised him at sight as the real Count von
Lebenstein. The firm had never seen the present Graf at all, and
had swallowed the impostor whole, so to speak, on the strength of
Sir Charles's obvious recognition. He had brought over as documents
some most excellent forgeries--facsimiles of the originals--which,
as our courier and interpreter, he had every opportunity of
examining and inspecting at the Meran lawyers'. It was a deeply-laid
plot, and it had succeeded to a marvel. Yet, all of it depended
upon the one small fact that we had accepted the man with the long
moustache in the hall of the schloss as the Count von Lebenstein on
his own representation.
He held our cards in his hands when he came in; and the servant had
_not_ given them to him, but to the genuine Count. That was the one
unsolved mystery in the whole adventure.
By the evening's post two letters arrived for us at Sir Charles's
house: one for myself, and one for my employer. Sir Charles's ran
"HIGH WELL-BORN INCOMPETENCE,--
"I only just pulled through! A very small slip nearly lost me
everything. I believed you were going to Schloss Planta that day,
not to Schloss Lebenstein. You changed your mind en route. That
might have spoiled all. Happily I perceived it, rode up by the short
cut, and arrived somewhat hurriedly and hotly at the gate before
you. Then I introduced myself. I had one more bad moment when the
rival claimant to my name and title intruded into the room. But
fortune favours the brave: your utter ignorance of German saved me.
The rest was pap. It went by itself almost.
"Allow me, now, as some small return for your various welcome
cheques, to offer you a useful and valuable present--a German
dictionary, grammar, and phrase-book!
"I kiss your hand.
The other note was to me. It was as follows:--
"DEAR GOOD MR. VENTVORTH,--
"Ha, ha, ha; just a W misplaced sufficed to take you in, then! And
I risked the TH, though anybody with a head on his shoulders would
surely have known our TH is by far more difficult than our W for
foreigners! However, all's well that ends well; and now I've got
you. The Lord has delivered you into my hands, dear friend--on your
own initiative. I hold my cheque, endorsed by you, and cashed at my
banker's, as a hostage, so to speak, for your future good behaviour.
If ever you recognise me, and betray me to that solemn old ass, your
employer, remember, I expose it, and you with it to him. So now we
understand each other. I had not thought of this little dodge; it
was you who suggested it. However, I jumped at it. Was it not well
worth my while paying you that slight commission in return for a
guarantee of your future silence? Your mouth is now closed. And
cheap too at the price.--Yours, dear Comrade, in the great
confraternity of rogues,
"CUTHBERT CLAY, Colonel."
Charles laid his note down, and grizzled. "What's yours, Sey?"
"From a lady," I answered.
He gazed at me suspiciously. "Oh, I thought it was the same hand,"
he said. His eye looked through me.
"No," I answered. "Mrs. Mortimer's." But I confess I trembled.
He paused a moment. "You made all inquiries at this fellow's bank?"
he went on, after a deep sigh.
"Oh, yes," I put in quickly. (I had taken good care about that,
you may be sure, lest he should spot the commission.) "They say
the self-styled Count von Lebenstein was introduced to them by
the Southampton Row folks, and drew, as usual, on the Lebenstein
account: so they were quite unsuspicious. A rascal who goes about
the world on that scale, you know, and arrives with such credentials
as theirs and yours, naturally imposes on anybody. The bank didn't
even require to have him formally identified. The firm was enough.
He came to pay money in, not to draw it out. And he withdrew his
balance just two days later, saying he was in a hurry to get back
Would he ask for items? I confess I felt it was an awkward moment.
Charles, however, was too full of regrets to bother about the
account. He leaned back in his easy chair, stuck his hands in his
pockets, held his legs straight out on the fender before him, and
looked the very picture of hopeless despondency.
"Sey," he began, after a minute or two, poking the fire,
reflectively, "what a genius that man has! 'Pon my soul, I
admire him. I sometimes wish--" He broke off and hesitated.
"Yes, Charles?" I answered.
"I sometimes wish ... we had got him on the Board of the Cloetedorp
Golcondas. Mag--nificent combinations he would make in the City!"
I rose from my seat and stared solemnly at my misguided
"Charles," I said, "you are beside yourself. Too much Colonel Clay
has told upon your clear and splendid intellect. There are certain
remarks which, however true they may be, no self-respecting
financier should permit himself to make, even in the privacy of
his own room, to his most intimate friend and trusted adviser."
Charles fairly broke down. "You are right, Sey," he sobbed out.
"Quite right. Forgive this outburst. At moments of emotion the
truth will sometimes out, in spite of everything."
I respected his feebleness. I did not even make it a fitting
occasion to ask for a trifling increase of salary.
THE EPISODE OF THE DRAWN GAME
The twelfth of August saw us, as usual, at Seldon Castle,
Ross-shire. It is part of Charles's restless, roving temperament
that, on the morning of the eleventh, wet or fine, he must set out
from London, whether the House is sitting or not, in defiance of
the most urgent three-line whips; and at dawn on the twelfth he must
be at work on his moors, shooting down the young birds with might
and main, at the earliest possible legal moment.
He goes on like Saul, slaying his thousands, or, like David, his
tens of thousands, with all the guns in the house to help him, till
the keepers warn him he has killed as many grouse as they consider
desirable; and then, having done his duty, as he thinks, in this
respect, he retires precipitately with flying colours to Brighton,
Nice, Monte Carlo, or elsewhere. He must be always "on the trek";
when he is buried, I believe he will not be able to rest quiet in
his grave: his ghost will walk the world to terrify old ladies.
"At Seldon, at least," he said to me, with a sigh, as he stepped
into his Pullman, "I shall be safe from that impostor!"
And indeed, as soon as he had begun to tire a little of counting
up his hundreds of brace per diem, he found a trifling piece of
financial work cut ready to his hand, which amply distracted his
mind for the moment from Colonel Clay, his accomplices, and his
Sir Charles, I ought to say, had secured during that summer a very
advantageous option in a part of Africa on the Transvaal frontier,
rumoured to be auriferous. Now, whether it was auriferous or not
before, the mere fact that Charles had secured some claim on it
naturally made it so; for no man had ever the genuine Midas-touch
to a greater degree than Charles Vandrift: whatever he handles turns
at once to gold, if not to diamonds. Therefore, as soon as my
brother-in-law had obtained this option from the native vendor (a
most respected chief, by name Montsioa), and promoted a company
of his own to develop it, his great rival in that region, Lord
Craig-Ellachie (formerly Sir David Alexander Granton), immediately
secured a similar option of an adjacent track, the larger part of
which had pretty much the same geological conditions as that covered
by Sir Charles's right of pre-emption.
We were not wholly disappointed, as it turned out, in the result.
A month or two later, while we were still at Seldon, we received
a long and encouraging letter from our prospectors on the spot,
who had been hunting over the ground in search of gold-reefs. They
reported that they had found a good auriferous vein in a corner of
the tract, approachable by adit-levels; but, unfortunately, only a
few yards of the lode lay within the limits of Sir Charles's area.
The remainder ran on at once into what was locally known as
However, our prospectors had been canny, they said; though young
Mr. Granton was prospecting at the same time, in the self-same
ridge, not very far from them, his miners had failed to discover
the auriferous quartz; so our men had held their tongues about it,
wisely leaving it for Charles to govern himself accordingly.
"Can you dispute the boundary?" I asked.
"Impossible," Charles answered. "You see, the limit is a meridian
of longitude. There's no getting over that. Can't pretend to deny
it. No buying over the sun! No bribing the instruments! Besides,
we drew the line ourselves. We've only one way out of it, Sey.
Charles is a marvellous man! The very voice in which he murmured
that blessed word "Amalgamate!" was in itself a poem.
"Capital!" I answered. "Say nothing about it, and join forces with
Charles closed one eye pensively.
That very same evening came a telegram in cipher from our chief
engineer on the territory of the option: "Young Granton has somehow
given us the slip and gone home. We suspect he knows all. But we
have not divulged the secret to anybody."
"Seymour," my brother-in-law said impressively, "there is no time to
be lost. I must write this evening to Sir David--I mean to My Lord.
Do you happen to know where he is stopping at present?"
"The Morning Post announced two or three days ago that he was at
Glen-Ellachie," I answered.
"Then I'll ask him to come over and thrash the matter out with me,"
my brother-in-law went on. "A very rich reef, they say. I must have
my finger in it!"
We adjourned into the study, where Sir Charles drafted, I must
admit, a most judicious letter to the rival capitalist. He pointed
out that the mineral resources of the country were probably great,
but as yet uncertain. That the expense of crushing and milling might
be almost prohibitive. That access to fuel was costly, and its
conveyance difficult. That water was scarce, and commanded by our
section. That two rival companies, if they happened to hit upon ore,
might cut one another's throats by erecting two sets of furnaces or
pumping plants, and bringing two separate streams to the spot,
where one would answer. In short--to employ the golden word--that
amalgamation might prove better in the end than competition; and
that he advised, at least, a conference on the subject.
I wrote it out fair for him, and Sir Charles, with the air of a
Cromwell, signed it.
"This is important, Sey," he said. "It had better be registered,
for fear of falling into improper hands. Don't give it to Dobson;
let Césarine take it over to Fowlis in the dog-cart."
It is the drawback of Seldon that we are twelve miles from a
railway station, though we look out on one of the loveliest firths
Césarine took it as directed--an invaluable servant, that girl!
Meanwhile, we learned from the Morning Post next day that young
Mr. Granton had stolen a march upon us. He had arrived from Africa
by the same mail with our agent's letter, and had joined his father
at once at Glen-Ellachie.
Two days later we received a most polite reply from the opposing
interest. It ran after this fashion:--
"DEAR SIR CHARLES VANDRIFT--Thanks for yours of the 20th. In reply,
I can only say I fully reciprocate your amiable desire that nothing
adverse to either of our companies should happen in South Africa.
With regard to your suggestion that we should meet in person, to
discuss the basis of a possible amalgamation, I can only say my
house is at present full of guests--as is doubtless your own--and
I should therefore find it practically impossible to leave
Glen-Ellachie. Fortunately, however, my son David is now at home
on a brief holiday from Kimberley; and it will give him great
pleasure to come over and hear what you have to say in favour of an
arrangement which certainly, on some grounds, seems to me desirable
in the interests of both our concessions alike. He will arrive
to-morrow afternoon at Seldon, and he is authorised, in every
respect, to negotiate with full powers on behalf of myself and the
other directors. With kindest regards to your wife and sons, I
remain, dear Sir Charles, yours faithfully,
"Cunning old fox!" Sir Charles exclaimed, with a sniff. "What's he
up to now, I wonder? Seems almost as anxious to amalgamate as we
ourselves are, Sey." A sudden thought struck him. "Do you know,"
he cried, looking up, "I really believe the same thing must have
happened to _both_ our exploring parties. _They_ must have found a
reef that goes under _our_ ground, and the wicked old rascal wants
to cheat us out of it!"
"As we want to cheat him," I ventured to interpose.
Charles looked at me fixedly. "Well, if so, we're both in luck,"
he murmured, after a pause; "though _we_ can only get to know the
whereabouts of _their_ find by joining hands with them and showing
them ours. Still, it's good business either way. But I shall be
"What a nuisance!" Amelia cried, when we told her of the incident.
"I suppose I shall have to put the man up for the night--a nasty,
raw-boned, half-baked Scotchman, you may be certain."
On Wednesday afternoon, about three, young Granton arrived. He was
a pleasant-featured, red-haired, sandy-whiskered youth, not unlike
his father; but, strange to say, he dropped in to call, instead of
bringing his luggage.
"Why, you're not going back to Glen-Ellachie to-night, surely?"
Charles exclaimed, in amazement. "Lady Vandrift will be _so_
disappointed! Besides, this business can't be arranged between
two trains, do you think, Mr. Granton?"
Young Granton smiled. He had an agreeable smile--canny, yet open.
"Oh no," he said frankly. "I didn't mean to go back. I've put up at
the inn. I have my wife with me, you know--and, I wasn't invited."
Amelia was of opinion, when we told her this episode, that David
Granton wouldn't stop at Seldon because he was an Honourable.
Isabel was of opinion he wouldn't stop because he had married an
unpresentable young woman somewhere out in South Africa. Charles was
of opinion that, as representative of the hostile interest, he put
up at the inn, because it might tie his hands in some way to be the
guest of the chairman of the rival company. And _I_ was of opinion
that he had heard of the castle, and knew it well by report as the
dullest country-house to stay at in Scotland.
However that may be, young Granton insisted on remaining at the
Cromarty Arms, though he told us his wife would be delighted to
receive a call from Lady Vandrift and Mrs. Wentworth. So we all
returned with him to bring the Honourable Mrs. Granton up to tea
at the Castle.
She was a nice little thing, very shy and timid, but by no means
unpresentable, and an evident lady. She giggled at the end of every
sentence; and she was endowed with a slight squint, which somehow
seemed to point all her feeble sallies. She knew little outside
South Africa; but of that she talked prettily; and she won all
our hearts, in spite of the cast in her eye, by her unaffected
Next morning Charles and I had a regular debate with young Granton
about the rival options. Our talk was of cyanide processes,
reverberatories, pennyweights, water-jackets. But it dawned upon us
soon that, in spite of his red hair and his innocent manners, our
friend, the Honourable David Granton, knew a thing or two. Gradually
and gracefully he let us see that Lord Craig-Ellachie had sent him
for the benefit of the company, but that _he_ had come for the
benefit of the Honourable David Granton.
"I'm a younger son, Sir Charles," he said; "and therefore I have to
feather my nest for myself. I know the ground. My father will be
guided implicitly by what I advise in the matter. We are men of the
world. Now, let's be business-like. _You_ want to amalgamate. You
wouldn't do that, of course, if you didn't know of something to the
advantage of my father's company--say, a lode on our land--which you
hope to secure for yourself by amalgamation. Very well; _I_ can make
or mar your project. If you choose to render it worth my while, I'll
induce my father and his directors to amalgamate. If you don't, I
won't. That's the long and the short of it!"
Charles looked at him admiringly.
"Young man," he said, "you're deep, very deep--for your age. Is this
candour--or deception? Do you mean what you say? Or do you know some
reason why it suits your father's book to amalgamate as well as it
suits mine? And are you trying to keep it from me?" He fingered his
chin. "If I only knew that," he went on, "I should know how to deal
Young Granton smiled again. "You're a financier, Sir Charles," he
answered. "I wonder, at your time of life, you should pause to ask
another financier whether he's trying to fill his own pocket--or his
father's. Whatever is my father's goes to his eldest son--and _I_ am
"You are right as to general principles," Sir Charles replied, quite
affectionately. "Most sound and sensible. But how do I know you
haven't bargained already in the same way with your father? You
may have settled with _him_, and be trying to diddle me."
The young man assumed a most candid air. "Look here," he said,
leaning forward. "I offer you this chance. Take it or leave it. _Do_
you wish to purchase my aid for this amalgamation by a moderate
commission on the net value of my father's option to yourself--which
I know approximately?"
"Say five per cent," I suggested, in a tentative voice, just to
justify my presence.
He looked me through and through. "_Ten_ is more usual," he
answered, in a peculiar tone and with a peculiar glance.
Great heavens, how I winced! I knew what his words meant. They were
the very words I had said myself to Colonel Clay, as the Count von
Lebenstein, about the purchase-money of the schloss--and in the very
same accent. I saw through it all now. That beastly cheque! This
was Colonel Clay; and he was trying to buy up my silence and
assistance by the threat of exposure!
My blood ran cold. I didn't know how to answer him. What happened
at the rest of that interview I really couldn't tell you. My brain
reeled round. I heard just faint echoes of "fuel" and "reduction
works." What on earth was I to do? If I told Charles my
suspicion--for it was only a suspicion--the fellow might turn upon
me and disclose the cheque, which would suffice to ruin me. If I
didn't, I ran a risk of being considered by Charles an accomplice
and a confederate.
The interview was long. I hardly know how I struggled through it.
At the end young Granton went off, well satisfied, if it was young
Granton; and Amelia invited him and his wife up to dinner at the
Whatever else they were, they were capital company. They stopped
for three days more at the Cromarty Arms. And Charles debated and
discussed incessantly. He couldn't quite make up his mind what to
do in the affair; and _I_ certainly couldn't help him. I never was
placed in such a fix in my life. I did my best to preserve a strict
Young Granton, it turned out, was a most agreeable person; and so,
in her way, was that timid, unpretending South African wife of his.
She was naively surprised Amelia had never met her mamma at Durban.
They both talked delightfully, and had lots of good stories--mostly
with points that told against the Craig-Ellachie people. Moreover,
the Honourable David was a splendid swimmer. He went out in a boat
with us, and dived like a seal. He was burning to teach Charles
and myself to swim, when we told him we could neither of us take a
single stroke; he said it was an accomplishment incumbent upon every
true Englishman. But Charles hates the water; while, as for myself,
I detest every known form of muscular exercise.
However, we consented that he should row us on the Firth, and made
an appointment one day with himself and his wife for four the next
That night Charles came to me with a very grave face in my own
bedroom. "Sey," he said, under his breath, "have you observed?
Have you watched? Have you any suspicions?"
I trembled violently. I felt all was up. "Suspicions of whom?"
I asked. "Not surely of Simpson?" (he was Sir Charles's valet).
My respected brother-in-law looked at me contemptuously.
"Sey," he said, "are you trying to take me in? No, _not_ of Simpson:
of these two young folks. My own belief is--they're Colonel Clay
and Madame Picardet."
"Impossible!" I cried.
He nodded. "I'm sure of it."
"How do you know?"
I seized his arm. "Charles," I said, imploring him, "do nothing
rash. Remember how you exposed yourself to the ridicule of fools
over Dr. Polperro!"
"I've thought of that," he answered, "and I mean to ca' caller."
(When in Scotland as laird of Seldon, Charles loves both to dress
and to speak the part thoroughly.) "First thing to-morrow I shall
telegraph over to inquire at Glen-Ellachie; I shall find out
whether this is really young Granton or not; meanwhile, I shall keep
my eye close upon the fellow."
Early next morning, accordingly, a groom was dispatched with a
telegram to Lord Craig-Ellachie. He was to ride over to Fowlis, send
it off at once, and wait for the answer. At the same time, as it was
probable Lord Craig-Ellachie would have started for the moors before
the telegram reached the Lodge, I did not myself expect to see the
reply arrive much before seven or eight that evening. Meanwhile, as
it was far from certain we had not the real David Granton to deal
with, it was necessary to be polite to our friendly rivals. Our
experience in the Polperro incident had shown us both that too much
zeal may be more dangerous than too little. Nevertheless, taught
by previous misfortunes, we kept watching our man pretty close,
determined that on this occasion, at least, he should neither do us
nor yet escape us.
About four o'clock the red-haired young man and his pretty little
wife came up to call for us. She looked so charming and squinted
so enchantingly, one could hardly believe she was not as simple
and innocent as she seemed to be. She tripped down to the Seldon
boat-house, with Charles by her side, giggling and squinting her
best, and then helped her husband to get the skiff ready. As she did
so, Charles sidled up to me. "Sey," he whispered, "I'm an old hand,
and I'm not readily taken in. I've been talking to that girl, and
upon my soul I think she's all right. She's a charming little lady.
We may be mistaken after all, of course, about young Granton. In any
case, it's well for the present to be courteous. A most important
option! If it's really he, we must do nothing to annoy him or let
him see we suspect him."
I had noticed, indeed, that Mrs. Granton had made herself most
agreeable to Charles from the very beginning. And as to one thing he
was right. In her timid, shrinking way she was undeniably charming.
That cast in her eye was all pure piquancy.
We rowed out on to the Firth, or, to be more strictly correct, the
two Grantons rowed while Charles and I sat and leaned back in the
stern on the luxurious cushions. They rowed fast and well. In a very
few minutes they had rounded the point and got clear out of sight
of the Cockneyfied towers and false battlements of Seldon.
Mrs. Granton pulled stroke. Even as she rowed she kept up a brisk
undercurrent of timid chaff with Sir Charles, giggling all the
while, half forward, half shy, like a school-girl who flirts with
a man old enough to be her grandfather.
Sir Charles was flattered. He is susceptible to the pleasures of
female attention, especially from the young, the simple, and the
innocent. The wiles of women of the world he knows too well; but a
pretty little ingénue can twist him round her finger. They rowed on
and on, till they drew abreast of Seamew's island. It is a jagged
stack or skerry, well out to sea, very wild and precipitous on the
landward side, but shelving gently outward; perhaps an acre in
extent, with steep gray cliffs, covered at that time with crimson
masses of red valerian. Mrs. Granton rowed up close to it. "Oh, what
lovely flowers!" she cried, throwing her head back and gazing at
them. "I wish I could get some! Let's land here and pick them. Sir
Charles, you shall gather me a nice bunch for my sitting-room."
Charles rose to it innocently, like a trout to a fly.
"By all means, my dear child, I--I have a passion for flowers;"
which was a flower of speech itself, but it served its purpose.
They rowed us round to the far side, where is the easiest
landing-place. It struck me as odd at the moment that they seemed
to know it. Then young Granton jumped lightly ashore; Mrs. Granton
skipped after him. I confess it made me feel rather ashamed to see
how clumsily Charles and I followed them, treading gingerly on the
thwarts for fear of upsetting the boat, while the artless young
thing just flew over the gunwale. So like White Heather! However,
we got ashore at last in safety, and began to climb the rocks as
well as we were able in search of the valerian.
Judge of our astonishment when next moment those two young people
bounded back into the boat, pushed off with a peal of merry
laughter, and left us there staring at them!
They rowed away, about twenty yards, into deep water. Then the man
turned, and waved his hand at us gracefully. "Good-bye!" he said,
"good-bye! Hope you'll pick a nice bunch! We're off to London!"
"Off!" Charles exclaimed, turning pale. "Off! What do you mean?
You don't surely mean to say you're going to leave us here?"
The young man raised his cap with perfect politeness, while Mrs.
Granton smiled, nodded, and kissed her pretty hand to us. "Yes,"
he answered; "for the present. We retire from the game. The fact
of it is, it's a trifle too thin: this is a coup manqué."
"A _what_?" Charles exclaimed, perspiring visibly.
"A coup manqué," the young man replied, with a compassionate smile.
"A failure, don't you know; a bad shot; a fiasco. I learn from
my scouts that you sent a telegram by special messenger to Lord
Craig-Ellachie this morning. That shows you suspect me. Now, it is a
principle of my system never to go on for one move with a game when
I find myself suspected. The slightest symptom of distrust, and--I
back out immediately. My plans can only be worked to satisfaction
when there is perfect confidence on the part of my patient. It is
a well-known rule of the medical profession. I _never_ try to bleed
a man who struggles. So now we're off. Ta-ta! Good luck to you!"
He was not much more than twenty yards away, and could talk to us
quite easily. But the water was deep; the islet rose sheer from I'm
sure I don't know how many fathoms of sea; and we could neither of
us swim. Charles stretched out his arms imploringly. "For Heaven's
sake," he cried, "don't tell me you really mean to leave us here."
He looked so comical in his distress and terror that Mrs.
Granton--Madame Picardet--whatever I am to call her--laughed
melodiously in her prettiest way at the sight of him. "Dear Sir
Charles," she called out, "pray don't be afraid! It's only a
short and temporary imprisonment. We will send men to take you off.
Dear David and I only need just time enough to get well ashore and
make--oh!--a few slight alterations in our personal appearance."
And she indicated with her hand, laughing, dear David's red wig and
false sandy whiskers, as we felt convinced they must be now. She
looked at them and tittered. Her manner at this moment was anything
but shy. In fact, I will venture to say, it was that of a bold and
"Then you _are_ Colonel Clay!" Sir Charles cried, mopping his brow
with his handkerchief.
"If you choose to call me so," the young man answered politely. "I'm
sure it's most kind of you to supply me with a commission in Her
Majesty's service. However, time presses, and we want to push off.
Don't alarm yourselves unnecessarily. I will send a boat to take you
away from this rock at the earliest possible moment consistent with
my personal safety and my dear companion's." He laid his hand on his
heart and struck a sentimental attitude. "I have received too many
unwilling kindnesses at your hands, Sir Charles," he continued,
"not to feel how wrong it would be of me to inconvenience you for
nothing. Rest assured that you shall be rescued by midnight at
latest. Fortunately, the weather just at present is warm, and I see
no chance of rain; so you will suffer, if at all, from nothing worse
than the pangs of temporary hunger."
Mrs. Granton, no longer squinting--'twas a mere trick she had
assumed--rose up in the boat and stretched out a rug to us. "Catch!"
she cried, in a merry voice, and flung it at us, doubled. It fell
at our feet; she was a capital thrower.
"Now, you dear Sir Charles," she went on, "take that to keep you
warm! You know I am really quite fond of you. You're not half a
bad old boy when one takes you the right way. You have a human side
to you. Why, I often wear that sweetly pretty brooch you gave me
at Nice, when I was Madame Picardet! And I'm sure your goodness to
me at Lucerne, when I was the little curate's wife, is a thing to
remember. We're so glad to have seen you in your lovely Scotch
home you were always so proud of! _Don't_ be frightened, please. We
wouldn't hurt you for worlds. We _are_ so sorry we have to take this
inhospitable means of evading you. But dear David--I _must_ call
him dear David still--instinctively felt that you were beginning to
suspect us; and he can't bear mistrust. He _is_ so sensitive! The
moment people mistrust him, he _must_ break off with them at once.
This was the only way to get you both off our hands while we make
the needful little arrangements to depart; and we've been driven to
avail ourselves of it. However, I will give you my word of honour,
as a lady, you shall be fetched away to-night. If dear David doesn't
do it, why, I'll do it myself." And she blew another kiss to us.
Charles was half beside himself, divided between alternate terror
and anger. "Oh, we shall die here!" he exclaimed. "Nobody'd ever
dream of coming to this rock to search for me."
"What a pity you didn't let me teach you to swim!" Colonel Clay
interposed. "It is a noble exercise, and very useful indeed in such
special emergencies! Well, ta-ta! I'm off! You nearly scored one
this time; but, by putting you here for the moment, and keeping you
till we're gone, I venture to say I've redressed the board, and I
think we may count it a drawn game, mayn't we? The match stands at
three, love--with some thousands in pocket?"
"You're a murderer, sir!" Charles shrieked out. "We shall starve or
Colonel Clay on his side was all sweet reasonableness. "Now, my dear
sir," he expostulated, one hand held palm outward, "_Do_ you think
it probable I would kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, with
so little compunction? No, no, Sir Charles Vandrift; I know too well
how much you are worth to me. I return you on my income-tax paper
as five thousand a year, clear profit of my profession. Suppose you
were to die! I might be compelled to find some new and far less
lucrative source of plunder. Your heirs, executors, or assignees
might not suit my purpose. The fact of it is, sir, your temperament
and mine are exactly adapted one to the other. _I_ understand _you_;
and _you_ do not understand _me_--which is often the basis of the
firmest friendships. I can catch you just where you are trying to
catch other people. Your very smartness assists me; for I admit you
_are_ smart. As a regular financier, I allow, I couldn't hold a
candle to you. But in my humbler walk of life I know just how to
utilise you. I lead you on, where you think you are going to gain some
advantage over others; and by dexterously playing upon your love of
a good bargain, your innate desire to best somebody else--I succeed
in besting you. There, sir, you have the philosophy of our mutual
He bowed and raised his cap. Charles looked at him and cowered. Yes,
genius as he is, he positively cowered. "And do you mean to say,"
he burst out, "you intend to go on so bleeding me?"
The Colonel smiled a bland smile. "Sir Charles Vandrift," he
answered, "I called you just now the goose that lays the golden
eggs. You may have thought the metaphor a rude one. But you _are_
a goose, you know, in certain relations. Smartest man on the Stock
Exchange, I readily admit; easiest fool to bamboozle in the
open country that ever I met with. You fail in one thing--the
perspicacity of simplicity. For that reason, among others, I have
chosen to fasten upon you. Regard me, my dear sir, as a microbe of
millionaires, a parasite upon capitalists. You know the old rhyme:
Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em,
And these again have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum!
Well, that's just how I view myself. _You_ are a capitalist and a
millionaire. In _your_ large way you prey upon society. YOU deal in
Corners, Options, Concessions, Syndicates. You drain the world
dry of its blood and its money. You possess, like the mosquito, a
beautiful instrument of suction--Founders' Shares--with which you
absorb the surplus wealth of the community. In _my_ smaller way,
again, _I_ relieve you in turn of a portion of the plunder. I am a
Robin Hood of my age; and, looking upon _you_ as an exceptionally bad
form of millionaire--as well as an exceptionally easy form of pigeon
for a man of my type and talents to pluck--I have, so to speak,
taken up my abode upon you."
Charles looked at him and groaned.
The young man continued, in a tone of gentle badinage. "I love the
plot-interest of the game," he said, "and so does dear Jessie here.
We both of us adore it. As long as I find such good pickings upon
you, I certainly am not going to turn away from so valuable a
carcass, in order to batten myself, at considerable trouble, upon
minor capitalists, out of whom it is difficult to extract a few
hundreds. It may have puzzled you to guess why I fix upon you so
persistently. Now you know, and understand. When a fluke finds a
sheep that suits him, that fluke lives upon him. You are my host: I
am your parasite. This coup has failed. But don't flatter yourself
for a moment it will be the last one."
"Why do you insult me by telling me all this?" Sir Charles cried,
The Colonel waved his hand. It was small and white. "Because I _love_
the game," he answered, with a relish; "and also, because the more
prepared you are beforehand, the greater credit and amusement is
there in besting you. Well, now, ta-ta once more! I am wasting
valuable time. I might be cheating somebody. I must be off at
once.... Take care of yourself, Wentworth. But I know you _will_.
You always do. Ten per cent _is_ more usual!"
He rowed away and left us. As the boat began to disappear round the
corner of the island, White Heather--so she looked--stood up in the
stern and shouted aloud through her pretty hands to us. "By-bye,
dear Sir Charles!" she cried. "Do wrap the rug around you! I'll
send the men to fetch you as soon as ever I possibly can. And thank
you so much for those lovely flowers!"
The boat rounded the crags. We were alone on the island. Charles
flung himself on the bare rock in a wild access of despondency.
He is accustomed to luxury, and cannot get on without his padded
cushions. As for myself, I climbed with some difficulty to the top
of the cliff, landward, and tried to make signals of distress with
my handkerchief to some passer-by on the mainland. All in vain.
Charles had dismissed the crofters on the estate; and, as the
shooting-party that day was in an opposite direction, not a soul
was near to whom we could call for succour.
I climbed down again to Charles. The evening came on slowly. Cries
of sea-birds rang weird upon the water. Puffins and cormorants
circled round our heads in the gray of twilight. Charles suggested
that they might even swoop down upon us and bite us. They did not,
however, but their flapping wings added none the less a painful
touch of eeriness to our hunger and solitude. Charles was horribly
depressed. For myself, I will confess I felt so much relieved at
the fact that Colonel Clay had not openly betrayed me in the matter
of the commission, as to be comparatively comfortable.
We crouched on the hard crag. About eleven o'clock we heard human
voices. "Boat ahoy!" I shouted. An answering shout aroused us to
action. We rushed down to the landing-place and cooee'd for the men,
to show them where we were. They came up at once in Sir Charles's
own boat. They were fishermen from Niggarey, on the shore of the
A lady and gentleman had sent them, they said, to return the boat
and call for us on the island; their description corresponded to
the two supposed Grantons. They rowed us home almost in silence to
Seldon. It was half-past twelve by the gatehouse clock when we
reached the castle. Men had been sent along the coast each way to
seek us. Amelia had gone to bed, much alarmed for our safety. Isabel
was sitting up. It was too late, of course, to do much that night in
the way of apprehending the miscreants, though Charles insisted upon
dispatching a groom, with a telegram for the police at Inverness,
Nothing came of it all. A message awaited us from Lord
Craig-Ellachie, to be sure, saying that his son had not left
Glen-Ellachie Lodge; while research the next day and later showed
that our correspondent had never even received our letter. An empty
envelope alone had arrived at the house, and the postal authorities
had been engaged meanwhile, with their usual lightning speed, in
"investigating the matter." Césarine had posted the letter herself
at Fowlis, and brought back the receipt; so the only conclusion we
could draw was this--Colonel Clay must be in league with somebody
at the post-office. As for Lord Craig-Ellachie's reply, that was a
simple forgery; though, oddly enough, it was written on
However, by the time Charles had eaten a couple of grouse, and
drunk a bottle of his excellent Rudesheimer, his spirits and valour
revived exceedingly. Doubtless he inherits from his Boer ancestry a
tendency towards courage of the Batavian description. He was in
"After all, Sey," he said, leaning back in his chair, "this time
we score one. He has _not_ done us brown; we have at least detected
him. To detect him in time is half-way to catching him. Only the
remoteness of our position at Seldon Castle saved him from capture.
Next set-to, I feel sure, we will not merely spot him, we will also
nab him. I only wish he would try on such a rig in London."
But the oddest part of it all was this, that from the moment those
two people landed at Niggarey, and told the fishermen there were
some gentlemen stranded on the Seamew's island, all trace of them
vanished. At no station along the line could we gain any news of
them. Their maid had left the inn the same morning with their
luggage, and we tracked her to Inverness; but there the trail
stopped short, no spoor lay farther. It was a most singular and
Charles lived in hopes of catching his man in London.
But for my part, I felt there was a show of reason in one last
taunt which the rascal flung back at us as the boat receded: "Sir
Charles Vandrift, we are a pair of rogues. The law protects _you_.
It persecutes _me_. That's all the difference."
THE EPISODE OF THE GERMAN PROFESSOR
That winter in town my respected brother-in-law had little time
on his hands to bother himself about trifles like Colonel Clay.
A thunderclap burst upon him. He saw his chief interest in South
Africa threatened by a serious, an unexpected, and a crushing
Charles does a little in gold, and a little in land; but his
principal operations have always lain in the direction of diamonds.
Only once in my life, indeed, have I seen him pay the slightest
attention to poetry, and that was when I happened one day to
recite the lines:--
Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark, unfathomed caves of ocean bear.
He rubbed his hands at once and murmured enthusiastically, "I never
thought of that. We might get up an Atlantic Exploration Syndicate,
Limited." So attached is he to diamonds. You may gather, therefore,
what a shock it was to that gigantic brain to learn that science was
rapidly reaching a point where his favourite gems might become all
at once a mere drug in the market. Depreciation is the one bugbear
that perpetually torments Sir Charles's soul; that winter he stood
within measurable distance of so appalling a calamity.
It happened after this manner.
We were strolling along Piccadilly towards Charles's club one
afternoon--he is a prominent member of the Croesus, in Pall
Mall--when, near Burlington House, whom should we happen to knock
up against but Sir Adolphus Cordery, the famous mineralogist, and
leading spirit of the Royal Society! He nodded to us pleasantly.
"Halloa, Vandrift," he cried, in his peculiarly loud and piercing
voice; "you're the very man I wanted to meet to-day. Good morning,
Wentworth. Well, how about diamonds now, Sir Gorgius? You'll have to
sing small. It's all up with you Midases. Heard about this marvellous
new discovery of Schleiermacher's? It's calculated to make you
diamond kings squirm like an eel in a frying-pan."
I could see Charles wriggle inside his clothes. He was most
uncomfortable. That a man like Cordery should say such things, in
so loud a voice, on no matter how little foundation, openly in
Piccadilly, was enough in itself to make a sensitive barometer
such as Cloetedorp Golcondas go down a point or two.
"Hush, hush!" Charles said solemnly, in that awed tone of voice
which he always assumes when Money is blasphemed against. "_Please_
don't talk quite so loud! All London can hear you."
Sir Adolphus ran his arm through Charles's most amicably. There's
nothing Charles hates like having his arm taken.
"Come along with me to the Athenæum," he went on, in the same
stentorian voice, "and I'll tell you all about it. Most interesting
discovery. Makes diamonds cheap as dirt. Calculated to supersede
South Africa altogether."
Charles allowed himself to be dragged along. There was nothing else
possible. Sir Adolphus continued, in a somewhat lower key, induced
upon him by Charles's mute look of protest. It was a disquieting
story. He told it with gleeful unction. It seems that Professor
Schleiermacher, of Jena, "the greatest living authority on the
chemistry of gems," he said, had lately invented, or claimed to
have invented, a system for artificially producing diamonds, which
had yielded most surprising and unexceptionable results.
Charles's lip curled slightly. "Oh, I know the sort of thing," he
said. "I've heard of it before. Very inferior stones, quite small
and worthless, produced at immense cost, and even then not worth
looking at. I'm an old bird, you know, Cordery; not to be caught
with chaff. Tell me a better one!"
Sir Adolphus produced a small cut gem from his pocket. "How's that
for the first water?" he inquired, passing it across, with a broad
smile, to the sceptic. "Made under my own eyes--and quite
Charles examined it close, stopping short against the railings in
St. James's Square to look at it with his pocket-lens. There was no
denying the truth. It was a capital small gem of the finest quality.
"Made under your own eyes?" he exclaimed, still incredulous. "Where,
my dear sir?--at Jena?"
The answer was a thunderbolt from a blue sky. "No, here in London;
last night as ever was; before myself and Dr. Gray; and about to be
exhibited by the President himself at a meeting of Fellows of the
Charles drew a long breath. "This nonsense must be stopped," he said
firmly--"it must be nipped in the bud. It won't do, my dear friend;
we can't have such tampering with important Interests."
"How do you mean?" Cordery asked, astonished.
Charles gazed at him steadily. I could see by the furtive gleam in
my brother-in-law's eye he was distinctly frightened. "Where _is_
the fellow?" he asked. "Did he come himself, or send over a deputy?"
"Here in London," Sir Adolphus replied. "He's staying at my house;
and he says he'll be glad to show his experiments to anybody
scientifically interested in diamonds. We propose to have a
demonstration of the process to-night at Lancaster Gate. Will
you drop in and see it?"
Would he "drop in" and see it? "Drop in" at such a function! Could
he possibly stop away? Charles clutched the enemy's arm with a
nervous grip. "Look here, Cordery," he said, quivering; "this is a
question affecting very important Interests. Don't do anything rash.
Don't do anything foolish. Remember that Shares may rise or fall on
this." He said "Shares" in a tone of profound respect that I can
hardly even indicate. It was the crucial word in the creed of his
"I should think it very probable," Sir Adolphus replied, with the
callous indifference of the mere man of science to financial
Sir Charles was bland, but peremptory. "Now, observe," he said, "a
grave responsibility rests on your shoulders. The Market depends
upon you. You must not ask in any number of outsiders to witness
these experiments. Have a few mineralogists and experts, if you
like; but also take care to invite representatives of the menaced
Interests. I will come myself--I'm engaged to dine out, but I
can contract an indisposition; and I should advise you to ask
Mosenheimer, and, say, young Phipson. They would stand for the
mines, as you and the mineralogists would stand for science. Above
all, don't blab; for Heaven's sake, let there be no premature
gossip. Tell Schleiermacher not to go gassing and boasting of
his success all over London."
"We are keeping the matter a profound secret, at Schleiermacher's
own request," Cordery answered, more seriously.
"Which is why," Charles said, in his severest tone, "you bawled it
out at the very top of your voice in Piccadilly!"
However, before nightfall, everything was arranged to Charles's
satisfaction; and off we went to Lancaster Gate, with a profound
expectation that the German professor would do nothing worth seeing.
He was a remarkable-looking man, once tall, I should say, from his
long, thin build, but now bowed and bent with long devotion to study
and leaning over a crucible. His hair, prematurely white, hung down
upon his forehead, but his eye was keen and his mouth sagacious. He
shook hands cordially with the men of science, whom he seemed to
know of old, whilst he bowed somewhat distantly to the South African
interest. Then he began to talk, in very German-English, helping out
the sense now and again, where his vocabulary failed him, by waving
his rather dirty and chemical-stained hands demonstratively about
him. His nails were a sight, but his fingers, I must say, had the
delicate shape of a man's accustomed to minute manipulation. He
plunged at once into the thick of the matter, telling us briefly in
his equally thick accent that he "now brobosed by his new brocess
to make for us some goot and sadisfactory tiamonds."
He brought out his apparatus, and explained--or, as he said,
"eggsblained"--his novel method. "Tiamonds," he said, "were nozzing
but pure crystalline carbon." He knew how to crystallise it--"zat
was all ze secret." The men of science examined the pots and pans
carefully. Then he put in a certain number of raw materials, and
went to work with ostentatious openness. There were three distinct
processes, and he made two stones by each simultaneously. The
remarkable part of his methods, he said, was their rapidity and
their cheapness. In three-quarters of an hour (and he smiled
sardonically) he could produce a diamond worth at current prices
two hundred pounds sterling. "As you shall now see me berform,"
he remarked, "viz zis simple abbaradus."
The materials fizzed and fumed. The Professor stirred them. An
unpleasant smell like burnt feathers pervaded the room. The
scientific men craned their necks in their eagerness, and looked
over one another; Vane-Vivian, in particular, was all attention.
After three-quarters of an hour, the Professor, still smiling, began
to empty the apparatus. He removed a large quantity of dust or
powder, which he succinctly described as "by-broducts," and then
took between finger and thumb from the midst of each pan a small
white pebble, not water-worn apparently, but slightly rough and
wart-like on the surface.
From one pair of the pannikins he produced two such stones, and
held them up before us triumphantly. "Zese," he said, "are genuine
tiamonds, manufactured at a gost of fourteen shillings and
siggspence abiece!" Then he tried the second pair. "Zese," he said,
still more gleefully, "are broduced at a gost of eleffen and
ninebence!" Finally, he came to the third pair, which he positively
brandished before our astonished eyes. "And zese," he cried,
transported, "haff gost me no more zan tree and eightbence!"
They were handed round for inspection. Rough and uncut as they
stood, it was, of course, impossible to judge of their value. But
one thing was certain. The men of science had been watching close at
the first, and were sure Herr Schleiermacher had not put the stones
in; they were keen at the withdrawal, and were equally sure he had
taken them honestly out of the pannikins.
"I vill now disdribute zem," the Professor remarked in a casual
tone, as if diamonds were peas, looking round at the company. And
he singled out my brother-in-law. "One to Sir Charles!" he said,
handing it; "one to Mr. Mosenheimer; one to Mr. Phibson--as
representing the tiamond interest. Zen, one each to Sir Atolphus,
to Dr. Gray, to Mr. Fane-Fiffian, as representing science. You will
haff zem cut and rebort upon zem in due gourse. We meet again at
zis blace ze day afder do-morrow."
Charles gazed at him reproachfully. The profoundest chords of his
moral nature were stirred. "Professor," he said, in a voice of
solemn warning, "_Are_ you aware that, _if_ you have succeeded, you
have destroyed the value of thousands of pounds' worth of precious
The Professor shrugged his shoulders. "Fot is dat to me?" he
inquired, with a curious glance of contempt. "I am not a financier!
I am a man of science. I seek to know; I do not seek to make a
"Shocking!" Charles exclaimed. "Shocking! I never before in my life
beheld so strange an instance of complete insensibility to the
claims of others!"
We separated early. The men of science were coarsely jubilant. The
diamond interest exhibited a corresponding depression. If this news
were true, they foresaw a slump. Every eye grew dim. It was a
Charles walked homeward with the Professor. He sounded him gently as
to the sum required, should need arise, to purchase his secrecy.
Already Sir Adolphus had bound us all down to temporary silence--as
if that were necessary; but Charles wished to know how much
Schleiermacher would take to suppress his discovery. The German
"No, no!" he replied, with positive petulance. "You do not
unterstant. I do not buy and sell. Zis is a chemical fact. We must
bublish it for the sake off its seoretical falue. I do not care
for wealse. I haff no time to waste in making money."
"What an awful picture of a misspent life!" Charles observed to me
And, indeed, the man seemed to care for nothing on earth but the
abstract question--not whether he could make good diamonds or not,
but whether he could or could not produce a crystalline form of
On the appointed night Charles went back to Lancaster Gate, as I
could not fail to remark, with a strange air of complete and painful
preoccupation. Never before in his life had I seen him so anxious.
The diamonds were produced, with one surface of each slightly scored
by the cutters, so as to show the water. Then a curious result
disclosed itself. Strange to say, each of the three diamonds given
to the three diamond kings turned out to be a most inferior and
valueless stone; while each of the three intrusted to the care of
the scientific investigators turned out to be a fine gem of the
I confess it was a sufficiently suspicious conjunction. The three
representatives of the diamond interest gazed at each other with
inquiring side-glances. Then their eyes fell suddenly: they avoided
one another. Had each independently substituted a weak and inferior
natural stone for Professor Schleiermacher's manufactured pebbles?
It almost seemed so. For a moment, I admit, I was half inclined to
suppose it. But next second I changed my mind. Could a man of Sir
Charles Vandrift's integrity and high principle stoop for lucre's
sake to so mean an expedient?--not to mention the fact that, even if
he did, and if Mosenheimer did likewise, the stones submitted to the
scientific men would have amply sufficed to establish the reality
and success of the experiments!
Still, I must say, Charles looked guiltily across at Mosenheimer,
and Mosenheimer at Phipson, while three more uncomfortable or
unhappy-faced men could hardly have been found at that precise
minute in the City of Westminster.
Then Sir Adolphus spoke--or, rather, he orated. He said, in his loud
and grating voice, we had that evening, and on a previous evening,
been present at the conception and birth of an Epoch in the History
of Science. Professor Schleiermacher was one of those men of whom
his native Saxony might well be proud; while as a Briton he must
say he regretted somewhat that this discovery, like so many
others, should have been "Made in Germany." However, Professor
Schleiermacher was a specimen of that noble type of scientific men
to whom gold was merely the rare metal Au, and diamonds merely the
element C in the scarcest of its manifold allotropic embodiments.
The Professor did not seek to make money out of his discovery. He
rose above the sordid greed of capitalists. Content with the glory
of having traced the element C to its crystalline origin, he asked
no more than the approval of science. However, out of deference to
the wishes of those financial gentlemen who were oddly concerned in
maintaining the present price of C in its crystalline form--in other
words, the diamond interest--they had arranged that the secret
should be strictly guarded and kept for the present; not one of the
few persons admitted to the experiments would publicly divulge the
truth about them. This secrecy would be maintained till he himself,
and a small committee of the Royal Society, should have time to
investigate and verify for themselves the Professor's beautiful
and ingenious processes--an investigation and verification which
the learned Professor himself both desired and suggested.
(Schleiermacher nodded approval.) When that was done, if the
process stood the test, further concealment would be absolutely
futile. The price of diamonds must fall at once below that of paste,
and any protest on the part of the financial world would, of course,
be useless. The laws of Nature were superior to millionaires.
Meanwhile, in deference to the opinion of Sir Charles Vandrift,
whose acquaintance with that fascinating side of the subject nobody
could deny, they had consented to send no notices to the Press, and
to abstain from saying anything about this beautiful and simple
process in public. He dwelt with horrid gusto on that epithet
"beautiful." And now, in the name of British mineralogy, he must
congratulate Professor Schleiermacher, our distinguished guest, on
his truly brilliant and crystalline contribution to our knowledge
of brilliants and of crystalline science.
Everybody applauded. It was an awkward moment. Sir Charles bit his
lip. Mosenheimer looked glum. Young Phipson dropped an expression
which I will not transcribe. (I understand this work may circulate
among families.) And after a solemn promise of death-like secrecy,
the meeting separated.
I noticed that my brother-in-law somewhat ostentatiously avoided
Mosenheimer at the door; and that Phipson jumped quickly into his
own carriage. "Home!" Charles cried gloomily to the coachman as we
took our seats in the brougham. And all the way to Mayfair he leaned
back in his seat, with close-set lips, never uttering a syllable.
Before he retired to rest, however, in the privacy of the
billiard-room, I ventured to ask him: "Charles, will you unload
Golcondas to-morrow?" Which, I need hardly explain, is the slang of
the Stock Exchange for getting rid of undesirable securities. It
struck me as probable that, in the event of the invention turning
out a reality, Cloetedorp A's might become unsaleable within the
next few weeks or so.
He eyed me sternly. "Wentworth," he said, "you're a fool!" (Except
on occasions when he is _very_ angry, my respected connection
_never_ calls me "Wentworth"; the familiar abbreviation,
"Sey"--derived from Seymour--is his usual mode of address to
me in private.) "_Is_ it likely I would unload, and wreck the
confidence of the public in the Cloetedorp Company at such a
moment? As a director--as Chairman--would it be just or right of
me? I ask you, sir, _could_ I reconcile it to my conscience?"
"Charles," I answered, "you are right. Your conduct is noble. You
will not save your own personal interests at the expense of those
who have put their trust in you. Such probity is, alas! very rare in
finance!" And I sighed involuntarily; for I had lost in Liberators.
At the same time I thought to myself, "_I_ am not a director. No
trust is reposed in _me_. _I_ have to think first of dear Isabel and
the baby. Before the crash comes _I_ will sell out to-morrow the
few shares I hold, through Charles's kindness, in the Cloetedorp
With his marvellous business instinct, Charles seemed to divine
my thought, for he turned round to me sharply. "Look here, Sey,"
he remarked, in an acidulous tone, "recollect, you're my
brother-in-law. You are also my secretary. The eyes of London will
be upon us to-morrow. If _you_ were to sell out, and operators got to
know of it, they'd suspect there was something up, and the company
would suffer for it. Of course, you can do what you like with your
own property. I can't interfere with _that_. I do not dictate to
you. But as Chairman of the Golcondas, I am bound to see that the
interests of widows and orphans whose All is invested with me should
not suffer at this crisis." His voice seemed to falter. "Therefore,
though I don't like to threaten," he went on, "I am bound to give
you warning: _if_ you sell out those shares of yours, openly or
secretly, you are no longer my secretary; you receive forthwith six
months' salary in lieu of notice, and--you leave me instantly."
"Very well, Charles," I answered, in a submissive voice; though I
debated with myself for a moment whether it would be best to stick
to the ready money and quit the sinking ship, or to hold fast by my
friend, and back Charles's luck against the Professor's science.
After a short, sharp struggle within my own mind, I am proud to say,
friendship and gratitude won. I felt sure that, whether diamonds
went up or down, Charles Vandrift was the sort of man who would come
to the top in the end in spite of everything. And I decided to stand
I slept little that night, however. My mind was a whirlwind. At
breakfast Charles also looked haggard and moody. He ordered the
carriage early, and drove straight into the City.
There was a block in Cheapside. Charles, impatient and nervous,
jumped out and walked. I walked beside him. Near Wood Street a man
we knew casually stopped us.
"I think I ought to mention to you," he said, confidentially,
"that I have it on the very best authority that Schleiermacher,
"Thank you," Charles said, crustily, "I know that tale, and--there's
not a word of truth in it."
He brushed on in haste. A yard or two farther a broker paused in
front of us.
"Halloa, Sir Charles!" he called out, in a bantering tone. "What's
all this about diamonds? Where are Cloetedorps to-day? Is it
Golconda, or Queer Street?"
Charles drew himself up very stiff. "I fail to understand you,"
he answered, with dignity.
"Why, you were there yourself," the man cried. "Last night at Sir
Adolphus's! Oh yes, it's all over the place; Schleiermacher of Jena
has succeeded in making the most perfect diamonds--for sixpence
apiece--as good as real--and South Africa's ancient history. In less
than six weeks Kimberley, they say, will be a howling desert. Every
costermonger in Whitechapel will wear genuine Koh-i-noors for
buttons on his coat; every girl in Bermondsey will sport a rivière
like Lady Vandrift's to her favourite music-hall. There's a slump
in Golcondas. Sly, sly, I can see; but _we_ know all about it!"
Charles moved on, disgusted. The man's manners were atrocious.
Near the Bank we ran up against a most respectable jobber.
"Ah, Sir Charles," he said; "you here? Well, this is strange news,
isn't it? For my part, I advise you not to take it too seriously.
Your stock will go down, of course, like lead this morning. But
it'll rise to-morrow, mark my words, and fluctuate every hour till
the discovery's proved or disproved for certain. There's a fine
time coming for operators, I feel sure. Reports this way and that.
Rumours, rumours, rumours. And nobody will know which way to believe
till Sir Adolphus has tested it."
We moved on towards the House. Black care was seated on Sir
Charles's shoulders. As we drew nearer and nearer, everybody was
discussing the one fact of the moment. The seal of secrecy had
proved more potent than publication on the housetops. Some people
told us of the exciting news in confidential whispers; some
proclaimed it aloud in vulgar exultation. The general opinion was
that Cloetedorps were doomed, and that the sooner a man cleared
out the less was he likely to lose by it.
Charles strode on like a general; but it was a Napoleon brazening
out his retreat from Moscow. His mien was resolute. He disappeared
at last into the precincts of an office, waving me back, not to
follow. After a long consultation he came out and rejoined me.
All day long the City rang with Golcondas, Golcondas. Everybody
murmured, "Slump, slump in Golcondas." The brokers had more business
to do than they could manage; though, to be sure, almost every one
was a seller and no one a buyer. But Charles stood firm as a rock,
and so did his brokers. "I don't want to sell," he said, doggedly.
"The whole thing is trumped up. It's a mere piece of jugglery. For
my own part, I believe Professor Schleiermacher is deceived, or else
is deceiving us. In another week the bubble will have burst, and
prices will restore themselves." His brokers, Finglemores, had only
one answer to all inquiries: "Sir Charles has every confidence in
the stability of Golcondas, and doesn't wish to sell or to increase
All the world said he was splendid, splendid! There he stationed
himself on 'Change like some granite stack against which the waves
roll and break themselves in vain. He took no notice of the slump,
but ostentatiously bought up a few shares here and there so as to
restore public confidence.
"I would buy more," he said, freely, "and make my fortune; only,
as I was one of those who happened to spend last night at Sir
Adolphus's, people might think I had helped to spread the rumour
and produce the slump, in order to buy in at panic rates for my
own advantage. A chairman, like Caesar's wife, should be above
suspicion. So I shall only buy up just enough, now and again, to
let people see I, at least, have no doubt as to the firm future
He went home that night, more harassed and ill than I have ever
seen him. Next day was as bad. The slump continued, with varying
episodes. Now, a rumour would surge up that Sir Adolphus had
declared the whole affair a sham, and prices would steady a little;
now, another would break out that the diamonds were actually being
put upon the market in Berlin by the cart-load, and timid old ladies
would wire down to their brokers to realise off-hand at whatever
hazard. It was an awful day. I shall never forget it.
The morning after, as if by miracle, things righted themselves of
a sudden. While we were wondering what it meant, Charles received a
telegram from Sir Adolphus Cordery:--
"The man is a fraud. Not Schleiermacher at all. Just had a wire
from Jena saying the Professor knows nothing about him. Sorry
unintentionally to have caused you trouble. Come round and see me."
"Sorry unintentionally to have caused you trouble." Charles was
beside himself with anger. Sir Adolphus had upset the share-market
for forty-eight mortal hours, half-ruined a round dozen of wealthy
operators, convulsed the City, upheaved the House, and now--he
apologised for it as one might apologise for being late ten minutes
for dinner! Charles jumped into a hansom and rushed round to see
him. How had he dared to introduce the impostor to solid men as
Professor Schleiermacher? Sir Adolphus shrugged his shoulders. The
fellow had come and introduced himself as the great Jena chemist;
he had long white hair, and a stoop in the shoulders. What reason
had _he_ for doubting his word? (I reflected to myself that on much
the same grounds Charles in turn had accepted the Honourable David
Granton and Graf von Lebenstein.) Besides, what object could the
creature have for this extraordinary deception? Charles knew only
too well. It was clear it was done to disturb the diamond market,
and we realised, too late, that the man who had done it was--Colonel
Clay, in "another of his manifold allotropic embodiments!" Charles
had had his wish, and had met his enemy once more in London!
We could see the whole plot. Colonel Clay was polymorphic, like the
element carbon! Doubtless, with his extraordinary sleight of hand,
he had substituted real diamonds for the shapeless mass that came
out of the apparatus, in the interval between handing the pebbles
round for inspection, and distributing them piecemeal to the men of
science and representatives of the diamond interest. We all watched
him closely, of course, when he opened the crucibles; but when once
we had satisfied ourselves that _something_ came out, our doubts were
set at rest, and we forgot to watch whether he distributed those
somethings or not to the recipients. Conjurers always depend upon
such momentary distractions or lapses of attention. As usual, too,
the Professor had disappeared into space the moment his trick was
once well performed. He vanished like smoke, as the Count and Seer
had vanished before, and was never again heard of.
Charles went home more angry than I have ever beheld him. I couldn't
imagine why. He seemed as deeply hipped as if he had lost his
thousands. I endeavoured to console him. "After all," I said,
"though Golcondas have suffered a temporary loss, it's a comfort
to think that you should have stood so firm, and not only stemmed
the tide, but also prevented yourself from losing anything at all
of your own through panic. I'm sorry, of course, for the widows
and orphans; but if Colonel Clay has rigged the market, at least
it isn't YOU who lose by it this time."
Charles withered me with a fierce scowl of undisguised contempt.
"Wentworth," he said once more, "you are a fool!" Then he relapsed
"But you declined to sell out," I said.
He gazed at me fixedly. "Is it likely," he asked at last, "I would
tell _you_ if I meant to sell out? or that I'd sell out openly through
Finglemore, my usual broker? Why, all the world would have known,
and Golcondas would have been finished. As it is, I don't desire to
tell an ass like you exactly how much I've lost. But I _did_ sell out,
and some unknown operator bought in at once, and closed for ready
money, and has sold again this morning; and after all that has
happened, it will be impossible to track him. He didn't wait for the
account: he settled up instantly. And he sold in like manner. I know
now what has been done, and how cleverly it has all been disguised
and covered; but the most I'm going to tell you to-day is just
this--it's by far the biggest haul Colonel Clay has made out of me.
He could retire on it if he liked. My one hope is, it may satisfy
him for life; but, then, no man has ever had enough of making money."
"_You_ sold out!" I exclaimed. "_You_, the Chairman of the company!
_You_ deserted the ship! And how about your trust? How about the widows
and orphans confided to you?"
Charles rose and faced me. "Seymour Wentworth," he said, in his most
solemn voice, "you have lived with me for years and had every
advantage. You have seen high finance. Yet you ask me that question!
It's my belief you will never, never understand business!"
THE EPISODE OF THE ARREST OF THE COLONEL
How much precisely Charles dropped over the slump in Cloetedorps
I never quite knew. But the incident left him dejected, limp, and
"Hang it all, Sey," he said to me in the smoking-room, a few
evenings later. "This Colonel Clay is enough to vex the patience of
Job--and Job had large losses, too, if I recollect aright, from the
Chaldeans and other big operators of the period."
"Three thousand camels," I murmured, recalling my dear mother's
lessons; "all at one fell swoop; not to mention five hundred yoke of
oxen, carried off by the Sabeans, then a leading firm of speculative
"Ah, well," Charles meditated aloud, shaking the ash from his
cheroot into a Japanese tray--fine antique bronze-work. "There were
big transactions in live-stock even then! Still, Job or no Job, the
man is too much for me."
"The difficulty is," I assented, "you never know where to have him."
"Yes," Charles mused; "if he were always the same, like Horniman's
tea or a good brand of whisky, it would be easier, of course; you'd
stand some chance of spotting him. But when a man turns up smiling
every time in a different disguise, which fits him like a skin, and
always apparently with the best credentials, why, hang it all, Sey,
there's no wrestling with him anyhow."
"Who could have come to us, for example, better vouched," I
acquiesced, "than the Honourable David?"
"Exactly so," Charles murmured. "I invited him myself, for my own
advantage. And he arrived with all the prestige of the Glen-Ellachie
"Or the Professor?" I went on. "Introduced to us by the leading
mineralogist of England."
I had touched a sore point. Charles winced and remained silent.
"Then, women again," he resumed, after a painful pause. "I must meet
in society many charming women. I can't everywhere and always be on
my guard against every dear soul of them. Yet the moment I relax
my attention for one day--or even when I don't relax it--I am
bamboozled and led a dance by that arch Mme. Picardet, or that
transparently simple little minx, Mrs. Granton. She's the cleverest
girl I ever met in my life, that hussy, whatever we're to call her.
She's a different person each time; and each time, hang it all, I
lose my heart afresh to that different person."
I glanced round to make sure Amelia was well out of earshot.
"No, Sey," my respected connection went on, after another long
pause, sipping his coffee pensively, "I feel I must be aided in this
superhuman task by a professional unraveller of cunning disguises. I
shall go to Marvillier's to-morrow--fortunate man, Marvillier--and
ask him to supply me with a really good 'tec, who will stop in the
house and keep an eye upon every living soul that comes near me.
He shall scan each nose, each eye, each wig, each whisker. He shall
be my watchful half, my unsleeping self; it shall be his business
to suspect all living men, all breathing women. The Archbishop of
Canterbury shall not escape for a moment his watchful regard; he
will take care that royal princesses don't collar the spoons or walk
off with the jewel-cases. He must see possible Colonel Clays in the
guard of every train and the parson of every parish; he must detect
the off-chance of a Mme. Picardet in every young girl that takes tea
with Amelia, every fat old lady that comes to call upon Isabel. Yes,
I have made my mind up. I shall go to-morrow and secure such a man
at once at Marvillier's."
"If you please, Sir Charles," Césarine interposed, pushing her head
through the portière, "her ladyship says, will you and Mr. Wentworth
remember that she goes out with you both this evening to Lady
"Bless my soul," Charles cried, "so she does! And it's now past ten!
The carriage will be at the door for us in another five minutes!"
Next morning, accordingly, Charles drove round to Marvillier's. The
famous detective listened to his story with glistening eyes; then he
rubbed his hands and purred. "Colonel Clay!" he said; "Colonel Clay!
That's a very tough customer! The police of Europe are on the
look-out for Colonel Clay. He is wanted in London, in Paris, in
Berlin. It is le Colonel Caoutchouc here, le Colonel Caoutchouc
there; till one begins to ask, at last, IS there _any_ Colonel
Caoutchouc, or is it a convenient class name invented by the Force
to cover a gang of undiscovered sharpers? However, Sir Charles, we
will do our best. I will set on the track without delay the best and
cleverest detective in England."
"The very man I want," Charles said. "What name, Marvillier?"
The principal smiled. "Whatever name you like," he said. "He isn't
particular. Medhurst he's called at home. _We_ call him Joe. I'll
send him round to your house this afternoon for certain."
"Oh no," Charles said promptly, "you won't; or Colonel Clay himself
will come instead of him. I've been sold too often. No casual
strangers! I'll wait here and see him."
"But he isn't in," Marvillier objected.
Charles was firm as a rock. "Then send and fetch him."
In half an hour, sure enough, the detective arrived. He was an
odd-looking small man, with hair cut short and standing straight up
all over his head, like a Parisian waiter. He had quick, sharp eyes,
very much like a ferret's; his nose was depressed, his lips thin and
bloodless. A scar marked his left cheek--made by a sword-cut, he
said, when engaged one day in arresting a desperate French smuggler,
disguised as an officer of Chasseurs d'Afrique. His mien was
resolute. Altogether, a quainter or 'cuter little man it has never
yet been my lot to set eyes on. He walked in with a brisk step,
eyed Charles up and down, and then, without much formality, asked
for what he was wanted.
"This is Sir Charles Vandrift, the great diamond king," Marvillier
said, introducing us.
"So I see," the man answered.
"Then you know me?" Charles asked.
"I wouldn't be worth much," the detective replied, "if I didn't
know everybody. And you're easy enough to know; why, every boy in
the street knows you."
"Plain spoken!" Charles remarked.
"As you like it, sir," the man answered in a respectful tone. "I
endeavour to suit my dress and behaviour on every occasion to the
taste of my employers."
"Your name?" Charles asked, smiling.
"Joseph Medhurst, at your service. What sort of work? Stolen
diamonds? Illicit diamond-buying?"
"No," Charles answered, fixing him with his eye. "Quite another kind
of job. You've heard of Colonel Clay?"
Medhurst nodded. "Why, certainly," he said; and, for the first time,
I detected a lingering trace of American accent. "It's my business
to know about him."
"Well, I want you to catch him," Charles went on.
Medhurst drew a long breath. "Isn't that rather a large order?"
he murmured, surprised.
Charles explained to him exactly the sort of services he required.
Medhurst promised to comply. "If the man comes near you, I'll spot
him," he said, after a moment's pause. "I can promise you that much.
I'll pierce any disguise. I should know in a minute whether he's
got up or not. I'm death on wigs, false moustaches, artificial
complexions. I'll engage to bring the rogue to book if I see him.
You may set your mind at rest, that, while _I'm_ about you, Colonel
Clay can do nothing without my instantly spotting him."
"He'll do it," Marvillier put in. "He'll do it, if he says it. He's
my very best hand. Never knew any man like him for unravelling and
unmasking the cleverest disguises."
"Then he'll suit me," Charles answered, "for _I_ never knew any man
like Colonel Clay for assuming and maintaining them."
It was arranged accordingly that Medhurst should take up his