Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Stories by Modern English Authors

Part 8 out of 8

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.9 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

round the table. "It can't be helped. I've told you this just to
show that I shouldn't have asked you here to meet this sort of
people of my own free will; but, as it is, please say no more about
them." The subject was not dropped by any means, and I took care
that it should not be. At our end of the table one story after
another went buzzing round--sotto voce, out of deference to Tom--
but perfectly audible.

"Carwitchet? Ah, yes. Mixed up in that Rawlings divorce case,
wasn't he? A bad lot. Turned out of the Dragoon Guards for
cheating at cards, or picking pockets, or something--remember the
row at the Cerulean Club? Scandalous exposure--and that forged
letter business--oh, that was the mother--prosecution hushed up
somehow. Ought to be serving her fourteen years--and that business
of poor Farrars, the banker--got hold of some of his secrets and
blackmailed him till he blew his brains out--"

It was so exciting that I clean forgot the bishop, till a low gasp
at my elbow startled me. He was lying back in his chair, his
mighty shaven jowl a ghastly white, his fierce imperious eyebrows
drooping limp over his fishlike eyes, his splendid figure shrunk
and contracted. He was trying with a shaken hand to pour out wine.
The decanter clattered against the glass and the wine spilled on
the cloth.

"I'm afraid you find the room too warm. Shall we go into the
library?"

He rose hastily and followed me like a lamb.

He recovered himself once we got into the hall, and affably
rejected all my proffers of brandy and soda--medical advice--
everything else my limited experience could suggest. He only
demanded his carriage "directly" and that Miss Panton should be
summoned forthwith.

I made the best use I could of the time left me.

"I'm uncommonly sorry you do not feel equal to staying a little
longer, my lord. I counted on showing you my few trifles of
precious stones, the salvage from the wreck of my possessions.
Nothing in comparison with your own collection."

The bishop clasped his hand over his heart. His breath came short
and quick.

"A return of that dizziness," he explained with a faint smile.
"You are thinking of the Valdez sapphire, are you not? Some day,"
he went on with forced composure, "I may have the pleasure of
showing it to you. It is at my banker's just now."

Miss Panton's steps were heard in the ball. "You are well known as
a connoisseur, Mr. Acton," he went on hurriedly. "Is your
collection valuable? If so, keep it safe; don't trust a ring off
your hand, or the key of your jewel case out of your pocket till
the house is clear again." The words rushed from his lips in an
impetuous whisper, he gave me a meaning glance, and departed with
his daughter. I went back to the drawing-room, my head swimming
with bewilderment.

"What! The dear bishop gone!" screamed Lady Carwitchet from the
central ottoman where she sat, surrounded by most of the gentlemen,
all apparently well entertained by her conversation. "And I wanted
to talk over old times with him so badly. His poor wife was my
greatest friend. Mira Montanaro, daughter of the great banker, you
know. It's not possible that that miserable little prig is my poor
Mira's girl. The heiress of all the Montanaros in a black lace
gown worth twopence! When I think of her mother's beauty and her
toilets! Does she ever wear the sapphires? Has anyone ever seen
her in them? Eleven large stones in a lovely antique setting, and
the great Valdez sapphire--worth thousands and thousands--for the
pendant." No one replied. "I wanted to get a rise out of the
bishop to-night. It used to make him so mad when I wore this."

She fumbled among the laces at her throat, and clawed out a pendant
that hung to a velvet band around her neck. I fairly gasped when
she removed her hand. A sapphire of irregular shape flashed out
its blue lightning on us. Such a stone! A true, rich, cornflower
blue even by that wretched artificial light, with soft velvety
depths of color and dazzling clearness of tint in its lights and
shades--a stone to remember! I stretched out my hand
involuntarily, but Lady Carwitchet drew back with a coquettish
squeal. "No! no! You mustn't look any closer. Tell me what you
think of it now. Isn't it pretty?"

"Superb!" was all I could ejaculate, staring at the azure splendor
of that miraculous jewel in a sort of trance.

She gave a shrill cackling laugh of mockery.

"The great Mr. Acton taken in by a bit of Palais Royal gimcrackery!
What an advertisement for Bogaerts et Cie! They are perfect
artists in frauds. Don't you remember their stand at the first
Paris Exhibition? They had imitations there of every celebrated
stone; but I never expected anything made by man could delude Mr.
Acton, never!" And she went off into another mocking cackle, and
all the idiots round her haw-hawed knowingly, as if they had seen
the joke all along. I was too bewildered to reply, which was on
the whole lucky. "I suppose I mustn't tell why I came to give
quite a big sum in francs for this?" she went on, tapping her
closed lips with her closed fan, and cocking her eye at us all like
a parrot wanting to be coaxed to talk. "It's a queer story."

I didn't want to hear her anecdote, especially as I saw she wanted
to tell it. What I DID want was to see that pendant again. She
had thrust it back among her laces, only the loop which held it to
the velvet being visible. It was set with three small sapphires,
and even from a distance I clearly made them out to be imitations,
and poor ones. I felt a queer thrill of self-mistrust. Was the
large stone no better? Could I, even for an instant, have been
dazzled by a sham, and a sham of that quality? The events of the
evening had flurried and confused me. I wished to think them over
in quiet. I would go to bed.

My rooms at the Manor are the best in the house. Leta will have it
so. I must explain their position for a reason to be understood
later. My bedroom is in the southeast angle of the house; it opens
on one side into a sitting-room in the east corridor, the rest of
which is taken up by the suite of rooms occupied by Tom and Leta;
and on the other side into my bathroom, the first room in the south
corridor, where the principal guest chambers are, to one of which
it was originally the dressing-room. Passing this room I noticed a
couple of housemaids preparing it for the night, and discovered
with a shiver that Lady Carwitchet was to be my next-door neighbor.
It gave me a turn.

The bishop's strange warning must have unnerved me. I was
perfectly safe from her ladyship. The disused door into her room
was locked, and the key safe on the housekeeper's bunch. It was
also undiscoverable on her side, the recess in which it stood being
completely filled by a large wardrobe. On my side hung a thick
sound-proof portiere. Nevertheless, I resolved not to use that
room while she inhabited the next one. I removed my possessions,
fastened the door of communication with my bedroom, and dragged a
heavy ottoman across it.

Then I stowed away my emerald in my strong-box. It is built into
the wall of my sitting-room, and masked by the lower part of an old
carved oak bureau. I put away even the rings I wore habitually,
keeping out only an inferior cat's-eye for workaday wear. I had
just made all safe when Leta tapped at the door and came in to wish
me good night. She looked flushed and harassed and ready to cry.
"Uncle Paul," she began, "I want you to go up to town at once, and
stay away till I send for you."

"My dear--!" I was too amazed to expostulate.

"We've got a--a pestilence among us," she declared, her foot
tapping the ground angrily, "and the least we can do is to go into
quarantine. Oh, I'm so sorry and so ashamed! The poor bishop!
I'll take good care that no one else shall meet that woman here.
You did your best for me, Uncle Paul, and managed admirably, but it
was all no use. I hoped against hope that what between the dusk of
the drawing-room before dinner, and being put at opposite ends of
the table, we might get through without a meeting--"

"But, my dear, explain. Why shouldn't the bishop and Lady
Carwitchet meet? Why is it worse for him than anyone else?"

"Why? I thought everybody had heard of that dreadful wife of his
who nearly broke his heart. If he married her for her money it
served him right, but Lady Landor says she was very handsome and
really in love with him at first. Then Lady Carwitchet got hold of
her and led her into all sorts of mischief. She left her husband--
he was only a rector with a country living in those days--and went
to live in town, got into a horrid fast set, and made herself
notorious. You MUST have heard of her."

"I heard of her sapphires, my dear. But I was in Brazil at the
time."

"I wish you had been at home. You might have found her out. She
was furious because her husband refused to let her wear the great
Valdez sapphire. It had been in the Montanaro family for some
generations, and her father settled it first on her and then on her
little girl--the bishop being trustee. He felt obliged to take
away the little girl, and send her off to be brought up by some old
aunts in the country, and he locked up the sapphire. Lady
Carwitchet tells as a splendid joke how they got the copy made in
Paris, and it did just as well for the people to stare at. No
wonder the bishop hates the very name of the stone."

"How long will she stay here?" I asked dismally.

"Till Lord Carwitchet can come and escort her to Paris to visit
some American friends. Goodness knows when that will be! Do go up
to town, Uncle Paul!"

I refused indignantly. The very least I could do was to stand by
my poor young relatives in their troubles and help them through. I
did so. I wore that inferior cat's eye for six weeks!

It is a time I cannot think of even now without a shudder. The
more I saw of that terrible old woman the more I detested her, and
we saw a very great deal of her. Leta kept her word, and neither
accepted nor gave invitations all that time. We were cut off from
all society but that of old General Fairford, who would go anywhere
and meet anyone to get a rubber after dinner; the doctor, a
sporting widower; and the Duberlys, a giddy, rather rackety young
couple who had taken the Dower House for a year. Lady Carwitchet
seemed perfectly content. She reveled in the soft living and good
fare of the Manor House, the drives in Leta's big barouche, and
Domenico's dinners, as one to whom short commons were not unknown.
She had a hungry way of grabbing and grasping at everything she
could--the shillings she won at whist, the best fruit at dessert,
the postage stamps in the library inkstand--that was infinitely
suggestive. Sometimes I could have pitied her, she was so greedy,
so spiteful, so friendless. She always made me think of some
wicked old pirate putting into a peaceful port to provision and
repair his battered old hulk, obliged to live on friendly terms
with the natives, but his piratical old nostrils asniff for plunder
and his piratical old soul longing to be off marauding once more.
When would that be? Not till the arrival in Paris of her
distinguished American friends, of whom we heard a great deal.
"Charming people, the Bokums of Chicago, the American branch of the
English Beauchamps, you know!" They seemed to be taking an
unconscionable time to get there. She would have insisted on being
driven over to Northchurch to call at the palace, but that the
bishop was understood to be holding confirmations at the other end
of the diocese.

I was alone in the house one afternoon sitting by my window, toying
with the key of my safe, and wondering whether I dare treat myself
to a peep at my treasures, when a suspicious movement in the park
below caught my attention. A black figure certainly dodged from
behind one tree to the next, and then into the shadow of the park
paling instead of keeping to the footpath. It looked queer. I
caught up my field glass and marked him at one point where he was
bound to come into the open for a few steps. He crossed the strip
of turf with giant strides and got into cover again, but not quick
enough to prevent me recognizing him. It was--great heavens!--the
bishop! In a soft hat pulled over his forehead, with a long cloak
and a big stick, he looked like a poacher.

Guided by some mysterious instinct I hurried to meet him. I opened
the conservatory door, and in he rushed like a hunted rabbit.
Without explanation I led him up the wide staircase to my room,
where he dropped into a chair and wiped his face.

"You are astonished, Mr. Acton," he panted. "I will explain
directly. Thanks." He tossed off the glass of brandy I had poured
out without waiting for the qualifying soda, and looked better.

"I am in serious trouble. You can help me. I've had a shock to-
day--a grievous shock." He stopped and tried to pull himself
together. "I must trust you implicitly, Mr. Acton, I have no
choice. Tell me what you think of this." He drew a case from his
breast pocket and opened it. "I promised you should see the Valdez
sapphire. Look there!"

The Valdez sapphire! A great big shining lump of blue crystal--
flawless and of perfect color--that was all. I took it up,
breathed on it, drew out my magnifier, looked at it in one light
and another. What was wrong with it? I could not say. Nine
experts out of ten would undoubtedly have pronounced the stone
genuine. I, by virtue of some mysterious instinct that has
hitherto always guided me aright, was the unlucky tenth. I looked
at the bishop. His eyes met mine. There was no need of spoken
word between us.

"Has Lady Carwitchet shown you her sapphire?" was his most
unexpected question. "She has? Now, Mr. Acton, on your honor as a
connoisseur and a gentleman, which of the two is the Valdez?"

"Not this one." I could say naught else.

"You were my last hope." He broke off, and dropped his face on his
folded arms with a groan that shook the table on which he rested,
while I stood dismayed at myself for having let so hasty a judgment
escape me. He lifted a ghastly countenance to me. "She vowed she
would see me ruined and disgraced. I made her my enemy by crossing
some of her schemes once, and she never forgives. She will keep
her word. I shall appear before the world as a fraudulent trustee.
I can neither produce the valuable confided to my charge nor make
the loss good. I have only an incredible story to tell," be
dropped his head and groaned again. "Who will believe me?"

"I will, for one."

"Ah, you? Yes, you know her. She took my wife from me, Mr. Acton.
Heaven only knows what the hold was that she had over poor Mira.
She encouraged her to set me at defiance and eventually to leave
me. She was answerable for all the scandalous folly and
extravagance of poor Mira's life in Paris--spare me the telling of
the story. She left her at last to die alone and uncared for. I
reached my wife to find her dying of a fever from which Lady
Carwitchet and her crew had fled. She was raving in delirium, and
died without recognizing me. Some trouble she had been in which I
must never know oppressed her. At the very last she roused from a
long stupor and spoke to the nurse. 'Tell him to get the sapphire
back--she stole it. She has robbed my child.' Those were her last
words. The nurse understood no English, and treated them as
wandering; but I heard them, and knew she was sane when she spoke."

"What did you do?"

"What could I? I saw Lady Carwitchet, who laughed at me, and
defied me to make her confess or disgorge. I took the pendant to
more than one eminent jeweler on pretense of having the setting
seen to, and all have examined and admired without giving a hint of
there being anything wrong. I allowed a celebrated mineralogist to
see it; he gave no sign--"

"Perhaps they are right and we are wrong."

"No, no. Listen. I heard of an old Dutchman celebrated for his
imitations. I went to him, and he told me at once that he had been
allowed by Montanaro to copy the Valdez--setting and all--for the
Paris Exhibition. I showed him this, and he claimed it for his own
work at once, and pointed out his private mark upon it. You must
take your magnifier to find it; a Greek Beta. He also told me that
he had sold it to Lady Carwitchet more than a year ago.

"It is a terrible position."

"It is. My co-trustee died lately. I have never dared to have
another appointed. I am bound to hand over the sapphire to my
daughter on her marriage, if her husband consents to take the name
of Montanaro."

The bishop's face was ghastly pale, and the moisture started on his
brow. I racked my brain for some word of comfort.

"Miss Panton may never marry."

"But she will!" he shouted. "That is the blow that has been dealt
me to-day. My chaplain--actually, my chaplain--tells me that he is
going out as a temperance missionary to equatorial Africa, and has
the assurance to add that he believes my daughter is not indisposed
to accompany him!" His consummating wrath acted as a momentary
stimulant. He sat upright, his eyes flashing and his brow
thunderous. I felt for that chaplain. Then he collapsed
miserably. "The sapphires will have to be produced, identified,
revalued. How shall I come out of it? Think of the disgrace, the
ripping up of old scandals! Even if I were to compound with Lady
Carwitchet, the sum she hinted at was too monstrous. She wants
more than my money. Help me, Mr. Acton! For the sake of your own
family interests, help me!"

"I beg your pardon--family interests? I don't understand."

"If my daughter is childless, her next of kin is poor Marmaduke
Panton, who is dying at Cannes, not married, or likely to marry;
and failing him, your nephew, Sir Thomas Acton, succeeds."

My nephew Tom! Leta, or Leta's baby, might come to be the possible
inheritor of the great Valdez sapphire! The blood rushed to my
head as I looked at the great shining swindle before me. "What
diabolic jugglery was at work when the exchange was made?" I
demanded fiercely.

"It must have been on the last occasion of her wearing the
sapphires in London. I ought never to have let her out of my
sight"

"You must put a stop to Miss Panton's marriage in the first place,"
I pronounced as autocratically as he could have done himself.

"Not to be thought of," he admitted helplessly. "Mira has my force
of character. She knows her rights, and she will have her jewels.
I want you to take charge of the--thing for me. If it's in the
house she'll make me produce it. She'll inquire at the banker's.
If YOU have it we can gain time, if but for a day or two." He
broke off. Carriage wheels were crashing on the gravel outside.
We looked at one another in consternation. Flight was imperative.
I hurried him downstairs and out of the conservatory just as the
door bell rang. I think we both lost our heads in the confusion.
He shoved the case into my hands, and I pocketed it, without a
thought of the awful responsibility I was incurring, and saw him
disappear into the shelter of the friendly night.

When I think of what my feelings were that evening--of my murderous
hatred of that smirking, jesting Jezebel who sat opposite me at
dinner, my wrathful indignation at the thought of the poor little
expected heir defrauded ere his birth; of the crushing contempt I
felt for myself and the bishop as a pair of witless idiots unable
to see our way out of the dilemma; all this boiling and surging
through my soul, I can only wonder--Domenico having given himself a
holiday, and the kitchen maid doing her worst and wickedest--that
gout or jaundice did not put an end to this story at once.

"Uncle Paul!" Leta was looking her sweetest when she tripped into
my room next morning. "I've news for you. She," pointing a
delicate forefinger in the direction of the corridor, "is going!
Her Bokums have reached Paris at last, and sent for her to join
them at the Grand Hotel."

I was thunderstruck. The longed-for deliverance had but come to
remove hopelessly and forever out of my reach Lady Carwitchet and
the great Valdez sapphire.

"Why, aren't you overjoyed? I am. We are going to celebrate the
event by a dinner party. Tom's hospitable soul is vexed by the
lack of entertainment we had provided her. We must ask the
Brownleys some day or other, and they will be delighted to meet
anything in the way of a ladyship, or such smart folks as the
Duberly-Parkers. Then we may as well have the Blomfields, and air
that awful modern Sevres dessert service she gave us when we were
married." I had no objection to make, and she went on, rubbing her
soft cheek against my shoulder like the purring little cat she was:
"Now I want you to do something to please me--and Mrs. Blomfield.
She has set her heart on seeing your rubies, and though I know you
hate her about as much as you do that Sevres china--"

"What! Wear my rubies with that! I won't. I'll tell you what I
will do, though. I've got some carbuncles as big as prize
gooseberries, a whole set. Then you have only to put those
Bohemian glass vases and candelabra on the table, and let your
gardener do his worst with his great forced, scentless, vulgar
blooms, and we shall all be in keeping." Leta pouted. An idea
struck me. "Or I'll do as you wish, on one condition. You get
Lady Carwitchet to wear her big sapphire, and don't tell her I wish
it."

I lived through the next few days as one in some evil dream. The
sapphires, like twin specters, haunted me day and night. Was ever
man so tantalized? To hold the shadow and see the substance
dangled temptingly within reach. The bishop made no sign of
ridding me of my unwelcome charge, and the thought of what might
happen in a case of burglary--fire--earthquake--made me start and
tremble at all sorts of inopportune moments.

I kept faith with Leta, and reluctantly produced my beautiful
rubies on the night of her dinner party. Emerging from my room I
came full upon Lady Carwitchet in the corridor. She was dressed
for dinner, and at her throat I caught the blue gleam of the great
sapphire. Leta had kept faith with me. I don't know what I
stammered in reply to her ladyship's remarks; my whole soul was
absorbed in the contemplation of the intoxicating loveliness of the
gem. THAT a Palais Royal deception! Incredible! My fingers
twitched, my breath came short and fierce with the lust of
possession. She must have seen the covetous glare in my eyes. A
look of gratified spiteful complacency overspread her features, as
she swept on ahead and descended the stairs before me. I followed
her to the drawing-room door. She stopped suddenly, and murmuring
something unintelligible hurried back again.

Everybody was assembled there that I expected to see, with an
addition. Not a welcome one by the look on Tom's face. He stood
on the hearthrug conversing with a great hulking, high-shouldered
fellow, sallow-faced, with a heavy mustache and drooping eyelids,
from the corners of which flashed out a sudden suspicious look as I
approached, which lighted up into a greedy one as it rested on my
rubies, and seemed unaccountably familiar to me, till Lady
Carwitchet tripping past me exclaimed:

"He has come at last! My naughty, naughty boy! Mr. Acton, this is
my son, Lord Carwitchet!"

I broke off short in the midst of my polite acknowledgments to
stare blankly at her. The sapphire was gone! A great gilt cross,
with a Scotch pebble like an acid drop, was her sole decoration.

"I had to put my pendant away," she explained confidentially; "the
clasp had got broken somehow." I didn't believe a word.

Lord Carwitchet contributed little to the general entertainment at
dinner, but fell into confidential talk with Mrs. Duberly-Parker.
I caught a few unintelligible remarks across the table. They
referred, I subsequently discovered, to the lady's little book on
Northchurch races, and I recollected that the Spring Meeting was
on, and to-morrow "Cup Day." After dinner there was great talk
about getting up a party to go on General Fairford's drag. Lady
Carwitchet was in ecstasies and tried to coax me into joining.
Leta declined positively. Tom accepted sulkily.

The look in Lord Carwitchet's eye returned to my mind as I locked
up my rubies that night. It made him look so like his mother! I
went round my fastenings with unusual care. Safe and closets and
desk and doors, I tried them all. Coming at last to the bathroom,
it opened at once. It was the housemaid's doing. She had
evidently taken advantage of my having abandoned the room to give
it "a thorough spring cleaning," and I anathematized her. The
furniture was all piled together and veiled with sheets, the carpet
and felt curtain were gone, there were new brooms about. As I
peered around, a voice close at my ear made me jump--Lady
Carwitchet's!

"I tell you I have nothing, not a penny! I shall have to borrow my
train fare before I can leave this. They'll be glad enough to lend
it."

Not only had the portiere been removed, but the door behind it had
been unlocked and left open for convenience of dusting behind the
wardrobe. I might as well have been in the bedroom.

"Don't tell me," I recognized Carwitchet's growl. "You've not been
here all this time for nothing. You've been collecting for a
Kilburn cot or getting subscriptions for the distressed Irish
landlords. I know you. Now I'm not going to see myself ruined for
the want of a paltry hundred or so. I tell you the colt is a dead
certainty. If I could have got a thousand or two on him last week,
we might have ended our dog days millionaires. Hand over what you
can. You've money's worth, if not money. Where's that sapphire
you stole?"

"I didn't. I can show you the receipted bill. All I possess is
honestly come by. What could you do with it, even if I gave it
you? You couldn't sell it as the Valdez, and you can't get it cut
up as you might if it were real."

"If it's only bogus, why are you always in such a flutter about it?
I'll do something with it, never fear. Hand over."

"I can't. I haven't got it. I had to raise something on it before
I left town."

"Will you swear it's not in that wardrobe? I dare say you will. I
mean to see. Give me those keys."

I heard a struggle and a jingle, then the wardrobe door must have
been flung open, for a streak of light struck through a crack in
the wood of the back. Creeping close and peeping through, I could
see an awful sight. Lady Carwitchet in a flannel wrapper, minus
hair, teeth, complexion, pointing a skinny forefinger that quivered
with rage at her son, who was out of the range of my vision.

"Stop that, and throw those keys down here directly, or I'll rouse
the house. Sir Thomas is a magistrate, and will lock you up as
soon as look at you." She clutched at the bell rope as she spoke.
"I'll swear I'm in danger of my life from you and give you in
charge. Yes, and when you're in prison I'll keep you there till
you die. I've often thought I'd do it. How about the hotel
robberies last summer at Cowes, eh? Mightn't the police be
grateful for a hint or two? And how about--"

The keys fell with a crash on the bed, accompanied by some bad
language in an apologetic tone, and the door slammed to. I crept
trembling to bed.

This new and horrible complication of the situation filled me with
dismay. Lord Carwitchet's wolfish glance at my rubies took a new
meaning. They were safe enough, I believed--but the sapphire! If
he disbelieved his mother, how long would she be able to keep it
from his clutches? That she had some plot of her own of which the
bishop would eventually be the victim I did not doubt, or why had
she not made her bargain with him long ago? But supposing she took
fright, lost her head, allowed her son to wrest the jewel from her,
or gave consent to its being mutilated, divided! I lay in a cold
perspiration till morning.

My terrors haunted me all day. They were with me at breakfast time
when Lady Carwitchet, tripping in smiling, made a last attempt to
induce me to accompany her and keep her "bad, bad boy" from getting
among "those horrid betting men."

They haunted me through the long peaceful day with Leta and the
tete-a-tete dinner, but they swarmed around and beset me sorest
when, sitting alone over my sitting-room fire, I listened for the
return of the drag party. I read my newspaper and brewed myself
some hot strong drink, but there comes a time of night when no fire
can warm and no drink can cheer. The bishop's despairing face kept
me company, and his troubles and the wrongs of the future heir took
possession of me. Then the uncanny noises that make all old houses
ghostly during the small hours began to make themselves heard.
Muffled footsteps trod the corridor, stopping to listen at every
door, door latches gently clicked, boards creaked unreasonably,
sounds of stealthy movements came from the locked-up bathroom. The
welcome crash of wheels at last, and the sound of the front-door
bell. I could hear Lady Carwitchet making her shrill adieux to her
friends and her steps in the corridor. She was softly humming a
little song as she approached. I heard her unlock her bedroom door
before she entered--an odd thing to do. Tom came sleepily
stumbling to his room later. I put my head out. "Where is Lord
Carwitchet?"

"Haven't you seen him? He left us hours ago. Not come home, eh?
Well, he's welcome to stay away. I don't want to see more of him."
Tom's brow was dark and his voice surly. "I gave him to understand
as much." Whatever had happened, Tom was evidently too disgusted
to explain just then.

I went back to my fire unaccountably relieved, and brewed myself
another and a stronger brew. It warmed me this time, but excited
me foolishly. There must be some way out of the difficulty. I
felt now as if I could almost see it if I gave my mind to it. Why--
suppose--there might be no difficulty after all! The bishop was a
nervous old gentleman. He might have been mistaken all through,
Bogaerts might have been mistaken, I might--no. I could not have
been mistaken--or I thought not. I fidgeted and fumed and argued
with myself till I found I should have no peace of mind without a
look at the stone in my possession, and I actually went to the safe
and took the case out.

The sapphire certainly looked different by lamplight. I sat and
stared, and all but over-persuaded my better judgment into giving
it a verdict. Bogaerts's mark--I suddenly remembered it. I took
my magnifier and held the pendant to the light. There, scratched
upon the stone, was the Greek Beta! There came a tap on my door,
and before I could answer, the handle turned softly and Lord
Carwitchet stood before me. I whipped the case into my dressing-
gown pocket and stared at him. He was not pleasant to look at,
especially at that time of night. He had a disheveled, desperate
air, his voice was hoarse, his red-rimmed eyes wild.

"I beg your pardon," he began civilly enough. "I saw your light
burning, and thought, as we go by the early train to-morrow, you
might allow me to consult you now on a little business of my
mother's." His eyes roved about the room. Was he trying to find
the whereabouts of my safe? "You know a lot about precious stones,
don't you?"

"So my friends are kind enough to say. Won't you sit down? I have
unluckily little chance of indulging the taste on my own account,"
was my cautious reply.

"But you've written a book about them, and know them when you see
them, don't you? Now my mother has given me something, and would
like you to give a guess at its value. Perhaps you can put me in
the way of disposing of it?"

"I certainly can do so if it is worth anything. Is that it?" I
was in a fever of excitement, for I guessed what was clutched in
his palm. He held out to me the Valdez sapphire.

How it shone and sparkled like a great blue star! I made myself a
deprecating smile as I took it from him, but how dare I call it
false to its face? As well accuse the sun in heaven of being a
cheap imitation. I faltered and prevaricated feebly. Where was my
moral courage, and where was the good, honest, thumping lie that
should have aided me? "I have the best authority for recognizing
this as a very good copy of a famous stone in the possession of the
Bishop of Northchurch." His scowl grew so black that I saw he
believed me, and I went on more cheerily: "This was manufactured by
Johannes Bogaerts--I can give you his address, and you can make
inquiries yourself--by special permission of the then owner, the
late Leone Montanaro."

"Hand it back!" he interrupted (his other remarks were outrageous,
but satisfactory to hear); but I waved him off. I couldn't give it
up. It fascinated me. I toyed with it, I caressed it. I made it
display its different tones of color. I must see the two stones
together. I must see it outshine its paltry rival. It was a
whimsical frenzy that seized me--I can call it by no other name.

"Would you like to see the original? Curiously enough, I have it
here. The bishop has left it in my charge."

The wolfish light flamed up in Carwitchet's eyes as I drew forth
the case. He laid the Valdez down on a sheet of paper, and I
placed the other, still in its case, beside it. In that moment
they looked identical, except for the little loop of sham stones,
replaced by a plain gold band in the bishop's jewel. Carwitchet
leaned across the table eagerly, the table gave a lurch, the lamp
tottered, crashed over, and we were left in semidarkness.

"Don't stir!" Carwitchet shouted. "The paraffin is all over the
place!" He seized my sofa blanket, and flung it over the table
while I stood helpless. "There, that's safe now. Have you candles
on the chimney-piece? I've got matches."

He looked very white and excited as he lit up. "Might have been an
awkward job with all that burning paraffin running about," he said
quite pleasantly. "I hope no real harm is done." I was lifting
the rug with shaking hands. The two stones lay as I had placed
them. No! I nearly dropped it back again. It was the stone in
the case that had the loop with the three sham sapphires!

Carwitchet picked the other up hastily. "So you say this is
rubbish?" he asked, his eyes sparkling wickedly, and an attempt at
mortification in his tone.

"Utter rubbish!" I pronounced, with truth and decision, snapping up
the case and pocketing it. "Lady Carwitchet must have known it."

"Ah, well, it's disappointing, isn't it? Good-by, we shall not
meet again."

I shook hands with him most cordially. "Good-by, Lord Carwitchet.
SO glad to have met you and your mother. It has been a source of
the GREATEST pleasure, I assure you."

I have never seen the Carwitchets since. The bishop drove over
next day in rather better spirits. Miss Panton had refused the
chaplain.

"It doesn't matter, my lord," I said to him heartily. "We've all
been under some strange misconception. The stone in your
possession is the veritable one. I could swear to that anywhere.
The sapphire Lady Carwitchet wears is only an excellent imitation,
and--I have seen it with my own eyes--is the one bearing Bogaerts's
mark, the Greek Beta."

Book of the day: