«Published: 1897 Categorie(s): Fiction, Mystery & Detective Source: About Allen: Charles Grant Blairfindie Allen ...»
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. Y conduct is our noble. Y will not save your own personal interests at the ou 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 tomorrow the few shares I hold, through Charles's kindness, in the Cloetedorp Golcondas."
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. Y are also my secretary. The ou 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 by him!
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, of Jena—" "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-inoors for buttons on his coat; every girl in Bermondsey will sport a rivière like Lady Vandrift's to her favourite musichall. 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. Y stock will go down, of course, like lead our 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 the panic."
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 of Cloetedorps."
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, halfruined 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 into silence.
"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. Y have seen high ou finance. Y you ask me that question! It's my belief you will et never, never understand business!" Chapter
THE EPISODE OF THE
ARREST OF THE COLONELHow much precisely Charles dropped over the slump in Cloetedorps I never quite knew. But the incident left him dejected, limp, and dispirited.
"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 cattle-dealers!" "Ah, well," Charles meditated aloud, shaking the ash from his cheroot into a Japanese tray—fine antique bronzework. "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."
"Y es," 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 connection."
"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. Y the moment I relax my attention for one et 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 tomorrow—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 jewelcases. 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. Y I have made my mind up. I shall go toes, 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 Carisbrooke's?" "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?