«Published: 1897 Categorie(s): Fiction, Mystery & Detective Source: About Allen: Charles Grant Blairfindie Allen ...»
Sir Charles could stand it no longer. "Sir," he said, gazing across at him with his sternest air, "if your concession were as full of diamonds as Sindbad the Sailor's valley, I would not care to turn my head to look at them. I am acquainted with the nature and practice of salting." And he glared at the man with the overhanging eyebrows as if he would devour him raw. Poor Dr. Hector Macpherson subsided instantly. We learnt a little later that he was a harmless lunatic, who went about the world with successive concessions for ruby mines and platinum reefs, because he had been ruined and driven mad by speculations in the two, and now recouped himself by imaginary grants in Burmah and Brazil, or anywhere else that turned up handy. And his eyebrows, after all, were of Nature's handicraft. We were sorry for the incident; but a man in Sir Charles's position is such a mark for rogues that, if he did not take means to protect himself promptly, he would be for ever overrun by them.
When we went up to our salon that evening, Amelia flung herself on the sofa. "Charles," she broke out in the voice of a tragedy queen, "those are real diamonds, and I shall never be happy again till I get them."
"They are real diamonds," Charles echoed. "And you shall have them, Amelia. They're worth not less than three thousand pounds. But I shall bid them up gently."
So, next day, Charles set to work to higgle with the curate. Brabazon, however, didn't care to part with them.
He was no money-grubber, he said. He cared more for his mother's gift and a family tradition than for a hundred pounds, if Sir Charles were to offer it. Charles's eye gleamed. "But if I give you two hundred!" he said insinuatingly. "What opportunities for good! Y could build ou a new wing to your village school-house!" "We have ample accommodation," the curate answered.
"No, I don't think I'll sell them."
Still, his voice faltered somewhat, and he looked down at them inquiringly.
Charles was too precipitate.
"A hundred pounds more or less matters little to me," he said; "and my wife has set her heart on them. It's every man's duty to please his wife—isn't it, Mrs. Brabazon?—I offer you three hundred."
The little Scotch girl clasped her hands.
"Three hundred pounds! Oh, Dick, just think what fun we could have, and what good we could do with it! Do let him have them."
Her accent was irresistible. But the curate shook his head.
"Impossible," he answered. "My dear mother's ear-rings!
Uncle Aubrey would be so angry if he knew I'd sold them. I daren't face Uncle Aubrey."
"Has he expectations from Uncle Aubrey?" Sir Charles asked of White Heather.
Mrs. Brabazon laughed. "Uncle Aubrey! Oh, dear, no.
Poor dear old Uncle Aubrey! Why, the darling old soul hasn't a penny to bless himself with, except his pension.
He's a retired post captain." And she laughed melodiously.
She was a charming woman.
"Then I should disregard Uncle Aubrey's feelings," Sir Charles said decisively.
"No, no," the curate answered. "Poor dear old Uncle Aubrey! I wouldn't do anything for the world to annoy him.
And he'd be sure to notice it."
We went back to Amelia. "Well, have you got them?" she asked.
"No," Sir Charles answered. "Not yet. But he's coming round, I think. He's hesitating now. Would rather like to sell them himself, but is afraid what 'Uncle Aubrey' would say about the matter. His wife will talk him out of his needless consideration for Uncle Aubrey's feelings; and to-morrow we'll finally clench the bargain."
Next morning we stayed late in our salon, where we always breakfasted, and did not come down to the public rooms till just before déjeûner, Sir Charles being busy with me over arrears of correspondence. When we did come down the concierge stepped forward with a twisted little feminine note for Amelia. She took it and read it. Her countenance fell. "There, Charles," she cried, handing it to him, "you've let the chance slip. I shall never be happy now!
They've gone off with the diamonds."
Charles seized the note and read it. Then he passed it on to me. It was short, but final:— "Thursday, 6 a.m.
"DEAR LADY VANDRIFT—Will you kindly excuse our having gone off hurriedly without bidding you goodbye? We have just had a horrid telegram to say that Dick's favourite sister is dangerously ill of fever in Paris. I wanted to shake hands with you before we left —you have all been so sweet to us—but we go by the morning train, absurdly early, and I wouldn't for worlds disturb you. Perhaps some day we may meet again— though, buried as we are in a North-country village, it isn't likely; but in any case, you have secured the grateful recollection of Yours very cordially, JESSIE BRABAZON.
"P.S.—Kindest regards to Sir Charles and those dear Wentworths, and a kiss for yourself, if I may venture to send you one."
"She doesn't even mention where they've gone," Amelia exclaimed, in a very bad humour.
"The concierge may know," Isabel suggested, looking over my shoulder.
We asked at his office.
Y the gentleman's address was the Rev. Richard es, Peploe Brabazon, Holme Bush Cottage, Empingham, Northumberland.
Any address where letters might be sent at once, in Paris?
For the next ten days, or till further notice, Hôtel des Deux Mondes, Avenue de l'Opéra.
Amelia's mind was made up at once.
"Strike while the iron's hot," she cried. "This sudden illness, coming at the end of their honeymoon, and involving ten days' more stay at an expensive hotel, will probably upset the curate's budget. He'll be glad to sell now. Y ou'll get them for three hundred. It was absurd of Charles to offer so much at first; but offered once, of course we must stick to it."
"What do you propose to do?" Charles asked. "Write, or telegraph?" "Oh, how silly men are!" Amelia cried. "Is this the sort of business to be arranged by letter, still less by telegram?
No. Seymour must start off at once, taking the night train to Paris; and the moment he gets there, he must interview the curate or Mrs. Brabazon. Mrs. Brabazon's the best. She has none of this stupid, sentimental nonsense about Uncle Aubrey."
It is no part of a secretary's duties to act as a diamond broker. But when Amelia puts her foot down, she puts her foot down—a fact which she is unnecessarily fond of emphasising in that identical proposition. So the self-same evening saw me safe in the train on my way to Paris; and next morning I turned out of my comfortable sleeping-car at the Gare de Strasbourg. My orders were to bring back those diamonds, alive or dead, so to speak, in my pocket to Lucerne; and to offer any needful sum, up to two thousand five hundred pounds, for their immediate purchase.
When I arrived at the Deux Mondes I found the poor little curate and his wife both greatly agitated. They had sat up all night, they said, with their invalid sister; and the sleeplessness and suspense had certainly told upon them after their long railway journey. They were pale and tired, Mrs. Brabazon, in particular, looking ill and worried—too much like White Heather. I was more than half ashamed of bothering them about the diamonds at such a moment, but it occurred to me that Amelia was probably right—they would now have reached the end of the sum set apart for their Continental trip, and a little ready cash might be far from unwelcome.
I broached the subject delicately. It was a fad of Lady Vandrift's, I said. She had set her heart upon those useless trinkets. And she wouldn't go without them. She must and would have them. But the curate was obdurate. He threw Uncle Aubrey still in my teeth. Three hundred?—no, never!
A mother's present; impossible, dear Jessie! Jessie begged and prayed; she had grown really attached to Lady Vandrift, she said; but the curate wouldn't hear of it. I went up tentatively to four hundred. He shook his head gloomily.
It wasn't a question of money, he said. It was a question of affection. I saw it was no use trying that tack any longer. I struck out a new line. "These stones," I said, "I think I ought to inform you, are really diamonds. Sir Charles is certain of it. Now, is it right for a man of your profession and position to be wearing a pair of big gems like those, worth several hundred pounds, as ordinary sleeve-links? A woman?— yes, I grant you. But for a man, is it manly? And you a cricketer!" He looked at me and laughed. "Will nothing convince you?" he cried. "They have been examined and tested by half a dozen jewellers, and we know them to be paste. It wouldn't be right of me to sell them to you under false pretences, however unwilling on my side. I couldn't do it."
"Well, then," I said, going up a bit in my bids to meet him, "I'll put it like this. These gems are paste. But Lady Vandrift has an unconquerable and unaccountable desire to possess them. Money doesn't matter to her. She is a friend of your wife's. As a personal favour, won't you sell them to her for a thousand?" He shook his head. "It would be wrong," he said,—"I might even add, criminal."
"But we take all risk," I cried.
He was absolute adamant. "As a clergyman," he answered, "I feel I cannot do it."
"Will you try, Mrs. Brabazon?" I asked.
The pretty little Scotchwoman leant over and whispered.
She coaxed and cajoled him. Her ways were winsome. I couldn't hear what she said, but he seemed to give way at last. "I should love Lady Vandrift to have them," she murmured, turning to me. "She issuch a dear!" And she took out the links from her husband's cuffs and handed them across to me.
"How much?" I asked.
"Two thousand?" she answered, interrogatively. It was a big rise, all at once; but such are the ways of women.
"Done!" I replied. "Do you consent?" The curate looked up as if ashamed of himself.
"I consent," he said slowly, "since Jessie wishes it. But as a clergyman, and to prevent any future misunderstanding, I should like you to give me a statement in writing that you buy them on my distinct and positive declaration that they are made of paste—old Oriental paste —not genuine stones, and that I do not claim any other qualities for them."
I popped the gems into my purse, well pleased.
"Certainly," I said, pulling out a paper. Charles, with his unerring business instinct, had anticipated the request, and given me a signed agreement to that effect.
"You will take a cheque?" I inquired.
"Notes of the Bank of France would suit me better," he answered.
"Very well," I replied. "I will go out and get them."
How very unsuspicious some people are! He allowed me to go off—with the stones in my pocket!
Sir Charles had given me a blank cheque, not exceeding two thousand five hundred pounds. I took it to our agents and cashed it for notes of the Bank of France. The curate clasped them with pleasure. And right glad I was to go back to Lucerne that night, feeling that I had got those diamonds into my hands for about a thousand pounds under their real value!
At Lucerne railway station Amelia met me. She was positively agitated.
"Have you bought them, Seymour?" she asked.
"Yes," I answered, producing my spoils in triumph.
"Oh, how dreadful!" she cried, drawing back. "Do you think they're real? Are you sure he hasn't cheated you?" "Certain of it," I replied, examining them. "No one can take me in, in the matter of diamonds. Why on earth should you doubt them?" "Because I've been talking to Mrs. O'Hagan, at the hotel, and she says there's a well-known trick just like that—she's read of it in a book. A swindler has two sets—one real, one false; and he makes you buy the false ones by showing you the real, and pretending he sells them as a special favour."
"Y needn't be alarmed," I answered. "I am a judge of ou diamonds."
"I shan't be satisfied," Amelia murmured, "till Charles has seen them."
We went up to the hotel. For the first time in her life I saw Amelia really nervous as I handed the stones to Charles to examine. Her doubt was contagious. I half feared, myself, he might break out into a deep monosyllabic interjection, losing his temper in haste, as he often does when things go wrong. But he looked at them with a smile, while I told him the price.
"Eight hundred pounds less than their value," he answered, well satisfied.
"You have no doubt of their reality?" I asked.
"Not the slightest," he replied, gazing at them. "They are genuine stones, precisely the same in quality and type as Amelia's necklet."
Amelia drew a sigh of relief. "I'll go upstairs," she said slowly, "and bring down my own for you both to compare with them."
One minute later she rushed down again, breathless.
Amelia is far from slim, and I never before knew her exert herself so actively.
"Charles, Charles!" she cried, "do you know what dreadful thing has happened? Two of my own stones are gone. He's stolen a couple of diamonds from my necklet, and sold them back to me."
She held out the rivière. It was all too true. Two gems were missing—and these two just fitted the empty places!
A light broke in upon me. I clapped my hand to my head.
"By Jove," I exclaimed, "the little curate is—Colonel Clay!" Charles clapped his own hand to his brow in turn. "And Jessie," he cried, "White Heather—that innocent little Scotchwoman! I often detected a familiar ring in her voice, in spite of the charming Highland accent. Jessie is— Madame Picardet!" We had absolutely no evidence; but, like the Commissary at Nice, we felt instinctively sure of it.
Sir Charles was determined to catch the rogue. This second deception put him on his mettle. "The worst of the man is," he said, "he has a method. He doesn't go out of his way to cheat us; he makes us go out of ours to be cheated. He lays a trap, and we tumble headlong into it. Tomorrow, Sey, we must follow him on to Paris."
Amelia explained to him what Mrs. O'Hagan had said.
Charles took it all in at once, with his usual sagacity. "That explains," he said, "why the rascal used this particular trick to draw us on by. If we had suspected him he could have shown the diamonds were real, and so escaped detection.
It was a blind to draw us off from the fact of the robbery. He went to Paris to be out of the way when the discovery was made, and to get a clear day's start of us. What a consummate rogue! And to do me twice running!" "How did he get at my jewel-case, though?" Amelia exclaimed.
"That's the question," Charles answered. "Y do leave it ou about so!" "And why didn't he steal the whole rivière at once, and sell the gems?" I inquired.
"Too cunning," Charles replied. "This was much better business. It isn't easy to dispose of a big thing like that. In the first place, the stones are large and valuable; in the second place, they're well known—every dealer has heard of the Vandrift rivière, and seen pictures of the shape of them. They're marked gems, so to speak. No, he played a better game—took a couple of them off, and offered them to the only one person on earth who was likely to buy them without suspicion. He came here, meaning to work this very trick; he had the links made right to the shape beforehand, and then he stole the stones and slipped them into their places. It's a wonderfully clever trick. Upon my soul, I almost admire the fellow."
For Charles is a business man himself, and can appreciate business capacity in others.
How Colonel Clay came to know about that necklet, and to appropriate two of the stones, we only discovered much later. I will not here anticipate that disclosure. One thing at a time is a good rule in life. For the moment he succeeded in baffling us altogether.
However, we followed him on to Paris, telegraphing beforehand to the Bank of France to stop the notes. It was all in vain. They had been cashed within half an hour of my paying them. The curate and his wife, we found, quitted the Hôtel des Deux Mondes for parts unknown that same afternoon. And, as usual with Colonel Clay, they vanished into space, leaving no clue behind them. In other words, they changed their disguise, no doubt, and reappeared somewhere else that night in altered characters. At any rate, no such person as the Reverend Richard Peploe Brabazon was ever afterwards heard of—and, for the matter of that, no such village exists as Empingham, Northumberland.
We communicated the matter to the Parisian police.