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The Danvers Jewels , by Mary Cholmondeley. This novel, first published anonymously, was so cleverly told that it excited much interest in the unknown author. In ‘The Danvers Jewels’ Colonel Middleton relates the adventures of a bag of priceless jewels, which he is commissioned to carry from India to England, to Sir John Danvers’s heir, Ralph Danvers…
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TO MY SISTER “DI” I AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATE THE STORY WHICH SHE HELPED ME TO WRITE
I was on the point of leaving India and returning to England when he sent for me. At least, to be accurate—and I am always accurate—I was not quite on the point, but nearly, for I was going to start by the mail on the following day. I had been up to Government House to take my leave a few days before, but Sir John had been too ill to see me, or at least he had said he was. And now he was much worse—dying, it seemed, from all accounts; and he had sent down a native servant in the noon-day heat with a note, written in his shaking old hand, begging me to come up as soon as it became cooler. He said he had a commission which he was anxious I should do for him in England.
Of course I went. It was not very convenient, because I had to borrow one of our fellows’ traps, as I had sold my own, and none of them had the confidence in my driving which I had myself. I was also obliged to leave the packing of my collection of Malay krises and Indian kookeries to my bearer.
I wondered as I drove along why Sir John had sent for me. Worse, was he? Dying? And without a friend. Poor old man! He had done pretty well in this world, but I was afraid he would not be up to much once he was out of it; and now it seemed he was going. I felt sorry for him. I felt more sorry when I saw him—when the tall, long-faced A.D.C. took me into his room and left us. Yes, Sir John was certainly going. There was no mistake about it. It was written in every line of his drawn fever-worn face, and in his wide fever-lit eyes, and in the clutch of his long yellow hands upon his tussore silk dressing-gown. He looked a very sick bad old man as he lay there on his low couch, placed so as to court the air from without, cooled by its passage through damped grass screens, and to receive the full strength of the punka, pulled by an invisible hand outside.
“You go to England to-morrow?” he asked, sharply.
It was written even in the change of his voice, which was harsh, as of old, but with all the strength gone out of it.
“By to-morrow’s mail,” I said. I should have liked to say something more—something sympathetic about his being ill and not likely to get better; but he had always treated me discourteously when he was well, and I could not open out all at once now that he was ill.
“Look here, Middleton,” he went on; “I am dying, and I know it. I don’t suppose you imagined I had sent for you to bid you a last farewell before departing to my long home. I am not in such a hurry to depart as all that, I can tell you; but there is something I want done—that I want you to do for me. I meant to have done it myself, but I am down now, and I must trust somebody. I know better than to trust a clever man. An honest fool—But I am digressing from the case in point. I have never trusted anybody all my life, so you may feel honored. I have a small parcel which I want you to take to England for me. Here it is.”
His long lean hands went searching in his dressing-gown, and presently produced an old brown bag, held together at the neck by a string.
“See here!” he said; and he pushed the glasses and papers aside from the table near him and undid the string. Then he craned forward to look about him, laying a spasmodic clutch on the bag. “I’m watched! I know I’m watched!” he said in a whisper, his pale eyes turning slowly in their sockets. “I shall be killed for them if I keep them much longer, and I won’t be hurried into my grave. I’ll take my own time.”
“There is no one here,” I said, “and no one in sight except Cathcart, smoking in the veranda, and I can only see his legs, so he can’t see us.”
He seemed to recover himself, and laughed. I had never liked his laugh, especially when, as had often happened, it had been directed against myself; but I liked it still less now.
“See here!” he repeated, chuckling; and he turned the bag inside out upon the table.
Such jewels I had never seen. They fell like cut flame upon the marble table—green and red and burning white. A large diamond rolled and fell upon the floor. I picked it up and put it back among the confused blaze of precious stones, too much astonished for a moment to speak.
“Beautiful! aren’t they?” the old man chuckled, passing his wasted hands over them. “You won’t match that necklace in any jeweller’s in England. I tore it off an old she-devil of a Rhanee’s neck after the Mutiny, and got a bite in the arm for my trouble. But she’ll tell no tales. He! he! he! I don’t mind saying now how I got them. I am a humble Christian, now I am so near heaven—eh, Middleton? He! he! You don’t like to contradict me. Look at those emeralds. The hasp is broken, but it makes a pretty bracelet. I don’t think I’ll tell you how the hasp got broken—little accident as the lady who wore it gave it to me. Rather brown, isn’t it, on one side? but it will come off. No, you need not be afraid of touching it, it isn’t wet. He! he! And this crescent. Look at those diamonds. A duchess would be proud of them. I had them from a private soldier. I gave him two rupees for them. Dear me! how the sight of them brings back old times. But I won’t leave them out any longer. We must put them away—put them away.” And the glittering mass was gathered up and shovelled back into the old brown bag. He looked into it once with hungry eyes, and then he pulled the string and pushed it over to me. “Take it,” he said. “Put it away now. Put it away,” he repeated, as I hesitated.
I put the bag into my pocket. He gave a long sigh as he watched it disappear.
“Now what you have got to do with that bag,” he said, a moment afterwards, “is to take it to Ralph Danvers, the second son of Sir George Danvers, of Stoke Moreton, in D——shire. Sir George has got two sons. I have never seen him or his sons, but I don’t mean the eldest to have them. He is a spendthrift. They are all for Ralph, who is a steady fellow, and going to marry a nice girl—at least, I suppose she is a nice girl. Girls who are going to be married always are nice. Those jewels will sweeten matrimony for Mr. Ralph, and if she is like other women it will need sweetening. There, now you have got them, and that is what you have got to do with them. There is the address written on this card. With my compliments, you perceive. He! he! I don’t suppose they will remember who I am.”
“Have you no relations?” I asked; for I am always strongly of opinion that property should be bequeathed to relatives, especially near relatives, rather than to entire strangers.
“None,” he replied, “not even poor relations. I have no deserving nephew or Scotch cousin. If 1 had, they would be here at this moment smoothing the pillow of the departing saint, and wondering how much they would get. You may make your mind easy on that score.”
“Then who is this Ralph whom you have never seen, and to whom you are leaving so much?” I asked, with my usual desire for information.
He glared at me for a moment, and then he turned his face away.
“D——n it! What does it matter, now I’m dying?” he said. And then he added, hoarsely, “I knew his mother.”
I could not speak, but involuntarily I put out my hand and took his leaden one and held it. He scowled at me, and then the words came out, as if in spite of himself—
“She—if she had married me, who knows what might—But she married Danvers. She called her second son Ralph. My first name is Ralph.” Then, with a sudden change of tone, pulling away his hand, “There! now you know all about it! Edifying, isn’t it? These death-bed scenes always have an element of interest, haven’t they? Good-evening”—ringing the bell at his elbow—“I can’t say I hope we shall meet again. It would be impolite. No, don’t let me keep you. Good-bye again.”
“Good-bye, Sir John,” I said, taking his impatient hand and shaking it gently; “God bless you.”
“Thankee,” grinned the old man, with a sardonic chuckle; “if anything could do me good that will, I’m sure. Good-bye.”
As I breakfasted next morning, previously to my departure, I could not help reflecting on the different position in which I was now returning to England, as a colonel on long leave, to that in which I had left it many—I do not care to think how many—years ago, the youngest ensign in the regiment.
It was curious to remember that in my youth I had always been considered the fool of the family; most unjustly so considered when I look back at my quick promotion owing to casualties, and at my long and prosperous career in India, which I cannot but regard as the result of high principles and abilities, to say the least of it, of not the meanest order. On the point of returning to England, the trust Sir John had with his usual shrewdness reposed in me was an additional proof, if proof were needed, of the confidence I had inspired in him—a confidence which seemed to have ripened suddenly at the end of his life, after many years of hardly concealed mockery and derision. Just as 1 was finishing my reflections and my breakfast, Dickson, one of the last joined subalterns, came in.
“This is very awful,” he said, so gravely that I turned to look at him.
“What is awful?”
“Don’t you know?” he replied. “Haven’t you heard about—Sir John—last night?”
“Dead?” I asked.
He nodded; and then he said—
“Murdered in the night! Cathcart heard a noise and went in, and stumbled over him on the floor. As he came in he saw the lamp knocked over, and a figure rush out through the veranda. The moon was bright, and he saw a man run across a clear space in the moonlight—a tall, slightly built man in native dress, but not a native, Cathcart said; that he would take his oath on, by his build. He roused the house, but the man got clean off, of course.”
“And Sir John?”
“Sir John was quite dead when Cathcart got back to him. He found him lying on his face. His arms were spread out, and his dressing-gown was torn, as if he had struggled hard. His pockets had been turned inside out, his writing-table drawers forced open, the whole room had been ransacked; yet the old man’s gold watch had not been touched, and some money in one of the drawers had not been taken. What on earth is the meaning of it all?” said young Dickson, below his breath. “What was the thief after?”
In a moment the truth flashed across my brain. I put two and two together as quickly as most men, I fancy. The jewels! Someone had got wind of the jewels, which at that moment were reposing on my own person in their old brown bag. Sir John had been only just in time.
“What was he looking for?” continued Dickson, walking up and down. “The old man must have had some paper or other about him that he wanted to get hold of. But what? Cathcart says that nothing whatever has been taken, as far as he can see at present.”
I was perfectly silent. It is not every man who would have been so in my place, but I was. I know when to hold my tongue, thank Heaven!
Presently the others came in, all full of the same subject, and then suddenly I remembered that it was getting late; and there was a bustle and a leave-taking, and I had to post off before I could hear more. Not, however, that there was much more to hear, for everything seemed to be in the greatest confusion, and every species of conjecture was afloat as to the real criminal, and the motive for the crime. 1 had not much time to think of anything during the first day on board; yet, busy as I was in arranging and rearranging my things, poor old Sir John never seemed quite absent from my mind. His image, as I had last seen him, constantly rose before me, and the hoarse whisper was forever sounding in my ears, “I’m watched! I know I’m watched!” I could not get him out of my head. I was unable to sleep the first night I was on board, and, as the long hours wore on, I always seemed to see the pale searching eyes of the dead man; and above the manifold noises of the steamer, and the perpetual lapping of the calm water against my ear, came the whisper, “I’m watched! I know I’m watched!”
I was all right next day. I suppose I had had what women call nerves. I never knew what nerves meant before, because no two women I ever met seemed to have the same kind. If it is slamming a door that upsets one woman’s nerves, it may be coming in on tiptoe that will upset another’s. You never can tell. But I am sure it was nerves with me that first night; I know I have never felt so queer since. Oh yes I have, though—once. I was forgetting; but I have not come to that yet.
We had a splendid passage home. Most of the passengers were in good spirits at the thought of seeing England again, and even the children were not so troublesome as I have known them. I soon made friends with some of the nicest people, for I generally make friends easily. I do not know how I do it, but I always seem to know what people really are at first sight. I always was rather a judge of character.
There was one man on board whom I took a great fancy to from the first. He was a young American, travelling about, as Americans do, to see the world. I forget where he had come from—though I believe he told me—or why he was going to London; but a nicer young fellow I never met. He was rather simple and unsophisticated, and with less knowledge of the world than any man I ever knew; but he did not mind owning to it, and was as grateful as possible for any little hints which, as an older man who had not gone through life with his eyes shut, 1 was of course able to give him. He was of a shy disposition I could see, and wanted drawing out; but he soon took to me, and in a surprisingly short time we became friends. He was in the next cabin to mine, and evidently wished so much to have been with me, that I tried to get another man to exchange; but he was grumpy about it, and I had to give it up, much to young Carr’s disappointment. Indeed, he was quite silent and morose for a whole day about it, poor fellow. He was a tall handsome young man, slightly built, with the kind of sallow complexion that women admire, and I wondered at his preferring my company to that of the womankind on board, who were certainly very civil to him. One evening when I was rallying him on the subject, as we were leaning over the side (for though it was December it was hot enough in the Red Sea to lounge on deck), he told me that he was engaged to be married to a beautiful young American girl. I forget her name, but I remember he told it me—Dulcima Something—but it is of no consequence. I quite understood then. I always can enter into the feelings of others so entirely. I know when I was engaged myself once, long ago, I did not seem to care to talk to any one but her. She did not feel the same about it, which perhaps accounted for her marrying some one else, which was quite a blow to me at the time. But still I could fully enter into young Carr’s feelings, especially when he went on to expatiate on her perfections. Nothing, he averred, was too good for her. At last he dropped his voice, and, after looking about him in the dusk, to make sure he was not overheard, he said:
“I have picked up a few stones for her on my travels; a few sapphires of considerable value. I don’t care to have it generally known that I have jewels about me, but I don’t mind telling you.”
“My dear fellow,” I replied, laying my hand on his shoulder, and sinking my voice to a whisper, “not a soul on board this vessel suspects it, but so have I.”
It was too dark for me see his face, but I felt that he was much impressed by what I had told him.
“Then you will know where I had better keep mine,” he said, a moment later, with his impulsive boyish confidence. “How fortunate I told you about them. Some are of considerable value, and—and I don’t know where to put them that they will be absolutely safe. I never carried about jewels with me before, and I am nervous about losing them, you understand.” And he nodded significantly at me. “Now where would you advise me to keep them?”
“On you,” I said, significantly.
He was simpler than even I could have believed.
“My dear boy,” I said, hardly able to refrain from laughing, “do as I do; put them in a bag with a string to it. Put the string round your neck, and wear that bag under your clothes night and day.”
“At night as well?” he asked, anxiously.
“Of course. You are just as likely to lose them, as you call it, in the night as in the day.”
“I’m very much obliged to you,” he replied. “I will take your advice this very night. I say,” he added, suddenly, “you would not care to see them, would you? I would not have any one else catch sight of them for a good deal, but I would show you them in a moment. Every one else is on deck just now, if you would like to come down into my cabin.”
I hardly know one stone from another, and never could tell a diamond from paste; but he seemed so anxious to show me what he had, that I did not like to refuse.
“By all means,” I said. And we went below.
It was very dark in Carr’s cabin, and after he had let me in he locked the door carefully before he struck a light. He looked quite pale in the light of the lamp after the red dusk of the warm evening on deck.
“I don’t want to have other fellows coming in,” he said in a whisper, nodding at the door.
He stood looking at me for a moment as if irresolute, and then he suddenly seemed to arrive at some decision, for he pulled a small parcel out of his pocket and began to open it.
They really were not much to look at, though I would not have told him so for worlds. There were a few sapphires—one of a considerable size, but uncut—and some handsome turquoises, but not of perfect color. He turned them over with evident admiration.
“They will look lovely, set in gold, as a bracelet on her arm,” he said, softly. He was very much in love, poor fellow! And then he added, humbly, “But I dare say they are nothing to yours.”
I chuckled to myself at the thought of his astonishment when he should actually behold them; but I only said, “Would you like to see them, and judge for yourself?”
“Oh! if it is not giving you too much trouble,” he exclaimed, gratefully, with shining eyes. “It’s very kind of you. I did not like to ask. Have you got them with you?”
I nodded, and proceeded to unbutton my coat.
At that moment a voice was heard shouting down the companion-ladder: “Carr! I say, Carr, you are wanted!” and in another moment someone was hammering on the door.
Carr sprang to his feet, looking positively savage.
“Carr!” shouted the voice again. “Come out, I say; you are wanted!”
“Button up your coat,” he whispered, scowling suddenly; and with an oath he opened the door.
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