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Things aren't looking so good for Cyril Paxton. Hoping to earn enough money to finally marry his true love, Daisy Strong, Cyril invests his savings in the stock market, and loses it all. Ruined and on the brink of emigrating to flee his creditors, he reads with amusement a newspaper story telling of the brazen robbery of the Duchess of Datchet's diamonds, worth half a million pounds. But who can imagine his surprise when he returns home and finds, thanks to a luggage mix-up on the train, that he is in possession of the jewels!
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THE DATCHET DIAMONDS
by Richard Marsh
Published by Aeterna Classics 2018
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
TWO MEN AND A MAID
The band struck up a waltz. It chanced to be the one which they had last danced together at the Dome. How well he had danced, and how guilty she had felt! Conscious of what almost amounted to a sense of impropriety! Charlie had taken her; it was Charlie who had made her go--but then, in some eyes, Miss Wentworth might not have been regarded as the most unimpeachable of chaperons. That Cyril, for instance, would have had strong opinions of his own upon that point, Miss Strong was well aware.
While Miss Strong listened, thinking of the last time she had heard that waltz, the man with whom she had danced it stood, all at once, in front of her. She had half expected that it would be so--half had feared it. It was not the first time they had encountered each other on the pier; Miss Strong had already begun to more than suspect that the chance of encountering her was the magnet which drew Mr. Lawrence through the turnstiles. She did not wish to meet him; she assured herself that she did not wish to meet him. But, on the other hand, she did not wish to go out of her way so as to seem to run away from him.
The acquaintance had begun on the top of the Devil's Dyke in the middle of a shower of rain. Miss Strong, feeling in want of occupation, and, to speak the truth, a little in the blues, had gone, on an unpromising afternoon in April, on the spur of the moment, and in something like a temper, on a solitary excursion to the Devil's Dyke. On the Downs the wind blew great guns. She could hardly stand against it. Yet it did her good, for it suited her mood. She struggled on over the slopes, past Poynings, when, suddenly--she, in her abstraction, having paid no heed to the weather, and expecting nothing of the kind--it came down a perfect deluge of rain. She had a walking-stick, but neither mackintosh nor umbrella. There seemed every likelihood of her having to return like a drowned rat to Brighton, when, with the appropriateness of a fairy tale, some one came rushing to her with an umbrella in his hand. She could hardly refuse the proffered shelter, and the consequence was that the owner of the umbrella escorted her first to the hotel, then to the station, and afterwards to Brighton. Nor, after such services had been rendered, when they parted at the station did she think it necessary to inform him that, not under any circumstances, was he to notice her again; besides, from what she had seen of him, she rather liked the man. So, when, two days afterwards, he stopped her on the pier to ask if she had suffered any ill-effects from her exposure, it took her some five-and-twenty minutes to explain that she had not. There were other meetings, mostly on the pier; and then, as a climax, that Masonic Ball at the Dome. She danced with him five times! She felt all the time that she ought not; she knew that she would not have done it if Cyril had been there. Miss Wentworth, introduced by Miss Strong, danced with him twice, and when asked by Miss Strong if she thought that she--Miss Strong--ought to have three dances with him Miss Wentworth declared that she did not see why, if she liked, she should not have thirty. So Miss Strong had five--which shows that Miss Wentworth's notions of the duties of a chaperon were vague.
And now the band was striking up that identical waltz; and there was Mr. Lawrence standing in front of the lady with whom he had danced it.
"I believe that that was ours, Miss Strong," he said.
"I think it was."
He was holding her hand in his, and looking at her with something in his eyes which there and then she told herself would never do. They threaded their way through the crowd of people towards the head of the pier, saying little, which was worse than saying much. Although Charlie had been working, Miss Strong wished she had stayed at home with her; it would have been better than this. A sense of pending peril made her positively nervous; she wanted to get away from her companion, and yet for the moment she did not see her way to do it.
Beyond doubt Mr. Lawrence was not a man in whose favour nothing could be said. He was of medium height, had a good figure, and held himself well. He was very fair, with a slight moustache, and a mouth which was firm and resolute. His eyes were blue--a light, bright blue--beautiful eyes they were, but scarcely of the kind which could correctly be described as sympathetic. His complexion was almost like a girl's, it was so pink and white; he seemed the picture of health. His manners were peculiarly gentle. He moved noiselessly, without any appearance of exertion. His voice, though soft, was of so penetrating a quality and so completely under control that, without betraying by any movement of his lips the fact that he was speaking, he could make his faintest whisper audible in a way which was quite uncanny. Whatever his dress might be, on him it always seemed unobtrusive; indeed, the strangest thing about the man was that, while he always seemed to be the most retiring of human beings, in reality he was one of the most difficult to be rid of, as Miss Strong was finding now. More than once, just as she was about to give him his dismissal, he managed to prevent her doing so in a manner which, while she found it impossible to resent it, was not by any means to her taste. Finally, finding it difficult to be rid of him in any other way, and being, for some reason which she would herself have found it difficult to put into words, unusually anxious to be freed from his companionship, she resolved, in desperation, to leave the pier. She acquainted him with her determination to be off, and then, immediately afterwards, not a little to her surprise and a good deal to her disgust, she found herself walking towards the pier-gates with him at her side. Miss Strong's wish had been to part from him there and then; but again he had managed to prevent the actual expression of her wish, and it seemed plain that she was still to be saddled with his society, at any rate, as far as the gates.
Before they had gone half-way down the pier Miss Strong had cause to regret that she had not shown a trifle more firmness, for she saw advancing towards her a figure which, at the instant, she almost felt that she knew too well. It was Cyril Paxton. The worst of it was that she was not clear in her own mind as to what it would be best for her to do--the relations between herself and Mr. Paxton were of so curious a character. She saw that Mr. Paxton's recognition of her had not been so rapid as hers had been of him; at first she thought that she was going to pass him unperceived. In that case she would go a few steps farther with Mr. Lawrence, dismiss him, return, and discover herself to Cyril at her leisure. But it was not to be. Mr. Paxton, glancing about him from side to side of the pier, observed her on a sudden--and he observed Mr. Lawrence too; on which trivial accident hinges the whole of this strange history.
Miss Strong knew that she was seen. She saw that Mr. Paxton was coming to her. Her heart began to beat. In another second or two he was standing in front of her with uplifted hat, wearing a not very promising expression of countenance.
"Where's Charlie?" was his greeting.
The lady was aware that the question in itself conveyed a reproach, though she endeavoured to feign innocence.
"Charlie's at home; I couldn't induce her to come out. Her 'copy' for Fashion has to be ready by the morning; she says she's behind, so she stayed at home to finish it."
That was all that Mr. Paxton said, but the look with which he favoured Mr. Lawrence conveyed a very vivid note of interrogation.
"Cyril," explained Miss Strong, "this is Mr. Lawrence. Mr. Lawrence, this is Mr. Paxton; and I am afraid you must excuse me."
Mr. Lawrence did excuse her. She and Mr Paxton returned together up the pier; he, directly Mr. Lawrence was out of hearing, putting to her the question which, though she dreaded, she knew was inevitable.
"That is Mr. Lawrence."
"Yes, you told me so much already; who is Mr. Lawrence?"
As she walked Miss Strong, looking down, tapped with the ferrule of her umbrella on the boards.
"Oh! he's a sort of acquaintance."
"You have not been long in Brighton, then, without making acquaintance?"
"Cyril! I have been here more than a month. Surely a girl can make an acquaintance in that time?"
"It depends, I fancy, on the girl, and on the circumstances in which she is placed. What is Mr. Lawrence?"
"I have not the faintest notion. I have a sort of general idea that, like yourself, he is something in the City. It seems to me that nowadays most men are."
"Who introduced him?"
"A shower of rain."
"An excellent guarantor of the man's eligibility, though, even for the average girl, one would scarcely have supposed that that would have been a sufficient introduction."
Miss Strong flushed.
"You have no right to talk to me like that. I did not know that you were coming to Brighton, or I would have met you at the station."
"I knew that I should meet you on the pier."
The lady stood still.
"What do you mean by that?"
The gentleman, confronting her, returned her glance for glance.
"I mean what I say. I knew that I should meet you on the pier--and I have."
The lady walked on again; whatever she might think of Mr. Paxton's inference, his actual statement was undeniable.
"You don't seem in the best of tempera, Cyril. How is Mr. Franklyn?"
"He was all right when I saw him last--a good deal better than I was or than I am."
"What is the matter with you? Are you ill?"
"Matter!" Mr. Paxton's tone was bitter. "What is likely to be the matter with the man who, after having had the luck which I have been having lately, to crown it all finds the woman he loves philandering with a stranger--the acquaintance of a shower of rain--on Brighton pier."
"You have no right to speak to me like that--not the slightest! I am perfectly free to do as I please, as you are. And, without condescending to dispute your inferences--though, as you very well know, they are quite unjust!--any attempt at criticism on your part will be resented by me in a manner which you may find unpleasant."
A pause followed the lady's words, which the gentleman did not seem altogether to relish.
"Still the fact remains that I do love you better than anything else in the world."
"Surely if that were so, Cyril, at this time of day you and I would not be situated as we are."
"By which you mean?"
"If you felt for me what you are always protesting that you feel, surely sometimes you would have done as I wished."
"Which being interpreted is equivalent to saying that I should have put my money into Goschens, and entered an office at a salary of a pound a week."
"If you had done so you would at any rate still have your money, and also, possibly, the prospect of a career."
They had reached the end of the pier, and were leaning over the side, looking towards the Worthing lights. Miss Strong's words were followed by an interval of silence. When the gentleman spoke again, in his voice there was the suspicion of a tremor.
"Daisy, don't be hard on me."
"I don't wish to be hard. It was you who began by being hard on me."
He seemed to pay no heed to her speech, continuing on a line of his own--
"Especially just now!"
She glanced at him.
"Why especially just now?"
"Well----" He stopped. The tremor in his voice became more pronounced. "Because I'm going for the gloves."
If the light had been clearer he might have seen that her face assumed a sudden tinge of pallor.
"What do you mean by you're going for the gloves?"
"I mean that probably by this time tomorrow I shall have either won you or lost you for ever."
"Cyril!" There was a catching in her breath. "I hope you are going to do nothing--wild."
"It depends upon the point of view." He turned to her with sudden passion. "I'm sick of things as they are--sick to death! I've made up my mind to know either the best or the worst."
"How do you propose to arrive at that state of knowledge?"
"I've gone a bull on Eries--a big bull. So big a bull that if they fall one I'm done."
"I shall be done, because it will be for reasons, good, strong, solid reasons, the last deal I shall ever make on the London Stock Exchange."
There was silence. Then she spoke again--
"You will lose. You always do lose!"
"It will be almost better for you that you should lose. I am beginning to believe, Cyril, that you never will do any good till you have touched bottom, till you have lost all that you possibly can lose."
"Thank you, again."
She drew herself up, drawing herself away from the railing against which she had been leaning. She gave a gesture which was suggestive of weariness.
"I too am tired. This uncertainty is more than I can stand; you are so unstable, Cyril. Your ideas and mine on some points are wide apart. It seems to me that if a girl is worth winning, she is worth working for. As a profession for a man, I don't think that what you call 'punting' on the Stock Exchange is much better than pitch-and-toss."
The word was an interrogation. She had paused.
"It appears to me that the girl who marries a man who does nothing else but 'punt' is preparing for herself a long line of disappointments. Think how many times you have disappointed me. Think of the fortunes you were to have made. Think, Cyril, of the Trumpit Gold Mine--what great things were to come of that!"
"I am quite aware that I did invest every penny I could beg, borrow, or steal in the Trumpit Gold Mine, and that at present I am the fortunate possessor of a trunkful of shares which are not worth a shilling a-piece. The reminder is a pleasant one. Proceed--you seem wound up to go."
Her voice assumed a new touch of sharpness.
"The long and the short of it is, Cyril--it is better that we should understand each other!--if your present speculation turns out as disastrously as all your others have done, and it leaves you worse off than ever, the relations, such as they are, which exist between us must cease. We must be as strangers!"
"Which means that you don't care for me the value of a brass-headed pin."
"It means nothing of the kind, as you are well aware. It simply means that I decline to link my life with a man who appears incapable of keeping his own head above water. Because he insists on drowning himself, why should I allow him to drown me too?"
"I observe that you take the commercial, up-to-date view of marriage."
"What view do you take? Are you nearer to being able to marry me than ever you were? Are you not farther off? You have no regular income--and how many entanglements? What do you propose that we should live on--on the hundred and twenty pounds a year which mother left me?"
There came a considerable silence. He had not moved from the position he had taken up against the railing, and still looked across the waveless sea towards the glimmering lights of Worthing. When he did speak his tones were cold, and clear, and measured--perhaps the coldness was assumed to hide a warmer something underneath.
"Your methods are a little rough, but perhaps they are none the worse on that account. As you say so shall it be. Win or lose, to-morrow evening I will meet you again upon the pier--that is, if you will come."
"You know I'll come!"
"If I lose it will be to say goodbye. Next week I emigrate."
She was still, so he went on--
"Now, if you don't mind, I'll see you to the end of the pier, and say goodbye until tomorrow. I'll get something to eat and hurry back to town."
"Won't you come and see Charlie?"
"Thank you, I don't think I will. Miss Wentworth has not a sufficiently good opinion of me to care if I do or don't. Make her my excuses."
Another pause. Then she said, in a tone which was hardly above a whisper--
"Cyril, I do hope you'll win."
He stood, and turned, and faced her.
"Do you really mean that, Daisy?"
"You know that I do."
"Then, if you really hope that I shall win--the double event!--as an earnest of your hopes--there is no one looking!--kiss me."
She did as he bade her.
OVERHEARD IN THE TRAIN
It was with a feeling of grim amusement that Mr. Paxton bought himself a first-class ticket. It was, probably, the last occasion on which he would ride first-class for some considerable time to come. The die had fallen; the game was lost--Eries had dropped more than one. Not only had he lost all he had to lose, he was a defaulter. It was out of his power to settle, he was going to emigrate instead. He had with him a Gladstone bag; it contained all his worldly possessions that he proposed to take with him on his travels. His intention was, having told Miss Strong the news, and having bidden a last farewell, to go straight from Brighton to Southampton, and thence, by the American line, to the continent on whose shores Europe dumps so many of its failures.
The train was later than are the trains which are popular with City men. It seemed almost empty at London Bridge. Mr. Paxton had a compartment to himself. He had an evening paper with him. He turned to the money article. Eries had closed a point lower even than he had supposed. It did not matter. A point lower, more or less, would make no difference to him--the difference would be to the brokers who had trusted him. Wishing to do anything but think, he looked to see what other news the paper might contain. Some sensational headlines caught his eye.
The announcement amused him.
"After all that is the sort of line which I ought to have made my own--robbing pure and simple. It's more profitable than what Daisy says that I call 'punting.'"
He read on. The tale was told in the usual sensational style, though the telling could scarcely have been more sensational than the tale which was told. That afternoon, it appeared, an amazing robbery had taken place--amazing, first, because of the almost incredible value of what had been stolen; and, second, because of the daring fashion in which the deed had been done. In spite of the desperate nature of his own position--or, perhaps, because of it--Mr. Paxton drank in the story with avidity.
The Duchess of Datchet, the young, and, if report was true, the beautiful wife of one of England's greatest and richest noblemen, had been on a visit to the Queen at Windsor--the honoured guest of the Sovereign. As a fitting mark of the occasion, and in order to appear before Her Majesty in the splendours which so well became her, the Duchess had taken with her the famous Datchet diamonds. As all the world knows the Dukes of Datchet have been collectors of diamonds during, at any rate, the last two centuries.
The value of their collection is fabulous--the intrinsic value of the stones which the duchess had taken with her on that memorable journey, according to the paper, was at least £250,000--a quarter of a million of money! This was the net value--indeed, it seemed that one might almost say it was the trade value, and was quite apart from any adventitious value which they might possess, from, for instance, the point of view of historical association.
Mr. Paxton drew a long breath as he read:
"Two hundred and fifty thousand pounds--a quarter of a million! I am not at all sure that I should not have liked to have had a finger in such a pie as that. It would be better than punting at Eries."
The diamonds, it seemed, arrived all right at Windsor, and the duchess too. The visit passed off with due éclat. It was as Her Grace was returning that the deed was done, though how it was done was, as yet, a profound mystery.
"Of course," commented Mr. Paxton to himself, "all criminal London knew what she had taken with her. The betting is that they never lost sight of those diamonds from first to last; to adequately safeguard them she ought to have taken with her a regiment of soldiers."
Although she had not gone so far as a regiment of soldiers, that precaution had been taken--and precautions, moreover, which had been found to be adequate, over and over again, on previous occasions--was sufficiently plain. The duchess had travelled in a reserved saloon carriage by the five minutes past four train from Windsor to Paddington. She had been accompanied by two servants, her maid, and a man-servant named Stephen Eversleigh. Eversleigh was one of a family of servants the members of which had been in the employment of the Dukes of Datchet for generations.
It was he who was in charge of the diamonds. They were in a leather despatch-box. The duchess placed them in it with her own hand, locked the box, and retained the key in her own possession. Eversleigh carried the box from the duchess's apartment in the Castle to the carriage which conveyed her to the railway station. He placed it on the seat in front of her.
He himself sat outside with the maid. When the carriage reached the station he carried it to the duchess's saloon. The duchess was the sole occupant of the saloon. She travelled with the despatch-box in front of her all the way to London. The duke met her at Paddington. Eversleigh again placed the box on the front seat of the carriage, the duke and duchess, sitting side by side, having it in full view as the brougham passed through the London streets. The diamonds, when not in actual use, were always kept, for safe custody, at Bartlett's Bank. The confidential agent of the bank was awaiting their arrival when the brougham reached the ducal mansion in Grosvenor Square. The despatch-box was taken straight to him, and, more for form's sake than anything else, was opened by the duchess in his presence, so that he might see that it really did contain the diamonds before he gave the usual receipt.
It was as well for the bank's sake that on that occasion the form was observed. When the box was opened, it was empty! There was nothing of any sort to show that the diamonds had ever been in it--they had vanished into air!
When he had reached this point Mr. Paxton put the paper down. He laughed.
"That's a teaser. The position seems to promise a pleasing problem for one of those masters of the art of detection who have been cutting such antics lately in popular fiction. If I were appointed to ferret out the mystery, I fancy that I should begin by wanting to know a few things about her Grace the Duchess. I wonder what happened to that despatch-box while she and it were tête-à-tête? It is to be hoped that she possesses her husband's entire confidence, otherwise it is just possible that she is in for a rare old time of it."
The newspaper had little more to tell. There were the usual attempts to fill a column with a paragraph; the stereotyped statements about the clues which the police were supposed to be following up, but all that they amounted to was this: that the duchess asserted that she had placed the diamonds in the despatch-box at Windsor Castle, and that, as a matter of plain fact, they were not in it when the box reached Grosvenor Square.
Mr. Paxton leaned back in his seat, thrust his hands into his trouser pockets, and mused.
"What lucky beggars those thieves must be! What wouldn't any one do for a quarter of a million--what wouldn't I? Even supposing that the value of the stones is over-stated, and that they are only worth half as much, there is some spending in £125,000. It would set me up for life, with a little over. What prospect is there in front of me--don't I know that there is none? Existence in a country which I have not the faintest desire to go to; a life which I hate; a continual struggling and striving for the barest daily bread, with, in all human probability, failure, and a nameless grave at the end. What use is there in living out such a life as that? But if I could only lay my hands on even an appreciable fraction of that quarter of a million, with Daisy at my side--God bless the girl! how ill I have treated her!--how different it all would be!"
Mr. Paxton was possessed by a feeling of restlessness; his thoughts pricked him in his most secret places. For him, the train was moving much too slowly; had it flown on the wings of the wind it could scarcely have kept pace with the whirlwind in his brain. Rising to his feet, he began to move backwards and forwards in the space between the seats--anything was better than complete inaction.
The compartment in which he was travelling was not a new one; indeed, so far was it from being a new one, that it belonged to a type which, if not actually obsolete, at any rate nowadays is rarely seen. An oblong sheet of plate-glass was let into the partition on either side, within a few inches of the roof. This sheet of plate-glass was set in a brass frame, the frame itself being swung on a pivot.
Desirous of doing anything which would enable him, even temporarily, to escape from his thoughts, Mr. Paxton gave way to his idle and, one might almost add, impertinent curiosity. He stood, first on one seat, and peered through the glass into the adjoining compartment. So far as he was able to see, from the post of vantage which he occupied, it was vacant. He swung the glass round on its pivot. He listened. There was not a sound. Satisfied--if, that is, the knowledge gave him any satisfaction!--that there was no one there, he prepared to repeat the process of espial on the other seat.
But in this case the result was different. No sooner had he brought his eyes on a level with the sheet of glass, than he dropped down off the seat again with the rapidity of a jack-in-the-box.
"By George! I've seen that man before! It would hardly do to be caught playing the part of Peeping Tom."
Conscious of so much, he was also conscious at the same time of an increase of curiosity. Among Mr. Paxton's attributes was that one which is supposed to be the peculiar perquisite of royalty--a memory for faces. If, for any cause, a face had once been brought to his notice, he never afterwards forgot it. He had seen through that sheet of glass a countenance which he had seen before, and that quite recently.
"The chances are that I sha'n't be noticed if I am careful; and if I am caught I'll make a joke of it. I'll peep again."
He peeped again. As he did so audible words all but escaped his lips.
"The deuce! it's the beggar who was last night with Daisy on the pier."
There could not be a doubt about it; in the carriage next to his sat the individual whose companionship with Miss Strong had so annoyed him. Mr. Paxton, peering warily through the further end of the glass, treated Mr. Lawrence to a prolonged critical inspection, which was not likely to be prejudiced in that gentleman's favour.
Mr. Lawrence sat facing his observer, on Mr. Paxton's right, in the corner of the carriage. That he was not alone was plain. Mr. Paxton saw that he smiled, and that his lips were moving. Unfortunately, from Mr. Paxton's point of view, it was not easy to see who was his associate; whoever it was sat just in front of him, and therefore out of Mr. Paxton's line of vision. This was the more annoying in that Mr. Lawrence took such evident interest in the conversation he was carrying on. An idea occurred to Mr. Paxton.
"The fellow doesn't seem to see me. When I turned that other thing upon its pivot it didn't make any sound. I wonder, if I were to open this affair half an inch or so, if I could hear what the fellow's saying?"
Mr. Paxton was not in a mood to be particular. On the contrary, he was in one of those moods which come to all of us, in some dark hour of our lives, when we do the things which, being done, we never cease regretting. Mr. Paxton knelt on the cushions and he opened the frame, as he had said, just half an inch, and he put his ear as close to the opening as he conveniently could, without running the risk of being seen, and he listened. At first he heard nothing for his pains. He had not got his ear just right, and the roar of the train drowned all other sounds. Slightly shifting his position Mr. Paxton suddenly found, however, that he could hear quite well.
The speakers, to make themselves audible to each other, had to shout nearly at the top of their voices, and this, secure in their privacy, they did, the result being that Mr. Paxton could hear just as well what was being said as the person who, to all intents and purposes, was seated close beside him.
The first voice he heard was Mr. Lawrence's.
It should be noted that here and there he lost a word, as probably also did the person who was actually addressed; but the general sense of the conversation he caught quite well.
"I told you I could do it. You only want patience and resolution to take advantage of your opportunities, and a big coup is as easily carried off as a small one."
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