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Romance-adventure of the rider haggard style
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CASSELL AND COMPANY, LTD
London, New York, Toronto and Melbourne
THE REV. WILLIAM BAKER, D.D.
(LATE HEADMASTER OF MERCHANT TAYLORS’ SCHOOL),
THIS BOOK IS GRATEFULLY INSCRIBED
BY HIS OLD PUPIL.
“ He spake, and into every heart his words
Carried new strength and courage.”
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Transcriber’s Notes can be found at the end of this eBook.
THE DIAMOND SHIP.
THE PREFACE OF TIMOTHY McSHANUS, JOURNALIST.
It would have been at the Fancy Fair and Fête at Kensington Town Hall that my friend, Dr. Fabos, first met Miss Fordibras. Very well do I recollect that he paid the price of it for the honourable company of the Goldsmith Club.
“McShanus,” said he, “if there’s anyone knows his way to a good supper, ’tis yourself and no other. Lead forth to the masquerade, and I follow. Spare no expense, McShanus. Your friends are my friends. I would have this a memorable night—the last I may be in London for many a year.”
There were seven of us who took him at his word and got into the cab together. You must know that he had paid for a little dinner at the Goldsmith Club already, and never a man who did not justice to his handsome hospitality. The night was clear, and there were stars in the heavens. I mind me that a little of the dulce and the desipere moved us to sing “Rule, Britannia” as we went. ’Tis a poor heart that never rejoices; and Ean Fabos paid for it—as I took the opportunity to remark to my good friend Killock, the actor.
“Shall we pay for the cab?” says he.
“Would you insult the most generous heart in Great Britain this night?” says I.
“On reflection,” says he, “the man who does not pay will have no trouble about his change,” and with that we went into the hall. It is true that we were a remarkable company. My old comrade, Barry Henshaw, had come in a velvet shooting coat and a red neckcloth that was not to the taste of the officials at the box-office. Killock himself, the darling of the ladies, God bless him, had diamonds strewn upon his vest thick enough to make a pattern of chrysanthemums. My own cravat would have been no disgrace to the Emperor Napoleon. And there we stood, seven members of seven honourable professions, like soldiers at the drill, our backs to the wall of the dancing room and our eyes upon the refreshment buffet.
“’Tis time for a whisky and soda,” says Barry Henshaw, the famous dramatist, directly his coat was off his back.
“Shame on ye,” says I,—“you that were lapping the poison they call ‘kummel’ not the half of an hour ago. Beware of the drink, Barry—the secret habit.”
“Oh,” says he, “then you’re coming with me, I suppose?”
And then he remarked:
“If Fabos were a gentleman he would join the procession and pay for it. But that’s the worst of these shows. You always lose the man with the money.”
I passed the observation by as impertinent, and we went to the buffet. What they called the Fancy Fair was in full swing by this time; though devil a wig on the green for all their money. Slips of beauty dressed as shepherdesses mistook me and my friend for their sheep, and would have fleeced us prettily; but our lofty utterance, coming of a full heart and two shillings and tenpence in the purse, restrained their ardour, and sent them to the right-about. ’Twas a fair, be it told, for the sailor boys at Portsmouth; and when you had bought a bunch of daisies for ten shillings, of a maid with blue eyes and cherry lips, you could waltz with the same little vixen at five shillings a time. My friend Barry, I observed, turned very pale at this suggestion.
“Do you not lift the sprightly toe?” asked I.
“Man,” he said, “it’s worse than a Channel passage.”
“But Fabos is dancing,” said I, pointing to our host in the midst of the rabble. “See what comes of the plain living, my boy. He’ll dance until the sun shines and think nothing of it. And a pretty enough five shillings’ worth he has on his arm,” I put in as an after-thought.
’Twas odd how we fell to discussing this same Dr. Ean Fabos upon every occasion that came to us. Was it because of his money—riches beyond dreams to poor devils who must please the public or die dishonoured in the market-place? I venture, no. We of the Goldsmith Club care for no man’s money. Bid the Vanderbilts come among us, and we lift no hats. ’Tis true that in so far as they assist the mighty sons of Homer and Praxiteles to meet their just obligations upon quarter day, they have some use in the world. I have known circumstances when they have kept precious lives from the Underground Railway or the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens. But this is to betray the secrets of my club and of my poor friends Killock and Barry Henshaw and the rest.
What I was saying was that Ean Fabos’s riches made no more mark upon us than a lady’s parasol upon the back of a mule. They said he was a doctor of Cambridge, whose father had made a fortune out of Welsh coal and then joined his ancestors. My homage to his consideration, says I. May the warmth of his discovery glow in many hearts and long blaze in beneficent profusion up the chimneys of the Goldsmith Club! He has bequeathed us a noble son, whose dinners are second to none in the empire. Again I say, hats off. ’Twas a gentleman entirely.
But I speak of his son dancing with the little girl in red at the Fancy Fair at Kensington. Be sure that his six feet one would go bending to sixty-eight inches and whispering soft things in her ear at five shillings the waltz, as the programme told ye. And he such a silent man ordinarily—not to be moved from that rogue of a taciturn smile we see so often upon his face even when the wit of the club is worthy of the name we bear. They call Ean Fabos many names. Some say misogynist; others cynic; a few speak of his lacking heart; there are those who call him selfish. What’s he to do with all his money? Do his friends share it? The sacred shrines of Bacchus know better. He buys diamonds, they say. Just that, great diamonds and rubies and sapphires, not for a woman’s pretty arms or her white shoulders, you must know; but to lock up in his safe at his great house down Newmarket way; to lock up and hide from men and gloat upon in the silence of the night. That’s what the world says. I’d add to it that there’s no true charity in all London which has not benefited secretly by his generous alms. But that is known to few, and was never known to me until I met the daughter of my friend Oscroft, the painter; left an orphan as she was in the same unkind city.
What is it, then, about Ean Fabos that turns all eyes upon him in whatever company he may be? Some, for sure, hope to borrow money of him. So much my great heart for humanity must admit. They hope to borrow money from him and to save him from others who would do likewise. ’Tis their way of friendship. But, mark ye, there are many more, strangers to him, enemies because of the favour he enjoys, and these are on their knees with the rest. What is it, then? I’ll tell you in a word. ’Tis that great power of what they call personal magnetism, a power that we can give no right name to, but must admit whenever we find it. Ean Fabos has it beyond any man I have known. Let him say three words at a table, and the whole room is listening. Let him hold his tongue and the people are looking at him. You cannot pass it by. It grips you with both hands, draws you forward, compels you to give best. And that’s why men gather about my friend Dr. Ean Fabos, as they would about the fine gentlemen of old Greece could they come back to this London of ours. They have no will of their own while he is among them.
Now, this is the very man whom I saw dancing twice (at five shillings a time, though naturally the money would be nothing to him, while much to poor souls who have had their pictures flung into the mud by the sorry Sassenachs who sit at Burlington House), dancing twice, I say, with a black-haired shepherdess in a red cloak; not one that I myself, who have a fine eye for the sex, would have been lavishing my immortal wit upon; but just a merry bit of laughing goods that you can sample in any ball-room. When he surrendered her to her father, a stately old gentleman, stiff as a poker in the back, and one who reminded me of my dead friend General von Moltke, of Prussia—when he did this, I say, and I asked him who she might be, he answered me with the frankness of a boy:
“Timothy McShanus,” says he, “she’s the daughter of General Fordibras, whose ancestor went to America with the Marquis de Lafayette. That is the beginning and end of my knowledge. Lead me forth to the cellar, for I would quench my thirst. Not since I was the stroke of the great Leander boat at Henley did there drop from my brow such honest beads of sweat. Man alive, I would not go through it again for the crown ruby of Jetsapore.”
“Your friend Lafayette was known to my grandfather,” says I, leading him straight to the buffet, “though I do not remember to have met him. As for the labour that ye speak of, I would ask you why you do it if ye have no stomach for it. To dance or not to dance—shall that be the question? Not for such men as we, Dr. Fabos; not for those who dwell upon the Olympian heights and would fly higher if ye could oblige them with the loan——”
He cut me very short, mistaking my words. Not a man who is given to what is called dramatic gesture, I was much astonished when he took me by the arm and, leading me away to a corner, made the strangest confession that ever fell from such a man’s lips.
“I danced with her, McShanus,” said he, “because she is wearing the bronze pearls that were stolen from my flat in Paris just three years ago.”
Be sure that I looked hard enough at him.
“Is there but one bronze pearl in the world?” I asked him after a while of surprise.
He turned upon me that weary smile which intellect may turn upon curiosity sometimes, and rejoined as one who pitied me.
“There are just ten of that particular shape, McShanus,” says he, “and she is wearing four of them in the pendant she has upon her neck. The heart of it is a rose diamond, which once belonged to Princess Marguerite of Austria. There is a sweet little white sapphire in the ring she wears that I fancy I remember somewhere, though the truth of it has gone out of my head. If she will give me another dance by-and-by I will tell you more perhaps. But do not speculate upon my actions any further. You have known me long enough to say that waltzing is not an employment which usually occupies my attention.”
“’Tis true as all the gospels,” cried I; “and yet, what a story to hear! Would you have me think that yon bit of a girl is a thief?”
“Oh,” says he, his clear blue eyes full upon me, “does an Irishman ever give himself time to think? Come, McShanus, use your wits. If she or her father knew that the jewels were stolen, would she be wearing them in a ball-room in London?”
“Why, no, she certainly would not.”
“Wrong every time, Timothy McShanus. She would wear them for mere bravado. That’s what I’ve been telling myself while I danced with her. If she does not know the truth, her father does.”
“What! The military looking gentleman who so closely resembles my friend General von Moltke?”
“No other at all. I have my doubts about him. He knows that his daughter is wearing stolen jewels, but he has not the smallest idea that I know—either that, or he is clever enough to play Hamlet in a tam-o’-shanter. Excuse my unwonted agitation, McShanus. This is really very interesting.”
I could see that he found it so. In all the years I have known him, never have I seen Ean Fabos so much put about or so little anxious to escape from his own thoughts. Fine figure of a man that he was, with great square shoulders hammered out in the rowing boats, a very Saxon all over him with a curly brown wig and a clean-shaven chin and boy’s eyes and a man’s heart—that was the body corporate of Ean Fabos. His mind not a man among us had ever read. I would have named him yesterday the most careless banker of his riches and money in the three kingdoms of Ireland, Wales, and England. And here I found him, set thinking like a philosopher, because he had stumbled across a few paltry pearls stolen from his cabinet. Should I alter my opinion of him for that? Devil a bit. ’Twas the girl of whom he thought, I could see.
So here was Timothy McShanus deserting the baked meats, to say nothing of his convenient corner in the buffet, to go out and stare at a red shepherdess with picture books and maizypop to sell. And what kind of a colleen was it that he saw? Why, nothing out of the ordinary when viewed from afar. But come a little closer, and you shall see the blackest and the wickedest pair of eyes that ever looked out from the face of Venus. ’Tis no common man I am in my judgment of the sex; but this I will say, that when the girl looked at me, she found me as red in the face as a soldier at a court-martial. Not tall above the common; her hair a deep chestnut, running almost to black; her mouth just a rosebud between two pretty cheeks; there was something of France and something of America helping each other to make a wonder of her. Young as she was—and I supposed her to be about eighteen—her figure would have given her five years more according to our northern ideas; but I, who know Europe as I know Pall Mall, said no—she is eighteen, McShanus, my boy, and America has kept that peach-blossom upon her cheeks. Had I been mistaken, her voice would have corrected me. ’Twas a young girl’s voice when she spoke, clear and musical as the song of silver bells.
“Now won’t you buy a novel?” she said, bustling up to me just like a bunch of roses. “Here’s Sir Arthur Hall Rider’s very latest—an autograph copy for one guinea.”
“Me dear,” says I, “’tis Timothy McShanus who reads his own novels. Speak not of his poor rivals.”
“Why, how clever of you!” says she, looking at me curiously. “And, of course, your books are the best. Why didn’t you send me some to sell on my stall?”
“Bedad, and they’re out of print, every won av them,” says I, speaking the Sassenach’s tongue to her as it should be spoken. “Here’s the Archbishop and the Lord Chancellor together lamentin’ it. ‘Timothy,’ says his lordship, ‘the great masters are dead, Timothy. Be up and doing, or we are lost entirely.’ The riches of America could not buy one of my novels—unless it were that ye found one av them upon an old bookstall at fourpence.”
She didn’t know what to make of me.
“How strange that I don’t know your name!” says she, perplexed. “Did they review your novels in the newspapers?”
“My dear,” says I, “the newspaper reviewers couldn’t understand ’em. Be kind to them for it. Ye can’t make a silk purse out a sow’s ear any more than ye can make black pearls out of lollypops. Could it be, Timothy McShanus would be driving his own motor-car and not rejuiced to the back seat of the omnibus. ’Tis a strange world with more wrong than right in it.”
“You like my pearls, then?” she asked.
I said they were almost worthy of her wearing them.
“Papa bought them in Paris,” she ran on, as natural as could be. “They’re not black, you know, but bronze. I don’t care a bit about them myself—I like things that sparkle.”
“Like your eyes,” cried I, searching for the truth in them. For sure, I could have laughed aloud just now at my friend Fabos’s tale of her. “Like your eyes when you were dancing a while back with a doctor of my acquaintance.”
She flushed a hair’s-breadth, and turned her head away.
“Oh, Dr. Fabos? Do you know him, then?”
“We have been as brothers for a matter of ten short years.”
“Is he killing people in London, did you say?”
“No such honourable employment. He’s just a fine, honest, independent gentleman. Ye’ve nothing much richer in America, maybe. The man who says a word against him has got to answer Timothy McShanus. Let him make his peace with heaven before he does so.”
She turned an arch gaze upon me, half-laughing at my words.
“I believe he sent you here to say so,” cries she.
“Indeed, an’ he did,” says I. “He’s anxious for your good opinion.”
“Why, what should I know of him?” says she, and then, turning to stare after him, she cried, “There he is, talking to my father. I’m sure he knows we’re picking him to pieces.”
“Pearls every one,” says I.
“Oh, dad is calling me,” she exclaimed, breaking away upon the words and showing me as pretty an ankle, when she turned, as I am likely to behold out of Dublin. A minute afterwards, what should I see but the General and her walking off with my friend Fabos just as if they had known him all their lives.
“And may the great god Bacchus, to say nothing of the little divinities who preside over the baked meats, may they forgive him!” I cried to Barry Henshaw and the rest of the seven. “He has gone without leaving us the money for our supper, and ’tis two and tenpence halfpenny that stands for all the capital I have in this mortal world.”
We shook our heads in true sorrow, and buttoned our coats about us. In thirst we came, in thirst must we return.
“And for a bit of a colleen that I could put in my pocket,” says I, as we tramped from the hall.
But what the others said I will make no mention of, being a respecter of persons and of the King’s English—God bless him!
IN WHICH HARRIET FABOS TELLS OF HER BROTHER’S RETURN TO DEEPDENE HALL IN SUFFOLK.
I have been asked to write very shortly what I know of General Fordibras and of my brother’s mysterious departures from England in the summer of the year 1904. God grant that all is well with him, and that these lines will be read by no others than the good friends who have not forgotten me in my affliction!
It was, I think, in the December of the previous year that he first met the General in London, as I understood from him, at a fashionable bazaar at Kensington. This circumstance he related to me upon his return; and a sister’s interest in Joan Fordibras could not be but a growing one. I recollect that the General drove over one day in the spring from Newmarket and took luncheon with us. He is a fine, stately man, with a marked American accent, and a manner which clearly indicates his French birth. The daughter I thought a pretty winsome child; very full of quaint sayings and ideas, and so unlike our English girls. Ean had spoken of her so often that I was not prepared for the somewhat distant manner in which he treated her. Perhaps, in my heart, I found myself a little relieved. It has always been a sorrow to me to think that one I had loved so well as brother Ean might some day find my affection for him insufficient.
General Fordibras, it appears, makes a hobby of yachting. He lives but little in America, I understand, but much in Paris and the South. Ean used to be very fond of the sea, but he has given it up so many years that I was surprised to hear how much a sailor he can be. His own pet things—the laboratory, the observatory in our grounds, his rare books, above all, his rare jewels—were but spoken of indifferently. General Fordibras is very little interested in them; while his daughter is sufficiently an American to care chiefly for our antiquities—of which I was able to show her many at Deepdene. When they left us, it was to return to London, I understood; and then to join the General’s yacht at Cherbourg.
Ean spoke little to me of these people when they were gone. I felt quite happy that he made no mention of the daughter, Joan. Very foreign to his usual habits, however, he was constantly to and fro between our house and London; and I observed, not without some uneasiness, that he had become a little nervous. This was the more remarkable because he has always been singularly fearless and brave, and ready to risk his own life for others upon the humblest call. At first I thought that he must be out of health, and would have had Dr. Wilcox over to see him; but he always resents my attempts to coddle him (as he calls it), and so I forbore, and tried to find another reason.
There is no one quicker than a sister who loves to detect those ailments of the heart from which no man is free; but I had become convinced by this time that Ean cared nothing for Joan Fordibras, and that her absence abroad was not the cause of his disquietude. Of other reasons, I could name none that might be credibly received. Certainly, money troubles were out of the question, for I know that Ean is very rich. We had at Deepdene none of those petty parochial jealousies which are the cause of conflict in certain quarters. Our lives were quiet, earnest, and simple. What, then, had come to my brother? Happy indeed had I been if I could have answered that question.
The first thing that I noticed was his hesitation to leave me alone at the Manor. For the first time for some years, he declined to attend the annual dinner of his favourite club, the Potters.
“I should not be able to catch the last train down,” he said one morning at breakfast; “impossible, Harriet. I must not go.”
“Why, whatever has come to you, Ean?” said I. “Are you getting anxious about poor old me? My dear boy, just think how often I have been alone here.”
“Yes, but I don’t intend to leave you so much in future. When the reasons make themselves known to me, they shall be known to you, Harriet. Meanwhile, I am going to live at home. The little Jap stops with me. He is coming down from town to-day, so I hope you will make arrangements for him.”
He spoke of his Japanese servant Okyada, whom he brought from Tokio with him three years ago. The little fellow had served him most faithfully at his chambers in the Albany, and I was not displeased to have him down in Suffolk. Ean’s words, however, troubled me greatly, for I imagined that some danger threatened him in London, and a sister’s heart was beating already to discover it.
“Cannot you tell me something, Ean?”
He laughed boyishly, in a way that should have reassured me.
“I will tell you something, Harriet. Do you remember the bronze pearls that were stolen from my flat in Paris more than three years ago?”
“Of course, Ean; I remember them perfectly. How should I forget them? You don’t mean to say——”
“That I have recovered them? No—not quite. But I know where they are.”
“Then you will recover them, Ean?”
“Ah, that is for to-morrow. Let Okyada, by the way, have the room next to my dressing-room. He won’t interfere with my clothes, Harriet. You will still be able to coddle me as much as you please, and, of course, I will always warm the scissors before I cut my nails in winter.”
He was laughing at me again—a little unjustly, perhaps, as I have always believed that influenzas and rheums come to those who allow anything cold to touch the skin—but this is my old womanish fancy, while Ean is not altogether free himself from those amiable weaknesses and fads which take some part in all our lives. He, for instance, must have all his neckties of one colour in a certain drawer; some of his many clothes must go to the press upon one day and others upon the next. He buys great quantities of things from his hosier, and does not wear one half of them. I am always scolding him for walking about the grounds at night in his dress clothes; but he never does so without first warming his cloth cap at the fire, if it be winter. I make mention of these trifles that others may understand how little there is of real weakness in a very lovable, manly, and courageous character. Beyond that, as the world knows well, Ean is one of the greatest linguists and most accomplished scholars in all Europe.
Now, had I been clever, I should have put two and two together and have foreseen that what Ean really feared was another attempt upon the wonderful collection of rare jewels he has made—a collection the existence of which is known to very few people, but is accounted among the most beautiful and rare in the country. Ean keeps his jewels—at least he kept them until recently—in a concealed safe in his own dressing-room, and very seldom was even I permitted to peep into that holy of holies. Here again some eccentricity of a lovable character is to be traced. My brother would as soon have thought of wearing a diamond in his shirt front as of painting his face like an Indian; but these hidden jewels he loved with a rare ardour, and I do truly believe that they had some share in his own scheme of life. When he lost the bronze pearls in Paris, I know that he fretted like a child for a broken toy. It was not their value—not at all. He called them his black angels—in jest, of course—and I think that he believed some of his own good luck went with them.
This was the state of things in the month of May when Okyada, the Japanese, came from London and took up his residence at the Manor. Ean told me nothing; he never referred again to the subject of his lost pearls. Much of his time was spent in his study, where he occupied himself with the book he was writing upon the legends of the Adriatic. His leisure he gave to his motor and his observatory.
I began to believe that whatever anxiety troubled him had passed; and in this belief I should have continued but for the alarming events of which I now write. And this brings me to the middle of the summer—to be exact, the fifteenth day of June in the year 1904.
IN WHICH HARRIET FABOS CONTINUES HER NARRATIVE.
Ean, I remember, had come in from a little trip to Cambridge about five o’clock in the afternoon. We had tea together, and afterwards he called his servant, Okyada, to the study, and they were closeted there almost until dinner time. In the drawing-room later on, Ean proved to be in the brightest of spirits. He spoke, among other things, of some of his deserted hobbies, and expressed regret that he had given up his yacht.
“I’m getting old before my time, Harriet,” he said. “The pantaloon and slippered stage is a tragedy for thirty-three. I think I shall get another boat, sister. If you are good, I will take you to the Adriatic again.”
I promised to be very good; and then, laughing together, we chatted of the old days in Greece and Turkey, of our voyages to South America, and of sunny days in Spain. I had never seen him brighter. When we went to bed he kissed me twice, and then said such an extraordinary thing that I could not help but remember it:
“Okyada and I will be working late in the observatory,” he said; “there may be one or two men about assisting us. Don’t be afraid if you hear a noise, Harriet. You will know it’s all right, and that I am aware of it.”
Now, Ean is so very frank with me usually, looks me so straight in the face, and tells me so plainly what he means, that his evident attempt to conceal something from me upon this occasion, his averted gaze and forced manner, could not but awake my just curiosity. I did not press him at the moment, but in my own room I thought much upon it all, and was quite unable to sleep. Books were of no help to me, nor did my habitual self-composure help me. Recalling his words, and trying to fit a meaning to them, I went more than once to my window and looked out over the pleasure garden beneath it. Deepdene, as many know, is an old Tudor mansion with three sides of its ancient quadrangle still standing. My own rooms are in the right-hand wing; the pleasure garden is below them, and beyond its high wall is the open park which rims right down to the Bury road. Let me ask anyone what my feelings should have been, when chancing to look out over the garden at one o’clock that morning I saw, as plainly as my eyes have ever seen, the figures of three men crouching beneath the wall and evidently as fearful of discovery as I was of their presence.
My first impulse, naturally, was to wake Ean and to let him know what I had seen. No very courageous person at the best, I have always been greatly afraid of the presence of strange men about the house, and this visitation at such an hour would surely have alarmed the bravest. As if to magnify my fears, there was the light of our observatory shining brightly across the park to tell me plainly that my brother was still at work, and that the invaluable Okyada must be with him. My maid, Humphreys, and the poor old butler, Williams, were my only janissaries, and what could one hope for from them in such an emergency? I began to say that if the men succeeded in entering the house, the peril were grave indeed; and then, upon this, I recollected Ean’s warning, and tried to take comfort of it. Had he not said that there might be men about the house assisting him? Why, then, should I be afraid? I will tell you—because it came to me suddenly that he must have been aware of a probable attack upon the Manor, and had wished to prepare me for anything the night could bring forth. There was no other reasonable explanation.
Judge, then, in what a dilemma I found myself. My brother away at the observatory, half a mile at least from the Manor; two old servants for my body-guard; a lonely house and strange men seeking to enter it. Driven this way and that by my thoughts, at first I said that I would take Ean at his word, and hide away from it all like a true coward in my bed. This I would have done if the doing of it had not been unsupportable. I could not lie. My heart was beating so; every sound so distressed me, that I arose in desperation, and putting on my dressing gown with trembling fingers, determined to wake up my maid Humphreys; for, said I, she cannot be more afraid than I am. Not an over-bold resolution at the best, the execution of it would never have been attempted had I known what was in store for me. Shall I ever forget it, if I live a hundred years? The dark landing when I opened my bedroom door! The staircase with the great stained window and the moonlight shining down through it! These could not affright me. It was the whisper of voices I heard below, the soft tread of feet upon velvet-pile. Ah! those were sounds I shall ever remember!
The men had entered the house; they were coming upstairs. If I crossed the dark landing to my maid’s room, assuredly I should alarm them. These were the reflections as I stood simply paralysed with fright and unable to utter a single cry or to move from the place. Step by step I heard the thieves creeping up the stairs until at last I could see them in the bay of the entresol and tell myself, in truth, that I was not dreaming. Then I do believe that I half swooned with terror.
They were coming up step by step to visit and to rob my brother’s safe, kept in the dressing-room, where the Japanese, Okyada, usually slept. This much even my agitated mind impressed upon me. A terrified woman fearing discovery as something which might bring these men’s vengeance upon her, yet for all the gold in the world I could not have uttered a single cry. A sense of utter dread robbed me of all power of will and speech. I could hear my heart beating so that I thought even they must hear it as they passed me by. And you shall imagine my feelings when I say that the rays from the dark lanterns they carried were turned upon the very door of my bedroom which I had but just shut behind me.
Had they been diverted a hair’s-breadth to the right, they would have discovered me, standing with my back to the wall, a helpless and, I do protest, a pitiable figure. But the robbers were too set upon the jewels to delay for any such unlikely chance, and they went straight on to my brother’s room; and entering it, to my surprise, without difficulty, I heard them shut the door and lock it behind them.
So there I stood, my limbs still trembling, but the spell of immediate fear already a little removed from me. Dreading discovery no longer, I crossed the landing silently and entered my maid’s room. A courageous woman, far braver than her mistress—for she is of Irish descent, and does not know what the meaning of fear is—she heard me with as little concern as if I had been ordering her to go shopping into Cambridge.
“The master’s away in the Park,” she said; “then we must fetch him, mistress. I’ll go myself. Do you wait here with me until I am dressed.”
I dreaded being left, and made no scruple to tell her so.
“Why, that’s all right,” she exclaimed, quite cheerily. “I’ll go and call Williams. They’ll be off fast enough, mistress, if they get the diamonds. Now, do you just sit here quietly, and think nothing at all about it. I’ll be there and back like master’s motor-car. Sure, the impudence of them—to come to this house of all places in the world! They’ll be robbing Buckingham Palace next!”
She was dressing the while she spoke, and being ready almost immediately, she put a shawl about her shoulders, and made to set off through the Park. When she had gone I locked the door—coward that I was—and sat all alone in the darkness, praying for my brother’s coming. Indeed, I think that I counted the minutes, and had come to the belief that Humphreys had been gone a quarter of an hour—though I make sure now that it was not truly more than five minutes—when a terrible cry, something so inhuman, so dreadful, as to be beyond all my experience, rang out through the house, and was repeated again and again until the very night seemed to echo it.
What had happened? Had my brother returned, then? Was it his voice I had heard? Not for a hundred thousand pounds could I have remained any longer in that dark room with these dreadful questions for my company—and, unlocking the door, I ran out to the landing, calling “Ean! Ean! for God’s sake tell me what has happened!”
He answered me at once, my dear brother, standing at the door of his dressing-room, just, as it seemed to me, as unconcerned as though he had been called up at daybreak to go out with his dogs and gun. Quick as he was, however, I had peeped into the room behind him, and then I saw something which even his cleverness could not hide from me. A man lay full length upon the floor, apparently dead. By his side there knelt the Japanese, Okyada, who chafed the limbs of the sufferer and tried to restore him to consciousness. This sight, I say, Ean could not conceal from me. But he shut the door at once, and, leading me away, he tried to tell me what it was.
“My dear Harriet, you see what comes of touching scientific implements. Here’s a man who wanted to look inside my safe. He quite forgot that the door of it is connected up to a very powerful electric current. Don’t be alarmed, but go back to your bed. Did I not tell you that there would be strange men about?”
“Ean,” I said, “for pity’s sake let me know the truth. There were three men altogether. I saw them in the garden; they passed me on the stairs. They were robbers, Ean; you cannot hide it from me.”
“You poor little Harriet,” he said, kissing me. “Of course they were robbers. I have been expecting them for a week or more. Did I tell you I should be in the observatory? That was foolish of me.”
“But there was a light there, dear.”
“Ah, yes; I wished my guests to think me star-gazing. Two of them are now returning to London as fast as their motor-car can carry them. The other will remain with us to recuperate. Go back to bed, Harriet, and tell yourself that all is as well as it could be.”
“Ean,” I said, “you are hiding something from me.”
“My dear sister,” he replied, “does a man in the dark hide anything from anybody? When I know, you shall be the first to hear. Believe me, this is no common burglary, or I would have acted very differently. There are deep secrets; I may have to leave you to search for them.”
His words astonished me very much. My own agitation could not measure his recollection or the unconcern which the strange episodes of the night had left to him. For my part, I could but pass long hours of meditation, in which I tried to gather up the tangled skein of this surpassing mystery. When morning came, my brother had left the house and Okyada with him. I have never seen him since that day, and his letters have told me little. He is upon a ship, well and happy, he says, and that ship is his own. His voyages have taken him to many ports, but he is not yet able to say when he will return.
“Be assured, dear sister,” he writes, “that the work to which I have set my hand would be approved by you, and that by God’s help I shall accomplish it. More I am unable to commit to writing for prudent reasons. You will keep the guards at the Manor until I am home, and my valuables will remain at the bank. Fear nothing, then, for yourself. The fellows who honoured us with their company—two of them, I should say—are now in South Africa. The third, who was a gentleman and may again become a man, is now on board this yacht. If he continues to behave himself, a farm in Canada and a little capital will be his reward. It is not the instruments but their makers whom I seek; and when they are found, then, dear Harriet, will we enjoy halcyon days together.”
To these words he added others, speaking of more private matters and those which were of concern but to him and to me. By the “guards” he meant an ex-sergeant-major and two old soldiers whom he had engaged upon his departure to watch the house in his absence. For myself, however, I was no longer afraid. Perhaps my unrest had been less if Ean had been altogether frank with me; but his vague intimation, the knowledge that he was far from me, and the inseparable instinct of his danger, contributed alike to my foreboding.
That these were not without reason subsequent events have fully justified. I have heard of his yacht as being in the South Atlantic. There have been rare letters from him, but none that says what secret it is which keeps him away from me. And for a whole month now I have received no letter at all. That other friends, unknown to me personally but staunch to my dear brother, put the worst construction upon his silence, the recent paragraph in the London newspapers makes very clear. What can a helpless woman do that these true friends are not doing? She can but pray to the Almighty for the safety of one very dear to her—nay, all that she has to live and hope for in this world of sorrow and affliction.
EAN FABOS BEGINS HIS STORY.
June 15th, 1904.
So to-night my task begins.
I am to prove that there is a conspiracy of crime so well organised, so widespread, so amazing in its daring, that the police of all the civilised countries are at present unable either to imagine or to defeat it—I am to do this or pay the supreme penalty of failure, ignominious and irrevocable.
I cannot tell you when first it was that some suspicion of the existence of this great republic of thieves and assassins first came to me. Years ago, I asked myself if it were not possible. There has been no great jewel robbery for a decade past which has not found me more zealous than the police themselves in study of its methods and judgment of its men. I can tell you the weight and size almost of every great jewel stolen, either in Europe or America, during the past five years. I know the life history of the men who are paying the penalty for some of those crimes. I can tell you whence they came and what was their intention should they have carried their booty away. I know the houses in London, in Paris, in Vienna, in Berlin where you may change a stolen diamond for money as readily as men cash a banknote across a counter. But there my knowledge has begun and ended. I feel like a child before a book whose print it cannot read. There is a great world of crime unexplored, and its very cities are unnamed. How, then, should a man begin his studies? I answer that he cannot begin them unless his destiny opens the book.
Let me set down my beliefs a little plainer. If ever the story be read, it will not be by those who have my grammar of crime at their call, or have studied, as I have studied, the gospel of robbery as long years expound it. It would be idle to maintain at great length my belief that the leading jewel robberies of the world are directed by one brain and organised by one supreme intelligence. If my own pursuit of this intelligence fail, the world will never read this narrative. If it succeed, the facts must be their own witnesses, speaking more eloquently than any thesis. Let me be content in this place to relate but a single circumstance. It is that of the discovery of a dead body just three years ago on the lonely seashore by the little fishing village of Palling, in Norfolk.
Now, witness this occurrence. The coastguard—for rarely does any but a coastguardsman tramp that lonely shore—a coastguard, patrolling his sandy beat at six o’clock of a spring morning, comes suddenly upon the body of a ship’s officer, lying stark upon the golden beach, cast there by the flood tide and left stranded by the ebb. No name upon the buttons of the pilot coat betrayed the vessel which this young man had served. His cap, needless to say, they did not find. He wore jack-boots such as an officer of a merchantman would wear; his clothes were of Navy serge; there was a briar pipe in his left-hand pocket, a silver tobacco box in his right; he carried a gold watch, and it had stopped at five minutes past five o’clock. The time, however, could not refer to the morning of this discovery. It was the coastguardsman’s opinion that the body had been at least three days in the water.
Such a fatality naturally deserved no more than a brief paragraph in any daily paper. I should have heard nothing of it but for my friend Murray, of Scotland Yard, who telegraphed for me upon the afternoon of the following day; and, upon my arrival at his office, astonished me very much by first showing me an account of the circumstance in the Eastern Daily Press, and then passing for my examination a roll of cotton wool such as diamond brokers carry.
“I want your opinion,” he said without preface. “Do you know anything of the jewels in that parcel?”
There were four stones lying a-glitter upon the wool. One of them, a great gem of some hundred and twenty carats, rose-coloured, and altogether magnificent, I recognised at a single glance at the precious stones.
“That,” I said, “is the Red Diamond of Ford Valley. Ask Baron Louis de Rothschild, and he will tell you whose property it was.”
“Would you be very surprised to hear that it was found upon the body of the young sailor?”
“Murray,” I said, “you have known me too long to expect me to be surprised by anything.”
“But it is somewhat out of the way, isn’t it? That’s why I sent for you. The other stones don’t appear to be of the same class. But they’re valuable, I should think.”
I turned them over in my hand and examined them with little interest.
“This pure white is a Brazilian,” said I. “It may be worth a hundred and fifty pounds. The other two are jewellers’ common stuff. They would make a pretty pair of ear-rings for your daughter, Murray. You should make the Treasury an offer for them. Say fifty for the pair.”
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