The Green Eye of Goona - Arthur Morrison - ebook

The Green Eye of Goona ebook

Arthur Morrison



Morrison’s most popular books are probably his detective stories, featuring Martin Hewitt, a methodical investigator, who uses his ability to be „thoroughly at home among any and every class of people” to invite confidences in gathering evidence. Martin Hewitt stories are similar in style to those of Conan Doyle, cleverly plotted and very amusing. Morrison made two other forays into the detective field, the first: „The Dorrington Deed-Box”, which introduces the quasi-criminal antihero Dorrington, and „The Green Eye of Goona”, a pastiche of Wilkie Collins’s „The Moon-Stone”. „The Green Eye of Goona” novel is set in India. Unusual and imaginative in subject matter, meticulously plotted, and smoothly written, this story will captivate mystery lovers.

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THE year 1902 drew to a close, and Delhi was swarming thrice its common size in preparation for the Great Durbar, whereat the accession of the first English Emperor of India was to be proclaimed. Northward, beyond the historic Ridge, a new and an even more wonderful Delhi had sprung up in the course of weeks; At Delhi of ten thousand tents, with more than thirty miles of streets between them; a city that it would take a man seven or eight hours of continuous smart marching to walk round.

For weeks the tramp of elephants and horses had filled the air day by day, and had rarely ceased at night. The camps of the native princes lay in carefully-planned order, and the comings and goings of the princes themselves–emulous, proud, jealous in trifles–were announced punctiliously by the proper number of guns, from twenty-one downward, the envied and eagerly-sought salute that grades Indian princes by absolute mathematical scale.

Under the frail canvas of that camp lay the ransom of a hundred kings in gems and gold and precious stuffs. Diamonds, emeralds, rubies, pearls, in strings, in dozens and in scores, each stone a marvel even among the rest, were brought together there in an assemblage impossible to make in any other part of the globe. Even the lesser rajahs, thakores, and nawabs had brought for their adornment many gems of great name, such as singly would stand heirlooms in the royal houses of Europe.

Not the least renowned among these was the Eye of Deccan, the wonderful green diamond belonging to the Rajah of Goona. Indeed, amid that assembly of marvellous gems the Eye of Deccan took rank among the very greatest–far higher rank than the Rajah took among the princes; for he could claim only a nine-gun salute, which placed him merely in the seventh grade, with the eleven-gun, the thirteen-gun, the fifteen-gun, the seventeen-gun, and the nineteen-gun degrees between it and the topmost rank of twenty-one guns, reserved for the three greatest native princes of all India.

The Eye of Deccan was the more ancient name of the jewel, which nowadays was more commonly called the Eye of Goona. It was famous alike for its colour, its size, and its history. Of coloured diamonds, the green are the rarest, and this was not only of a gloriously brilliant emerald tint, but of extraordinary size, being nearly three times the weight of the renowned pale-green diamond kept at Dresden, as well as of incomparably finer colour. In shape it was an oval brilliant fully an inch and a half long and a shade more than an inch wide. When this amazing stone had left the mine no man could tell, for it had been known all over India as the envy and contention of kings for nearly a thousand years. Purchase, spoliation, murder, treachery, theft, and war had passed it from hand to hand till at last it had rested in the treasure house of Akbar the Great, and there remained till the death of his descendant Aurungzebe. In the fall of the dynasty of Akbar early in the eighteenth century and the general disruption which followed it, the Eye of Deccan disappeared, and it was only on the establishment of safe and steady government under British domination that it was allowed to appear–this time in possession of the Rajah of Goona, ancestor of the present Rajah now camping at Delhi to do homage to the new Emperor represented by his Viceroy.

One after another through the last weeks of the year the trumpeting, trampling processions rolled into camp till the tents were full of princes and their retinues; and then on a cool, clear night, the customary noises of tethered elephants and waking horses were broken upon by a riot of human shouts and yells.

The disturbance was over in a very few minutes, and the rumour ran round the camp that a thief had entered the tents of the Rajah of Goona, and had been cut down by the Rajah’s Chief Minister as he was crawling away. And in the morning more was known. The thief was dead, and his body, black, naked, and oiled from top to toe, had been identified; he was a thief by trade, of a family of thieves. He had entered the tent in the dead of night, had effected his robbery, and was escaping silently, when he was observed by Mehta Singh, the Chief Minister, and cut down, two blows of a heavy tulwar putting an end to his thieving for all time. And the plunder which he was carrying away was no other than the Eye of Goona itself!

This last news kept the camp talking from end to end. The audacity of the thief was great enough, but the wonder was how, having entered the tent without being seen by the guards, he was able to put his hand directly on the great jewel, or to pick the lock of the case in which it was doubtless kept. The thing carried a smell of treachery; it seemed clear that somebody in the Rajah’s train had betrayed his trust and sold information to the thief. This was agreed on all hands; but at any rate the plot had been frustrated, and by the faithful vigilance of Mehta Singh the jewel had been restored; that was enough. More, the great ceremony was now coming on, so the camp turned to the business before it, and talked little more of the attempt on the Eye of Goona.

Talked little of it, that is to say, till after the great Durbar–even later. For it was not till the whole programme of the splendid fortnight had been worked through, and the Viceroy had departed in state, that the rumour–the news, for it was proclaimed a certainty–hummed through the breaking camp that the stone which had been taken from the hands of the dead thief was now found to be a mere coloured crystal, and that the Eye of Goona was gone after all!

Brought out into the light of day amid other great jewels, the supposed Eye had seemed curiously dull and lacking in fire. The Rajah grew suspicious, and when opportunity served he sent for his own lapidary, who condemned the imposture at sight.

What did it mean? At first it seemed probable that there must have been two thieves, with a plan to substitute the imitation stone for the real; that they had been interrupted in the very act of the robbery, and that one had escaped in the darkness with the jewel, while the other had been pounced on by Mehta Singh before he had “planted” the imitation. But then another and a simpler possibility grew apparent. Might not the Eye of Goona have been stolen already, before the Rajah’s train came to Delhi, and the imitation left in its place? It might have been months before–even years; and while the slain thief had lost his life in an unwitting attempt to steal the sham gem, the real jewel might lie safely in the hands of another.

Of the two possibilities this last seemed the more likely, and grew into more general acceptance as the efforts of the police and of the Rajah’s secret agents proved futile. The camps broke up and scattered throughout India, carrying with them to every corner the news of the loss of the Eye of Deccan.

Bazaar rumour said this and that, telling lies and truth in good admixture. And at last there came in whispers a strange tale, told now in one way and then in another; but the substance of it was that there was no more Mehta Singh in Goona. Dark things are done in the smaller native states, which the British Residents hear less of than is whispered in the vernacular in the streets. Mehta Singh had vanished, that all the whisperers agreed; but how he had vanished was a matter of doubt and mystery. It would have been no new or strange thing for a rajah in his own palace, enraged at the loss of a favourite jewel, to take vengeance on the officer whose duty it had been to keep it safe, or who had failed to recover it, once it had gone, no matter how faithfully he had tried; and such a thing would be done with secrecy and hidden with great care in these days of the British Raj. The same fate might have befallen any member of the household suspected of complicity in the theft. However that might be, the fate of Mehta Singh, who had struck down the thief in the Durbar camp, remained as much a mystery as that of the Eye of Goona itself.

Among the many Europeans attracted to the great spectacle at Delhi were a good few who came on business. There were travellers from firms in Europe and in Calcutta, as well as many traders on their own accounts. For instance, there was Hahn, of Europe in general, who bought and sold whatever was to be bought cheap and sold dear all over the world, from old Italian masters to domestic machinery. Hahn spoke English for the most past, and called himself Frank, though there were those who called him Franz, and there was a trifling accent in his excellent English that seemed to give them reason. Hahn had effected a trade here and there, had sold on his own account and on commission some sporting guns among the rajahs, and some new European furniture: and he had picked up a curious bargain in the shape of a dozen magnums of old Tokey, which had been lying forgotten in some great Delhi cellar since early in the nineteenth century; and in the middle of the celebrations he had been laid up with a bad touch of fever. It was while he had been so laid up that he sent to beg a call from Mr. Harvey Crook, who was himself a visitor on business.

Harvey Crook was not what one would call a dealer, although it was a fact that he made his living by deals in strange things–deals few and far between, but each sufficiently profitable to keep him going in the way of life he loved best, travelling the world through, and taking adventures as they came. He was a wiry man of about the middle size or a trifle under, dark because of his constant travel, though naturally of the complexion of the average Englishman; keen of eye and active as a cat; and his age was thirty-five.

He received Hahn’s message with some surprise, for his acquaintance with the man was very slight. But on reflection he could not remember that anybody else about Delhi just then was any more intimate with Hahn than he was himself; so with no particular enthusiasm, he lit another cigar and strolled into the Delhi streets.

He found the dealer lying in a darkened room, in a house which had been hired temporarily as an annexe to an hotel. There was not much sickness about, it was an uncommon time of year for fever, and Crook wondered to find the room kept so dark unless the case were very bad indeed. It scarcely seemed that it was, for Hahn greeted him with great friendliness.

“Good-day, my dear Crook,” he said; “you are an angel of light here in the dark room. It is good of you to come.” There was a faint likeness to “goot” and “gom” in two of the words, and “angel” sounded a little like “anchel;” but not enough to notice.

“Not at all,” Crook replied civilly. “What can I do for you? Not very bad, I hope? Wrong time of year for fever, isn’t it?”

“Yes, yes, but I am very subject. I am better now–just for an hour. I take it like that; presently I shall be much worse. When will you be going back home? Soon, I expect?”

“Yes–the next boat from Bombay when the shindy’s over. It’s lucky my passage was booked–they’re pretty well crowded up.”

“That’s the Rajapur, isn’t it? Not a mail boat?”

“Quite right. The P. & O. mail’s a week after. The Rajapur’s a slower boat, but all I could get, and quite good enough. Want me to do anything for you aboard?”

Harvey Crook was sitting by the bed, and Hahn took him by the wrist. “I want you to take a case,” he said, “a case of wine. Will you? I’ll do as much for you some day. It’s valuable stuff.”

Harvey Crook’s home-going baggage was small enough, for he was carrying nothing but his personal belongings. “All right,” he said. “I daresay I can. Want me to take it to a customer at home?”

“No, no–not to a customer; only to take it and see it isn’t damaged. If you will, of course I’ll pay expenses, and I’m good for a commission when the stuff’s sold. I don’t see why I shouldn’t get a hundred for it if I wait a bit. It’s a dozen magnums of Imperial Tokay–eighty years in bottle! It’s been lying lost for three-quarters of a century and I picked it up for next to nothing, on a deal for something else. No doubt it was part of some present–perhaps to the old Mogul. You’ll take it for me, won’t you?”

“Oh yes, I’ll take it. But what shall I do with it when I get it home? I shan’t be wanting to sit still, you know.”

“Thank you, thank you, my dear Crook–that will be all right. If I don’t let you know before you start I will by the time you reach England–the mail will be some days ahead of you, of course, though it starts a week later; and if necessary I’ll cable. You may be assured, my dear Crook, that it shan’t hamper you in the least–not in the least; I should like to get if off my mind at once. Will you take it with you now?”

“Yes, if you like. Where is it? I’ll get an ekka.”

“Will you? There’s a good chap. I wouldn’t trouble you, but there’s nobody I can trust, you know–I wouldn’t ask any of them rascally Germans.”

Here again the word was a little like “Chermance,” but only a very little.

“I thought to myself,” Hahn went on, “that I’d ask you to do it, if you didn’t mind, being a man I’d trust with anything, of course, my dear Crook.”

“All right,” Crook answered with an embarrassed laugh. “Not that I’ve met a great many people who say that!”

“Ah, but I know I could trust you anywhere, my dear Crook,” the other went on, with his eyes intent on the younger man’s face; for Hahn was a man of very near fifty, with a short grey beard. “I knew I could trust you, especially as you know it’s an important thing for me, with a wife and family at home. Things have been very bad lately, and a clear hundred pounds–if I can get as much–or even eighty or ninety would mean a good deal more to me than you might think. Where will you stay in London?”

“At Standish’s Hotel. Letters will find me either there or at the Aborigine Club.”

“Thank you, thank you ever so much, my dear Crook,” concluded Hahn, gripping Crook’s hand with fervour. “Have they got your ekka? I won’t keep you any longer–so good of you to come and all. Good-bye! They will be bringing my medicine. Good-bye! You’ll be sure to take particular care none of the bottles are broken, won’t you? That would be terrible–it’s one of the reasons I’m asking you to do it, care being so important, you know. Good-bye!”

Harvey Crook went off a little amused. Hahn was a thrifty soul, and had made an enormous great fuss about eight or a hundred pounds’ worth of old wine; no doubt a sick man’s fancy had something to do with the matter. As for things having been bad with Hahn of late, that seemed very unlikely. But, of course, he reflected, a wife and family must make a good deal of difference; though–no doubt owing to his slight acquaintance–he had never head of Hahn’s wife and family before.

The voyage home on the Rajapur was pleasant enough, the cooler season making its influence felt to some extent even in the Red Sea. Among Harvey Crook’s fellow passengers he came much in contact with Mr. Lyman W. Merrick, a wealthy American and a very good fellow, who was taking his first holiday for many years in the shape of a tour round the world with his daughter, Daisy, and, of course, had made the Delhi Durbar his chief objective. Harvey Crook’s many tales of his experiences by land and sea vastly entertained Mr. Merrick, and went all the way to reconcile him to the necessity, repugnant to his habits of “hustle,” of travelling in a slower vessel than the mail ship because of the impossibility of obtaining berths in anything faster.

“Well, Mr. Crook,” said the American, as they sat smoking in deck-chairs on an early day of the voyage, “Mr. Henry Crook, I believe?” Mr. Merrick paused, for there chanced to be two Crooks aboard.

“Not Henry–Harvey Crook’s my name. That other passenger is Mr. Henry Crook–a stranger to me; the stout man, I mean.”

“Ah–jesso. Well, say, Mr. Harvey Crook, you’ve had a pretty advent’rous life, anyway, though it hasn’t been so long a one as mine; a vurry advent’rous life, I’d say. Might a man ask what’s your callin’ anyway?”

Harvey Crook laughed. “My trade,” he said, “is–but I don’t think it has any name of its own; unless you like to call me a carrier!”

“A carrier, Mr. Crook?”

“Well, yes, a carrier for profit, you might say. You see, I’m a man who’s very much alone in the world, so far as relations go, and I’ve a great taste for moving about the earth in search of whatever may turn up. I don’t need a great deal of money for that, but I need some, and, like other men, I like to have enough. My trade depends wholly on the fact that what may be cheap in one part of the world may be dear in another. So I buy in the cheapest market and sell in the dearest, according to the divine laws of Manchester. But I’m not always buying and selling, you understand, like a dealer–though perhaps that is what I am, after all. I am a specialist in things sufficiently profitable to make steady trading unnecessary–even impracticable. For instance, I have bought orchids in South America for shillings and sold them in London for hundreds of pounds. Though, of course, orchid-hunting is a pretty regular trade in the hands of some.”

“Oh, yes, I’ve heard of that caper; and a good trade, too. So you’re a judge of orchids, eh?”

“Orchids and–other things. I was after orchids in South America when I got a rough diamond from an aborigine–a Botacudo, and a very shy sort they are, and treacherous–for a good, large hunting-knife. It wasn’t a great diamond, you understand, but it was worth a few hundreds–pounds, you know, not dollars–and that was a good deal more than the knife cost–though it was a good one!”

“I don’t always bring things home to sell, of course; sometimes I take them out. I remember I once bought a very old Chinese manuscript roll in London for ten shillings, on speculation. I hadn’t ghost of a notion what it was all about, I admit–I haven’t now–and it was pure luck; but the next time I was in China–I got there as soon as I could after the relief of the Legation at Pekin, of course–I found some old pundit who made no difficulty in bringing out a thousand trade dollars for it–about a hundred pounds on the exchange–so that I’ve a suspicion it was worth a good bit more. And this trip to India, too, I took something. I found some absurd clockwork figures in Switzerland that a watchmaker had made to amuse himself–little dolls that walked about on a platform and bowed and fanned themselves, and struck the hour with their fists on a bell. They were a bit out of order and tarnished, but a very small job put that right, and I got my price, and a very good one it was, from a Maharajah. An Indian prince with money to spend is like a child for toys.”

“And are you bringing anything good back with you?”

“No–nothing of my own. There’s something rather interesting belonging to another man, however; a dozen magnums of Tokay–the sweet Imperial, I believe, the real stuff, and most amazingly old.”

“Old?” queried Lyman W. Merrick, who had a proper respect for the antique. “What would you call old, now, in Imperial Tokay?”

“The exact vintage of this I don’t know,” Crook answered; “but the owner tells me it’s eighty years in bottle, and that’s something very special in any wine, I think.”

“Eighty years! You don’t say! And what might it have cost?”

“That I can’t tell you either. I believe he came on it very cheap in a deal–he’s a dealer in everything, a man named Hahn. But he expects to get a hundred pounds for the case, or pretty near it.”

“That’s very near eight and a half pounds a bottle, as I figure it. Forty-two dollars, any way; no bad price for a bottle of wine.”

“They’re magnums, of course.”

“Yes, and Tokay isn’t slopping around every day, even new, I guess. Come to think of it, I don’t ever remember to have as much as seen a bottle of Tokay.”

“Very few have; and fewer still have tasted it. More, nine-tenths of the few who have tasted it–or think they have–have only tried the adulterated stuff expanded by the wine merchants from the inferior brands of Tokay.”

“Is that so!” commented Mr. Merrick, absently. Then he added, “Say, is that case of wine in the hold?”

“No–I’ve got it in my cabin. I don’t carry much with me, as a rule–a good deal less than most people take for a week’s journey–and so there was no difficulty.”

Mr. Merrick returned to the subject later. He had told his daughter of this case of the renowned and mysterious Imperial Tokay, and Daisy was all agog with the romance of the thing. Imperial Tokay was a thing she had read about, vaguely and mysteriously, but never seen–like wampum and bird’s nest soup, and haunted houses. She had read of the wonderful first quality of this rare Hungarian wine, and of how it was the produce of the grape-juice exuded by the mere pressure of the piled weight of the ripe fruit itself; of how even the lower qualities were bought by great favour among a narrow circle of Hungarian notables, and of how throughout Europe the name and little else was known; and she longed to peep inside the case, and at the very least, gaze upon the venerable bottles.

When Mr. Merrick referred to the Tokay again, he wanted to know how such a wine would be sold. “They’d scarcely put it up in one lot, would they?” he asked.

“No–probably a bottle at a time, in the case of a great curiosity like this.”

“Very well, Mr. Harvey Crook, here is business. Your friend expects, with luck, to make an average eight pounds and a half a bottle out of this wine, selling them separately. Now I’m mighty cur’ous about this wine, and I offer ten pounds for a bottle–fifty dollars, right here! And we’ll try the liquor together; there!”

Harvey Crook shook his head. “Sorry,” he said, “but can’t do it, possibly. The wine isn’t mine, and I’m under engagement to take it to England safely, and then do with it what the owner tells me.”

“But he’s a dealer, and he only wants his money, I guess!”

“Very likely, but that’s his business,” replied Crook. “Mine is to see it safely to England as it is.”

“I’ll give fifteen pounds–seventy-five dollars. There!”

Harvey Crook shook his head again, with a smile. “Very sorry,” he said, “but I really can’t! It isn’t as though this stuff were mine, you see. It’s given me in trust. No doubt Hahn would be ready enough to take the money, but he isn’t here to do it. And of course I’d be glad to oblige you if I could–indeed I should much like to try the wine myself, as you so hospitably suggest–but I can’t, you see!”

The days went on, and by dint of having nothing to do but think about the Tokay, Lyman W. Merrick began to desire it more urgently than ever.

“Come now, Mr. Harvey Crook,” he exclaimed one long afternoon, “I’ll speculate! I’ll buy that case of wine for one thousand dollars! One thousand dollars is two hundred pounds of English money–just twice what the owner expected. I’ll buy the case and we’ll try a bottle; and if our curiosity’s satisfied with that, I’ll put up the other eleven to auction as soon as ever we get ashore, and just see what comes of the little gamble. Is it a deal?”

This certainly seemed a more likely offer than the other. True, Crook had no authority to sell the wine, but he knew it was to be sold, and he had Hahn’s word that he would be glad to take a hundred pounds for it. This was not an offer to break into the dozen, like the other, but one of double the dealer’s price for the lot; yet Crook hesitated, in view of his instructions.

That evening Daisy Merrick took the matter up, and Daisy was an extremely persuasive young lady. Her father was so awfully set on tasting real old Imperial Tokay for once in his life that it would be real mean for anybody on earth to thwart him. Surely Mr. Crook didn’t want to be thought real mean? And the dealer with his wife and family–why, he would be real mad if he found that Mr. Crook had refused an offer of actually double his price. Surely Mr. Crook didn’t want the poor dealer to be real mad?

That decided Harvey Crook–that argument and Miss Daisy Merrick’s persuasions; though it is only fair to say that the argument gathered a deal of weight from what Crook remembered of Hahn and his habits of business. Hahn would do anything for a shade of extra profit, and the man who stood in the way of a deal which would give Hahn double price for anything would be Hahn’s enemy for life. On the other hand, he pictured Hahn’s delight on receiving that double price without turning a hand himself to get it. He was in charge of Hahn’s interests in the matter of that case of wine, and he would be neglecting them to refuse such an offer as this. So he took the responsibility and the two hundred pounds, and the case of magnums of Imperial Tokay, eighty years at least in bottle and an indefinite number in wood beforehand, became the property of Lyman W. Merrick, of Merricksville, Pennsylvania.

The case was taken into his cabin and the boards lifted from the top. Hahn had gone to a vast deal of trouble in packing, and there was a deal of sawdust and chips to be shifted before the muddy old seal of one of the big bottles showed itself. The bottle was carefully withdrawn, and the packing replaced, with another bottle, empty, to fill out the space.

After dinner next day the bottle of Tokay was produced in full state. With great care the seal was removed and the soddened old cork withdrawn. The wine was of a fine rich green colour, sweet and curious; but both to Merrick and Crook it seemed to have suffered from over-age; though from the unfamiliarity of the wine it was not easy to be certain.

Mr. Merrick was hospitable with his precious wine, and two or three other passengers tried it and made their comments; and then the rest of the big bottle was carefully decanted.

“Now if I was like some parties I’ve met,” said Merrick, “I’d h’ gone advertising myself with that wine, and playin’ the coruscatin’ millionaire, dealin’ out all there is to the passengers, whether they wanted my blamed wine or not, and getting it in the papers when I go ashore. But that’s not quite my style. Here’s enough for a glass after dinner when I want it, or any friend of mine–though I must say, after all, I’d as well take a Chartreuse, or rather–and the rest goes into the sale-rooms, and then we’ll just see how I come out for the bottle.”

So the voyage went, and as Southampton was neared, Mr. Merrick’s interest began to be transferred from the case of Tokay to the tour before him, since this was his first visit to England. He and Daisy, between them, “fixed up” a most amazing programme, in which the British Isles, show places, scenery and everything, were to be got over at the rate of about two thousand square miles a day; so that in the end the auction was squeezed into the first few hours ashore at Southampton.

And there, indeed, it took place, as soon as the wine could be got through the Customs, with a disastrous end to Lyman W. Merrick’s little gamble. For the bottles, duly divided into eleven lots, were “starred” into the catalogue of the handiest sale, and would there have gone for a shilling or two apiece, were it not that some of the Rajapur passengers, who had heard of the speculation, turned up and bid for a bottle here and there; and a wine-merchant’s traveller of some enterprise took four lots at ten shillings a lot.

So that Mr. Merrick got back nearly five pounds of his two hundred, which, he said, would pay the duty, anyway, and leave him with the eternal glory of having consumed a bottle of wine costing nine hundred and seventy-five dollars. And with that consolation, such as it was, he and Daisy bade Harvey Crook good-bye.

Harvey Crook had scarcely disposed his luggage in his rooms at Standish’s Hotel, when he was brought a card which filled him with amazement, for it was the card of Mr. Frank Hahn.

“Show him up,” said Crook, in blank wonder.

Hahn it was, sure enough.

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