The King Diamond - Fred M. White - ebook

The King Diamond ebook

Fred M White

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Opis

Sir Samuel Oscar was not only a great man and a South African magnate of the first importance, but also a very kind and considerate employer. Quickly began to climb the career ladder in Maggersfont Diamond Company, his secretary. No one could argue or be dissatisfied with the upcoming events. After all, Stella charmed everyone with her beauty and intelligence. The last member of her family dies and bequeaths Ravenswood mansion and other valuables. She decided to put them up for auction, and her boss, Sir Samuel, became their owner.

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Liczba stron: 386

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER XXX

CHAPTER XXXI

CHAPTER XXXII

CHAPTER I

IN the outer office of the Maggersfont Diamond Company the handful of clerks worked steadily on with that ease and smoothness that always characterises a perfectly organised and smoothly running business. They were lady typists, for the most part, under the able supervision of a forewoman, and because they both admired and respected their employer, Sir Samuel Oscar, there was very little slacking in Bishopsgate-street. Because Sir Samuel was not only a great man and a South African magnate of the first importance, but a most kindly and considerate employer besides. Though when he spoke or directed then everybody under him knew that he meant exactly what he said.

An inner room leading out of the clerks’ apartment was devoted to the requirements of the great man’s personal secretary, and her name–Miss Stella Ravenhill–appeared in black letters on the ground glass in the upper part of the door. Rather an unusual development, perhaps, in a city office, but then Stella Ravenhill stood, more or less, in a class of her own, and it was a peculiar psychological fact that, though she had been in the employ of her firm for less than three years, she had gone easily and smoothly over the heads of the other lady clerks, and, strangely enough, there was not one of them who resented her presence or was in the least disposed to question her authority.

Perhaps they liked her all the better because they recognised from the first that she was a lady. Not that the rest failed to claim an equal distinction, but then there was a difference, and they all had admitted it from the first moment when Stella Ravenhill came in all her calm beauty and serene assurance, to say nothing of her undoubted ability, and at once took her place which Nature had ordained for her from the moment of her birth.

And now she was Sir Samuel’s confidential secretary. She took down his letters in shorthand and very frequently typed them herself. Nobody knew who she was or where she came from, though there were legends in the office as to her high birth and station, and as to what position in society she had occupied before the force of circumstances had compelled her to get her own living. She took no share in the simple pleasure and amusements of the rest, and yet she had always a word of sympathy for such of the girls who chose to confide their troubles to her, and very frequently her purse was at their disposal.

Of course it was not for the body of clerks to know that Stella had been what is familiarly known as born to the purple. There had been a time, and not so very long ago, when she had lived at home with her extravagant, easy-going father in the old place called Ravenswood, where the Ravenhills had lorded it for centuries. And then the last of the race had died, leaving his affairs in inexplicable confusion. When everything was settled and wound up there was practically nothing left for the only daughter of the house, so that she was forced to go out into the world and get her own living.

She might have become dependent upon the charity of her friends, she might even have made a brilliant marriage, for she had birth and beauty and brains besides. But that was not Stella Ravenhill’s way. She was a woman, gentle and refined to her finger-tips, and, sooth to say, with most of the prejudices of her class. At the same time, there was a certain streak of modernity in her, and she much preferred to struggle for herself rather than throw herself upon the resources of her relatives. She would go out and earn her own living.

She learnt to type and write shorthand, she graduated amazingly soon in the London School of Economics, and then, when she was in the possession of a weapon with which to carve out her future, she had her first piece of good fortune. So far the grand old house in which she had been born and its surrounding acres had not been sold, so she had gone down there for the last time, previous to the auction, to gather together certain belongings of small value, but of sentimental interest, and there, in the great hall, she had come face to face with Sir Samuel Oscar. So they had fallen more or less naturally into conversation, and, almost before she was aware of the fact, Stella had told most of her simple, tragic story to the man who was destined to become her employer.

He was down there, as he told her, with a view to becoming the owner of the property.

Not only did that happen, but, all unknown to Stella, Sir Samuel had slightly increased his offer to the trustees so that she found herself unexpectedly in the possession of a few hundred pounds which she might find very useful in case of a rainy day. So, eventually, Sir Samuel became master of Ravenswood and all its ancient glories, and Stella took her position in Bishopsgate-street.

And never had Sir Samuel regretted that queer sort of partnership from the first moment that Stella came into his office. There is no sentiment in business and Sir Samuel offered none. He placed Stella, to begin with, exactly on a level with the rest, and she won her way into the confidence of the big man by sheer force of quality. He was an elderly man and a bachelor, with few relations in the world, so that he devoted himself almost entirely to business, though there were times when he look his ease and entertained lavishly at Ravenswood. It was not known in the office that on more than one occasion Stella had visited her old home as a guest under the hoary roof of Ravenswood, and this she never mentioned. On these occasions employer and employed were on terms of absolute equality, but once behind those mahogany doors in Bishopsgate-street the footings changed, though, even in the inner sanctum where Sir Samuel transacted his big business there were moments when the mask was dropped and the two were more like father and daughter.

There was an atmosphere something like this one fine morning when, in response to her employer’s bell, Stella entered the inner office. There was a smile on her lips when she came in, but that quickly faded as she noted the grave, preoccupied look on Sir Samuel’s rather stern features. He was one of those iron-grey men, big and lean and clean shaven, with a humorous droop in the corners of his clear-cut lips and a twinkle in an eye that belied its severity. But not this morning.

“Oh, here you are, Miss Ravenhill,” he said. “Will you have the goodness to take a seat?”

Stella slipped into the chair by her employer’s desk, fully conscious of the fact that here was something decidedly out of the common. She waited a moment for Oscar to speak.

“I wanted to talk to you on a little matter that has given me a great deal of anxiety the last month or so,” he said. “Miss Ravenhill, I am going to trust you implicitly.”

“I hope you have always done so, Sir Samuel.”

“Oh, of course, of course,” the great man said, almost abruptly. “A queer thing, but there is not a single man of my acquaintance, including my own partner and my fellow-directors, whom I trust as thoroughly as I do you. And yet there was a time when I always declared that no woman could keep a secret. I was wrong. And I cannot pay you any higher compliment.”

“Shall we get on with the business, Sir Samuel?” Stella asked.

“Quite right, my dear, quite right. Well, it’s like this. For some considerable time past there has been a serious leakage in stones from the Maggersfont mines. I have said nothing about this to the board, neither do I intend to, at least not for the present. But it has got to be stopped.”

“You are quite sure of your facts, Sir Samuel?” Stella asked.

“Oh dear, yes. It is a mere question of averages. Nobody knows better than myself how regular and steady the output has been from Maggersfont. It has hardly varied a dozen carats for over two years. And now, for the last three months or more, we have been down to the extent of something like £5000 every four weeks. Of course, I am going on the returns from our manager out yonder. And this morning I had a confidential letter from him in which he seems to have come to some sort of conclusion. It is a most startling one and has disturbed me considerably. I will show you the letter presently. And that is not all the trouble. From what Washburn says, I gather that a stone of outstanding value has been smuggled out of the mine. Washburn has nothing definite to go on, except gossip amongst the native boys working in the blue dust, but it is common talk amongst them that a huge stone, which they call the King Diamond in their vernacular, was found by one of the Kafirs and smuggled out of the compound. Perhaps I had better tell you that this King Diamond is a sort of legend amongst the Kafirs, and they have been searching for it ever since diamonds were first discovered at Kimberley ages ago. A sort of myth, you understand. Of course, there may not be anything in it at all; on the other hand, it may be absolutely true. Anyhow, Washburn tells me that one of the Kafirs has been in a state of partial intoxication for days, and that he is known to have a big roll of Treasury notes in his possession. Evidently he has talked or boasted amongst his compatriots and the story has got back to Washburn’s ears.”

“I may say that he, Washburn, is absolutely convinced that we have been robbed of one of the biggest diamonds in the world.”

“But I thought it was impossible,” Stella said.

“So it would be in ordinary circumstances. No Kafir could have got away with a stone like that without being detected. He could not have left the compound with that diamond in his possession. I don’t say that he didn’t find it, neither do I say that it was impossible for him to hide it, whilst awaiting a chance to get clear away with his booty. Washburn is of opinion that the man had a confederate, and that his confederate took the stone away and got clear off with it.”

“But that sounds equally impossible,” Stella pointed out. “Any man who is on terms of that sort with Kafir workmen would never have been allowed in the compound at all.”

“Not in ordinary circumstances,” Sir Samuel admitted. “But let us suppose that the visitor was a man beyond suspicion. For instance, he might have been a statesman, or a great scientist, or something of that kind, and a man who had the run of the compounds as a matter of courtesy. Naturally enough, Washburn would never suspect an individual of that kind. I shouldn’t myself. There are hundreds of men all over the world whom I would trust to visit the compound at any time.”

At this point Sir Samuel paused as if almost afraid to continue. Stella waited for him to speak.

“And now we are coming to the point,” he went on. “I know you have met a great many distinguished people in your time, Miss Ravenhill. Now, amongst them, did you ever come in contact with a famous ethnologist called Sir Hercules Slaney?”

“Why, of course,” Stella cried. “The greatest living authority on matters concerning ethnology and ethnography living to-day. He has made the black belt in Africa his hunting ground for years. I don’t suppose there is anybody living who knows as much about the dark races. And I have heard it said that he can speak no less than ninety different dialects.”

“All of which is absolutely true,” Oscar agreed. “But I asked you if you had ever met him.”

“Oh, yes,” Stella said. “He used to stay occasionally with some friends of his near Ravenswood before my father died. A strange sort of man. Very tall and very spare, but as hard as Iron and supple as whipcord. A man with a great, bald head and a long straggling beard. Very eccentric and undoubtedly mad on some points. But there can be no question as to his intellect. I suppose you know that he is in London?”

“The devil he is,” Sir Samuel exclaimed. “Perhaps you will kindly inform me how you know that.”

Stella changed colour slightly. The question was one that she found rather difficult to answer, because it involved certain private matters which she would have preferred not to discuss even with Sir Samuel himself. Still, there could be no holding back now, and she would have to speak freely.

“Well, I haven’t seen him since he got back, if that is what you mean,” Stella explained. “But, you see, I happen to know his right-hand man very well. He is the son of an old neighbour of ours whose history, in a way, is very like mine. He found himself, after the war, compelled to get his own living, and, as he had spent two or three years amongst the Congo natives, he was glad of an opportunity of joining Sir Hercules in his varied expeditions. You may have heard of Lionel Bly.”

Sir Samuel nodded gravely. He had heard of Lionel Bly, whose family property, or late family property rather, marched with the ancestral acres at Ravenswood. And all he had heard of that young man was distinctly in his favour. He shot a quick glance at Stella and noticed her rising colour.

“Is that all you have got to tell me, young lady?” he asked.

“Oh well,” Stella laughed, “you always take me into your confidence, so why shouldn’t I take you into mine? I have known Lionel Bly ever since I can remember. He was my hero when I was a tomboy and he was at Eton. He is six or seven years older than I am, but I never saw anybody else that I wanted to marry.”

“And you are of the same mind, now, eh?”

Stella nodded two or three times emphatically.

“Then he is a dashed lucky young fellow, that is all I have to say,” Sir Samuel said, with a hearty smile.

“I think we are both lucky in that respect,” Stella said. “But otherwise this little romance of ours is likely to last until we are both middle-aged. You see, I have no money, and he has none, and there–well, there we are, don’t you know. But don’t you think we are getting sentimental, Sir Samuel?”

“Oh, of course, of course,” Oscar said with a mock severity. “Most reprehensible, especially in business hours. But it is rather a strange thing that this young man of yours–I beg your pardon, this Mr. Bly should be a sort of confidential assistant to the very man we suspect.”

“Suspect?” Stella cried. “Do you mean to say that you suspect Sir Hercules Slaney?”

“That is what it comes to,” Oscar said grimly. “Washburn goes even farther than that. He said he is perfectly certain that for some considerable time past Sir Hercules has been buying diamonds belonging to the Maggersfont Company through one of the Kafirs employed in the mines. Three or four months ago Sir Hercules came down from the Congo with your friend Mr. Bly and his baggage-bearers, and spent a lot of time at Maggersfont, ostensibly studying the natives. He used his great influence in his letters of introduction to impress Washburn and asked our manager for an opportunity to observe the Kafirs when they were actually at work. Even then Washburn hesitated. He cabled to me for instructions, and, after consulting one or two of Slaney’s colleagues in London, I gave my consent without much hesitation. However, you had better read the letter for yourself.”

Stella took up the sheets and read them carefully. They formed a long and anxious communication from the manager of the mines, in which, under the seal of secrecy, he laid all his suspicions and certain rather slender proofs before his chief. He had made exhaustive inquiries, he said. At first he had been loth to fasten suspicion upon so distinguished a scientist, whose name was a household word on both sides of the Atlantic. But the farther he had gone the more mistrusting he became of the great man. To begin with, he had elicited the fact that Sir Hercules Slaney was exceedingly short of ready money. His hotel bill in the house where he was staying near Maggersfont had not been paid for many weeks, and even his servants had been clamouring for their wages. And then, suddenly, the trouble had ceased, and Slaney appeared to be in ample funds again. Then there was the strange case of the particular native who had suddenly ceased work, and who was in a state of partial intoxication for days together. Moreover, this individual was proved to be swaggering about the various native quarters with a roll of Treasury notes on his person. He had changed one or two of these, and Washburn had traced them directly to Sir Hercules Slaney. It was clear to him that Slaney was acting as the agent for some daring firm of illicit diamond buyers, and that, in all probability, he was sharing the spoil with them. And then just as Washburn was proving his case, Sir Hercules had vanished, together with his private secretary, leaving no trace behind him. The most significant fact of all: this disappearance had taken place about the time when the native quarters were buzzing with rumours as to the finding of the traditional great King Diamond. Had Slaney got away with it in his possession? Had he returned to London, and how was he living? Did he appear to be in the possession of ample funds, or was he passing through a period of temporary impecuniosity.

“Well, now you know all about it,” Oscar said when Stella had finished the letter. “What do you think?”

Stella appeared to be a little troubled.

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