When an elderly pawnbroker is murdered in the London parish of Paddington, a young, down on his luck writer is accused of the crime. But then it's found the pawnbroker had had in his possession an extraordinary South African diamond worth over eighty-thousand pounds -- a diamond that's now missing. It falls to Melky Rubenstein to unravel the mystery and prove the young man's innocence. But what is the significance of the Spanish manuscript? What part do the Chinese medical students play? And what about the mysterious Mr. Mori Yada? Find the answers in The Orange-Yellow Diamond!
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Copyright © 2016 by J.S. Fletcher
Published by Jovian Press
Interior design by Pronoun
Distribution by Pronoun
THE PRETTY PAWNBROKER
On the southern edge of the populous parish of Paddington, in a parallelogram bounded by Oxford and Cambridge Terrace on the south, Praed Street on the north, and by Edgware Road on the east and Spring Street on the west, lies an assemblage of mean streets, the drab dulness of which forms a remarkable contrast to the pretentious architectural grandeurs of Sussex Square and Lancaster Gate, close by. In these streets the observant will always find all those evidences of depressing semi-poverty which are more evident in London than in any other English city. The houses look as if laughter was never heard within them. Where the window blinds are not torn, they are dirty; the folk who come out of the doors wear anxious and depressed faces. Such shops as are there are mainly kept for the sale of food of poor quality: the taverns at the corners are destitute of attraction or pretension. Whoever wanders into these streets finds their sordid shabbiness communicating itself: he escapes, cast down, wondering who the folk are who live in those grey, lifeless cages; what they do, what they think; how life strikes them. Even the very sparrows which fight in the gutters for garbage are less lively than London sparrows usually are; as for the children who sit about the doorsteps, they look as if the grass, the trees, the flowers, and the sunlight of the adjacent Kensington Gardens were as far away as the Desert of Gobi. Within this slice of the town, indeed, life is lived, as it were, in a stagnant backwash, which nothing and nobody can stir.
In an upper room of one of the more respectable houses in one of the somewhat superior streets of this neighbourhood, a young man stood looking out of the window one November afternoon. It was then five o’clock, and the darkness was coming: all day a gentle, never-ceasing rain had been bringing the soot down from the dark skies upon the already dingy roofs. It was a dismal and miserable prospect upon which the watcher looked out, but not so miserable nor so dismal as the situation in which he just then found himself. The mean street beneath him was not more empty of cheerfulness than his pockets were empty of money and his stomach of food. He had spent his last penny on the previous day: it, and two other coppers, had gone on a mere mouthful of food and drink: since their disappearance he had eaten nothing. And he was now growing faint with hunger—and to add to his pains, some one, downstairs, was cooking herrings. The smell of the frying-pan nearly drove him ravenous.
He turned from the window presently and looked round at the small room behind him. It was a poor, ill-furnished place—cleanliness, though of a dingy sort, its only recommendation. There was a bed, and a washstand, and a chest of drawers, and a couple of chairs—a few shillings would have purchased the lot at any second-hand dealer’s. In a corner stood the occupant’s trunk—all the property he had in the world was in it, save a few books which were carefully ranged on the chimney-piece, and certain writing materials that lay on a small table. A sharp eye, glancing at the books and the writing materials, and at a few sheets of manuscript scattered on the blotting-pad, would have been quick to see that here was the old tale, once more being lived out, of the literary aspirant who, at the very beginning of his career, was finding, by bitter experience, that, of all callings, that of literature is the most precarious.
A half-hesitating tap at the door prefaced the entrance of a woman—the sort of woman who is seen in those streets by the score—a tallish, thinnish woman, old before her time, perpetually harassed, always anxious, always looking as if she expected misfortune. Her face was full of anxiety now as she glanced at her lodger—who, on his part, flushed all over his handsome young face with conscious embarrassment. He knew very well what the woman wanted—and he was powerless to respond to her appeal.
“Mr. Lauriston,” she said in a half whisper, “when do you think you’ll be able to let me have a bit of money? It’s going on for six weeks now, you know, and I’m that put to it, what with the rent, and the rates—”
Andrew Lauriston shook his head—not in denial, but in sheer perplexity.
“Mrs. Flitwick,” he answered, “I’ll give you your money the very minute I get hold of it! I told you the other day I’d sold two stories—well, I’ve asked to be paid for them at once, and the cheque might be here by any post. And I’m expecting another cheque, too—I’m surprised they aren’t both here by this time. The minute they arrive, I’ll settle with you. I’m wanting money myself—as badly as you are!”
“I know that, Mr. Lauriston,” assented Mrs. Flitwick, “and I wouldn’t bother you if I wasn’t right pressed, myself. But there’s the landlord at me—he wants money tonight. And—you’ll excuse me for mentioning it—but, till you get your cheques, Mr. Lauriston, why don’t you raise a bit of ready money?”
Lauriston looked round at his landlady with an air of surprised enquiry.
“And how would I do that?” he asked.
“You’ve a right good gold watch, Mr. Lauriston,” she answered. “Any pawnbroker—and there’s plenty of ‘em, I’m sure!—’ud lend you a few pounds on that. Perhaps you’ve never had occasion to go to a pawnbroker before? No?—well, and I hadn’t once upon a time, but I’ve had to, whether or no, since I came to letting lodgings, and if I’d as good a watch as yours is, I wouldn’t go without money in my pocket! If you’ve money coming in, you can always get your goods back—and I should be thankful for something, Mr. Lauriston, if it was but a couple o’ pounds. My landlord’s that hard—”
Lauriston turned and picked up his hat.
“All right, Mrs. Flitwick,” he said quietly. “I’ll see what I can do.
I—I’d never even thought of it.”
When the woman had gone away, closing the door behind her, he pulled the watch out of his pocket and looked at it—an old-fashioned, good, gold watch, which had been his father’s. No doubt a pawnbroker would lend money on it. But until then he had never had occasion to think of pawnbrokers. He had come to London nearly two years before, intending to make name, fame, and fortune by his pen. He had a little money to be going on with—when he came. It had dwindled steadily, and it had been harder to replace it than he had calculated for. And at last there he was, in that cheap lodging, and at the end of his resources, and the cheque for his first two accepted stories had not arrived. Neither had a loan which, sorely against his will, he had been driven to request from the only man he could think of—an old schoolmate, far away in Scotland. He had listened for the postman’s knock, hoping it would bring relief, for four long days—and not one letter had come, and he was despairing and heartsick. But—there was the watch!
He went out presently, and on the stair, feebly lighted by a jet of gas, he ran up against a fellow-lodger—a young Jew, whom he knew by the name of Mr. Melchior Rubinstein, who occupied the rooms immediately beneath his own. He was a quiet, affable little person, with whom Lauriston sometimes exchanged a word or two—and the fact that he sported rings on his fingers, a large pin in his tie, and a heavy watch-chain, which was either real gold or a very good imitation, made Lauriston think that he would give him some advice. He stopped him—with a shy look, and an awkward blush.
“I say!” he said. “I—the fact is, I’m a bit hard up—temporarily, you know—and I want to borrow some money on my watch. Could you tell me where there’s a respectable pawnbroker’s?”
Melky—known to every one in the house by that familiar substitute for his more pretentious name—turned up the gas-jet and then held out a slender, long-fingered hand. “Let’s look at the watch,” he said curtly, in a soft, lisping voice. “I know more than a bit about watches, mister.”
Lauriston handed the watch over and watched Melky inquisitively as he looked at it, inside and out, in a very knowing and professional way. Melky suddenly glanced at him. “Now, you wouldn’t like to sell this here bit of property, would you, Mr. Lauriston?” he enquired, almost wheedlingly. “I’ll give you three quid for it—cash down.”
“Thank you—but I wouldn’t sell it for worlds,” replied Lauriston.
“Say four quid, then,” urged Melky. “Here!—between friends, I’ll give you four-ten! Spot cash, mind you!”
“No!” said Lauriston. “It belonged to my father. I don’t want to sell—I want to borrow.”
Melky pushed the watch back into its owner’s hand.
“You go round into Praed Street, mister,” he said, in business-like fashion. “You’ll see a shop there with Daniel Multenius over it. He’s a relation o’ mine—he’ll do what you want. Mention my name, if you like. He’ll deal fair with you. And if you ever want to sell, don’t forget me.”
Lauriston laughed, and went down the stairs, and out into the dismal evening. It was only a step round to Praed Street, and within five minutes of leaving Melky he was looking into Daniel Multenius’s window. He remembered now that he had often looked into it, without noticing the odd name above it. It was a window in which there were all sorts of curious things, behind a grille of iron bars, from diamonds and pearls to old ivory and odds and ends of bric-à-brac. A collector of curiosities would have found material in that window to delay him for half-an-hour—but Lauriston only gave one glance at it before hastening down a dark side-passage to a door, over which was a faintly-illuminated sign, showing the words: PLEDGE OFFICE.
He pushed open that door and found himself before several small, boxed-off compartments, each just big enough to contain one person. They were all empty at that moment; he entered one, and seeing nobody about, tapped gently on the counter. He expected to see some ancient and Hebraic figure present itself—instead, light steps came from some recess of the shop, and Lauriston found himself gazing in surprise at a young and eminently pretty girl, who carried some fancy needle-work in her hand, and looked over it at him out of a pair of large, black eyes. For a moment the two gazed at each other, in silence.
“Yes?” said the girl at last. “What can I do for you?”
Lauriston found his tongue.
“Er—is Mr. Multenius in?” he asked. “I—the fact is, I want to see him.”
“Mr. Multenius is out,” answered the girl. “But I’m in charge—if it’s business.”
She was quietly eyeing Lauriston over, and she saw his fresh-complexioned face colour vividly.
“I do my grandfather’s business when he’s out,” she continued. “Do you want to borrow some money?”
Lauriston pulled out the watch, with more blushes, and pushed it towards her.
“That’s just it,” he answered. “I want to borrow money on that. A friend of mine—fellow-lodger—Mr. Melky Rubinstein—said I could borrow something here. That’s a real good watch, you know.”
The girl glanced at her customer with a swift and almost whimsical recognition of his innocence, and almost carelessly picked up the watch.
“Oh, Melky sent you here, did he?” she said, with a smile. “I see!” She looked the watch over, and snapped open the case. Then she glanced at Lauriston. “How much do you want on this?” she asked.
MRS. GOLDMARK’S EATING-HOUSE
Lauriston thrust his hands in his pockets and looked at the girl in sheer perplexity. She was a very pretty, dark girl, nearly as tall as himself, slender and lissom of figure, and decidedly attractive. There was evident sense of fun and humour in her eyes, and about the corners of her lips: he suddenly got an idea that she was amused at his embarrassment.
“How much can you lend me?” he asked. “What—what’s it worth?”
“No, that’s not it!” she answered. “It’s—what do you want to borrow?
You’re not used to pledging things, are you?”
“No,” replied Lauriston. “This is the first time. Can—can you lend me a few pounds?”
The girl picked up the watch again, and again, examined it.
“I’ll lend you three pounds fifteen on it,” she said suddenly, in business-like tones. “That do?”
“Thank you,” replied Lauriston. “That’ll do very well—I’m much obliged. I suppose I can have it back any time.”
“Any time you bring the money, and pay the interest,” replied the girl. “Within twelve calendar months and seven days.” She picked up a pen and began to fill out a ticket. “Got any copper?” she asked presently.
“Copper?” exclaimed Lauriston. “What for?”
“The ticket,” she answered. Then she gave him a quick glance and just as quickly looked down again. “Never mind!” she said. “I’ll take it out of the loan. Your name and address, please.”
Lauriston presently took the ticket and the little pile of gold, silver, and copper which she handed him. And he lingered.
“You’ll take care of that watch,” he said, suddenly. “It was my father’s, you see.”
The girl smiled, reassuringly, and pointed to a heavily-built safe in the rear.
“We’ve all sorts of family heirlooms in there,” she observed. “Make yourself easy.”
Lauriston thanked her, raised his hat, and turned away—unwillingly. He would have liked an excuse to stop longer—and he did not quite know why. But he could think of none, so he went—with a backward look when he got to the door. The pretty pawnbroker smiled and nodded. And the next moment he was out in the street, with money in his pocket, and a strange sense of relief, which was mingled with one of surprise. For he had lived for the previous four days on a two-shilling piece—and there, all the time, close by him, had been a place where you could borrow money, easily and very pleasantly.
His first thought was to hurry to his lodgings and pay his landlady. He owed her six weeks’ rent, at ten shillings a week—that would take three pounds out of the money he had just received. But he would still have over fourteen shillings to be going on with—and surely those expected letters would come within the next few postal deliveries. He had asked the editor who had taken two short stories from him to let him have a cheque for them, and in his inexperience had expected to see it arrive by return of post. Also he had put his pride in his pocket, and had written a long letter to his old schoolmate, John Purdie, in far-away Scotland, explaining his present circumstances, and asking him, for old times’ sake, to lend him some money until he had finished and sold a novel, which, he was sure, would turn out to be a small gold-mine. John Purdie, he knew, was now a wealthy young man—successor to his father in a fine business; Lauriston felt no doubt that he would respond. And meantime, till the expected letters came, he had money—and when you have lived for four days on two shillings, fourteen shillings seems a small fortune. Certainly, within the last half-hour, life had taken on a roseate tinge—all due to a visit to the pawnshop.
Hurrying back along Praed Street, Lauriston’s steps were suddenly arrested. He found himself unconsciously hurrying by an old-fashioned eating-house, from whence came an appetizing odour of cooking food. He remembered then that he had eaten nothing for four-and-twenty hours. His landlady supplied him with nothing: ever since he had gone to her he had done his own catering, going out for his meals. The last meal, on the previous evening, had been a glass of milk and a stale, though sizable bun, and now he felt literally ravenous. It was only by an effort that he could force himself to pass the eating-house; once beyond its door, he ran, ran until he reached his lodgings and slipped three sovereigns into Mrs. Flitwick’s hands.
“That’ll make us right to this week end, Mrs. Flitwick,” he said. “Put the receipt in my room.”
“And greatly obliged I am to you, Mr. Lauriston,” answered the landlady. “And sorry, indeed, you should have had to put yourself to the trouble, but—”
“All right, all right—no trouble—no trouble at all,” exclaimed
Lauriston. “Quite easy, I assure you!”
He ran out of the house again and back to where he knew there was food. He was only one-and-twenty, a well-built lad, with a healthy appetite, which, until very recently, had always been satisfied, and just then he was feeling that unless he ate and drank, something—he knew not what—would happen. He was even conscious that his voice was weakening, when, having entered the eating-house and dropped into a seat in one of the little boxes into which the place was divided, he asked the waitress for the food and drink which he was now positively aching for. And he had eaten a plateful of fish and two boiled eggs and several thick slices of bread and butter, and drunk the entire contents of a pot of tea before he even lifted his eyes to look round him. But by that time he was conscious of satisfaction, and he sat up and inspected the place to which he had hurried so eagerly. And in the same moment he once more saw Melky.
Melky had evidently just entered the little eating-house. Evidently, too, he was in no hurry for food or drink. He had paused, just within the entrance, at a desk which stood there, whereat sat Mrs. Goldmark, the proprietress, a plump, pretty young woman, whose dark, flashing eyes turned alternately from watching her waitresses to smiling on her customers as they came to the desk to pay their bills. Melky, his smart billy-cock hat cocked to one side, his sporting-looking overcoat adorned with a flower, was evidently paying compliments to Mrs. Goldmark as he leaned over her desk: she gave him a playful push and called to a waitress to order Mr. Rubinstein a nice steak. And Melky, turning from her with a well satisfied smile, caught sight of Lauriston, and sauntered down to the table at which he sat.
“Get your bit of business done all right?” he asked, confidentially, as he took a seat opposite his fellow-lodger and bent towards him. “Find the old gent accommodating?”
“I didn’t see him,” answered Lauriston. “I saw a young lady.”
“My cousin Zillah,” said Melky. “Smart girl, that, mister—worth a pile o’ money to the old man—she knows as much about the business as what he does! You wouldn’t think, mister,” he went on in his soft, lisping tones, “but that girl’s had a college education—fact! Old Daniel, he took her to live with him when her father and mother died, she being a little ‘un then, and he give her—ah, such an education as I wish I’d had—see? She’s quite the lady—is Zillah—but sticks to the old shop—not half, neither!”
“She seems very business-like,” remarked Lauriston, secretly pleased that he had now learned the pretty pawnbroker’s name. “She soon did what I wanted.”
“In the blood,” said Melky, laconically. “We’re all of us in that sort o’ business, one way or another. Now, between you and me, mister, what did she lend you on that bit o’ stuff?”
“Three pounds fifteen,” replied Lauriston.
“That’s about it,” assented Melky, with a nod. He leaned a little nearer. “You don’t want to sell the ticket?” he suggested. “Give you a couple o’ quid for it, if you do.”
“You seem very anxious to buy that watch,” said Lauriston, laughing. “No—I don’t want to sell the ticket—not I! I wouldn’t part with that watch for worlds.”
“Well, if you don’t, you don’t,” remarked Melky. “And as to wanting to buy—that’s my trade. I ain’t no reg’lar business—I buy and sell, anything that comes handy, in the gold and silver line. And as you ain’t going to part with that ticker on no consideration, I’ll tell you what it’s worth, old as it is. Fifteen quid!”
“That’s worth knowing, any way,” said Lauriston. “I shall always have something by me then, while I have that. You’d have made a profit of a nice bit, then, if I’d sold it to you?”
“It ‘ud be a poor world, mister, if you didn’t get no profit, wouldn’t it?” assented Melky calmly. “We’re all of us out to make profit. Look here!—between you and me—you’re a lit’ry gent, ain’t you? Write a bit, what? Do you want to earn a fiver—comfortable?”
“I should be very glad,” replied Lauriston.
“There’s a friend o’ mine,” continued Melky, “wholesale jeweller, down Shoreditch way, wants to get out a catalogue. He ain’t no lit’ry powers, d’you see? Now, he’d run to a fiver—cash down—if some writing feller ‘ud touch things up a bit for him, like. Lor’ bless you!—it wouldn’t take you more’n a day’s work! What d’ye say to it?”
“I wouldn’t mind earning five pounds at that,” answered Lauriston.
“Right-oh!” said Melky. “Then some day next week, I’ll take you down to see him—he’s away till then. And—you’ll pay me ten per cent. on the bit o’ business, won’t you, mister? Business is business, ain’t it?”
“All right!” agreed Lauriston. “That’s a bargain, of course.”
Melky nodded and turned to his steak, and Lauriston presently left him and went away. The plump lady at the desk gave him a smile as she handed him his change.
“Hope to see you again, sir,” she said.
Lauriston went back to his room, feeling that the world had changed. He had paid his landlady, he had silver and copper in his pocket, he had the chance of earning five pounds during the coming week—and he expected a cheque for his two stories by every post. And if John Purdie made him the loan he had asked for, he would be able to devote a whole month to finishing his novel—and then, perhaps, there would be fame and riches. The dismal November evening disappeared in a dream of hope.
But by the end of the week hope was dropping to zero again with Lauriston. No letters had arrived—either from John Purdie or the editor. On the Sunday morning he was again face to face with the last half-crown. He laid out his money very cautiously that day, but when he had paid for a frugal dinner at a cheap coffee-shop, he had only a shilling left. He wandered into Kensington Gardens that Sunday afternoon, wondering what he had best do next. And as he stood by the railings of the ornamental water, watching the water-fowls’ doings, somebody bade him good-day, and he turned to find the pretty girl of the pawnshop standing at his side and smiling shyly at him.
THE DEAD MAN
Lauriston was thinking about Zillah at the very moment in which she spoke to him: the memory of her dark eyes and the friendly smile that she had given him as he left the pawnshop had come as a relief in the midst of his speculations as to his immediate future. And now, as he saw her real self, close to him, evidently disposed to be friendly, he blushed like any girl, being yet at that age when shyness was still a part of his character. Zillah blushed too—but she was more self-possessed than Lauriston.
“I’ve been talking to my Cousin Melky about you,” she said quickly.
“Or, rather, he’s been talking to me. He says he’s going to introduce
you to a man who wants his catalogue put in shape—for five pounds.
Don’t you do it for five pounds! I know that man—charge him ten!”
Lauriston moved away with her down the walk.
“Oh, but I couldn’t do that, now!” he said eagerly. “You see I promised
I’d do it for five.”
Zillah gave him a quick glance.
“Don’t you be silly!” she said. “When anybody like Melky offers you five pounds for anything, ask them double. They’ll give it. You don’t know much about money matters, do you?”
Lauriston laughed, and gaining confidence, gave the girl a knowing look.
“Not much,” he admitted, “else I wouldn’t have had to do that bit of business with you the other day.”
“Oh—that!” she said indifferently. “That’s nothing. You’d be astonished if you knew what sort of people just have to run round to us, now and then—I could tell you some secrets! But—I guessed you weren’t very well up in money matters, all the same. Writing people seldom are.”
“I suppose you are?” suggested Lauriston.
“I’ve been mixed up in them all my life, more or less,” she answered. “Couldn’t help being, with my surroundings. You won’t think me inquisitive if I ask you something? Were you—hard up—when you came round the other night?”
“Hard up’s a mild term,” replied Lauriston, frankly. “I hadn’t a penny!”
“Excepting a gold watch worth twelve or fifteen pounds,” remarked
Zillah, drily. “And how long had you been like that?”
“Two or three days—more or less,” answered Lauriston. “You see, I’ve been expecting money for more than a week—that was it.”
“Has it come?” she asked.
“No—it hasn’t,” he replied, with a candid blush. “That’s a fact!”
“Will it come—soon?” she demanded.
“By George!—I hope so!” he exclaimed. “I’ll be hard up again, if it doesn’t.”
“And then you offer to do for five what you might easily get ten for!” she said, almost reproachfully. “Let me give you a bit of advice—never accept a first offer. Stand out for a bit more—especially from anybody like my cousin Melky.”
“Is Melky a keen one, then?” enquired Lauriston.
“Melky’s a young Jew,” said Zillah, calmly. “I’m not—I’m half-and-half—a mixture. My mother was Jew—my father wasn’t. Well—if you want money to be going on with, and you’ve got any more gold watches, you know where to come. Don’t you ever go with empty pockets in London while you’ve got a bit of property to pledge! You’re not a Londoner, of course?”
“I’m a Scotsman!” said Lauriston.
“To be sure—I knew it by your tongue,” asserted Zillah. “And trying to make a living by writing! Well, you’ll want courage—and money. Have you had any luck?”
“I’ve sold two stories,” answered Lauriston, who by that time was feeling as if the girl was an old friend. “They come to twenty pounds for the two, at the rate that magazine pays, and I’ve asked for a cheque—it’s that I’m waiting for. It ought to come—any time.”
“Oh, but I know that game!” said Zillah. “I’ve two friends—girls—who write. I know how they have to wait—till publication, or till next pay-day. What a pity that some of you writers don’t follow some other profession that would bring in a good income—then you could do your writing to please yourselves, and not be dependent on it. Haven’t you thought of that?”
“Often!” answered Lauriston. “And it wouldn’t do—for me, anyway. I’ve made my choice. I’ll stick to my pen—and swim or sink with it. And I’m not going to sink!”
“That’s the way to talk—to be sure!” said the girl. “But—keep yourself in money, if you can. Don’t go without money for three days when you’ve anything you can raise money on. You see how practical I am! But you’ve got to be in this world. Will you tell me something?”
“It strikes me,” answered Lauriston, looking at her narrowly and bringing the colour to her cheeks, “that I’m just about getting to this—that I’d tell you anything! And so—what is it?”
“How much money have you left?” she asked softly.
“Precisely a shilling—and a copper or two,” he answered.
“And—if that cheque doesn’t arrive?” she suggested.
“Maybe I’ll be walking round to Praed Street again,” he said, laughing.
“I’ve a bit of what you call property, yet.”
The girl nodded, and turned towards a side-walk that led across the
“All right,” she said. “Don’t think me inquisitive—I don’t like to think of—of people like you being hard up: I’m not wrapped up in business as much as all that. Let’s talk of something else—tell me what you write about.”
Lauriston spent the rest of that afternoon with Zillah, strolling about Kensington Gardens. He had lived a very lonely life since coming to London, and it was a new and pleasant experience to him to have an intelligent companion to talk to. There was a decided sense of exhilaration within him when he finally left her; as for Zillah, she went homewards in a very thoughtful mood, already conscious that she was more than half in love with this good-looking lad who had come so strangely into her life. And at the corner of Praed Street she ran up against Mr. Melky Rubinstein, and button-holed him, and for ten minutes talked seriously to him. Melky, who had good reasons of his own for keeping in his cousin’s favour, listened like a lamb to all she had to say, and went off promising implicit obedience to her commandments.
“Zillah ain’t half gone on that chap!” mused Melky, as he pursued his way. “Now, ain’t it extraordinary that a girl who’ll come into a perfect fortune should go and fall head over ears in love with a red-headed young feller what ain’t got a penny to bless hisself with! Not but what he ain’t got good looks—and brains. And brains is brains, when all’s said!”
That night, as Lauriston sat writing in his shabby little room, a knock came at his door—the door opened, and Melky slid in, laying his finger to the side of his large nose in token of confidence.
“Hope I ain’t interrupting,” said Melky. “I say, mister, I been thinking about that catalogue business. Now I come to sort of reflect on it, I think my friend’ll go to ten pound. So we’ll say ten pound—what? And I’ll take you to see him next Friday. And I say, mister—if a pound or two on account ‘ud be of any service—say the word, d’ye see?”
With this friendly assurance, Melky plunged his hand into a hip-pocket, and drew out some gold, which he held towards Lauriston on his open palm.
“Two or three pound on account, now, mister?” he said, ingratiatingly.
“You’re welcome as the flowers in May!”
But Lauriston shook his head; he had already decided on a plan of his own, if the expected remittance did not arrive next morning.
“No, thank you,” he answered. “It’s uncommonly good of you—but I can manage very well indeed—I can, really! Next Friday, then—I’ll go with you. I’m very much obliged to you.”
Melky slipped his money into his pocket—conscious of having done his part. “Just as you like, mister,” he said. “But you was welcome, you know. Next Friday, then—and you can reckon on cash down for this job.”
The Monday morning brought neither of the expected letters to Lauriston. But he had not spoken without reason when he said to Zillah that he had a bit of property to fall back upon—now that he knew how ready money could easily be raised. He had some pledgeable property in his trunk—and when the remittances failed to arrive, he determined to avail himself of it. Deep down in a corner of the trunk he had two valuable rings—all that his mother had left him, with the exception of two hundred pounds, with which he had ventured to London, and on which he had lived up to then. He got the rings out towards the end of Monday afternoon, determining to take them round to Daniel Multenius and raise sufficient funds on them to last him for, at any rate, another month or two. He had little idea of the real value of such articles, and he had reasons of his own for not showing the rings to Melky Rubinstein; his notion was to wait until evening, when he would go to the pawnshop at about the same time as on his previous visit, in the hope of finding Zillah in charge again. After their meeting and talk of the afternoon before, he felt that she would do business with him in a sympathetic spirit—and if he could raise twenty pounds on the rings he would be free of all monetary anxiety for many a long week to come.
It was half-past five o’clock of that Monday evening when Lauriston, for the second time, turned into the narrow passage which led to the pawnshop door. He had already looked carefully through the street window, in the hope of seeing Zillah inside the front shop. But there was no Zillah to be seen; the front shop was empty. Nor did Zillah confront him when he stepped into the little boxed-in compartment in the pawnshop. There was a curious silence in the place—broken only by the quiet, regular ticking of a clock. That ticking grew oppressive during the minute or two that he waited expecting somebody to step forward. He rapped on the counter at last—gently at first, then more insistently. But nobody came. The clock—hidden from his sight—went on ticking.
Lauriston bent over the counter at last and craned his neck to look into the open door of a little parlour which lay behind the shop. The next instant, with no thought but of the exigencies of the moment, he had leapt over the partition and darted into the room. There, stretched out across the floor, his head lying on the hearthrug, his hands lying inert and nerveless at his sides, lay an old man, grey-bearded, venerable—Daniel Multenius, no doubt. He lay very still, very statuesque—and Lauriston, bending over and placing a trembling hand on the high, white forehead, knew that he was dead.
He started up—his only idea that of seeking help. The whole place was so still that he knew he was alone with the dead in it. Instinctively, he ran through the front shop to the street door—and into the arms of a man who was just entering.
THE PLATINUM SOLITAIRE
The newcomer, an elderly, thick-set man, who, in spite of his plain clothes, looked as if he were an official of some sort and carried some documents in his hand, at which he was glancing as he entered, started and exclaimed as Lauriston, in his haste, ran up against him. “Hullo!” he said. “What’s the matter? You seem in a hurry, young fellow!”
Lauriston, almost out of breath with excitement, turned and pointed to the open door of the little parlour.
“There’s an old man—lying in there—dead!” he whispered. “A grey-bearded old man—is it the pawn-broker—Mr. Multenius?”
The man stared, craned his neck to glance in the direction which Lauriston’s shaking finger indicated, and then started forward. But he suddenly paused, and motioned Lauriston to go first—and before following him he closed the street door.
“Now then, where?” he said. “Dead, do you say?” He followed Lauriston into the parlour, uttered a sharp exclamation as he caught sight of the recumbent figure, and, bending down, laid a hand on the forehead. “Dead, right enough, my lad!” he muttered. “Been dead some minutes, too. But—where’s the girl—the grand-daughter? Have you seen anybody?”
“Not a soul!” answered Lauriston. “Since I came in, the whole place has been as still as—as it is now!”
The man stared at him for a second or two, silently; then, as if he knew the ins and outs of the establishment, he strode to an inner door, threw it open and revealed a staircase.
“Hullo there!” he called loudly. “Hullo! Miss Wildrose! Are you there?”
This was the first time Lauriston had heard Zillah’s surname: even in the midst of that startling discovery, it struck him as a very poetical one. But he had no time to reflect on it—the man turned back into the parlour.
“She must be out,” he said. “Do you say you found him?”
“Yes—I found him,” answered Lauriston. “Just now.”
“And what were you doing here?” asked the man. “Who are you?”
Lauriston fancied he detected a faint note of suspicion in these questions, and he drew himself up, with a flush on his face.
“My name’s Andrew Lauriston,” he answered. “I live close by. I came in on—business. Who are you?”
“Well, if it comes to that, my lad,” said the man, “I’m Detective-Sergeant Ayscough—known well enough around these parts! I came to see the old gentleman about these papers. Now—what was your business, then?”
He was watching Lauriston very keenly, and Lauriston, suddenly realizing that he was in an awkward position, determined on candour.
“Well, if you really want to know,” he said, “I came to borrow some money—on these rings.”
And he opened his left hand and showed the detective the two rings which he had taken from his trunk—not half-an-hour before.
“Your property?” asked Ayscough.
“Of course they’re my property!” exclaimed Lauriston. “Whose else should they be?”
Ayscough’s glance wandered from the rings to a table which stood, a little to one side, in the middle of the parlour. Lauriston turned in that direction, also. Two objects immediately met his eye. On the table stood a small tray, full of rings—not dissimilar in style and appearance to those which he held in his hand: old-fashioned rings. The light from the gas-brackets above the mantel-piece caught the facets of the diamonds in those rings and made little points of fire; here and there he saw the shimmer of pearls. But there was another object. Close by the tray of old rings lay a book—a beautifully bound book, a small quarto in size, with much elaborate gold ornament on the back and side, and gilt clasps holding the heavy leather binding together. It looked as if some hand had recently thrown this book carelessly on the table.
But Ayscough gave little, if any, attention to the book: his eyes were fixed on the rings in the tray—and he glanced from them to Lauriston’s rings.
“Um!” he said presently. “Odd that you have a couple of rings, young man, just like—those! Isn’t it?”
“What do you mean?” demanded Lauriston, flushing scarlet. “You don’t suggest—”
“Don’t suggest anything—just now,” answered the detective, quietly. “But you must stop here with me, until I find out more. Come to the door—we must have help here.”
Lauriston saw there was nothing to do but to obey, and he followed Ayscough to the street door. The detective opened it, looked out, and waiting a few minutes, beckoned to a policeman who presently strolled along. After a whispered word or two, the policeman went away, and Ayscough beckoned Lauriston back into the shop.
“Now,” he said, “there’ll be some of our people and a surgeon along in a few minutes—before they come, just tell me your story. You’re an honest-looking young chap—but you must admit that it looks a bit queer that I should find you running out of this shop, old Multenius dead inside his parlour, and you with a couple of rings in your possession which look uncommonly like his property! Just tell me how it came about.”
Lauriston told him the plain truth—from the pawning of the watch to the present visit. Ayscough watched him narrowly—and at the end nodded his head.
“That sounds like a straight tale, Mr. Lauriston,” he said. “I’m inclined to believe every word you say. But I shall have to report it, and all the circumstances, and you’ll have to prove that these two rings were your mother’s, and all that—and you must stay here till the doctor comes with our people. Queer that the old man should be alone! I wonder where his grand-daughter is?”
But just then the street door opened and Zillah came in, a big bunch of flowers under one arm, some small parcels in the other. At the sight of the two men she started; crimsoned as she saw Lauriston; paled again as she noticed that Ayscough was evidently keeping an eye on him.
“Mr. Ayscough!” she exclaimed. “What’s this?—is something the matter?
What are you doing here?” she went on hurriedly, turning to Lauriston.
“Inside the shop! What’s happened?—tell me, one of you?”
The detective purposely kept himself and Lauriston between Zillah and the open door at the rear of the shop. He made a kindly motion of his head towards her.
“Now, my dear!” he said. “Don’t get upset—your grandfather was getting a very old man, you know—and we can’t expect old gentlemen to live for ever. Take it quietly, now!”
The girl turned and laid her flowers and parcels on the counter. Lauriston, watching her anxiously, saw that she was nerving herself to be brave.
“That means—he’s dead?” she said. “I am quiet—you see I’m quiet. Tell me what’s happened—you tell me,” she added, glancing at Lauriston. “Tell me—now!”
“I came in and found no one here, and I looked round through the door into the parlour there,” answered Lauriston, “and I saw your grandfather lying on the floor. So I jumped over the counter and went to him.”
Zillah moved forward as if to go into the parlour. But the detective stopped her, glancing from her to Lauriston.
“You know this young man, Miss Wildrose?” he asked. “You’ve met him before?”
“Yes,” replied Zillah, confidently. “He’s Mr. Lauriston. Let me go in there, please. Can nothing be done?”
But Ayscough only shook his head. There was nothing to be done—but to await the arrival of the doctor. They followed the girl into the parlour and stood by while she bent over the dead man. She made no demonstration of grief, and when Ayscough presently suggested that she should go upstairs until the doctor had come, she went quietly away.
“Hadn’t we better lift him on that sofa?” suggested Lauriston.
“Not till our people and the police-surgeon have seen him,” answered Ayscough, shaking his head. “I want to know all about this—he may have died a natural death—a seizure of some sort—and again, he mayn’t—They’ll be here in a minute.”
Lauriston presently found himself a passive spectator while a police-inspector, another man in plain clothes, and the doctor examined the body, after hearing Ayscough’s account of what had just happened. He was aware that he was regarded with suspicion—the inspector somewhat brusquely bade him stay where he was: it would, indeed, have been impossible to leave, for there was a policeman at the door, in which, by his superior’s orders, he had turned the key. And there was a general, uncomfortable sort of silence in the place while the doctor busied himself about the body.
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