The Firm of Girdlestone
Arthur Conan Doyle
Part 3 out of 8
"Because--" She was about to say that it was because she had been
brought in contact with him; but she recollected herself in time.
"Because he happened to be in a bad temper," she answered.
"It is too bad that you should have to submit to any one's whims and
tempers," the young man said, switching his stick angrily backwards and
"Why not?" she asked, laughing. "Everybody has some one over them.
If you hadn't, you would never know right from wrong."
"But he is unkind to you."
"No, indeed," said Kate, with decision. "He is really very kind to me.
He may appear a little stern at times, but I know that he means it for
my own good, and I should be a very foolish girl if I resented it.
Besides, he is so pious and good that what may seem a little fault to us
would appear a great thing in his eyes."
"Oh, he is very pious and good, then," Tom remarked, in a doubtful
voice. His shrewd old father had formed his own views as to John
Girdlestone's character, and his son had in due course imbibed them from
"Yes, of course he is," answered Kate, looking up with great wondering
eyes. "Don't you know that he is the chief supporter of the Purbrook
Street Branch of the Primitive Trinitarians, and sits in the front pew
three times every Sunday?"
"Ah!" said Tom.
"Yes, and subscribes to all the charitable funds, and is a friend of
Mr. Jefferson Edwards, the great philanthropist. Besides, look how good
he has been to me. He has taken the place of my father."
"Hum!" Tom said dubiously; and then, with a little pang at his heart,
"Do you like Ezra Girdlestone too?"
"No, indeed," cried his companion with energy. "I don't like him in the
least. He is a cruel, bad-hearted man."
"Cruel! You don't mean cruel to you, of course."
"No, not to me. I avoid him as much as I can, and sometimes for weeks
we hardly exchange a word. Do you know what he did the other day?
It makes me shudder even to think of it. I heard a cat crying pitifully
in the garden, so I went out to see what was the matter. When I got
outside I saw Ezra Girdlestone leaning out of a window with a gun in his
hands--one of those air-guns which don't make any noise when they go
off. And there, in the middle of the garden, was a poor cat that he had
tied to a bush, and he had been practising at it for ever so long.
The poor creature was still alive, but oh! so dreadfully injured."
"The brute! What did you do?"
"I untied it and brought it inside, but it died during the night."
"And what did he say?"
"He put up his gun while I was untying it, as if he had half a mind to
take a shot at me. When I met him afterwards he said that he would
teach me to mind my own business. I didn't mind what he said though, as
long as I had the cat."
"Spoke like that, did he?" said Tom savagely, flushing up to his eyes.
"I wish I saw him now. I'd teach him manners, or--"
"You'll certainly get run over if you go on like that," interrupted
Indeed, the young man in his indignation was striding over a crossing
without the slightest heed of the imminent danger which he ran from the
stream of traffic.
"Don't be so excitable, Cousin Tom," she said, laying her gloved hand
upon his arm; "there is nothing to be cross about."
"Isn't there?" he answered furiously. "It's a pretty state of things
that you should have to submit to insults from a brutal puppy like that
fellow Ezra Girdlestone." The pair had managed by this time to get
half-way across the broad road, and were halting upon the little island
of safety formed by the great stone base of a lamp-post. An
interminable stream of 'buses--yellow, purple, and brown--with vans,
hansoms, and growlers, blocked the way in front of them. A single
policeman, with his back turned to them, and his two arms going like an
animated semaphore, was the only human being in their immediate
vicinity. Amid all the roar and rattle of the huge city they were as
thoroughly left to themselves as though they were in the centre of
"You must have a protector," Tom said with decision.
"Oh, Cousin Tom, don't be foolish; I can protect myself very well."
"You must have some one who has a right to look after you." The young
man's voice was husky, for the back part of his throat had become
unaccountably dry of a sudden.
"You can pass now, sir," roared the constable, for there was a momentary
break in the traffic.
"Don't go for a moment," Tom cried, desperately detaining his companion
by the sleeve of her jacket. "We are alone here and can talk. Don't
you think--don't you think you could like me a little bit if you were to
try? I love you so, Kate, that I cannot help hoping that my love is not
"All clear now, sir," shouted the constable once more.
"Don't mind him," said Tom, still detaining her on the little-island.
"Since I met you in Edinburgh, Kate, I have seemed to be walking in a
dream. Do what I will, go where I will, I still have you before my eyes
and hear your sweet voice in my ears. I don't believe any girl was ever
loved more dearly than I love you, but I find it so hard to put into
words the thoughts that I have in my mind. For Heaven's sake, give me
some little gleam of hope to carry away with me. You don't dislike me,
Kate, do you?"
"You know that I don't, Cousin Tom," said the young lady, with downcast
eyes. He had cornered her so skilfully against the great lamp that she
could move neither to the right nor to the left.
"Do you like me, then, Kate?" he asked eagerly, with a loving light in
his earnest grey eyes.
"Of course I do."
"Do you think you could love me?" continued this persistent young man.
"I don't mean all at once, and in a moment, because I know very well
that I am not worthy of it. But in time don't you think you could come
to love me?"
"Perhaps," murmured Kate, with averted face. It was such a very little
murmur that it was wonderful that it should be audible at all; yet it
pealed in the young man's ears above the rattle and the clatter of the
busy street. His head was very near to hers at the time.
"Now's your time, sir," roared the semaphoric policeman.
Had Tom been in a less exposed position it is possible that he might
have acted upon that well-timed remark from the cunning constable.
The centre of a London crossing is not, however, a very advantageous
spot for the performance of love passages. As they walked on, threading
their way among the vehicles, Tom took his companion's hand in his, and
they exchanged one firm grip, which each felt to be of the nature of a
pledge. How sunny and bright the dull brick-lined streets appeared to
those two young people that afternoon. They were both looking into a
future which seemed to be one long vista of happiness and love. Of all
the gifts of Providence, surely our want of knowledge of the things
which are to come upon us is the most merciful, and the one we could
least dispense with!
So happy and so light-hearted were these two lovers that it was not
until they found themselves in Warwick Street once more that they came
down from the clouds, and realized that there were some commonplace
details which must be dealt with in one way or another.
"Of course, I may tell my own people, dearest, about our engagement?"
"I wonder what your mother will say?" answered Kate, laughing merrily.
"She will be awfully astonished."
"How about Girdlestone?" asked Tom.
The thought of the guardian had never occurred to either of them before.
They stared at each other, and Kate's face assumed such an expression of
dismay that her companion burst out laughing.
"Don't be frightened, darling," he said. "If you like, I'll go in and
'beard the lion in his den.' There is no time like the present."
"No, no, dear Tom," she cried eagerly. "You must not do that." It was
impossible for her to tell him how especially Girdlestone had cautioned
her against him, but she felt that it would never do to allow the two to
meet. "We must conceal our engagement from Mr. Girdlestone."
"Conceal our engagement!"
"Yes, Tom. He has warned me so often against anything of the sort, that
really I don't know what he would do if he knew about it. He would
certainly make it very uncomfortable for me to live with him. Remember
I am nearly twenty now, so in a little more than a year I shall be
entirely free. That is not very long."
"I don't know about that," Tom said doubtfully. "However, if you will
be more comfortable, of course that settles the question. It seems
rather hard, though, that we should have to conceal it, simply in order
to pacify this old bear."
"It's only for a time, Tom; and you may tell them at home by all means.
Now, good-bye, dear; they will see you from the windows if you come
"Good-bye, my darling."
They shook hands and parted, he hurrying away with the glad tidings to
Phillimore Gardens, she tripping back to her captivity with the lightest
heart that she had felt for a weary time. Passers-by glanced back at
the bright little face under the bright little bonnet, and Ezra
Girdlestone, looking down at her from the drawing-room window, bethought
him that if the diamond speculation should fail it would be no hardship
to turn to his father's word.
A SLIGHT MISUNDERSTANDING.
The revelation of the real state of the firm's finances was a terrible
blow to Ezra Girdlestone. To a man of his overbearing, tempestuous
disposition failure and poverty were bitter things to face. He had been
wont to tread down before him all such little difficulties and obstacles
as came across him in his former life. Now he encountered a great
barrier which could not be passed so easily, and he raged and chafed
before it. It made him still more wroth to think that the fault was
none of his. All his life he had reckoned, as a matter of course, that
when his father passed away he would be left almost a millionaire. A
single half-hour's conversation had shattered this delusion and left him
face to face with ruin. He lost his sleep and became restless and
hollow-eyed. Once or twice he was seen the worse for drink in the
He was a man of strong character, however, and though somewhat
demoralized by the sudden shock, he threw away no point in the game
which he and his father were playing. He saw clearly that only a bold
stroke could save them. He therefore threw himself heart and soul into
the diamond scheme, and worked out the details in a masterly manner.
The more he looked into it the more convinced he became, not only of its
feasibility, but of its absolute safety. It seemed as though it were
hardly possible that it should fail.
Among other things he proceeded to qualify himself as a dealer in
diamonds. It happened that he was acquainted with one of the partners
of the firm of Fugger & Stoltz, who did the largest import trade in
precious stones. Through his kindness he received practical
instructions in the variety and value of diamonds, and learned to detect
all those little flaws and peculiarities which are only visible to the
eye of an expert, and yet are of the highest importance in determinating
the price of a stone. With such opportunities Ezra made rapid progress,
and within a few weeks there were not many dealers in the trade who had
a better grasp of the subject.
Both the Girdlestones recognized that the success of their plan depended
very largely upon their choice of an agent, and both were of the opinion
that in Major Tobias Clutterbuck they had just the man that they were in
want of. The younger merchant had long felt vaguely that the major's
social position, combined with his impecuniosity and the looseness of
his morality, as inferred from his mode of life, might some day make him
a valuable agent under delicate circumstances. As to the old soldier's
own inclinations, Ezra flattered himself that he knew the man's nature
to a nicety. It was simply a question of the price to be paid. No
doubt the figure would be substantial, but he recognized with a trader's
instinct that the article was a superior one, and he was content to
allow for the quality in estimating the value.
Early one April afternoon the major was strutting down St. James's
Street, frock-coated and kid-gloved, with protuberant chest and
glittering shoes which peeped out from beneath the daintiest of gaiters.
Young Girdlestone, who had been on the look-out from a club window, ran
across and intercepted him.
"How are you, my dear major?" he cried, advancing upon him with
outstretched hand and as much show of geniality as his nature permitted.
"How d'ye do? How d'ye do?" said the other somewhat pompously. He had
made up his mind that nothing was to be done with the young man, and yet
he was reluctant to break entirely with one whose purse was well lined
and who had sporting proclivities.
"I've been wishing to speak with you for some days, major," said Ezra.
"When could I see you?"
"You'll niver see me any plainer than you do at this very moment," the
old soldier answered, taking a sidelong glance of suspicion at his
"Ah, but I wish to speak to you quietly on a matter of business," the
young merchant persisted. "It's a delicate matter which may need some
talking over, and, above all, it is a private matter."
"Ged!" said the major, with a wheezy laugh, "you'd have thought I
wanted to borrow money if I had said as much. Look here now, we'll go
into White's private billiard-room, and I'll let you have two hunthred
out of five for a tinner--though it's as good as handing you the money
to offer you such odds. You can talk this over while we play."
"No, no, major," urged the junior partner. "I tell you it is a matter
of the greatest importance to both of us. Can you meet me at Nelson's
Cafe at four o'clock? I know the manager, and he'll let us have a
"I'd ask you round to me own little place," the major said, "but it's
rather too far. Nelson's at four. Right you are! 'Punctuality is next
to godliness,' as ould Willoughby of the Buffs used to say. You didn't
know Willoughby, eh? Gad, he was second to a man at Gib in '47.
He brought his man on the ground, but the opponents didn't turn up.
Two minutes after time Willoughby wanted his man to leave. 'Teach 'em
punctuality,' he said. 'Can't be done,' said his man. '_Must_ be
done,' said Willoughby. 'Out of the question,' said the man, and
wouldn't budge. Willoughby persisted; there were high words and a
quarrel. The docther put 'em up at fifteen paces, and the man shot
Willoughby through the calf of the leg. He was a martyr to punctuality.
Four o'clock-bye, bye!" The major nodded pleasantly and swaggered away,
flourishing his little cane jauntily in the air.
In spite of his admiration of punctuality, as exemplified in the person
of Willoughby of the Buffs, the major took good care to arrive at the
trysting-place somewhat behind the appointed time. It was clear to him
that some service or other was expected of him, and it was obviously his
game therefore to hang back and not appear to be too eager to enter into
young Girdlestone's views. When he presented himself at the entrance of
Nelson's Cafe the young merchant had been fuming and chafing in the
sitting-room for five and twenty minutes.
It was a dingy apartment, with a single large horse-hair chair and half
a dozen small wooden dittoes, placed with mathematical precision along
the walls. A square table in the centre and a shabby mirror over the
mantelpiece completed the furniture. With the instinct of an old
campaigner the major immediately dropped into the arm-chair, and,
leaning luxuriously back, took a cigar from his case and proceeded to
light it. Ezra Girdlestone seated himself near the table and twisted
his dark moustache, as was his habit when collecting himself.
"What will you drink?" he asked,
"Anything that's going."
"Fetch in a decanter of brandy and some seltzer water," said Ezra to the
waiter; "then shut the door and leave us entirely to ourselves."
When the liquor was placed upon the table he drank off his first glass
at a gulp, and then refilled it. The major placed his upon the
mantelpiece beside him without tasting it. Both were endeavouring to be
at their best and clearest in the coming interview, and each set about
it in his own manner.
"I'll tell you why I wanted to have a chat with you, major," Ezra said,
having first opened the door suddenly and glanced out as a precaution
against eavesdroppers. "I have to be cautious, because what I have to
say affects the interest of the firm. I wouldn't for the world have any
one know about it except yourself."
"What is it, me boy?" the major asked, with languid curiosity, puffing
at his weed and staring up at the smoke-blackened ceiling.
"You understand that in commercial speculations the least breath of
information beforehand may mean a loss of thousands on thousands."
The major nodded his head as a sign that he appreciated this fact.
"We have a difficult enterprise on which we are about to embark," Ezra
said, leaning forward and sinking his voice almost to a whisper.
"It is one which will need great skill and tact, though it may be made
to pay well if properly managed. You follow me?"
His companion nodded once more.
"For this enterprise we require an agent to perform one of the principal
parts. This agent must possess great ability, and, at the same time, be
a man on whom we can thoroughly rely. Of course we do not expect to
find such qualities without paying for them."
The major grunted a hearty acquiescence.
"My father," continued Ezra, "wanted to employ one of our own men.
We have numbers who are capable in every way of managing the business.
I interfered, however. I said that I had a good friend, named Major
Tobias Clutterbuck, who was well qualified for the position.
I mentioned that you were of the blood of the old Silesian kings. Was I
"Begad you were not. Milesian, sir; Milesian!"
"Ah, Milesian. It's all the same."
"It's nothing of the sort," said the major indignantly.
"I mean it was all the same to my father. He wouldn't know the
difference. Well, I told him of your high descent, and that you were a
traveller, a soldier, and a man of steady and trustworthy habits."
"Eh?" ejaculated the major involuntarily. "Well, all right. Go on!"
"I told him all this," said Ezra slowly, "and I pointed out to him that
the sum of money which he was prepared to lay out would be better
expended on such a man than on one who had no virtues beyond those of
"I didn't give you credit for so much sinse!" his companion exclaimed
"I said to him that if the matter were left entirely in your hands we
could rely upon its being done thoroughly. At the same time, we should
have the satisfaction of knowing that the substantial sum which we are
prepared to pay our agent had come into worthy hands."
"You hit it there again," murmured the veteran.
"You are prepared, then," said Ezra, glancing keenly at him, "to put
yourself at our orders on condition that you are well paid for it?"
"Not so fast, me young friend, not so fast!" said the major, taking his
cigar from between his lips and letting the blue smoke curl round his
head. "Let's hear what it is that you want me to do, and then I'm riddy
to say what I'll agree to and what I won't. I remimber Jimmy Baxter in
"Hang Jimmy Baxter!" Ezra cried impatiently.
"That's been done already," observed the major calmly. "Lynched for
horse-stealing in '66. However, go on, and I'll promise not to stop you
until you have finished."
Thus encouraged, Ezra proceeded to unfold the plan upon which the
fortunes of the House of Girdlestone depended. Not a word did he say of
ruin or danger, or the reasons which had induced this speculation.
On the contrary, he depicted the affairs of the firm as being in a most
nourishing condition, and this venture as simply a small insignificant
offshoot from their business, undertaken as much for amusement as for
any serious purpose. Still, he laid stress upon the fact that though
the sum in question was a small one to the firm, yet it was a very large
one in other men's eyes. As to the morality of the scheme, that was a
point which Ezra omitted entirely to touch upon. Any comment upon that
would, he felt, be superfluous when dealing with such a man as his
"And now, major," he concluded, "provided you lend us your name and your
talents to help us in our speculation, the firm are prepared to meet you
in a most liberal spirit in the matter of remuneration. Of course your
voyage and your expenses will be handsomely paid. You will have to
travel by steamer to St. Petersburg, provided that we choose the Ural
Mountains as the scene of our imaginary find. I hear that there is high
play going on aboard these boats, and with your well-known skill you
will no doubt be able to make the voyage a remunerative one. We
calculate that at the most you will be in Russia about three months.
Now, the firm thought that it would be very fair if they were to
guarantee you two hundred and fifty pounds, which they would increase to
five hundred in case of success; of course by that we mean complete
success, such as would be likely to attend your exertions."
Now, had there been any third person in the room during this long
statement of the young merchant's, and had that third person been a man
of observation, he might have remarked several peculiarities in the
major's demeanour. At the commencement of the address he might have
posed as the very model and type of respectable composure. As the plan
was gradually unfolded, however, the old soldier began to puff harder at
his cigar until a continuous thick grey cloud rose up from him, through
which the lurid tip of the havannah shone like a murky meteor.
From time to time he passed his hand down his puffy cheeks, as was his
custom when excited. Then he moved uneasily in his chair, cleared his
throat huskily, and showed other signs of restlessness, all of which
were hailed by Ezra Girdlestone as unmistakable proofs of the
correctness of his judgment and of the not unnatural eagerness of the
veteran on hearing of the windfall which chance had placed in his way.
When the young man had finished, the major stood up with his face to the
empty fire-place, his legs apart, his chest inflated, and his body
rocking ponderously backwards and forwards.
"Let me be quite sure that I understand you," he said. "You wish me to
go to Russia?"
"Quite so," Ezra remarked, rubbing his hands pleasantly.
"You have the goodness to suggist that on me way I should rook me
fellow-passengers in the boat?"
"That is to say, if you think it worth your while."
"Quite so, if I think it worth me while. I am then to procade across
the counthry to some mountains--"
"And there I am to pretind to discover certain diamond mines, and am to
give weight to me story by the fact that I am known to be a man of good
birth, and also by exhibiting some rough stones which you wish me to
take out with me from England?"
"Quite right, major," Ezra said encouragingly.
"I am then to tilegraph or write this lie to England and git it inserted
in the papers?"
"That's an ugly word," Ezra remonstrated. "This 'report' we will say.
A report may be either true or false, you know."
"And by this report, thin," the major continued, "you reckon that the
market will be so affected that your father and you will be able to buy
and sell in a manner that will be profitable to you, but by which you
will do other people out of their money?"
"You have an unpleasant way of putting it," said Ezra, with a forced
laugh; "but you have the idea right."
"I have another idea as well," roared the old soldier, flushing purple
with passion. "I've an idea that if I was twinty years younger I'd see
whether you'd fit through that window, Master Girdlestone. Ged! I'd
have taught you to propose such a schame to a man with blue blood in his
veins, you scounthrel!"
Ezra fell back in his chair. He was outwardly composed, but there was a
dangerous glitter in his eye, and his face had turned from a healthy
olive to a dull yellow tint.
"You won't do it?" he gasped.
"Do it! D'ye think that a man who's worn Her Majesty's scarlet jacket
for twinty years would dirty his hands with such a trick? I tell ye, I
wouldn't do it for all the money that iver was coined. Look here,
Girdlestone, I know you, but, by the Lord, you don't know me!"
The young merchant sat silently in his chair, with the same livid colour
upon his face and savage expression in his eyes. Major Tobias
Clutterbuck stood at the end of the table, stooping forward so as to
lean his hands upon it, with his eyes protuberant and his scanty grey
fringe in a bristle with indignation.
"What right had you to come to me with such a proposal? I don't set up
for being a saint, Lord knows, but, be George! I've some morals, such as
they are, and I mean to stick to them. One of me rules of life has been
niver to know a blackgaird, and so, me young friend, from this day forth
you and I go on our own roads. Ged! I'm not particular, but 'you must
draw the line somewhere,' as me frind, Charlie Monteith, of the Indian
Horse, used to say I when he cut his father-in-law. I draw it at you."
While the major was solemnly delivering himself of these sentiments,
Ezra continued to sit watching him in a particularly venomous manner.
His straight, cruel lips were blanched with passion, and the veins stood
out upon his forehead. The young man was a famous amateur bruiser, and
could fight a round with any professional in London. The old soldier
would be a child in his hands. As the latter picked up his hat
preparatory to leaving the room, Ezra rose and bolted the door upon the
inside. "It's worth five pounds in a police court," he muttered to
himself, and knotting up his great hands, which glittered with rings, he
approached his companion with his head sunk upon his breast, his eyes
flashing from under his dark brows, and the slow, stealthy step of a
beast of prey. There was a characteristic refinement of cruelty about
his attack, as though he wished to gloat over the helplessness of his
victim, and give him time to realize his position before he set upon
If such were his intention he failed signally in producing the desired
effect. The instant the major perceived his manoeuvre he pulled himself
up to his full height, as he might have done on parade, and slipping his
hand beneath the tails of his frock-coat, produced a small glittering
implement, which he levelled straight at the young merchant's head.
"A revolver!" Ezra gasped, staggering back.
"No, a derringer," said the veteran blandly. "I got into the thrick of
carrying one when I was in Colorado, and I have stuck to it ever since.
You niver know when it may be useful." As he spoke he continued to hold
the black muzzle of his pistol in a dead line with the centre of the
young man's forehead, and to follow the latter's movements with a hand
which was as steady as a rock. Ezra was no coward, but he ceased his
advance and stood irresolute.
"Now, thin," cried the major, in sharp military accents, "undo that
The young merchant took one look at the threatening apoplectic face of
his antagonist, and another at the ugly black spot which covered him.
He stooped, and pushed back the bolt.
"Now, open it! Ged, if you don't look alive I'll have to blow a hole in
you afther all. You wouldn't be the first man I've killed, nor the last
Ezra opened the door precipitately.
"Now walk before me into the strate."
It struck the waiters at Nelson's well-known restaurant as a somewhat
curious thing that their two customers should walk out with such very
grave faces and in so unsociable a manner. "C'est la froideur
Anglaise!" remarked little Alphonse Lefanue to a fellow exile as they
paused in the laying of tables to observe the phenomenon. Neither of
them noticed that the stout gentleman behind with his hand placed
jauntily in the breast of his coat, was still clutching the brown handle
of a pistol.
There was a hansom standing at the door and Major Clutterbuck stepped
"Look ye here, Girdlestone," he said, as the latter stood looking
sulkily up and down the street. "You should learn a lesson from this.
Never attack a man unless you're sure that he's unarmed. You may git
shot, if you do."
Ezra continued to stare gloomily into vacancy and took no notice of his
late companion's remark.
"Another thing," said the major. "You must niver take it for granted
that every man you mate is as great a blackgaird as yourself."
The young merchant gave him a malignant glance from his dark eyes and
was turning to go, but the gentleman in the cab stretched out his hand
to detain him.
"One more lesson," he said. "Never funk a pistol unless you are sure
there's a carthridge inside. Mine hadn't. Drive on, cabby!"
With which parting shot the gallant major rattled away down Piccadilly
with a fixed determination never again to leave his rooms without a few
of Eley's No 4 central fires in his pocket.
AN ADDITION TO THE HOUSE.
There were rejoicings in Phillimore Gardens over Tom's engagement, for
the two old people were both heartily fond of Kate--"our Kate," as they
were wont proudly to call her. The physician chafed at first over the
idea of keeping the matter a secret from Girdlestone. A little
reflection served to show him, however, that there was nothing to be
gained by informing him, while Kate's life, during the time that she was
forced to remain under his roof, would be more tolerable as long as he
was kept in ignorance of it. In the meanwhile the lovers saw little of
each other, and Tom was only consoled by the thought that every day
which passed brought him nearer to the time when he could claim his
prize without concealment or fear. He went about as happy and as
light-hearted a man as any in all London. His mother was delighted at
his high spirits, but his bluff old father was not so well satisfied.
"Confound the lad!" he said to himself. "He is settling down to a life
of idleness. It suits him too well. We must get him to choose one way
or the other."
Accordingly, after breakfast one morning, the doctor asked his son to
step with him into the library, where he lit his long cherry-wood pipe,
as was his custom after every meal, and smoked for some time in silence.
"You must do something to keep you from mischief, my boy," he said at
"I'm ready for anything, dad," replied Tom, "but I don't quite see what
I'm fitted for."
"First of all, what do you think of this?" the doctor asked abruptly,
handing a letter over to his son, who opened it and read as follows:--
"It has come to my knowledge through my son that your boy has
abandoned the study of medicine, and that you are still
uncertain as to his future career. I have long had the
intention of seeking a young man who might join in our
business, and relieve my old shoulders of some of the
burden. Ezra urges me to write and propose that your
son should become one of us. If he has any taste for
business we shall be happy to advance his interest in
every way. He would, of course, have to purchase a share
in the concern, which would amount to seven thousand pounds,
on which he would be paid interest at the rate of five
per cent. By allowing this interest to accumulate, and
investing also his share of the profits, he might in time
absorb a large portion of the business. In case he joined
us upon this footing we should have no objection to his
name appearing as one of the firm. Should the idea commend
itself to you, I should be most happy to talk over details,
and to explain to you the advantages which the firm can offer,
at my office in Fenchurch Street, any day between ten and four."
"With kind regards to your family, and hoping that they enjoy
the great blessing of health, I remain sincerely yours,"
"What d'ye think of that?" the doctor asked, when his son had finished
"I hardly know," said Tom; "I should like a little time to think it
"Seven thousand pounds is a good round sum. It is more than half the
total capital which I have invested for you. On the other hand, I have
heard those who ought to know say there is not a sounder or better
managed concern in London. There's no time like the present, Tom.
Get your hat, and we'll go down to Fenchurch Street together and look
While father and son were rattling along in a cab from Kensington to the
City, the young man had time to turn the matter over in his mind.
He wanted to be at work, and why not take this up as well as anything
else. It is true that he disliked what he had seen of both the
Girdlestones, but, on the other hand, by becoming a member of the firm
he would probably be thrown in the way of meeting the old merchant's
ward. This last consideration decided the matter, and long before the
cab had pulled up at the long and dirty passage which led to the offices
of the great African firm, the party principally interested had fully
made up his mind as to the course he should adopt.
They were duly ushered into the small sanctum adorned with the dissected
ships, the maps, the charts, the lists of sailing, and the water-colour
picture of the barque _Belinda_, where they were received by the head of
the firm. With a charming personal modesty, tempered by a becoming
pride in the great business which he had himself created, he discoursed
upon its transactions and its importance. He took down ledgers and
flashed great rows of figures before the eyes of the good doctor,
explaining, at the same time, how month after month their receipts
increased and their capital grew. Then he spoke touchingly of his own
ripe years, and of the quiet and seclusion which he looked forward to
after his busy lifetime.
"With my young friend here," he said, patting Tom affectionately on the
shoulder, "and my own boy Ezra, both working together, there will be
young blood and life in the concern. They'll bring the energy, and when
they want advice they can come to the old man for it. I intend in a
year or so, when the new arrangement works smoothly, to have a run over
to Palestine. It may seem a weakness to you, but all my life I have
hoped some day to stand upon that holy ground, and to look down on those
scenes which we have all imagined to ourselves. Your son will start
with a good position and a fair income, which he will probably double
before he is five years older. The money invested by him is simply to
ensure that he shall have a substantial interest in promoting the
affairs of the firm." Thus the old man ran on, and when Tom and his
father left the office with the sound of great sums of money, and huge
profits, and heavy balances, and safe investments, all jostling each
other in their brains, they had both made up their minds as to the
Hence in a couple of days there was a stir in the legal house of Jones,
Morgan, & Co., with much rustling of parchment, and signing of names,
and drinking of inferior sherry. The result of all which was that the
firm of Girdlestone & Co. were seven thousand pounds the richer, and
Thomas Dimsdale found himself a recognized member of a great commercial
house with all the rights and privileges appertaining thereto.
"A good day's work, Tom," said the old doctor, as they left the lawyer's
office together. "You have now taken an irrevocable step in life, my
boy. The world is before you. You belong to a first-class firm and you
have every chance. May you thrive and prosper."
"If I don't it won't be my fault," Tom answered with decision. "I shall
work with my whole heart and soul."
"A good day's work, Ezra," the African merchant was remarking at that
very moment in Fenchurch Street. "The firm is pinched again for working
expenses. This will help;" and he threw a little slip of green paper
across the table to his son.
"It will help us for a time," Ezra said, gloomily, glancing at the
figures. "It was fortunate that I was able to put you on his track.
It is only a drop in the ocean, however. Unless this diamond spec.
comes off, nothing can save us."
"But it shall come off," his father answered resolutely. He had
succeeded in obtaining an agent who appeared to be almost as well fitted
for the post as the recalcitrant major. This worthy had started off
already for Russia, where the scene of his operations was to lie.
"I hope so," said Ezra. "We have neglected no precaution. Langworthy
should be at Tobolsk by this time. I saw that he had a bag of rough
stones with him which would do well enough for his purpose."
"We have your money ready, too. I can rely upon rather over thirty
thousand pounds. Our credit was good for that, but I did not wish to
push it too far for fear of setting tongues wagging."
"I am thinking of starting shortly in the mail boat _Cyprian_," said
Ezra. "I should be at the diamond fields in little more than a month.
I dare say Langworthy won't show any signs for some time yet, but I may
as well be there as here. It will give me a little while to find my
way about. You see, if the tidings and I were to come almost
simultaneously, it might arouse suspicions. In the meantime, no one
knows our little game."
"Except your friend Clutterbuck."
A dark shadow passed over Ezra's handsome face, and his cruel lip
tightened in a way which boded little good to the old soldier should he
ever lie at his mercy.
THE FIRST STEP.
It was a proud day for the ex-medical student when he first entered the
counting-house of the African firm and realized that he was one of the
governing powers in that busy establishment. Tom Dimsdale's mind was an
intensely practical one, and although he had found the study of science
an irksome matter, he was able to throw himself into business with
uncommon energy and devotion. The clerks soon found that the sunburnt,
athletic-looking young man intended to be anything but a sleeping
partner, and both they and old Gilray respected him accordingly.
The latter had at first been inclined to resent the new arrangement as
far as his gentle down-trodden nature could resent anything. Hitherto
he had been the monarch of the counting-house in the absence of the
Girdlestones, but now a higher desk had been erected in a more central
portion of the room, and this was for the accommodation of the new
comer. Gilray, after his thirty years of service, felt this usurpation
of his rights very keenly; but there was such a simple kindness about
the invader, and he was so grateful for any assistance in his new
duties, that the old clerk's resentment soon melted away.
A little incident occurred which strengthened this kindly feeling.
It chanced that some few days after Tom's first appearance in the office
several of the clerks, who had not yet quite gauged what manner of man
this young gentleman might be, took advantage of the absence of the
Girdlestones to take a rise out of the manager. One of them, a great
rawboned Scotchman, named McCalister, after one or two minor exhibitions
of wit concluded by dropping a heavy ruler over the partition of the old
man's desk in such a way that it crashed down upon his head as he sat
stooping over his writing. Tom, who had been watching the proceedings
with a baleful eye, sprang off his stool and made across the office at
the offender. McCalister seemed inclined for a moment to brazen it out,
but there was a dangerous sling about Tom's shoulders and a flush of
honest indignation upon his face. "I didn't mean to hurt him," said the
Scotchman. "Don't hit him, sir!" cried the little manager. "Beg his
pardon," said Tom between his teeth. McCalister stammered out some lame
apology, and the matter was ended. It revealed the new partner,
however, in an entirely novel light to the inmates of the
counting-house. That under such circumstances a complaint should be
carried to the senior was only natural, but that the junior should
actually take the matter into his own hands and execute lynch law then
and there was altogether a new phenomenon. From that day Tom acquired a
great ascendancy in the office, and Gilray became his devoted slave.
This friendship with the old clerk proved to be very useful, for by
means of his shrewd hints and patient teaching the new comer gained a
grasp of the business which he could not have attained by any other
Girdlestone called him into the office one day and congratulated him
upon the progress which he was making. "My dear young man," he said to
him in his patriarchal way, "I am delighted to hear of the way in which
you identify yourself with the interests of the firm. If at first you
find work allotted to you which may appear to you to be rather menial,
you must understand that that is simply due to our desire that you
should master the whole business from its very foundations."
"There is nothing I desire better," said Tom.
"In addition to the routine of office work, and the superintendence of
the clerks, I should wish you to have a thorough grasp of all the
details of the shipping, and of the loading and unloading of our
vessels, as well as of the storage of goods when landed. When any of
our ships are in, I should wish you to go down to the docks and to
overlook everything which is done."
Tom bowed and congratulated himself inwardly upon these new duties,
which promised to be interesting.
"As you grow older," said the senior partner, "you will find it of
inestimable value that you have had practical experience of what your
subordinates have to do. My whole life has taught me that. When you
are in doubt upon any subject you can ask Ezra for assistance and
advice. He is a young man whom you might well take as an example, for
he has great business capacity. When he has gone to Africa you can come
to me if there is anything which you do not understand."
John Girdlestone appeared to be so kindly and benevolent during this and
other interviews, that Tom's heart warmed towards him, and he came to
the conclusion that his father had judged the old merchant harshly.
More than once, so impressed was he by his kindness, that he was on the
point of disclosing to him his engagement to his ward, but on each
occasion there arose within him a lively recollection of Kate's
frightened face when he had suggested such a course, and he felt that
without her consent he had no right to divulge the secret.
If the elder Girdlestone improved upon acquaintance it was exactly the
reverse with his son Ezra. The dislike with which Tom had originally
regarded him deepened as he came in closer contact, and appeared to be
reciprocated by the other, so that they held but little intercourse
together. Ezra had taken into his own charge all the financial part of
the concern, and guarded it the more jealously when he realized that the
new partner was so much less simple than he had expected. Thus Tom had
no opportunity of ascertaining for himself how the affairs of the firm
stood, but believed implicitly, as did Gilray, that every outlay was
bringing in a large and remunerative return. Very much astonished would
both of them have been had they realized that the working expenses were
at present being paid entirely from their own capital until such time as
the plot should ripen which was to restore the fortunes of the African
In one respect Tom Dimsdale was immeasurably the gainer by his
connection with the firm, for without that it is difficult to say how he
could have found opportunities for breaking through the barrier which
separated him from Kate. The surveillance of the merchant had become
stricter of late, and all invitations from Mrs. Dimsdale or other
friends who pitied the loneliness of the girl were repulsed by
Girdlestone with the curt intimation that his ward's health was not such
as to justify him in allowing her to incur any risk of catching a chill.
She was practically a prisoner in the great stone cage in Eccleston
Square, and even on her walks a warder in the shape of a footman was, as
we have seen, told off to guard her. Whatever John Girdlestone's
reasons may have been, he had evidently come to the conclusion that it
was of the highest importance that she should be kept secluded.
As it was, Tom, thanks to his position as one of the firm, was able
occasionally, in spite of every precaution to penetrate through the old
man's defensive works. If a question of importance arose at Fenchurch
Street during the absence of the senior partner, what more natural than
that Mr. Dimsdale should volunteer to walk round to Eccleston Square in
order to acquaint him with the fact. And if it happened that the
gentleman was not to be found there, how very natural that the young man
should wait half an hour for him, and that Miss Harston should take the
opportunity of a chat with an old friend? Precious, precious interviews
those, the more so for their rarity. They brightened the dull routine
of Kate's weary life and sent Tom back to the office full of spirit and
hope. The days were at hand when the memory of them was to shine out
like little rifts of light in the dark cloud of existence.
And now the time was coming when it was to be decided whether, by a last
bold stroke, the credit of the House of Girdlestone was to be saved, or
whether the attempt was to plunge them into deeper and more hopeless
ruin. An unscrupulous agent named Langworthy had, as already indicated,
been despatched to Russia well primed with instructions as to what to do
and how to do it. He had been in the employ of an English corn merchant
at Odessa, and had some knowledge of the Russian language which would be
invaluable to him in his undertaking. In the character of an English
gentleman of scientific tastes he was to establish himself in some
convenient village among the Ural Mountains. There he was to remain
some little time, so as to arouse confidence in the people before making
his pretended discovery. He was then to carry his rough diamonds to
Tobolsk, as the nearest large town, and to exhibit them there, backing
up his assertion by the evidence of villagers who had seen him dig them
up. The Girdlestones knew that that alone would be sufficient when
telegraphed to England to produce a panic in the sensitive diamond
market. Before any systematic inquiry could be made, Langworthy would
have disappeared, and their little speculation would have come off.
After that the sooner the people realized that it was a hoax the better
for the conspirators. In any case, there seemed to be no possibility
that the origin of the rumour could be traced. Meanwhile, Ezra
Girdlestone had secured his passage in the Cape mail steamer _Cyprian_.
On the night that he left he sat up late in the library at Eccleston
Square talking over the matter for the last time with his father.
The old man was pale and nervous. The one weak point in his character
was his affection for his son, an affection which he strove to hide
under an austere manner, but which was none the less genuine. He had
never before parted with him for any length of time, and he felt the
wrench keenly. As to Ezra, he was flushed and excited at the thought of
the new scenes which lay before him and the daring speculation in which
he was about to embark. He flung himself into a chair and stretched his
thick, muscular limbs out in front of him.
"I know as much about stones," he said exultantly, "as any man in
London. I was pricing a bag of rough ones at Van Helmer's to-day, and
he is reckoned a good judge. He said that no expert could have done it
better. Lord bless you! pure or splints, or cracked, or off colour, or
spotted, or twin stones, I'm up to them all. I wasn't a pound out in
the market value of any one of them."
"You deserve great credit for your quickness and perseverance," replied
his father. "Your knowledge will be invaluable to you when you are at
the fields. Be careful of yourself when you are there, my son, if only
for my sake. There are rough fellows at such places, and you must give
them soft words. I know that your temper is quick, but remember those
wise words, 'He that ruleth his spirit is better than he that taketh a
"Never fear for me, dad," said Ezra, with a sinister smile, pointing to
a small leather case which lay among his things. "That's the best
six-shooter I could get for money. I've taken a tip, you see, from our
good friend, the major, and have six answers for any one that wants to
argue with me. If I had had that the other day he wouldn't have bounced
me so easily."
"Nay, but Ezra, Ezra," his father said, in great agitation, "you will
promise to be careful and to avoid quarrels and bloodshed. It is
against the great law, the new commandment."
"I won't get into any rows if I can help it," his son answered.
"That's not my game."
"But if you think that there is no mistake, if your opponent is
undoubtedly about to proceed to extremities, shoot him down at once, my
dear lad, before he has time to draw. I have heard those who have been
out there say that in such cases everything depends upon getting the
first shot. I am anxious about you, and shall not be easy until I see
"Blessed if he hasn't tears in his eyes!" Ezra exclaimed to himself,
much astonished at this unprecedented occurrence.
"When do you go?" his father asked.
"My train leaves in an hour or so. I reach the steamer at Southampton
about three in the morning, and she starts with the full tide at six."
"Look after your health," the old man continued. "Don't get your feet
wet, and wear flannel next your skin. Don't forget your religious
duties either. It has a good effect upon those among whom you do
Ezra sprang from his chair with an exclamation of disgust and began to
pace up and down. "I wish to Heaven you would drop that sort of gammon
when we are alone," he said irritably.
"My dear boy," said the father, with a mild look of surprise upon his
face, "you seem to be under a misapprehension in this matter.
You appear to consider that we are embarking upon some unjustifiable
undertaking. This is not so. What we are doing is simply a small
commercial ruse--a finesse. It is a recognized maxim of trade to
endeavour to depreciate the price of whatever you want to buy, and to
raise it again when the time comes for selling."
"It's steering very close to the law," his son retorted.
"No speculating, now, while I am away; whatever comes in must go towards
getting us out of this scrape, not to plunging us deeper in the mire."
"I shall not expend an unnecessary penny."
"Well, then, good-bye." said the young man, rising up and holding out
his hand. "Keep your eye on Dimsdale and don't trust him."
"Good-bye, my son, good-bye--God bless you!"
The old merchant was honestly moved, and his voice quivered as he spoke.
He stood motionless for a minute or so until the heavy door slammed, and
then he threw open the window and gazed sorrowfully down the street at
the disappearing cab. His whole attitude expressed such dejection that
his ward, who had just entered the room, felt more drawn towards him
than she had ever done before. Slipping up to him she placed her warm
tender hand upon his sympathetically.
"He will soon be back, dear Mr. Girdlestone," she said. "You must not
be uneasy about him."
As she stood beside him in her white dress, with a single red ribbon
round her neck and a band of the same colour round her waist, she was as
fair a specimen of English girl-hood as could have been found in all
London. The merchant's features softened as he looked down at her fresh
young face, and he put out his hand as though to caress her, but some
unpleasant thought must have crossed his mind, for he assumed suddenly a
darker look and turned away from her without a word. More than once
that night she recalled that strange spasmodic expression of something
akin to horror which had passed over her guardian's features as he gazed
THE LAND OF DIAMONDS.
The anxious father had not very long to wait before he heard tidings of
his son. Upon the first of June the great vessel weighed her anchor in
the Southampton Water, and steamed past the Needles into the Channel.
On the 5th she was reported from Madeira, and the merchant received
telegrams both from the agent of the firm and from his son. Then there
was a long interval of silence, for the telegraph did not extend to the
Cape at that time, but, at last on the 8th of August, a letter announced
Ezra's safe arrival. He wrote again from Wellington, which was the
railway terminus, and finally there came a long epistle from Kimberley,
the capital of the mining district, in which the young man described his
eight hundred miles drive up country and all the adventures which
overtook him on the way.
"This place, Kimberley," he said in his letter, "has grown into a
fair-sized town, though a few years ago it was just a camp. Now there
are churches, banks, and a club in it. There are a sprinkling of
well-dressed people in the streets, but the majority are grimy-looking
chaps from the diggings, with slouched hats and coloured shirts, rough
fellows to look at, though quiet enough as a rule. Of course, there are
blacks everywhere, of all shades, from pure jet up to the lightest
yellow. Some of these niggers have money, and are quite independent.
You would be surprised at their impertinence. I kicked one of them in
the hotel yesterday, and he asked me what the devil I was doing, so I
knocked the insolent scoundrel down. He says that he will sue me, but I
cannot believe that the law is so servile as to bolster up a black man
against a white one.
"Though Kimberley is the capital of the dry diggings, it is not there
that all the actual mining is done. It goes on briskly in a lot of
little camps, which are dotted along the Vaal River for fifty or sixty
miles. The stones are generally bought by licensed agents immediately
after they have been found, and are paid for by cheques on banks in
Kimberley. I have, therefore, transferred our money to the Standard
Bank here, and have taken my licence. I start to-morrow for Hebron,
Klipdrift, and other of the mining centres to see for myself how
business is done and to make friends with the miners, so as to get
myself known. As soon as the news comes I shall buy in all that offers.
Keep your eyes on that fellow Dimsdale, and let him know nothing of what
is going on."
He wrote again about a fortnight afterwards, and his letter, as it
crossed the Atlantic, passed the outward mail, which bore the news of
the wonderful diamond find made by an English geologist among the Ural
"I am now on a tour among the camps," he said. "I have worked right
through from Hebron to Klipdrift, Pniel, Cawood's Hope, Waldeck's Plant,
Neukirk's Hope, Winterrush, and Bluejacket. To-morrow I push on to
Delparte's Hope and Larkin's Flat. I am well received wherever I go,
except by the dealers, who are mostly German Jews. They hear that I am
a London capitalist, and fear that I may send up the prices.
They little know! I bought stones all the way along, but not very
valuable ones, for we must husband our resources.
"The process of mining is very simple. The men dig pits in loose gravel
lying along the banks of the river, and it is in these pits that the
diamonds are found. The black men, or 'boys,' as they call them, do all
the work, and the 'baas,' or master, superintends. Everything that
turns up belongs to the 'baas,' but the boys have a fixed rate of wages,
which never varies, whether the work is paying or not. I was standing
at Hebron watching one of the gangs working when the white chap gave a
shout, and dived his hand into a heap of stuff he had just turned over,
pulling out a dirty looking little lump about the size of a marble.
At his shout all the other fellows from every claim within hearing
gathered round, until there was quite a crowd.
"'It's a fine stone,' said the man that turned it up.
"'Fifty carats if it's one,' cried another, weighing it in the palm of
"I had my scales with me, so I offered to weigh it. It was sixty-four
and a half carats. Then they washed it and examined it. There was a
lot of whispering among them and then the one who had found it came
"'You deal, don't you, Mr. Girdlestone?' he said.
"'Now and then,' I answered, 'but I'm not very keen about it. I came
out here more for pleasure than business.
"'Well,' he said, 'you may go far before you see a finer stone than
this. What will you bid for it?'
"I looked at it. 'It's off-coloured,' I said.
"'It's white,' said he and one or two of his chums.
"'Gentlemen,' I said, 'it is not white. There are two shades of yellow
in it. It is worth little or nothing.'
"'Why, if it is yellow it makes it all the more valuable,' said a big
fellow with a black beard and corduroy trousers. 'A yellow stone's as
good as a white.'
"'Yes,' I answered, 'a pure yellow stone is. But this is neither one
nor the other. It's off-colour, and you know that as well as I.'
"'Won't you bid for it, then?' said one of them.
"'I'll bid seventy pounds,' I said, 'but not a penny more.'
"You should have heard the howl they all set up. 'It's worth five
hundred,' the fellow cried.
"'All right,' I said, 'keep it and sell it for that; good day,' and I
went off. The stone was sent after me that evening with a request for
my cheque, and I sold it for a hundred two days afterwards. You see
old Van Harmer's training has come in very handy. I just tell you this
little anecdote to let you see that though I'm new in the work I'm not
to be done. Nothing in the papers here from Russia. I am ready, come
when it may. What would you do if there should be any hitch and the
affair did not come off? Would you cut and run, or would you stand by
your colours and pay a shilling or so in the pound? The more I think of
it the more I curse your insanity in getting us into such a mess.
"He is right. It was insanity," said the old merchant leaning his head
upon his hands. "It seems unkind of the lad to say so when he is so far
away, but he was always plain and blunt. 'If the affair did not come
off'--he must have some doubts about the matter, else he would not even
suppose such a thing. God knows what I should do then. There are other
ways--other ways." He passed his hand over his eyes as he spoke, as
though to shut out some ugly vision. Such a wan, strange expression
played over his grim features that he was hardly to be recognized as
the revered elder of the Trinitarian Chapel or the esteemed man of
business of Fenchurch Street.
He was lost in thought for some little time, and then, rising, he
touched the bell upon the table. Gilray trotted in upon the signal so
rapidly and noiselessly, that he might have been one of those convenient
genii in the Eastern fables, only that the little clerk's appearance,
from the tips of his ink-stained fingers to the toes of his seedy boots,
was so hopelessly prosaic that it was impossible to picture him as
anything but what he was.
"Ah, Gilray!" the merchant began, "is Mr. Dimsdale in the office?"
"That's all right. He seems to be very regular in his attendance."
"And seems to take to the business very well."
"Uncommonly quick, sir, to be sure," said the head clerk. "What with
work among the ships, and work in the office, he's at it late and
"That is very right," said the old man, playing with the letter weights.
"Application in youth, Gilray, leads to leisure in old age. Is the
_Maid of Athens_ unloading?"
"Mr. Dimsdale has been down to her this morning, sir. They're getting
the things out fast. He wants to call attention to the state of the
vessel, Mr. Girdlestone. He says that it's making water even in dock,
and that some of the hands say that they won't go back in her."
"Tut! tut!" John Girdlestone said peevishly. "What are the Government
inspectors for? There is no use paying them if we are to inspect
ourselves. If they insist upon any alterations they shall be made."
"They were there, sir, at the same time as Mr. Dimsdale," said Gilray,
"Well, what then?" asked his employer.
"He says, sir, that the inspectors went down to the cabin and had some
champagne with Captain Spender. They then professed themselves to be
very well satisfied with the state of the vessel and came away."
"There you are!" the senior partner cried triumphantly. "Of course
these men can see at a glance how things stand, and if things had really
been wrong they would have called attention to it. Let us have no more
of these false alarms. You must say a few words on the point to Mr.
Dimsdale, as coming from yourself, not from me. Tell him to be more
careful before he jumps to conclusions."
"I will, sir."
"And bring me ledger No. 33."
Gilray stretched up his arm and took down a fat little ledger from a
high shelf, which he laid respectfully before his employer.
Then, seeing that he was no longer wanted, he withdrew.
Ledger No. 33 was secured by a clasp and lock--the latter a patent one
which defied all tamperers. John Girdlestone took a small key from his
pocket and opened it with a quick snap. A precious volume this, for it
was the merchant's private book, which alone contained a true record of
the financial state of the firm, all others being made merely for show.
Without it he would have been unable to keep his son in the dark for so
many months until bitter necessity at last compelled him to show his
He turned the pages over slowly and sadly. Here was a record of the
sums sunk in the Lake Tanganyika Gold Company, which was to have paid 33
per cent., and which fell to pieces in the second month of its
existence. Here was the money advanced to Durer, Hallett, & Co., on the
strength of securities which proved to be the flimsiest of insecurities
when tested. Further on was the account of the dealings of the firm
with the Levant Petroleum Company, the treasurer of which had levanted
with the greater part of the capital. Here, too, was a memorandum of
the sums sunk upon the _Evening Star_ and the _Providence_, whose
unfortunate collision had well-nigh proved the death blow of the firm.
It was melancholy reading, and perhaps the last page was the most
melancholy of all. On it the old man had drawn up in a condensed form
an exact account of the present condition of the firm's finances.
Here it is exactly word for word as he had written it down himself.
GIRDLESTONE & CO.
Pounds Sterling Pounds Sterling
Debts incurred previous to | Ezra, in Africa, holds
disclosure to Ezra 34000 | this money with which
15000 pounds raised at six | to speculate. 35000
months, and 20000 pounds | Balance in bank,
at nine months 35000 | including what remains
Interest on said money at | of Dimsdale's premium. 8400
5 per cent. 1125 | Profit on the cargo of
Working expenses of the | _Maid of Athens_, now
firm during the next six | in port. 2000
months, including cost of | Profit on the cargoes
ships, at 150 pounds per | of _Black Eagle_,_Swan_
week 3900 | and _Panther_, calculated
Private expenses at | at the same rate. 6000
Ecclestone Square, say 1000 | Deficit 26425
Expenses of Langworthy |
in Russia, and of my dear |
son in Africa, say 600 |
Insurances 1200 |
Total 76825 | Total 76825
All this money must be found within |The possibility of the sinking
nine months at the outside. |of a ship must not be
|overlooked--that would bring in
|from 12000 to 20000 pounds.
"Come, it's not so very bad after all," the merchant muttered, after he
had gone over these figures very slowly and carefully. He leaned back
in his chair and looked up at the ceiling with a much more cheerful
expression upon his face. "At the worst it is less than thirty
thousand pounds. Why, many firms would think little of it. The fact
is, that I have so long been accustomed to big balances on the right
side that it seems to be a very dreadful thing now that it lies the
other way. A dozen things may happen to set all right. I must not
forget, however," he continued, with a darker look, "that I have dipped
into my credit so freely that I could not borrow any more without
exciting suspicion and having the whole swarm down on us. After all,
our hopes lie in the diamonds. Ezra cannot fail. He must succeed.
Who can prevent him?"
"Major Tobias Clutterbuck," cried the sharp, creaky voice of Gilray as
if in answer to the question, and the little clerk, who had knocked once
or twice unnoticed, opened the door and ushered in the old Campaigner.
 It may be well to remark, that this and succeeding incidents
occurred in the old Crown Colony days, before the diamond legislation
was as strict as it has since become.
MAJOR TOBIAS CLUTTERBUCK COMES IN FOR A THOUSAND POUNDS.
John Girdlestone had frequently heard his son speak of the major in the
days when they had been intimate, and had always attributed some of the
young man's more obvious vices to the effects of this ungodly
companionship. He had also heard from Ezra a mangled version of the
interview and quarrel in the private room of Nelson's Restaurant.
Hence, as may be imagined, his feelings towards his visitor were far
from friendly, and he greeted him as he entered with the coldest of
possible bows. The major, however, was by no means abashed by this
chilling reception, but stumped forward with beaming face and his pudgy
hand outstretched, so that the other had no alternative but to shake it,
which he did very gingerly and reluctantly.
"And how are ye?" said the major, stepping back a pace or two, and
inspecting the merchant as though he were examining his points with the
intention of purchasing him. "Many's the time I've heard talk of ye.
It's a real treat to see ye. How are ye?" Pouncing upon the other's
unresponsive hand, he wrung it again with effusion.
"I am indebted to Providence for fairly good health, sir," John
Girdlestone answered coldly. "May I request you to take a seat?"
"That was what me friend Fagan was trying to do for twelve years, and
ruined himself over it in the ind. He put up at Murphytown in the
Conservative interest, and the divil a vote did he get, except one, and
that was a blind man who signed the wrong paper be mistake, Ha! ha!"
The major laughed boisterously at his own anecdote, and mopped his
forehead with his handkerchief.
The two men, as they stood opposite each other, were a strange contrast,
the one tall, grave, white, and emotionless, the other noisy and
pompous, with protuberant military chest and rubicund features.
They had one common characteristic, however. From under the shaggy
eyebrows of the merchant and the sparse light-coloured lashes of the
major there came the same keen, restless, shifting glance. Both were
crafty, and each was keenly on his guard against the other.
"I have heard of you from my son," the merchant said, motioning his
visitor to a chair. "You were, I believe, in the habit of meeting
together for the purpose of playing cards, billiards, and other such
games, which I by no means countenance myself, but to which my son is
unhappily somewhat addicted."
"You don't play yourself," said the major, in a sympathetic voice.
"Ged, sir, it's never too late to begin, and many a man has put in a
very comfortable old age On billiards and whist. Now, if ye feel
inclined to make a start, I'll give ye seventy-five points in a hundred
for a commincement."
"Thank you," said the merchant drily. "It is not one of my ambitions.
Was this challenge the business upon which you came?"
The old soldier laughed until his merriment startled the clerks in the
counting-house. "Be jabers!" he said, In a wheezy voice, "d'ye think I
came five miles to do that? No, sir, I wanted to talk to you about your
"Yes, your son. He's a smart lad--very smart indeed--about as quick as
they make 'em. He may be a trifle coarse at times, but that's the
spirit of the age, me dear sir. Me friend Tuffleton, of the Blues, says
that delicacy went out of fashion with hair powder and beauty patches.
he's a demned satirical fellow is Tuffleton. Don't know him, eh?"
"No, sir, I don't," Girdlestone said angrily; "nor have I any desire to
make his acquaintance. Let us proceed to business for my time is
The major looked at him with an amiable smile. "That quick temper runs
in the family," he said. "I've noticed It in your son Ezra. As I said
before, he's a smart lad; but me friend, he's shockingly rash and
extremely indiscrate. Ye musk speak to him about it."
"What do you mean sir?" asked the merchant, white with anger.
"Have you come to insult him in his absence?"
"Absence?" said the soldier, still smiling blandly over his stock.
"That's the very point I wanted to get at. He is away in Africa--at the
diamond fields. A wonderful interprise, conducted with remarkable
energy, but also with remarkable rashness, sir--yes, bedad, inexcusable
Old Girdlestone took up his heavy ebony ruler and played with it
nervously. He had an overpowering desire to hurl it at the head of his
"What would ye say, now," the veteran continued, crossing one leg over
the other and arguing the matter out in a confidential undertone--
"what would you say if a young man came to you, and, on the assumption
that you were a dishonest blackgaird, appealed to you to help him in a
very shady sort of a scheme? It would argue indiscretion on his part,
would it not?"
The merchant sat still, but grew whiter and whiter.
"And if on the top of that he gave you all the details of his schame,
without even waiting to see if you favoured it or not, he would be more
than indiscrate, wouldn't he? Your own good sinse, me dear sir, will
tell you that he would be culpably foolish--culpably so, bedad!"
"Well, sir?" said the old man, in a hoarse voice.
"Well," continued the major, "I have no doubt that your son told you of
the interesting little conversation that we had together. He was good
enough to promise that if I went to Russia and pretinded to discover a
fictitious mine, I should be liberally rewarded by the firm. I was
under the necessity of pointing out to him that certain principles on
which me family"--here the major inflated his chest--"on which me
family are accustomed to act would prevint me from taking advantage of
his offer. He then, I am sorry to say, lost his temper, and some words
passed between us, the result of which was that we parted so rapidly
that, be jabers! I had hardly time to make him realize how great an
indiscretion he had committed."
The merchant still sat perfectly still, tapping the table with his black
"Of course, afther hearing a skitch of the plan," continued the major,
"me curiosity was so aroused that I could not help following the details
with intherest. I saw the gintleman who departed for Russia--
Langworthy, I believe, was his name. Ged! I knew a chap of that name
in the Marines who used to drink raw brandy and cayenne pepper before
breakfast every morning. Did ye? Of course you couldn't. What was I
talking of at all at all?"
Girdlestone stared gloomily at his visitor. The latter took a pinch of
snuff from a tortoise-shell box, and flicked away a few wandering grains
which settled upon the front of his coat.
"Yes," he went on, I saw Langworthy off to Russia. Then I saw your son
start for Africa. He's an interprising lad, and sure to do well there.
_coelum non animam mutant_, as we used to say at Clongowes.
He'll always come to the front, wherever he is, as long as he avoids
little slips like this one we're spaking of. About the same time I
heard that Girdlestone & Co, had raised riddy money to the extint of
five and thirty thousand pounds. That's gone to Africa, too, I presume.
It's a lot o' money to invist in such a game, and it might be safe if
you were the only people that knew about it, but whin there are
"Why, me, of course," said the major. "I know about it, and more be
token I am not in the swim with you. Sure, I could go this very evening
to the diamond merchants about town and give them a tip about the coming
fall in prices that would rather astonish 'em."
"Look here, Major Clutterbuck," cried the merchant, in a voice which
quivered with suppressed passion, "you have come into possession of an
important commercial secret. Why beat about the bush any longer?
What is the object of your visit to-day? What is it that you want?"
"There now!" the major said, addressing himself and smiling more
amicably than ever. "That's business. Bedad, there's where you
commercial men have the pull. You go straight to the point and stick
there. Ah, when I look at ye, I can't help thinking of your son.
The same intelligent eye, the same cheery expression, the same
devil-may-care manner and dry humour--"
"Answer my question, will you?" the merchant interrupted savagely.
"And the same hasty timper," continued the major imperturbably.
"I've forgotten, me dear sir, what it was you asked me."
"What is it you want?"
"Ah, yes, of course. What is it I want?" the old soldier said
meditatively. "Some would say more, some less. Some would want half,
but that is overdoing it. How does a thousand pound stroike you?
Yes, I think we may put it at a thousand pounds."
"You want a thousand pounds?"
"Ged, I've been wanting it all me life. The difference is that I'm
going to git it now."
"And for what?"
"Sure, for silence--for neutrality. We're all in it now, and there's a
fair division of labour. You plan, your son works, I hold me tongue.
You make your tens of thousands, I make my modest little thousand.
We all git paid for our throuble."
"And suppose I refuse?"
"Ah! but you wouldn't--you couldn't," the major said suavely.
"Ged, sir, I haven't known ye long, but I have far too high an opinion
of ye to suppose ye could do anything so foolish. If you refuse, your
speculation is thrown away. There's no help for it. Bedad, it would be
painful for me to have to blow the gaff; but you know the old saying,
that 'charity begins at home.' You must sell your knowledge at the best
Girdlestone thought intently for a minute or two, with his great
eyebrows drawn down over his little restless eyes.
"You said to my son," he remarked at last, "that you were too honourable
to embark in our undertaking. Do you consider it honourable to make use
of knowledge gained in confidence for the purpose of extorting money?"
"Me dear sir," answered the major, holding up his hand deprecatingly,
"you put me in the painful position of having to explain meself in plain
words. If I saw a man about to do a murther, I should think nothing of
murthering him. If I saw a pickpocket at work, I'd pick his pocket, and
think it good fun to do it. Now, this little business of yours is--
well, we'll say unusual, and if what I do seems a little unusual too,
it's to be excused. Ye can't throw stones at every one, me boy, and
then be surprised when some one throws one at you. You bite the diamond
holders, d'ye see, and I take a little nibble at you. It's all fair
The merchant reflected again for some moments. "Suppose we agree to
purchasing your silence at this price," he said, "what guarantee have we
that you will not come and extort more money, or that you may not betray
our secret after all?"
"The honour of a soldier and a gintleman," answered the major, rising
and tapping his chest with two fingers of his right hand.
A slight sneer played over Girdlestone's pale face, but he made no
remark. "We are in your power," he said, and have no resource but to
submit to your terms. You said five hundred pounds?"
"A thousand," the major answered cheerfully.
"It's a great sum of money."
"Deuce of a lot!" said the veteran cordially.
"Well, you shall have it. I will communicate with you." Girdlestone
rose as if to terminate the interview.
The major made no remark, but he showed his white teeth again, and
tapped Mr. Girdlestone's cheque-book with the silver head of his
The two looked at each other for a moment and the merchant sat down
again and scribbled out a cheque, which he tossed to his companion. The
latter looked it over carefully, took a fat little pocket-book from the
depths of his breast pocket, and having placed the precious slip of
paper in it, laboriously pushed it back into its receptacle. Then he
very slowly and methodically picked up his jaunty curly-brimmed hat and
shining kid gloves, and with a cheery nod to his companion, who answered
it with a scowl, he swaggered off into the counting-house. There he
shook hands with Tom, whom he had known for some months, and having made
three successive offers--one to stand immediately an unlimited quantity
of champagne, a second to play him five hundred up for anything he would
name, and a third to lay a tenner for him at 7 to 4 on Amelia for the
Oaks--all of which offers were declined with thanks--he bowed himself
out, leaving a vague memory of smiles, shirt collars, and gaiters in the
minds of the awe-struck Clerks.
Whatever an impartial judge might think of the means whereby Major
Tobias Clutterbuck had successfully screwed a thousand pounds out of
the firm of Girdlestone, it is quite certain that that gentleman's
seasoned conscience did not reproach him in the least degree. On the
contrary, his whole being seemed saturated and impregnated with the
wildest hilarity and delight. Twice in less than a hundred yards, he
was compelled to stop and lean upon his cane owing to the breathlessness
which supervened upon his attempts to smother the delighted chuckles
which came surging up from the inmost recesses of his capacious frame.
At the second halt he wriggled his hand inside his tight-breasted coat,
and after as many contortions as though he were about to shed that
garment as a snake does its skin, he produced once more the little fat
pocket-book. From it he extracted the cheque and looked it over
lovingly. Then he hailed a passing hansom. "Drive to the Capital and
Counties Bank," he said. It had struck him that since the firm was in a
shaky state he had better draw the money as soon as possible.
In the bank a gloomy-looking cashier took the cheque and stared at it
somewhat longer than the occasion seemed to demand. It was but a few
minutes, yet it appeared a very long time to the major.
"How will you have it?" he asked at last, in a mournful voice. It tends
to make a man cynical when he spends his days in handling untold riches
while his wife and six children are struggling to make both ends meet at
"A hunthred in gold and the rest in notes," said the major, with a sigh
The cashier counted and handed over a thick packet of crisp rustling
paper and a little pile of shining sovereigns. The major stowed away
the first in the pocket-book and the latter in his trouser pockets.
Then he swaggered out with a great increase of pomposity and importance,
and ordered his cabman to drive to Kennedy Place.
Von Baumser was sitting in the major's campaigning chair, smoking his
china-bowled pipe and gazing dreamily at the long blue wreaths.
Times had been bad with the comrades of late, as the German's seedy
appearance sufficiently testified. His friends in Germany had ceased to
forward his small remittance, and Endermann's office, in which he had
been employed, had given him notice that for a time they could dispense
with his services. He had been spending the whole afternoon in perusing
the long list of "wanteds" in the _Daily Telegraph_, and his ink-stained
forefinger showed the perseverance with which he had been answering
every advertisement that could possibly apply to him. A pile of
addressed envelopes lay upon the table, and it was only the uncertainty
of his finances and the fact that the humble penny stamp mounts into
shillings when frequently employed, that prevented him from increasing
the number of his applications. He looked up and uttered a word of
guttural greeting as his companion came striding in.
"Get out of this," the major said abruptly. "Get away into the
"Potztausand! Vot is it then?" cried the astonished Teuton.
"Out with you! I want this room to meself."
Von Baumser shrugged his shoulders and lumbered off like a good-natured
plantigrade, closing the door behind him.
When his companion had disappeared the major proceeded to lay out all
his notes upon the table, overlapping each other, but still so arranged
that every separate one was visible. He then built in the centre ten
little golden columns in a circle, each consisting of ten sovereigns,
until the whole presented the appearance of a metallic Stonehenge upon a
plain of bank notes. This done, he cocked his head on one side, like a
fat and very ruddy turkey, and contemplated his little arrangement with
much pride and satisfaction.
Solitary delight soon becomes wearisome, however, so the veteran
summoned his companion. The Teuton was so dumbfounded by this display
of wealth, that he was bereft for a time of all faculty of speech, and
could only stare open-mouthed at the table. At last he extended a
fore-finger and thumb and rubbed a five pound note between them, as
though to convince himself of its reality, after which he began to
gyrate round the table in a sort of war dance, never taking his eyes
from the heap of influence in front of him. "Mein Gott!" he exclaimed,
"Gnadiger Vater! Ach Himmel! Was fur eine Schatze! Donnerwetter!" und
a thousand other cacophonous expressions of satisfaction and amazement.
When the old soldier had sufficiently enjoyed the lively emotion which
showed itself on every feature of the German's countenance, he picked up
the notes and locked them in his desk together with half the gold. The
other fifty pounds he returned into his pocket.
"Come on!" he said to his companion abruptly.
"Come vere? Vat is it?"
"Come on!" roared the major irascibly. "What d'ye want to stand asking
questions for? Put on your hat and come."
The major had retained the cab at the door, and the two jumped into it.
"Drive to Verdi's Restaurant," he said to the driver.
When they arrived at that aristocratic and expensive establishment, the
soldier ordered the best dinner for two that money could procure.
"Have it riddy in two hours sharp," he said to the manager. "None of
your half-and-half wines, mind! We want the rale thing, and, be ged! we
can tell the difference!"
Having left the manager much impressed, the two friends set out for a
ready-made clothing establishment. "I won't come in," the major said,
slipping ten sovereigns into Von Baumser's hand. "Just you go in and
till them ye want the best suit o' clothes they can give you. They've a
good seliction there, I know."
"Gott in Himmel!" cried the amazed German. "But, my dear vriend, you
cannot vait in the street. Come in mit me."
"No, I'll wait," the old soldier answered. "They might think I was
paying for the clothes if I came in."
"Well, but so you--"
"Eh, would ye?" roared the major, raising his cane, and Von Baumser
disappeared precipitately into the shop.
When he emerged once more at the end of twenty minutes, he was attired
in an elegant and close-fitting suit of heather tweed. The pair then
made successive visits to a shoe-maker, a hatter, and a draper, with the
result that Von Baumser developed patent leather boots, a jaunty brown
hat, and a pair of light yellow gloves. By the end of their walk there
seemed nothing left of the original Von Baumser except a tawny beard,
and an expression of hopeless and overpowering astonishment.
Having effected this transformation, the friends retraced their steps to
Verdi's and did full justice to the spread awaiting them, after which
the old soldier won the heart of the establishment by bestowing largess
upon every one who came in his way. As to the further adventures of
these two Bohemians, it would be as well perhaps to draw a veil over
them. Suffice it that, about two in the morning, the worthy Mrs.
Robins was awakened by a stentorian voice in the street below demanding
to know "Was ist das Deutsche Vaterland?"--a somewhat vexed question
which the owner of the said voice was propounding to the solitary
lamp-post of Kennedy Place. On descending the landlady discovered that
the author of this disturbance was a fashionably dressed gentleman, who,
upon closer inspection, proved to her great surprise to be none other
than the usually demure part proprietor of her fourth floor. As to the
major, he walked in quietly the next day about twelve o'clock, looking
as trim and neat as ever, but minus the balance of the fifty pounds, nor
did he think fit ever to make any allusion to this some what heavy
NEWS FROM THE URALS.
Major Tobias Clutterbuck had naturally reckoned that the longer he
withheld this trump card of his the greater would be its effect when
played. An obstacle appearing at the last moment produces more
consternation than when a scheme is still in its infancy. It proved,
however, that he had only just levied his blackmail in time, for within
a couple of days of his interview with the head of the firm news arrived
of the great discovery of diamonds among the Ural Mountains. The first
intimation was received through the Central News Agency in the form of
the following telegram:--
"Moscow, _August_ 22.--It is reported from Tobolsk that an important
discovery of diamond fields has been made amongst the spurs of the Ural
Mountains, at a point not very far from that city. They are said to
have been found by an English geologist, who has exhibited many
magnificent gems in proof of his assertion. These stones have been
examined at Tobolsk, and are pronounced to be equal, if not superior, in
quality to any found elsewhere. A company has been already formed for
the purpose of purchasing the land and working the mines."
Some days afterwards there came a Reuter's telegram giving fuller
details. "With regard to the diamond fields near Tobolsk," it said,
"there is every reason to believe that they are of great, and possibly
unsurpassed, wealth. There is no question now as to their authenticity,
since their discoverer proves to be an English gentleman of high
character, and his story is corroborated by villagers from this district
who have dug up stones for themselves. The Government contemplate
buying out the company and taking over the mines, which might be
profitably worked by the forced labour of political prisoners on a
system similar to that adopted in the salt mines of Siberia.
The discovery is universally regarded as one which has materially
increased the internal resources of the country, and there is some talk
of the presentation of a substantial testimonial to the energetic and
scientific traveller to whom it is due."
Within a week or ten days of the receipt of these telegrams in London
there came letters from the Russian correspondents of the various
journals giving fuller details upon a subject of so much general
interest. The _Times_ directed attention to the matter in a leader.
"It appears," remarked the great paper, "that a most important addition
has been made to the mineral wealth of the Russian Empire. The silver
mines of Siberia and the petroleum wells of the Caucasus are to be
outrivalled by the new diamond fields of the Ural Mountains. For untold
thousands of years these precious fragments of crystallized carbon have
been lying unheeded among the gloomy gorges waiting for the hand of man
to pick them out. It has fallen to the lot of one of our countrymen to
point out to the Russian nation the great wealth which lay untouched and
unsuspected in the heart of their realm. The story is a romantic one.
It appears that a Mr. Langworthy, a wealthy English gentleman of good
extraction, had, in the course of his travels in Russia, continued his
journey as far as the great mountain barrier which separates Europe from
Asia. Being fond of sport, he was wandering in search of game down one
of the Ural valleys, when his attention was attracted by the thick
gravel, which was piled up along the track of a dried-up water-course.
The appearance and situation of this gravel reminded him forcibly of the
South African diamond fields, and so strong was the impression that he
at once laid down his gun and proceeded to rake the gravel over and to
examine it. His search was rewarded by the discovery of several stones,
which he conveyed home with him, and which proved, after being cleaned,
to be gems of the first water. Elated at this success, he returned to
the spot next day with a spade, and succeeded in obtaining many other
specimens, and in convincing himself that the deposit stretched up and
down for a long distance on both sides of the torrent. Having satisfied
himself upon this point, our compatriot made his way to Tobolsk, where
he exhibited his prizes to several of the richest merchants, and
proceeded to form a company for the working of the new fields. He was
so successful in this that the shares are already far above par, and our
correspondent writes that there has been a rush of capitalists, all
eager to invest their money in so promising a venture. It is expected
that within a few months the necessary plant will have been erected and
the concern be in working order."
The _Daily Telegraph_ treated the matter from a jocose and historical
point of view.
"It has long been a puzzle to antiquaries and geologists," it remarked,
"as to where those jewels which Solomon brought from the East were
originally obtained. There has been much speculation, too, regarding
the source of those less apocryphal gems which sparkled in the regalia
of the Indian monarchs and adorned the palaces of Delhi and Benares.
As a nation we have a personal interest in the question, since the
largest and most magnificent of these stones is now in the possession of
our most gracious Queen. Mr. Langworthy has thrown a light upon this
obscure subject. According to this gentleman's researches these
treasures were unearthed amidst that dark and gloomy range of mountains
which Providence has interposed between a nascent civilization and a
continent of barbarians. Nor is Mr. Langworthy's opinion founded upon
theory alone. He lends point to his arguments by presenting to the
greedy eyes of the merchants of Tobolsk a bag filled with valuable
diamonds, each and every one of which he professes to have discovered in
these barren inhospitable valleys. This tweed-suited English tourist,
descending like some good spirit among these dreamy Muscovites, points
out to them the untold wealth which has lain for so many centuries at
their feet, and with the characteristic energy of his race shows them at
the same time how to turn the discovery to commercial advantage. If the
deposit prove to be as extensive as is supposed, it is possible that our
descendants may wear cut diamonds in their eye-glasses, should such
accessories be necessary, and marvel at the ignorance of those primitive
days when a metamorphosed piece of coal was regarded as the most
valuable product of nature."
The ordinary British paterfamilias, glancing over his morning paper,
bestowed probably but few passing thoughts on the incident, but among
business men and in the City its significance was at once understood.
Not only did it create the deepest consternation amongst all who were
connected with the diamond industry, but it reacted upon every other
branch of South African commerce. It was the chief subject of
conversation upon the Stock Exchange, and many were the surmises as to
what the effect of the news would be at the fields. Fugger, the father
of the diamond industry, was standing discussing the question, when a
little rosy-faced Jew, named Goldschmidt, came bustling up to him.
He was much excited, for he speculated in stones, and had just been
buying in for a rise.
"Misther Fugger," he cried, "you're shust the man I want to see.
My Gott, vot is to become of us all? Vot is to become of de diamond
trade ven one can pick them up like cockles on the sea shore?"
"We must wait for details," the great financier said phlegmatically.
His fortune was so enormous that it mattered little to him whether the
report was true or false.
"Details! It is nothing but details," cried the little Jew.
"The papers is full of them. I vish to the Lord that that Langworthy
had proke his neck in the Ural Mountains before he got up to any such
games. Vat business had he to go examining gravel and peeping about in
such places as them. Nobody that's any good would ever go to the Ural
Mountains at all."
"It won't hurt you," Fugger said; "you'll simply have to pay less for
your stones and sell them cheaper after they are cut. It won't make
much difference in the long run."
"Von't it, by Joves! Why, man, I've got over a hundred shtones on my
hands now. Vat am I going to do vid 'em."
"Ah, that's a bad job. You must make up your mind to lose on them."
"Von't you buy them yourself, Mr. Fugger?" asked the Hebrew, in an
insinuating voice. "Maybe this here story will all turn out wrong.
S'elp me bob I gave three thousand for the lot, and you shall have them
for two. Let's have a deal, my tear Mr. Fugger, do?"
"No more for me, thank you," Fugger said with decision. "As to the
story being wrong, I have telegraphed to Rotterdam, and they have sent
on a trusty man. He'll be weeks, however, before we hear from him."
"Here's Mr. Girdlestone, the great Mr. Girdlestone," cried Goldschmidt,
perceiving our worthy merchant of Fenchurch Street among the crowd.
"Oh, Misther Girdlestone, I've got diamonds here what is worth three
thousand pounds, and you shall have them for two--you shall, by chingo,
and we'll go together now and get them?"
"Don't pester me!" said Girdlestone, brushing the little Jew aside with
his long, bony arm. "Can I have a word with you, Fugger?"
"Certainly," replied the diamond dealer. Girdlestone was a very
well-known man upon 'Change, and one who was universally respected and
looked up to.
"What do you think about this report?" he asked, in a confidential
voice. "Do you imagine that it will affect prices in Africa?"
"Affect prices! My dear sir, if it proves true it will ruin the African
fields. The mere report coming in a circumstantial fashion will send
prices down fifty per cent."
"As much as that!" said the merchant, with an excellent affectation of
surprise. "I am anxious about it, for my boy is out there. It was a
hobby of his, and I let him go. I trust he will not be bitten."
"He is much more likely to do the biting," remarked Fugger bluntly.
He had met Ezra Girdlestone in business more than once, and had been
disagreeably impressed by the young gentleman's sharpness.
"Poor lad!" said his father. "He is young, and has had little
experience as yet. I hope all is well with him!" He shook his head
despondently, and walked slowly homewards, but his heart beat
triumphantly within him, for he was assured now that the report would
influence prices as he had foreseen, and the African firm reap the
benefit of their daring speculation.
MR. HECTOR O'FLAHERTY FINDS SOMETHING IN THE PAPER.
Ezra Girdlestone had taken up his quarters in two private rooms at the
_Central Hotel_, Kimberley, and had already gained a considerable
reputation in the town by the engaging "abandon" of his manners, and by
the munificent style in which he entertained the more prominent citizens
of the little capital. His personal qualities of strength and beauty
had also won him the respect which physical gifts usually command in
primitive communities, and the smart young Londoner attracted custom to
himself among the diggers in a way which excited the jealousy of the
whole tribe of elderly Hebrews who had hitherto enjoyed a monopoly of
the trade. Thus, he had already gained his object in making himself
known, and his name was a familiar one in every camp from Waldeck's
Plant to Cawood's Hope. Keeping his headquarters at Kimberley, he
travelled perpetually along the line of the diggings. All the time he
was chafing secretly and marvelling within himself how it was that no
whisper of the expected news had arrived yet from England.
One sunny day he had returned from a long ride, and, having dined,
strolled out into the streets, Panama hat upon head and cigar in mouth.
It was the 23rd of October, and he had been nearly ten weeks in the
colony. Since his arrival he had taken to growing a beard. Otherwise,
he was much as we have seen him in London, save that a ruddier glow of
health shone upon his sunburned face. The life of the diggings appeared
to agree with him.
As he turned down Stockdale Street, a man passed him leading a pair of
horses tired and dusty, with many a strap and buckle hanging down behind
them. After him came another leading a second pair, and after him
another with a third. They were taking them round to the stables.
"Hullo!" cried Ezra, with sudden interest; "what's up?"
"The mail's just in."
"Mail from Capetown?"
Ezra quickened his pace and strode down Stockdale Street into the Main
Street, which, as the name implies, is the chief thoroughfare of
Kimberley. He came out close to the office of the _Vaal River
Advertiser and Diamond Field Gazette_. There was a crowd in front of
the door. This _Vaal River Advertiser_ was a badly conducted newspaper,
badly printed upon bad paper, but selling at sixpence a copy, and
charging from seven shillings and sixpence to a pound for the insertion
of an advertisement. It was edited at present by a certain P. Hector
O'Flaherty, who having been successively a dentist, a clerk, a
provision merchant, an engineer, and a sign painter, and having failed
at each and every one of these employments, had taken to running a
newspaper as an easy and profitable occupation. Indeed, as managed by
Mr. O'Flaherty, the process was simplicity itself. Having secured by
the Monday's mail copies of the London papers of two months before, he
spent Tuesday in cutting extracts from them with the greatest
impartiality, chopping away everything which might be of value to him.
The Wednesday was occupied in cursing at three black boys who helped to
put up the type, and on the Thursday a fresh number of the _Vaal River
Advertiser and Diamond Field Gazette_ was given to the world.
The remaining three days were devoted by Mr. O'Flaherty to intoxication,
but the Monday brought him back once more to soda water and literature.
It was seldom, indeed, that the _Advertiser_ aroused interest enough to
cause any one to assemble round the Office. Ezra's heart gave a quick
flutter at the sight, and he gathered himself together like a runner who
sees his goal in view. Throwing away his cigar, he hurried on ad joined
the little crowd.
"What's the row?" he asked.
"There's news come by the mail," said one or two bystanders.
"What sort of news?"
"Don't know yet."
"Who said there was news?"
"Where is he?"
"Who will know about it?"
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