An African Millionaire by Grant Allen
Episodes in the Life of the Illustrious Colonel Clay
First published in 1897
1. The Episode of the Mexican Seer
2. The Episode of the Diamond Links
3. The Episode of the Old Master
4. The Episode of the Tyrolean Castle
5. The Episode of the Drawn Game
6. The Episode of the German Professor
7. The Episode of the Arrest of the Colonel
8. The Episode of the Seldon Gold-Mine
9. The Episode of the Japanned Dispatch-Box
10. The Episode of the Game of Poker
11. The Episode of the Bertillon Method
12. The Episode of the Old Bailey
THE EPISODE OF THE MEXICAN SEER
My name is Seymour Wilbraham Wentworth. I am brother-in-law and
secretary to Sir Charles Vandrift, the South African millionaire
and famous financier. Many years ago, when Charlie Vandrift was a
small lawyer in Cape Town, I had the (qualified) good fortune to
marry his sister. Much later, when the Vandrift estate and farm
near Kimberley developed by degrees into the Cloetedorp Golcondas,
Limited, my brother-in-law offered me the not unremunerative post
of secretary; in which capacity I have ever since been his constant
and attached companion.
He is not a man whom any common sharper can take in, is Charles
Vandrift. Middle height, square build, firm mouth, keen eyes—the
very picture of a sharp and successful business genius. I have only
known one rogue impose upon Sir Charles, and that one rogue, as the
Commissary of Police at Nice remarked, would doubtless have imposed
upon a syndicate of Vidocq, Robert Houdin, and Cagliostro.
We had run across to the Riviera for a few weeks in the season.
Our object being strictly rest and recreation from the arduous
duties of financial combination, we did not think it necessary to
take our wives out with us. Indeed, Lady Vandrift is absolutely
wedded to the joys of London, and does not appreciate the rural
delights of the Mediterranean littoral. But Sir Charles and I,
though immersed in affairs when at home, both thoroughly enjoy the
complete change from the City to the charming vegetation and
pellucid air on the terrace at Monte Carlo. We are so fond
of scenery. That delicious view over the rocks of Monaco, with the
Maritime Alps in the rear, and the blue sea in front, not to
mention the imposing Casino in the foreground, appeals to me as one
of the most beautiful prospects in all Europe. Sir Charles has a
sentimental attachment for the place. He finds it restores and
freshens him, after the turmoil of London, to win a few hundreds at
roulette in the course of an afternoon among the palms and cactuses
and pure breezes of Monte Carlo. The country, say I, for a jaded
intellect! However, we never on any account actually stop in the
Principality itself. Sir Charles thinks Monte Carlo is not a sound
address for a financier's letters. He prefers a comfortable hotel
on the Promenade des Anglais at Nice, where he recovers health and
renovates his nervous system by taking daily excursions along the
coast to the Casino.
This particular season we were snugly ensconced at the Hôtel des
Anglais. We had capital quarters on the first floor—salon, study,
and bedrooms—and found on the spot a most agreeable cosmopolitan
society. All Nice, just then, was ringing with talk about a curious
impostor, known to his followers as the Great Mexican Seer, and
supposed to be gifted with second sight, as well as with endless
other supernatural powers. Now, it is a peculiarity of my able
brother-in-law's that, when he meets with a quack, he burns to
expose him; he is so keen a man of business himself that it gives
him, so to speak, a disinterested pleasure to unmask and detect
imposture in others. Many ladies at the hotel, some of whom had met
and conversed with the Mexican Seer, were constantly telling us
strange stories of his doings. He had disclosed to one the present
whereabouts of a runaway husband; he had pointed out to another the
numbers that would win at roulette next evening; he had shown a
third the image on a screen of the man she had for years adored
without his knowledge. Of course, Sir Charles didn't believe a word
of it; but his curiosity was roused; he wished to see and judge for
himself of the wonderful thought-reader.
"What would be his terms, do you think, for a private séance?"
he asked of Madame Picardet, the lady to whom the Seer had
successfully predicted the winning numbers.
"He does not work for money," Madame Picardet answered, "but for
the good of humanity. I'm sure he would gladly come and exhibit for
nothing his miraculous faculties."
"Nonsense!" Sir Charles answered. "The man must live. I'd pay
him five guineas, though, to see him alone. What hotel is he
"The Cosmopolitan, I think," the lady answered. "Oh no; I
remember now, the Westminster."
Sir Charles turned to me quietly. "Look here, Seymour," he
whispered. "Go round to this fellow's place immediately after
dinner, and offer him five pounds to give a private séance at once
in my rooms, without mentioning who I am to him; keep the name
quite quiet. Bring him back with you, too, and come straight
upstairs with him, so that there may be no collusion. We'll see
just how much the fellow can tell us."
I went as directed. I found the Seer a very remarkable and
interesting person. He stood about Sir Charles's own height, but
was slimmer and straighter, with an aquiline nose, strangely
piercing eyes, very large black pupils, and a finely-chiselled
close-shaven face, like the bust of Antinous in our hall in
Mayfair. What gave him his most characteristic touch, however, was
his odd head of hair, curly and wavy like Paderewski's, standing
out in a halo round his high white forehead and his delicate
profile. I could see at a glance why he succeeded so well in
impressing women; he had the look of a poet, a singer, a
"I have come round," I said, "to ask whether you will consent to
give a séance at once in a friend's rooms; and my principal wishes
me to add that he is prepared to pay five pounds as the price of
Señor Antonio Herrera—that was what he called himself—bowed to
me with impressive Spanish politeness. His dusky olive cheeks were
wrinkled with a smile of gentle contempt as he answered
"I do not sell my gifts; I bestow them freely. If your
friend—your anonymous friend—desires to behold the cosmic wonders
that are wrought through my hands, I am glad to show them to him.
Fortunately, as often happens when it is necessary to convince and
confound a sceptic (for that your friend is a sceptic I feel
instinctively), I chance to have no engagements at all this
evening." He ran his hand through his fine, long hair reflectively.
"Yes, I go," he continued, as if addressing some unknown presence
that hovered about the ceiling; "I go; come with me!" Then he put
on his broad sombrero, with its crimson ribbon, wrapped a cloak
round his shoulders, lighted a cigarette, and strode forth by my
side towards the Hôtel des Anglais.
He talked little by the way, and that little in curt sentences.
He seemed buried in deep thought; indeed, when we reached the door
and I turned in, he walked a step or two farther on, as if not
noticing to what place I had brought him. Then he drew himself up
short, and gazed around him for a moment. "Ha, the Anglais," he
said—and I may mention in passing that his English, in spite of a
slight southern accent, was idiomatic and excellent. "It is here,
then; it is here!" He was addressing once more the unseen
I smiled to think that these childish devices were intended to
deceive Sir Charles Vandrift. Not quite the sort of man (as the
City of London knows) to be taken in by hocus-pocus. And all this,
I saw, was the cheapest and most commonplace conjurer's patter.
We went upstairs to our rooms. Charles had gathered together a
few friends to watch the performance. The Seer entered, wrapt in
thought. He was in evening dress, but a red sash round his waist
gave a touch of picturesqueness and a dash of colour. He paused for
a moment in the middle of the salon, without letting his eyes rest
on anybody or anything. Then he walked straight up to Charles, and
held out his dark hand.
"Good-evening," he said. "You are the host. My soul's sight
tells me so."
"Good shot," Sir Charles answered. "These fellows have to be
quick-witted, you know, Mrs. Mackenzie, or they'd never get on at
The Seer gazed about him, and smiled blankly at a person or two
whose faces he seemed to recognise from a previous existence. Then
Charles began to ask him a few simple questions, not about himself,
but about me, just to test him. He answered most of them with
surprising correctness. "His name? His name begins with an S I
think:—You call him Seymour." He paused long between each clause,
as if the facts were revealed to him slowly.
"Seymour—Wilbraham—Earl of Strafford. No, not Earl of Strafford!
Seymour Wilbraham Wentworth. There seems to be some connection in
somebody's mind now present between Wentworth and Strafford. I am
not English. I do not know what it means. But they are somehow the
same name, Wentworth and Strafford."
He gazed around, apparently for confirmation. A lady came to his
"Wentworth was the surname of the great Earl of Strafford," she
murmured gently; "and I was wondering, as you spoke, whether Mr.
Wentworth might possibly be descended from him."
"He is," the Seer replied instantly, with a flash of those dark
eyes. And I thought this curious; for though my father always
maintained the reality of the relationship, there was one link
wanting to complete the pedigree. He could not make sure that the
Hon. Thomas Wilbraham Wentworth was the father of Jonathan
Wentworth, the Bristol horse-dealer, from whom we are
"Where was I born?" Sir Charles interrupted, coming suddenly to
his own case.
The Seer clapped his two hands to his forehead and held it
between them, as if to prevent it from bursting. "Africa," he said
slowly, as the facts narrowed down, so to speak. "South Africa;
Cape of Good Hope; Jansenville; De Witt Street. 1840."
"By Jove, he's correct," Sir Charles muttered. "He seems really
to do it. Still, he may have found me out. He may have known where
he was coming."
"I never gave a hint," I answered; "till he reached the door, he
didn't even know to what hotel I was piloting him."
The Seer stroked his chin softly. His eye appeared to me to have
a furtive gleam in it. "Would you like me to tell you the number of
a bank-note inclosed in an envelope?" he asked casually.
"Go out of the room," Sir Charles said, "while I pass it round
Señor Herrera disappeared. Sir Charles passed it round
cautiously, holding it all the time in his own hand, but letting
his guests see the number. Then he placed it in an envelope and
gummed it down firmly.
The Seer returned. His keen eyes swept the company with a
comprehensive glance. He shook his shaggy mane. Then he took the
envelope in his hands and gazed at it fixedly. "AF, 73549," he
answered, in a slow tone. "A Bank of England note for fifty
pounds—exchanged at the Casino for gold won yesterday at Monte
"I see how he did that," Sir Charles said triumphantly. "He must
have changed it there himself; and then I changed it back again. In
point of fact, I remember seeing a fellow with long hair loafing
about. Still, it's capital conjuring."
"He can see through matter," one of the ladies interposed. It
was Madame Picardet. "He can see through a box." She drew a little
gold vinaigrette, such as our grandmothers used, from her
dress-pocket. "What is in this?" she inquired, holding it up to
Señor Herrera gazed through it. "Three gold coins," he replied,
knitting his brows with the effort of seeing into the box: "one, an
American five dollars; one, a French ten-franc piece; one, twenty
marks, German, of the old Emperor William."
She opened the box and passed it round. Sir Charles smiled a
"Confederacy!" he muttered, half to himself. "Confederacy!"
The Seer turned to him with a sullen air. "You want a better
sign?" he said, in a very impressive voice. "A sign that will
convince you! Very well: you have a letter in your left waistcoat
pocket—a crumpled-up letter. Do you wish me to read it out? I
will, if you desire it."
It may seem to those who know Sir Charles incredible, but, I am
bound to admit, my brother-in-law coloured. What that letter
contained I cannot say; he only answered, very testily and
evasively, "No, thank you; I won't trouble you. The exhibition you
have already given us of your skill in this kind more than amply
suffices." And his fingers strayed nervously to his waistcoat
pocket, as if he was half afraid, even then, Señor Herrera would
I fancied, too, he glanced somewhat anxiously towards Madame
The Seer bowed courteously. "Your will, señor, is law," he said.
"I make it a principle, though I can see through all things,
invariably to respect the secrecies and sanctities. If it were not
so, I might dissolve society. For which of us is there who could
bear the whole truth being told about him?" He gazed around the
room. An unpleasant thrill supervened. Most of us felt this uncanny
Spanish American knew really too much. And some of us were engaged
in financial operations.
"For example," the Seer continued blandly, "I happened a few
weeks ago to travel down here from Paris by train with a very
intelligent man, a company promoter. He had in his bag some
documents—some confidential documents:" he glanced at Sir Charles.
"You know the kind of thing, my dear sir: reports from
experts—from mining engineers. You may have seen some such; marked
"They form an element in high finance," Sir Charles admitted
"Pre-cisely," the Seer murmured, his accent for a moment less
Spanish than before. "And, as they were marked strictly
private, I respect, of course, the seal of confidence. That's
all I wish to say. I hold it a duty, being intrusted with such
powers, not to use them in a manner which may annoy or incommode my
"Your feeling does you honour," Sir Charles answered, with some
acerbity. Then he whispered in my ear: "Confounded clever
scoundrel, Sey; rather wish we hadn't brought him here."
Señor Herrera seemed intuitively to divine this wish, for he
interposed, in a lighter and gayer tone—
"I will now show you a different and more interesting embodiment
of occult power, for which we shall need a somewhat subdued
arrangement of surrounding lights. Would you mind, señor host—for
I have purposely abstained from reading your name on the brain of
any one present—would you mind my turning down this lamp just a
little? ... So! That will do. Now, this one; and this one. Exactly!
that's right." He poured a few grains of powder out of a packet
into a saucer. "Next, a match, if you please. Thank you!" It burnt
with a strange green light. He drew from his pocket a card, and
produced a little ink-bottle. "Have you a pen?" he asked.
I instantly brought one. He handed it to Sir Charles. "Oblige
me," he said, "by writing your name there." And he indicated a
place in the centre of the card, which had an embossed edge, with a
small middle square of a different colour.
Sir Charles has a natural disinclination to signing his name
without knowing why. "What do you want with it?" he asked. (A
millionaire's signature has so many uses.)
"I want you to put the card in an envelope," the Seer replied,
"and then to burn it. After that, I shall show you your own name
written in letters of blood on my arm, in your own
Sir Charles took the pen. If the signature was to be burned as
soon as finished, he didn't mind giving it. He wrote his name in
his usual firm clear style—the writing of a man who knows his
worth and is not afraid of drawing a cheque for five thousand.
"Look at it long," the Seer said, from the other side of the
room. He had not watched him write it.
Sir Charles stared at it fixedly. The Seer was really beginning
to produce an impression.
"Now, put it in that envelope," the Seer exclaimed.
Sir Charles, like a lamb, placed it as directed.
The Seer strode forward. "Give me the envelope," he said. He
took it in his hand, walked over towards the fireplace, and
solemnly burnt it. "See—it crumbles into ashes," he cried. Then he
came back to the middle of the room, close to the green light,
rolled up his sleeve, and held his arm before Sir Charles. There,
in blood-red letters, my brother-in-law read the name, "Charles
Vandrift," in his own handwriting!
"I see how that's done," Sir Charles murmured, drawing back.
"It's a clever delusion; but still, I see through it. It's like
that ghost-book. Your ink was deep green; your light was green; you
made me look at it long; and then I saw the same thing written on
the skin of your arm in complementary colours."
"You think so?" the Seer replied, with a curious curl of the
"I'm sure of it," Sir Charles answered.
Quick as lightning the Seer again rolled up his sleeve. "That's
your name," he cried, in a very clear voice, "but not your whole
name. What do you say, then, to my right? Is this one also a
complementary colour?" He held his other arm out. There, in
sea-green letters, I read the name, "Charles O'Sullivan Vandrift."
It is my brother-in-law's full baptismal designation; but he has
dropped the O'Sullivan for many years past, and, to say the truth,
doesn't like it. He is a little bit ashamed of his mother's
Charles glanced at it hurriedly. "Quite right," he said, "quite
right!" But his voice was hollow. I could guess he didn't care to
continue the séance. He could see through the man, of course; but
it was clear the fellow knew too much about us to be entirely
"Turn up the lights," I said, and a servant turned them. "Shall
I say coffee and benedictine?" I whispered to Vandrift.
"By all means," he answered. "Anything to keep this fellow from
further impertinences! And, I say, don't you think you'd better
suggest at the same time that the men should smoke? Even these
ladies are not above a cigarette—some of them."
There was a sigh of relief. The lights burned brightly. The Seer
for the moment retired from business, so to speak. He accepted a
partaga with a very good grace, sipped his coffee in a corner, and
chatted to the lady who had suggested Strafford with marked
politeness. He was a polished gentleman.
Next morning, in the hall of the hotel, I saw Madame Picardet
again, in a neat tailor-made travelling dress, evidently bound for
"What, off, Madame Picardet?" I cried.
She smiled, and held out her prettily-gloved hand. "Yes, I'm
off," she answered archly. "Florence, or Rome, or somewhere. I've
drained Nice dry—like a sucked orange. Got all the fun I can out
of it. Now I'm away again to my beloved Italy."
But it struck me as odd that, if Italy was her game, she went by
the omnibus which takes down to the train de luxe for Paris.
However, a man of the world accepts what a lady tells him, no
matter how improbable; and I confess, for ten days or so, I thought
no more about her, or the Seer either.
At the end of that time our fortnightly pass-book came in from
the bank in London. It is part of my duty, as the millionaire's
secretary, to make up this book once a fortnight, and to compare
the cancelled cheques with Sir Charles's counterfoils. On this
particular occasion I happened to observe what I can only describe
as a very grave discrepancy,—in fact, a discrepancy of 5000
pounds. On the wrong side, too. Sir Charles was debited with 5000
pounds more than the total amount that was shown on the
I examined the book with care. The source of the error was
obvious. It lay in a cheque to Self or Bearer, for 5000 pounds,
signed by Sir Charles, and evidently paid across the counter in
London, as it bore on its face no stamp or indication of any other
I called in my brother-in-law from the salon to the study. "Look
here, Charles," I said, "there's a cheque in the book which you
haven't entered." And I handed it to him without comment, for I
thought it might have been drawn to settle some little loss on the
turf or at cards, or to make up some other affair he didn't desire
to mention to me. These things will happen.
He looked at it and stared hard. Then he pursed up his mouth and
gave a long low "Whew!" At last he turned it over and remarked, "I
say, Sey, my boy, we've just been done jolly well brown, haven't
I glanced at the cheque. "How do you mean?" I inquired.
"Why, the Seer," he replied, still staring at it ruefully. "I
don't mind the five thou., but to think the fellow should have
gammoned the pair of us like that—ignominious, I call it!"
"How do you know it's the Seer?" I asked.
"Look at the green ink," he answered. "Besides, I recollect the
very shape of the last flourish. I flourished a bit like that in
the excitement of the moment, which I don't always do with my
"He's done us," I answered, recognising it. "But how the dickens
did he manage to transfer it to the cheque? This looks like your
own handwriting, Charles, not a clever forgery."
"It is," he said. "I admit it—I can't deny it. Only fancy his
bamboozling me when I was most on my guard! I wasn't to be taken in
by any of his silly occult tricks and catch-words; but it never
occurred to me he was going to victimise me financially in this
way. I expected attempts at a loan or an extortion; but to collar
my signature to a blank cheque—atrocious!"
"How did he manage it?" I asked.
"I haven't the faintest conception. I only know those are the
words I wrote. I could swear to them anywhere."
"Then you can't protest the cheque?"
"Unfortunately, no; it's my own true signature."
We went that afternoon without delay to see the Chief Commissary
of Police at the office. He was a gentlemanly Frenchman, much less
formal and red-tapey than usual, and he spoke excellent English
with an American accent, having acted, in fact, as a detective in
New York for about ten years in his early manhood.
"I guess," he said slowly, after hearing our story, "you've been
victimised right here by Colonel Clay, gentlemen."
"Who is Colonel Clay?" Sir Charles asked.
"That's just what I want to know," the Commissary answered, in
his curious American-French-English. "He is a Colonel, because he
occasionally gives himself a commission; he is called Colonel Clay,
because he appears to possess an india-rubber face, and he can
mould it like clay in the hands of the potter. Real name, unknown.
Nationality, equally French and English. Address, usually Europe.
Profession, former maker of wax figures to the Museé Grévin. Age,
what he chooses. Employs his knowledge to mould his own nose and
cheeks, with wax additions, to the character he desires to
personate. Aquiline this time, you say. Hein! Anything like these
He rummaged in his desk and handed us two.
"Not in the least," Sir Charles answered. "Except, perhaps, as
to the neck, everything here is quite unlike him."
"Then that's the Colonel!" the Commissary answered, with
decision, rubbing his hands in glee. "Look here," and he took out a
pencil and rapidly sketched the outline of one of the two
faces—that of a bland-looking young man, with no expression worth
mentioning. "There's the Colonel in his simple disguise. Very good.
Now watch me: figure to yourself that he adds here a tiny patch of
wax to his nose—an aquiline bridge—just so; well, you have him
right there; and the chin, ah, one touch: now, for hair, a wig: for
complexion, nothing easier: that's the profile of your rascal,
"Exactly," we both murmured. By two curves of the pencil, and a
shock of false hair, the face was transmuted.
"He had very large eyes, with very big pupils, though," I
objected, looking close; "and the man in the photograph here has
them small and boiled-fishy."
"That's so," the Commissary answered. "A drop of belladonna
expands—and produces the Seer; five grains of opium contract—and
give a dead-alive, stupidly-innocent appearance. Well, you leave
this affair to me, gentlemen. I'll see the fun out. I don't say
I'll catch him for you; nobody ever yet has caught Colonel Clay;
but I'll explain how he did the trick; and that ought to be
consolation enough to a man of your means for a trifle of five
"You are not the conventional French office-holder, M. le
Commissaire," I ventured to interpose.
"You bet!" the Commissary replied, and drew himself up like a
captain of infantry. "Messieurs," he continued, in French, with the
utmost dignity, "I shall devote the resources of this office to
tracing out the crime, and, if possible, to effectuating the arrest
of the culpable."
We telegraphed to London, of course, and we wrote to the bank,
with a full description of the suspected person. But I need hardly
add that nothing came of it.
Three days later the Commissary called at our hotel. "Well,
gentlemen," he said, "I am glad to say I have discovered
"What? Arrested the Seer?" Sir Charles cried.
The Commissary drew back, almost horrified at the
"Arrested Colonel Clay?" he exclaimed. "Mais, monsieur, we are
only human! Arrested him? No, not quite. But tracked out how he did
it. That is already much—to unravel Colonel Clay, gentlemen!"
"Well, what do you make of it?" Sir Charles asked,
The Commissary sat down and gloated over his discovery. It was
clear a well-planned crime amused him vastly. "In the first place,
monsieur," he said, "disabuse your mind of the idea that when
monsieur your secretary went out to fetch Señor Herrera that night,
Señor Herrera didn't know to whose rooms he was coming. Quite
otherwise, in point of fact. I do not doubt myself that Señor
Herrera, or Colonel Clay (call him which you like), came to Nice
this winter for no other purpose than just to rob you."
"But I sent for him," my brother-in-law interposed.
"Yes; he meant you to send for him. He forced a card, so
to speak. If he couldn't do that I guess he would be a pretty poor
conjurer. He had a lady of his own—his wife, let us say, or his
sister—stopping here at this hotel; a certain Madame Picardet.
Through her he induced several ladies of your circle to attend his
séances. She and they spoke to you about him, and aroused your
curiosity. You may bet your bottom dollar that when he came to this
room he came ready primed and prepared with endless facts about
both of you."
"What fools we have been, Sey," my brother-in-law exclaimed. "I
see it all now. That designing woman sent round before dinner to
say I wanted to meet him; and by the time you got there he was
ready for bamboozling me."
"That's so," the Commissary answered. "He had your name ready
painted on both his arms; and he had made other preparations of
still greater importance."
"You mean the cheque. Well, how did he get it?"
The Commissary opened the door. "Come in," he said. And a young
man entered whom we recognised at once as the chief clerk in the
Foreign Department of the Crédit Marseillais, the principal bank
all along the Riviera.
"State what you know of this cheque," the Commissary said,
showing it to him, for we had handed it over to the police as a
piece of evidence.
"About four weeks since—" the clerk began.
"Say ten days before your séance," the Commissary
"A gentleman with very long hair and an aquiline nose, dark,
strange, and handsome, called in at my department and asked if I
could tell him the name of Sir Charles Vandrift's London banker. He
said he had a sum to pay in to your credit, and asked if we would
forward it for him. I told him it was irregular for us to receive
the money, as you had no account with us, but that your London
bankers were Darby, Drummond, and Rothenberg, Limited."
"Quite right," Sir Charles murmured.
"Two days later a lady, Madame Picardet, who was a customer of
ours, brought in a good cheque for three hundred pounds, signed by
a first-rate name, and asked us to pay it in on her behalf to
Darby, Drummond, and Rothenberg's, and to open a London account
with them for her. We did so, and received in reply a
"From which this cheque was taken, as I learn from the number,
by telegram from London," the Commissary put in. "Also, that on the
same day on which your cheque was cashed, Madame Picardet, in
London, withdrew her balance."
"But how did the fellow get me to sign the cheque?" Sir Charles
cried. "How did he manage the card trick?"
The Commissary produced a similar card from his pocket. "Was
that the sort of thing?" he asked.
"Precisely! A facsimile."
"I thought so. Well, our Colonel, I find, bought a packet of
such cards, intended for admission to a religious function, at a
shop in the Quai Massena. He cut out the centre, and, see here—"
The Commissary turned it over, and showed a piece of paper pasted
neatly over the back; this he tore off, and there, concealed behind
it, lay a folded cheque, with only the place where the signature
should be written showing through on the face which the Seer had
presented to us. "I call that a neat trick," the Commissary
remarked, with professional enjoyment of a really good
"But he burnt the envelope before my eyes," Sir Charles
"Pooh!" the Commissary answered. "What would he be worth as a
conjurer, anyway, if he couldn't substitute one envelope for
another between the table and the fireplace without your noticing
it? And Colonel Clay, you must remember, is a prince among
"Well, it's a comfort to know we've identified our man, and the
woman who was with him," Sir Charles said, with a slight sigh of
relief. "The next thing will be, of course, you'll follow them up
on these clues in England and arrest them?"
The Commissary shrugged his shoulders. "Arrest them!" he
exclaimed, much amused. "Ah, monsieur, but you are sanguine! No
officer of justice has ever succeeded in arresting le Colonel
Caoutchouc, as we call him in French. He is as slippery as an eel,
that man. He wriggles through our fingers. Suppose even we caught
him, what could we prove? I ask you. Nobody who has seen him once
can ever swear to him again in his next impersonation. He is
impayable, this good Colonel. On the day when I arrest him, I
assure you, monsieur, I shall consider myself the smartest
police-officer in Europe."
"Well, I shall catch him yet," Sir Charles answered, and
relapsed into silence.
THE EPISODE OF THE DIAMOND LINKS
"Let us take a trip to Switzerland," said Lady Vandrift. And any
one who knows Amelia will not be surprised to learn that we
did take a trip to Switzerland accordingly. Nobody can drive
Sir Charles, except his wife. And nobody at all can drive
There were difficulties at the outset, because we had not
ordered rooms at the hotels beforehand, and it was well on in the
season; but they were overcome at last by the usual application of
a golden key; and we found ourselves in due time pleasantly
quartered in Lucerne, at that most comfortable of European
hostelries, the Schweitzerhof.
We were a square party of four—Sir Charles and Amelia, myself
and Isabel. We had nice big rooms, on the first floor, overlooking
the lake; and as none of us was possessed with the faintest symptom
of that incipient mania which shows itself in the form of an insane
desire to climb mountain heights of disagreeable steepness and
unnecessary snowiness, I will venture to assert we all enjoyed
ourselves. We spent most of our time sensibly in lounging about the
lake on the jolly little steamers; and when we did a mountain
climb, it was on the Rigi or Pilatus—where an engine undertook all
the muscular work for us.
As usual, at the hotel, a great many miscellaneous people showed
a burning desire to be specially nice to us. If you wish to see how
friendly and charming humanity is, just try being a well-known
millionaire for a week, and you'll learn a thing or two. Wherever
Sir Charles goes he is surrounded by charming and disinterested
people, all eager to make his distinguished acquaintance, and all
familiar with several excellent investments, or several deserving
objects of Christian charity. It is my business in life, as his
brother-in-law and secretary, to decline with thanks the excellent
investments, and to throw judicious cold water on the objects of
charity. Even I myself, as the great man's almoner, am very much
sought after. People casually allude before me to artless stories
of "poor curates in Cumberland, you know, Mr. Wentworth," or widows
in Cornwall, penniless poets with epics in their desks, and young
painters who need but the breath of a patron to open to them the
doors of an admiring Academy. I smile and look wise, while I
administer cold water in minute doses; but I never report one of
these cases to Sir Charles, except in the rare or almost unheard-of
event where I think there is really something in them.
Ever since our little adventure with the Seer at Nice, Sir
Charles, who is constitutionally cautious, had been even more
careful than usual about possible sharpers. And, as chance would
have it, there sat just opposite us at table d'hôte at the
Schweitzerhof—'tis a fad of Amelia's to dine at table d'hôte; she
says she can't bear to be boxed up all day in private rooms with
"too much family"—a sinister-looking man with dark hair and eyes,
conspicuous by his bushy overhanging eyebrows. My attention was
first called to the eyebrows in question by a nice little parson
who sat at our side, and who observed that they were made up of
certain large and bristly hairs, which (he told us) had been traced
by Darwin to our monkey ancestors. Very pleasant little fellow,
this fresh-faced young parson, on his honeymoon tour with a nice
wee wife, a bonnie Scotch lassie with a charming accent.
I looked at the eyebrows close. Then a sudden thought struck me.
"Do you believe they're his own?" I asked of the curate; "or are
they only stuck on—a make-up disguise? They really almost look
"You don't suppose—" Charles began, and checked himself
"Yes, I do," I answered; "the Seer!" Then I recollected my
blunder, and looked down sheepishly. For, to say the truth,
Vandrift had straightly enjoined on me long before to say nothing
of our painful little episode at Nice to Amelia; he was afraid if
she once heard of it, he would hear of it for ever
"What Seer?" the little parson inquired, with parsonical
I noticed the man with the overhanging eyebrows give a queer
sort of start. Charles's glance was fixed upon me. I hardly knew
what to answer.
"Oh, a man who was at Nice with us last year," I stammered out,
trying hard to look unconcerned. "A fellow they talked about,
that's all." And I turned the subject.
But the curate, like a donkey, wouldn't let me turn it.
"Had he eyebrows like that?" he inquired, in an undertone. I was
really angry. If this was Colonel Clay, the curate was
obviously giving him the cue, and making it much more difficult for
us to catch him, now we might possibly have lighted on the chance
of doing so.
"No, he hadn't," I answered testily; "it was a passing
expression. But this is not the man. I was mistaken, no doubt." And
I nudged him gently.
The little curate was too innocent for anything. "Oh, I see," he
replied, nodding hard and looking wise. Then he turned to his wife
and made an obvious face, which the man with the eyebrows couldn't
fail to notice.
Fortunately, a political discussion going on a few places
farther down the table spread up to us and diverted attention for a
moment. The magical name of Gladstone saved us. Sir Charles flared
up. I was truly pleased, for I could see Amelia was boiling over
with curiosity by this time.
After dinner, in the billiard-room, however, the man with the
big eyebrows sidled up and began to talk to me. If he was
Colonel Clay, it was evident he bore us no grudge at all for the
five thousand pounds he had done us out of. On the contrary, he
seemed quite prepared to do us out of five thousand more when
opportunity offered; for he introduced himself at once as Dr.
Hector Macpherson, the exclusive grantee of extensive concessions
from the Brazilian Government on the Upper Amazons. He dived into
conversation with me at once as to the splendid mineral resources
of his Brazilian estate—the silver, the platinum, the actual
rubies, the possible diamonds. I listened and smiled; I knew what
was coming. All he needed to develop this magnificent concession
was a little more capital. It was sad to see thousands of pounds'
worth of platinum and car-loads of rubies just crumbling in the
soil or carried away by the river, for want of a few hundreds to
work them with properly. If he knew of anybody, now, with money to
invest, he could recommend him—nay, offer him—a unique
opportunity of earning, say, 40 per cent on his capital, on
"I wouldn't do it for every man," Dr. Hector Macpherson
remarked, drawing himself up; "but if I took a fancy to a fellow
who had command of ready cash, I might choose to put him in the way
of feathering his nest with unexampled rapidity."
"Exceedingly disinterested of you," I answered drily, fixing my
eyes on his eyebrows.
The little curate, meanwhile, was playing billiards with Sir
Charles. His glance followed mine as it rested for a moment on the
"False, obviously false," he remarked with his lips; and I'm
bound to confess I never saw any man speak so well by movement
alone; you could follow every word though not a sound escaped
During the rest of that evening Dr. Hector Macpherson stuck to
me as close as a mustard-plaster. And he was almost as irritating.
I got heartily sick of the Upper Amazons. I have positively waded
in my time through ruby mines (in prospectuses, I mean) till the
mere sight of a ruby absolutely sickens me. When Charles, in an
unwonted fit of generosity, once gave his sister Isabel (whom I had
the honour to marry) a ruby necklet (inferior stones), I made
Isabel change it for sapphires and amethysts, on the judicious plea
that they suited her complexion better. (I scored one,
incidentally, for having considered Isabel's complexion.) By the
time I went to bed I was prepared to sink the Upper Amazons in the
sea, and to stab, shoot, poison, or otherwise seriously damage the
man with the concession and the false eyebrows.
For the next three days, at intervals, he returned to the
charge. He bored me to death with his platinum and his rubies. He
didn't want a capitalist who would personally exploit the thing; he
would prefer to do it all on his own account, giving the capitalist
preference debentures of his bogus company, and a lien on the
concession. I listened and smiled; I listened and yawned; I
listened and was rude; I ceased to listen at all; but still he
droned on with it. I fell asleep on the steamer one day, and woke
up in ten minutes to hear him droning yet, "And the yield of
platinum per ton was certified to be—" I forget how many pounds,
or ounces, or pennyweights. These details of assays have ceased to
interest me: like the man who "didn't believe in ghosts," I have
seen too many of them.
The fresh-faced little curate and his wife, however, were quite
different people. He was a cricketing Oxford man; she was a breezy
Scotch lass, with a wholesome breath of the Highlands about her. I
called her "White Heather." Their name was Brabazon. Millionaires
are so accustomed to being beset by harpies of every description,
that when they come across a young couple who are simple and
natural, they delight in the purely human relation. We picnicked
and went excursions a great deal with the honeymooners. They were
so frank in their young love, and so proof against chaff, that we
all really liked them. But whenever I called the pretty girl "White
Heather," she looked so shocked, and cried: "Oh, Mr. Wentworth!"
Still, we were the best of friends. The curate offered to row us in
a boat on the lake one day, while the Scotch lassie assured us she
could take an oar almost as well as he did. However, we did not
accept their offer, as row-boats exert an unfavourable influence
upon Amelia's digestive organs.
"Nice young fellow, that man Brabazon," Sir Charles said to me
one day, as we lounged together along the quay; "never talks about
advowsons or next presentations. Doesn't seem to me to care two
pins about promotion. Says he's quite content in his country
curacy; enough to live upon, and needs no more; and his wife has a
little, a very little, money. I asked him about his poor to-day, on
purpose to test him: these parsons are always trying to screw
something out of one for their poor; men in my position know the
truth of the saying that we have that class of the population
always with us. Would you believe it, he says he hasn't any poor at
all in his parish! They're all well-to-do farmers or else
able-bodied labourers, and his one terror is that somebody will
come and try to pauperise them. 'If a philanthropist were to give
me fifty pounds to-day for use at Empingham,' he said, 'I assure
you, Sir Charles, I shouldn't know what to do with it. I think I
should buy new dresses for Jessie, who wants them about as much as
anybody else in the village—that is to say, not at all.' There's a
parson for you, Sey, my boy. Only wish we had one of his sort at
"He certainly doesn't want to get anything out of you," I
That evening at dinner a queer little episode happened. The man
with the eyebrows began talking to me across the table in his usual
fashion, full of his wearisome concession on the Upper Amazons. I
was trying to squash him as politely as possible, when I caught
Amelia's eye. Her look amused me. She was engaged in making signals
to Charles at her side to observe the little curate's curious
sleeve-links. I glanced at them, and saw at once they were a
singular possession for so unobtrusive a person. They consisted
each of a short gold bar for one arm of the link, fastened by a
tiny chain of the same material to what seemed to my tolerably
experienced eye—a first-rate diamond. Pretty big diamonds, too,
and of remarkable shape, brilliancy, and cutting. In a moment I
knew what Amelia meant. She owned a diamond rivière, said to be of
Indian origin, but short by two stones for the circumference of her
tolerably ample neck. Now, she had long been wanting two diamonds
like these to match her set; but owing to the unusual shape and
antiquated cutting of her own gems, she had never been able to
complete the necklet, at least without removing an extravagant
amount from a much larger stone of the first water.
The Scotch lassie's eyes caught Amelia's at the same time, and
she broke into a pretty smile of good-humoured amusement. "Taken in
another person, Dick, dear!" she exclaimed, in her breezy way,
turning to her husband. "Lady Vandrift is observing your diamond
"They're very fine gems," Amelia observed incautiously. (A most
unwise admission if she desired to buy them.)
But the pleasant little curate was too transparently simple a
soul to take advantage of her slip of judgment. "They are
good stones," he replied; "very good stones—considering. They're
not diamonds at all, to tell you the truth. They're best
old-fashioned Oriental paste. My great-grandfather bought them,
after the siege of Seringapatam, for a few rupees, from a Sepoy who
had looted them from Tippoo Sultan's palace. He thought, like you,
he had got a good thing. But it turned out, when they came to be
examined by experts, they were only paste—very wonderful paste; it
is supposed they had even imposed upon Tippoo himself, so fine is
the imitation. But they are worth—well, say, fifty shillings at
While he spoke Charles looked at Amelia, and Amelia looked at
Charles. Their eyes spoke volumes. The rivière was also supposed to
have come from Tippoo's collection. Both drew at once an identical
conclusion. These were two of the same stones, very likely torn
apart and disengaged from the rest in the mêlée at the capture of
the Indian palace.
"Can you take them off?" Sir Charles asked blandly. He spoke in
the tone that indicates business.
"Certainly," the little curate answered, smiling. "I'm
accustomed to taking them off. They're always noticed. They've been
kept in the family ever since the siege, as a sort of valueless
heirloom, for the sake of the picturesqueness of the story, you
know; and nobody ever sees them without asking, as you do, to
examine them closely. They deceive even experts at first. But
they're paste, all the same; unmitigated Oriental paste, for all
He took them both off, and handed them to Charles. No man in
England is a finer judge of gems than my brother-in-law. I watched
him narrowly. He examined them close, first with the naked eye,
then with the little pocket-lens which he always carries.
"Admirable imitation," he muttered, passing them on to Amelia. "I'm
not surprised they should impose upon inexperienced observers."
But from the tone in which he said it, I could see at once he
had satisfied himself they were real gems of unusual value. I know
Charles's way of doing business so well. His glance to Amelia
meant, "These are the very stones you have so long been in search
The Scotch lassie laughed a merry laugh. "He sees through them
now, Dick," she cried. "I felt sure Sir Charles would be a judge of
Amelia turned them over. I know Amelia, too; and I knew from the
way Amelia looked at them that she meant to have them. And when
Amelia means to have anything, people who stand in the way may just
as well spare themselves the trouble of opposing her.
They were beautiful diamonds. We found out afterwards the little
curate's account was quite correct: these stones had come
from the same necklet as Amelia's rivière, made for a favourite
wife of Tippoo's, who had presumably as expansive personal charms
as our beloved sister-in-law's. More perfect diamonds have seldom
been seen. They have excited the universal admiration of thieves
and connoisseurs. Amelia told me afterwards that, according to
legend, a Sepoy stole the necklet at the sack of the palace, and
then fought with another for it. It was believed that two stones
got spilt in the scuffle, and were picked up and sold by a third
person—a looker-on—who had no idea of the value of his booty.
Amelia had been hunting for them for several years to complete her
"They are excellent paste," Sir Charles observed, handing them
back. "It takes a first-rate judge to detect them from the reality.
Lady Vandrift has a necklet much the same in character, but
composed of genuine stones; and as these are so much like them, and
would complete her set, to all outer appearance, I wouldn't mind
giving you, say, 10 pounds for the pair of them."
Mrs. Brabazon looked delighted. "Oh, sell them to him, Dick,"
she cried, "and buy me a brooch with the money! A pair of common
links would do for you just as well. Ten pounds for two paste
stones! It's quite a lot of money."
She said it so sweetly, with her pretty Scotch accent, that I
couldn't imagine how Dick had the heart to refuse her. But he did,
all the same.
"No, Jess, darling," he answered. "They're worthless, I know;
but they have for me a certain sentimental value, as I've often
told you. My dear mother wore them, while she lived, as ear-rings;
and as soon as she died I had them set as links in order that I
might always keep them about me. Besides, they have historical and
family interest. Even a worthless heirloom, after all, is an
Dr. Hector Macpherson looked across and intervened. "There is a
part of my concession," he said, "where we have reason to believe a
perfect new Kimberley will soon be discovered. If at any time you
would care, Sir Charles, to look at my diamonds—when I get
them—it would afford me the greatest pleasure in life to submit
them to your consideration."
Sir Charles could stand it no longer. "Sir," he said, gazing
across at him with his sternest air, "if your concession were as
full of diamonds as Sindbad the Sailor's valley, I would not care
to turn my head to look at them. I am acquainted with the nature
and practice of salting." And he glared at the man with the
overhanging eyebrows as if he would devour him raw. Poor Dr. Hector
Macpherson subsided instantly. We learnt a little later that he was
a harmless lunatic, who went about the world with successive
concessions for ruby mines and platinum reefs, because he had been
ruined and driven mad by speculations in the two, and now recouped
himself by imaginary grants in Burmah and Brazil, or anywhere else
that turned up handy. And his eyebrows, after all, were of Nature's
handicraft. We were sorry for the incident; but a man in Sir
Charles's position is such a mark for rogues that, if he did not
take means to protect himself promptly, he would be for ever
overrun by them.
When we went up to our salon that evening, Amelia flung herself
on the sofa. "Charles," she broke out in the voice of a tragedy
queen, "those are real diamonds, and I shall never be happy again
till I get them."
"They are real diamonds," Charles echoed. "And you shall have
them, Amelia. They're worth not less than three thousand pounds.
But I shall bid them up gently."
So, next day, Charles set to work to higgle with the curate.
Brabazon, however, didn't care to part with them. He was no
money-grubber, he said. He cared more for his mother's gift and a
family tradition than for a hundred pounds, if Sir Charles were to
offer it. Charles's eye gleamed. "But if I give you two
hundred!" he said insinuatingly. "What opportunities for good! You
could build a new wing to your village school-house!"
"We have ample accommodation," the curate answered. "No, I don't
think I'll sell them."
Still, his voice faltered somewhat, and he looked down at them
Charles was too precipitate.
"A hundred pounds more or less matters little to me," he said;
"and my wife has set her heart on them. It's every man's duty to
please his wife—isn't it, Mrs. Brabazon?—I offer you three
The little Scotch girl clasped her hands.
"Three hundred pounds! Oh, Dick, just think what fun we could
have, and what good we could do with it! Do let him have them."
Her accent was irresistible. But the curate shook his head.
"Impossible," he answered. "My dear mother's ear-rings! Uncle
Aubrey would be so angry if he knew I'd sold them. I daren't face
"Has he expectations from Uncle Aubrey?" Sir Charles asked of
Mrs. Brabazon laughed. "Uncle Aubrey! Oh, dear, no. Poor dear
old Uncle Aubrey! Why, the darling old soul hasn't a penny to bless
himself with, except his pension. He's a retired post captain." And
she laughed melodiously. She was a charming woman.
"Then I should disregard Uncle Aubrey's feelings," Sir Charles
"No, no," the curate answered. "Poor dear old Uncle Aubrey! I
wouldn't do anything for the world to annoy him. And he'd be sure
to notice it."
We went back to Amelia. "Well, have you got them?" she
"No," Sir Charles answered. "Not yet. But he's coming round, I
think. He's hesitating now. Would rather like to sell them himself,
but is afraid what 'Uncle Aubrey' would say about the matter. His
wife will talk him out of his needless consideration for Uncle
Aubrey's feelings; and to-morrow we'll finally clench the
Next morning we stayed late in our salon, where we always
breakfasted, and did not come down to the public rooms till just
before déjeûner, Sir Charles being busy with me over arrears of
correspondence. When we did come down the concierge stepped
forward with a twisted little feminine note for Amelia. She took it
and read it. Her countenance fell. "There, Charles," she cried,
handing it to him, "you've let the chance slip. I shall
never be happy now! They've gone off with the diamonds."
Charles seized the note and read it. Then he passed it on to me.
It was short, but final:—
"Thursday, 6 a.m.
"DEAR LADY VANDRIFT—Will you kindly
excuse our having gone off hurriedly without bidding you good-bye?
We have just had a horrid telegram to say that Dick's favourite
sister is dangerously ill of fever in Paris. I wanted to
shake hands with you before we left—you have all been so sweet to
us—but we go by the morning train, absurdly early, and I wouldn't
for worlds disturb you. Perhaps some day we may meet again—though,
buried as we are in a North-country village, it isn't likely; but
in any case, you have secured the grateful recollection of Yours
very cordially, JESSIE BRABAZON.
"P.S.—Kindest regards to Sir Charles and those
dear Wentworths, and a kiss for yourself, if I may venture
to send you one."
"She doesn't even mention where they've gone," Amelia exclaimed,
in a very bad humour.
"The concierge may know," Isabel suggested, looking over my
We asked at his office.
Yes, the gentleman's address was the Rev. Richard Peploe
Brabazon, Holme Bush Cottage, Empingham, Northumberland.
Any address where letters might be sent at once, in Paris?
For the next ten days, or till further notice, Hôtel des Deux
Mondes, Avenue de l'Opéra.
Amelia's mind was made up at once.
"Strike while the iron's hot," she cried. "This sudden illness,
coming at the end of their honeymoon, and involving ten days' more
stay at an expensive hotel, will probably upset the curate's
budget. He'll be glad to sell now. You'll get them for three
hundred. It was absurd of Charles to offer so much at first; but
offered once, of course we must stick to it."
"What do you propose to do?" Charles asked. "Write, or
"Oh, how silly men are!" Amelia cried. "Is this the sort of
business to be arranged by letter, still less by telegram? No.
Seymour must start off at once, taking the night train to Paris;
and the moment he gets there, he must interview the curate or Mrs.
Brabazon. Mrs. Brabazon's the best. She has none of this stupid,
sentimental nonsense about Uncle Aubrey."
It is no part of a secretary's duties to act as a diamond
broker. But when Amelia puts her foot down, she puts her foot
down—a fact which she is unnecessarily fond of emphasising in that
identical proposition. So the self-same evening saw me safe in the
train on my way to Paris; and next morning I turned out of my
comfortable sleeping-car at the Gare de Strasbourg. My orders were
to bring back those diamonds, alive or dead, so to speak, in my
pocket to Lucerne; and to offer any needful sum, up to two thousand
five hundred pounds, for their immediate purchase.
When I arrived at the Deux Mondes I found the poor little curate
and his wife both greatly agitated. They had sat up all night, they
said, with their invalid sister; and the sleeplessness and suspense
had certainly told upon them after their long railway journey. They
were pale and tired, Mrs. Brabazon, in particular, looking ill and
worried—too much like White Heather. I was more than half ashamed
of bothering them about the diamonds at such a moment, but it
occurred to me that Amelia was probably right—they would now have
reached the end of the sum set apart for their Continental trip,
and a little ready cash might be far from unwelcome.
I broached the subject delicately. It was a fad of Lady
Vandrift's, I said. She had set her heart upon those useless
trinkets. And she wouldn't go without them. She must and would have
them. But the curate was obdurate. He threw Uncle Aubrey still in
my teeth. Three hundred?—no, never! A mother's present;
impossible, dear Jessie! Jessie begged and prayed; she had grown
really attached to Lady Vandrift, she said; but the curate wouldn't
hear of it. I went up tentatively to four hundred. He shook his
head gloomily. It wasn't a question of money, he said. It was a
question of affection. I saw it was no use trying that tack any
longer. I struck out a new line. "These stones," I said, "I think I
ought to inform you, are really diamonds. Sir Charles is certain of
it. Now, is it right for a man of your profession and position to
be wearing a pair of big gems like those, worth several hundred
pounds, as ordinary sleeve-links? A woman?—yes, I grant you. But
for a man, is it manly? And you a cricketer!"
He looked at me and laughed. "Will nothing convince you?" he
cried. "They have been examined and tested by half a dozen
jewellers, and we know them to be paste. It wouldn't be right of me
to sell them to you under false pretences, however unwilling on my
side. I couldn't do it."
"Well, then," I said, going up a bit in my bids to meet him,
"I'll put it like this. These gems are paste. But Lady Vandrift has
an unconquerable and unaccountable desire to possess them. Money
doesn't matter to her. She is a friend of your wife's. As a
personal favour, won't you sell them to her for a thousand?"
He shook his head. "It would be wrong," he said,—"I might even
"But we take all risk," I cried.
He was absolute adamant. "As a clergyman," he answered, "I feel
I cannot do it."
"Will you try, Mrs. Brabazon?" I asked.
The pretty little Scotchwoman leant over and whispered. She
coaxed and cajoled him. Her ways were winsome. I couldn't hear what
she said, but he seemed to give way at last. "I should love Lady
Vandrift to have them," she murmured, turning to me. "She is
such a dear!" And she took out the links from her husband's cuffs
and handed them across to me.
"How much?" I asked.
"Two thousand?" she answered, interrogatively. It was a big
rise, all at once; but such are the ways of women.
"Done!" I replied. "Do you consent?"
The curate looked up as if ashamed of himself.
"I consent," he said slowly, "since Jessie wishes it. But as a
clergyman, and to prevent any future misunderstanding, I should
like you to give me a statement in writing that you buy them on my
distinct and positive declaration that they are made of paste—old
Oriental paste—not genuine stones, and that I do not claim any
other qualities for them."
I popped the gems into my purse, well pleased.
"Certainly," I said, pulling out a paper. Charles, with his
unerring business instinct, had anticipated the request, and given
me a signed agreement to that effect.
"You will take a cheque?" I inquired.
"Notes of the Bank of France would suit me better," he
"Very well," I replied. "I will go out and get them."
How very unsuspicious some people are! He allowed me to go
off—with the stones in my pocket!
Sir Charles had given me a blank cheque, not exceeding two
thousand five hundred pounds. I took it to our agents and cashed it
for notes of the Bank of France. The curate clasped them with
pleasure. And right glad I was to go back to Lucerne that night,
feeling that I had got those diamonds into my hands for about a
thousand pounds under their real value!
At Lucerne railway station Amelia met me. She was positively
"Have you bought them, Seymour?" she asked.
"Yes," I answered, producing my spoils in triumph.
"Oh, how dreadful!" she cried, drawing back. "Do you think
they're real? Are you sure he hasn't cheated you?"
"Certain of it," I replied, examining them. "No one can take me
in, in the matter of diamonds. Why on earth should you doubt
"Because I've been talking to Mrs. O'Hagan, at the hotel, and
she says there's a well-known trick just like that—she's read of
it in a book. A swindler has two sets—one real, one false; and he
makes you buy the false ones by showing you the real, and
pretending he sells them as a special favour."
"You needn't be alarmed," I answered. "I am a judge of
"I shan't be satisfied," Amelia murmured, "till Charles has seen
We went up to the hotel. For the first time in her life I saw
Amelia really nervous as I handed the stones to Charles to examine.
Her doubt was contagious. I half feared, myself, he might break out
into a deep monosyllabic interjection, losing his temper in haste,
as he often does when things go wrong. But he looked at them with a
smile, while I told him the price.
"Eight hundred pounds less than their value," he answered, well
"You have no doubt of their reality?" I asked.
"Not the slightest," he replied, gazing at them. "They are
genuine stones, precisely the same in quality and type as Amelia's
Amelia drew a sigh of relief. "I'll go upstairs," she said
slowly, "and bring down my own for you both to compare with
One minute later she rushed down again, breathless. Amelia is
far from slim, and I never before knew her exert herself so
"Charles, Charles!" she cried, "do you know what dreadful thing
has happened? Two of my own stones are gone. He's stolen a couple
of diamonds from my necklet, and sold them back to me."
She held out the rivière. It was all too true. Two gems were
missing—and these two just fitted the empty places!
A light broke in upon me. I clapped my hand to my head. "By
Jove," I exclaimed, "the little curate is—Colonel Clay!"
Charles clapped his own hand to his brow in turn. "And Jessie,"
he cried, "White Heather—that innocent little Scotchwoman! I often
detected a familiar ring in her voice, in spite of the charming
Highland accent. Jessie is—Madame Picardet!"
We had absolutely no evidence; but, like the Commissary at Nice,
we felt instinctively sure of it.
Sir Charles was determined to catch the rogue. This second
deception put him on his mettle. "The worst of the man is," he
said, "he has a method. He doesn't go out of his way to cheat us;
he makes us go out of ours to be cheated. He lays a trap, and we
tumble headlong into it. To-morrow, Sey, we must follow him on to
Amelia explained to him what Mrs. O'Hagan had said. Charles took
it all in at once, with his usual sagacity. "That explains," he
said, "why the rascal used this particular trick to draw us on by.
If we had suspected him he could have shown the diamonds were real,
and so escaped detection. It was a blind to draw us off from the
fact of the robbery. He went to Paris to be out of the way when the
discovery was made, and to get a clear day's start of us. What a
consummate rogue! And to do me twice running!"
"How did he get at my jewel-case, though?" Amelia exclaimed.
"That's the question," Charles answered. "You do leave it
"And why didn't he steal the whole rivière at once, and sell the
gems?" I inquired.
"Too cunning," Charles replied. "This was much better business.
It isn't easy to dispose of a big thing like that. In the first
place, the stones are large and valuable; in the second place,
they're well known—every dealer has heard of the Vandrift rivière,
and seen pictures of the shape of them. They're marked gems, so to
speak. No, he played a better game—took a couple of them off, and
offered them to the only one person on earth who was likely to buy
them without suspicion. He came here, meaning to work this very
trick; he had the links made right to the shape beforehand, and
then he stole the stones and slipped them into their places. It's a
wonderfully clever trick. Upon my soul, I almost admire the
For Charles is a business man himself, and can appreciate
business capacity in others.
How Colonel Clay came to know about that necklet, and to
appropriate two of the stones, we only discovered much later. I
will not here anticipate that disclosure. One thing at a time is a
good rule in life. For the moment he succeeded in baffling us
However, we followed him on to Paris, telegraphing beforehand to
the Bank of France to stop the notes. It was all in vain. They had
been cashed within half an hour of my paying them. The curate and
his wife, we found, quitted the Hôtel des Deux Mondes for parts
unknown that same afternoon. And, as usual with Colonel Clay, they
vanished into space, leaving no clue behind them. In other words,
they changed their disguise, no doubt, and reappeared somewhere
else that night in altered characters. At any rate, no such person
as the Reverend Richard Peploe Brabazon was ever afterwards heard
of—and, for the matter of that, no such village exists as
We communicated the matter to the Parisian police. They were
most unsympathetic. "It is no doubt Colonel Clay," said the
official whom we saw; "but you seem to have little just ground of
complaint against him. As far as I can see, messieurs, there is not
much to choose between you. You, Monsieur le Chevalier, desired to
buy diamonds at the price of paste. You, madame, feared you had
bought paste at the price of diamonds. You, monsieur the secretary,
tried to get the stones from an unsuspecting person for half their
value. He took you all in, that brave Colonel Caoutchouc—it was
diamond cut diamond."
Which was true, no doubt, but by no means consoling.
We returned to the Grand Hotel. Charles was fuming with
indignation. "This is really too much," he exclaimed. "What an
audacious rascal! But he will never again take me in, my dear Sey.
I only hope he'll try it on. I should love to catch him. I'd know
him another time, I'm sure, in spite of his disguises. It's absurd
my being tricked twice running like this. But never again while I
live! Never again, I declare to you!"
"Jamais de la vie!" a courier in the hall close by murmured
responsive. We stood under the verandah of the Grand Hotel, in the
big glass courtyard. And I verily believe that courier was really
Colonel Clay himself in one of his disguises.
But perhaps we were beginning to suspect him everywhere.
THE EPISODE OF THE OLD MASTER
Like most South Africans, Sir Charles Vandrift is anything but
sedentary. He hates sitting down. He must always "trek." He cannot
live without moving about freely. Six weeks in Mayfair at a time is
as much as he can stand. Then he must run away incontinently for
rest and change to Scotland, Homburg, Monte Carlo, Biarritz. "I
won't be a limpet on the rock," he says. Thus it came to pass that
in the early autumn we found ourselves stopping at the Métropole at
Brighton. We were the accustomed nice little family party—Sir
Charles and Amelia, myself and Isabel, with the suite as usual.
On the first Sunday morning after our arrival we strolled out,
Charles and I—I regret to say during the hours allotted for Divine
service—on to the King's Road, to get a whiff of fresh air, and a
glimpse of the waves that were churning the Channel. The two ladies
(with their bonnets) had gone to church; but Sir Charles had risen
late, fatigued from the week's toil, while I myself was suffering
from a matutinal headache, which I attributed to the close air in
the billiard-room overnight, combined, perhaps, with the insidious
effect of a brand of soda-water to which I was little accustomed; I
had used it to dilute my evening whisky. We were to meet our wives
afterwards at the church parade—an institution to which I believe
both Amelia and Isabel attach even greater importance than to the
sermon which precedes it.
We sat down on a glass seat. Charles gazed inquiringly up and
down the King's Road, on the look-out for a boy with Sunday papers.
At last one passed. "Observer," my brother-in-law called out
"Ain't got none," the boy answered, brandishing his bundle in
our faces. "'Ave a Referee or a Pink 'Un?"
Charles, however, is not a Refereader, while as to the Pink 'Un,
he considers it unsuitable for public perusal on Sunday morning. It
may be read indoors, but in the open air its blush betrays it. So
he shook his head, and muttered, "If you pass an Observer, send him
on here at once to me."
A polite stranger who sat close to us turned round with a
pleasant smile. "Would you allow me to offer you one?" he said,
drawing a copy from his pocket. "I fancy I bought the last. There's
a run on them to-day, you see. Important news this morning from the
Charles raised his eyebrows, and accepted it, as I thought, just
a trifle grumpily. So, to remove the false impression his surliness
might produce on so benevolent a mind, I entered into conversation
with the polite stranger. He was a man of middle age, and medium
height, with a cultivated air, and a pair of gold pince-nez; his
eyes were sharp; his voice was refined; he dropped into talk before
long about distinguished people just then in Brighton. It was clear
at once that he was hand in glove with many of the very best kind.
We compared notes as to Nice, Rome, Florence, Cairo. Our new
acquaintance had scores of friends in common with us, it seemed;
indeed, our circles so largely coincided, that I wondered we had
never happened till then to knock up against one another.
"And Sir Charles Vandrift, the great African millionaire," he
said at last, "do you know anything of him? I'm told he's at
present down here at the Métropole."
I waved my hand towards the person in question.
"This is Sir Charles Vandrift," I answered, with
proprietary pride; "and I am his brother-in-law, Mr. Seymour
"Oh, indeed!" the stranger answered, with a curious air of
drawing in his horns. I wondered whether he had just been going to
pretend he knew Sir Charles, or whether perchance he was on the
point of saying something highly uncomplimentary, and was glad to
have escaped it.
By this time, however, Charles laid down the paper and chimed
into our conversation. I could see at once from his mollified tone
that the news from the Transvaal was favourable to his operations
in Cloetedorp Golcondas. He was therefore in a friendly and affable
temper. His whole manner changed at once. He grew polite in return
to the polite stranger. Besides, we knew the man moved in the best
society; he had acquaintances whom Amelia was most anxious to
secure for her "At Homes" in Mayfair—young Faith, the novelist,
and Sir Richard Montrose, the great Arctic traveller. As for the
painters, it was clear that he was sworn friends with the whole lot
of them. He dined with Academicians, and gave weekly breakfasts to
the members of the Institute. Now, Amelia is particularly desirous
that her salon should not be considered too exclusively financial
and political in character: with a solid basis of M.P.'s and
millionaires, she loves a delicate under-current of literature,
art, and the musical glasses. Our new acquaintance was extremely
communicative: "Knows his place in society, Sey," Sir Charles said
to me afterwards, "and is therefore not afraid of talking freely,
as so many people are who have doubts about their position." We
exchanged cards before we rose. Our new friend's name turned out to
be Dr. Edward Polperro.
"In practice here?" I inquired, though his garb belied it.
"Oh, not medical," he answered. "I am an LL.D. don't you know. I
interest myself in art, and buy to some extent for the National
The very man for Amelia's "At Homes"! Sir Charles snapped at him
instantly. "I've brought my four-in-hand down here with me," he
said, in his best friendly manner, "and we think of tooling over
to-morrow to Lewes. If you'd care to take a seat I'm sure Lady
Vandrift would be charmed to see you."
"You're very kind," the Doctor said, "on so casual an
introduction. I'm sure I shall be delighted."
"We start from the Métropole at ten-thirty," Charles went
"I shall be there. Good morning!" And, with a satisfied smile,
he rose and left us, nodding.
We returned to the lawn, to Amelia and Isabel. Our new friend
passed us once or twice. Charles stopped him and introduced him. He
was walking with two ladies, most elegantly dressed in rather
peculiar artistic dresses. Amelia was taken at first sight by his
manner. "One could see at a glance," she said, "he was a person of
culture and of real distinction. I wonder whether he could bring
the P.R.A. to my Parliamentary 'At Home' on Wednesday
Next day, at ten-thirty, we started on our drive. Our team has
been considered the best in Sussex. Charles is an excellent, though
somewhat anxious—or, might I say better, somewhat careful?—whip.
He finds the management of two leaders and two wheelers fills his
hands for the moment, both literally and figuratively, leaving very
little time for general conversation. Lady Belleisle of Beacon
bloomed beside him on the box (her bloom is perennial, and applied
by her maid); Dr. Polperro occupied the seat just behind with
myself and Amelia. The Doctor talked most of the time to Lady
Vandrift: his discourse was of picture-galleries, which Amelia
detests, but in which she thinks it incumbent upon her, as Sir
Charles's wife, to affect now and then a cultivated interest.
Noblesse oblige; and the walls of Castle Seldon, our place in
Ross-shire, are almost covered now with Leaders and with
Orchardsons. This result was first arrived at by a singular
accident. Sir Charles wanted a leader—for his coach, you
understand—and told an artistic friend so. The artistic friend
brought him a Leader next week with a capital L; and Sir Charles
was so taken aback that he felt ashamed to confess the error. So he
was turned unawares into a patron of painting.
Dr. Polperro, in spite of his too pronouncedly artistic talk,
proved on closer view a most agreeable companion. He diversified
his art cleverly with anecdotes and scandals; he told us exactly
which famous painters had married their cooks, and which had only
married their models; and otherwise showed himself a most diverting
talker. Among other things, however, he happened to mention once
that he had recently discovered a genuine Rembrandt—a quite
undoubted Rembrandt, which had remained for years in the keeping of
a certain obscure Dutch family. It had always been allowed to be a
masterpiece of the painter, but it had seldom been seen for the
last half-century save by a few intimate acquaintances. It was a
portrait of one Maria Vanrenen of Haarlem, and he had bought it of
her descendants at Gouda, in Holland.
I saw Charles prick up his ears, though he took no open notice.
This Maria Vanrenen, as it happened, was a remote collateral
ancestress of the Vandrifts, before they emigrated to the Cape in
1780; and the existence of the portrait, though not its
whereabouts, was well known in the family. Isabel had often
mentioned it. If it was to be had at anything like a reasonable
price, it would be a splendid thing for the boys (Sir Charles, I
ought to say, has two sons at Eton) to possess an undoubted
portrait of an ancestress by Rembrandt.
Dr. Polperro talked a good deal after that about this valuable
find. He had tried to sell it at first to the National Gallery; but
though the Directors admired the work immensely, and admitted its
genuineness, they regretted that the funds at their disposal this
year did not permit them to acquire so important a canvas at a
proper figure. South Kensington again was too poor; but the Doctor
was in treaty at present with the Louvre and with Berlin. Still, it
was a pity a fine work of art like that, once brought into the
country, should be allowed to go out of it. Some patriotic patron
of the fine arts ought to buy it for his own house, or else
munificently present it to the nation.
All the time Charles said nothing. But I could feel him
cogitating. He even looked behind him once, near a difficult corner
(while the guard was actually engaged in tootling his horn to let
passers-by know that the coach was coming), and gave Amelia a
warning glance to say nothing committing, which had at once the
requisite effect of sealing her mouth for the moment. It is a very
unusual thing for Charles to look back while driving. I gathered
from his doing so that he was inordinately anxious to possess this
When we arrived at Lewes we put up our horses at the inn, and
Charles ordered a lunch on his wonted scale of princely
magnificence. Meanwhile we wandered, two and two, about the town
and castle. I annexed Lady Belleisle, who is at least amusing.
Charles drew me aside before starting. "Look here, Sey," he said,
"we must be very careful. This man, Polperro, is a chance
acquaintance. There's nothing an astute rogue can take one in over
more easily than an Old Master. If the Rembrandt is genuine I ought
to have it; if it really represents Maria Vanrenen, it's a duty I
owe to the boys to buy it. But I've been done twice lately, and I
won't be done a third time. We must go to work cautiously."
"You are right," I answered. "No more seers and curates!"
"If this man's an impostor," Charles went on—"and in spite of
what he says about the National Gallery and so forth, we know
nothing of him—the story he tells is just the sort of one such a
fellow would trump up in a moment to deceive me. He could easily
learn who I was—I'm a well-known figure; he knew I was in
Brighton, and he may have been sitting on that glass seat on Sunday
on purpose to entrap me."
"He introduced your name," I said, "and the moment he found out
who I was he plunged into talk with me."
"Yes," Charles continued. "He may have learned about the
portrait of Maria Vanrenen, which my grandmother always said was
preserved at Gouda; and, indeed, I myself have often mentioned it,
as you doubtless remember. If so, what more natural, say, for a
rogue than to begin talking about the portrait in that innocent way
to Amelia? If he wants a Rembrandt, I believe they can be turned
out to order to any amount in Birmingham. The moral of all which
is, it behoves us to be careful."
"Right you are," I answered; "and I am keeping my eye upon
We drove back by another road, overshadowed by beech-trees in
autumnal gold. It was a delightful excursion. Dr. Polperro's heart
was elated by lunch and the excellent dry Monopole. He talked
amazingly. I never heard a man with a greater or more varied flow
of anecdote. He had been everywhere and knew all about everybody.
Amelia booked him at once for her "At Home" on Wednesday week, and
he promised to introduce her to several artistic and literary
That evening, however, about half-past seven, Charles and I
strolled out together on the King's Road for a blow before dinner.
We dine at eight. The air was delicious. We passed a small new
hotel, very smart and exclusive, with a big bow window. There, in
evening dress, lights burning and blind up, sat our friend, Dr.
Polperro, with a lady facing him, young, graceful, and pretty. A
bottle of champagne stood open before him. He was helping himself
plentifully to hot-house grapes, and full of good humour. It was
clear he and the lady were occupied in the intense enjoyment of
some capital joke; for they looked queerly at one another, and
burst now and again into merry peals of laughter.
I drew back. So did Sir Charles. One idea passed at once through
both our minds. I murmured, "Colonel Clay!" He answered,
"and Madame Picardet!"
They were not in the least like the Reverend Richard and Mrs.
Brabazon. But that clinched the matter. Nor did I see a sign of the
aquiline nose of the Mexican Seer. Still, I had learnt by then to
discount appearances. If these were indeed the famous sharper and
his wife or accomplice, we must be very careful. We were forewarned
this time. Supposing he had the audacity to try a third trick of
the sort upon us we had him under our thumbs. Only, we must take
steps to prevent his dexterously slipping through our fingers.
"He can wriggle like an eel," said the Commissary at Nice. We
both recalled those words, and laid our plans deep to prevent the
man's wriggling away from us on this third occasion.
"I tell you what it is, Sey," my brother-in-law said, with
impressive slowness. "This time we must deliberately lay ourselves
out to be swindled. We must propose of our own accord to buy the
picture, making him guarantee it in writing as a genuine Rembrandt,
and taking care to tie him down by most stringent conditions. But
we must seem at the same time to be unsuspicious and innocent as
babes; we must swallow whole whatever lies he tells us; pay his
price—nominally—by cheque for the portrait; and then, arrest him
the moment the bargain is complete, with the proofs of his guilt
then and there upon him. Of course, what he'll try to do will be to
vanish into thin air at once, as he did at Nice and Paris; but,
this time, we'll have the police in waiting and everything ready.
We'll avoid precipitancy, but we'll avoid delay too. We must hold
our hands off till he's actually accepted and pocketed the money;
and then, we must nab him instantly, and walk him off to the local
Bow Street. That's my plan of campaign. Meanwhile, we should appear
all trustful innocence and confiding guilelessness."
In pursuance of this well-laid scheme, we called next day on Dr.
Polperro at his hotel, and were introduced to his wife, a dainty
little woman, in whom we affected not to recognise that arch Madame
Picardet or that simple White Heather. The Doctor talked charmingly
(as usual) about art—what a well-informed rascal he was, to be
sure!—and Sir Charles expressed some interest in the supposed
Rembrandt. Our new friend was delighted; we could see by his
well-suppressed eagerness of tone that he knew us at once for
probable purchasers. He would run up to town next day, he said, and
bring down the portrait. And in effect, when Charles and I took our
wonted places in the Pullman next morning, on our way up to the
half-yearly meeting of Cloetedorp Golcondas, there was our Doctor,
leaning back in his arm-chair as if the car belonged to him.
Charles gave me an expressive look. "Does it in style," he
whispered, "doesn't he? Takes it out of my five thousand; or
discounts the amount he means to chouse me of with his spurious
Arrived in town, we went to work at once. We set a private
detective from Marvillier's to watch our friend; and from him we
learned that the so-called Doctor dropped in for a picture that day
at a dealer's in the West-end (I suppress the name, having a
judicious fear of the law of libel ever before my eyes), a dealer
who was known to be mixed up before then in several shady or
disreputable transactions. Though, to be sure, my experience has
been that picture dealers are—picture dealers. Horses rank first
in my mind as begetters and producers of unscrupulous agents, but
pictures run them a very good second. Anyhow, we found out that our
distinguished art-critic picked up his Rembrandt at this dealer's
shop, and came down with it in his care the same night to
In order not to act precipitately, and so ruin our plans, we
induced Dr. Polperro (what a cleverly chosen name!) to bring the
Rembrandt round to the Métropole for our inspection, and to leave
it with us while we got the opinion of an expert from London.
The expert came down, and gave us a full report upon the alleged
Old Master. In his judgment, it was not a Rembrandt at all, but a
cunningly-painted and well-begrimed modern Dutch imitation.
Moreover, he showed us by documentary evidence that the real
portrait of Maria Vanrenen had, as a matter of fact, been brought
to England five years before, and sold to Sir J. H. Tomlinson, the
well-known connoisseur, for eight thousand pounds. Dr. Polperro's
picture was, therefore, at best either a replica by Rembrandt; or
else, more probably, a copy by a pupil; or, most likely of all, a
mere modern forgery.
We were thus well prepared to fasten our charge of criminal
conspiracy upon the self-styled Doctor. But in order to make
assurance still more certain, we threw out vague hints to him that
the portrait of Maria Vanrenen might really be elsewhere, and even
suggested in his hearing that it might not improbably have got into
the hands of that omnivorous collector, Sir J. H. Tomlinson. But
the vendor was proof against all such attempts to decry his goods.
He had the effrontery to brush away the documentary evidence, and
to declare that Sir J. H. Tomlinson (one of the most learned and
astute picture-buyers in England) had been smartly imposed upon by
a needy Dutch artist with a talent for forgery. The real Maria
Vanrenen, he declared and swore, was the one he offered us.
"Success has turned the man's head," Charles said to me, well
pleased. "He thinks we will swallow any obvious lie he chooses to
palm off upon us. But the bucket has come once too often to the
well. This time we checkmate him." It was a mixed metaphor, I
admit; but Sir Charles's tropes are not always entirely superior to
So we pretended to believe our man, and accepted his assurances.
Next came the question of price. This was warmly debated, for
form's sake only. Sir J. H. Tomlinson had paid eight thousand for
his genuine Maria. The Doctor demanded ten thousand for his
spurious one. There was really no reason why we should higgle and
dispute, for Charles meant merely to give his cheque for the sum
and then arrest the fellow; but, still, we thought it best for the
avoidance of suspicion to make a show of resistance; and we at last
beat him down to nine thousand guineas. For this amount he was to
give us a written warranty that the work he sold us was a genuine
Rembrandt, that it represented Maria Vanrenen of Haarlem, and that
he had bought it direct, without doubt or question, from that good
lady's descendants at Gouda, in Holland.
It was capitally done. We arranged the thing to perfection. We
had a constable in waiting in our rooms at the Métropole, and we
settled that Dr. Polperro was to call at the hotel at a certain
fixed hour to sign the warranty and receive his money. A regular
agreement on sound stamped paper was drawn out between us. At the
appointed time the "party of the first part" came, having already
given us over possession of the portrait. Charles drew a cheque for
the amount agreed upon, and signed it. Then he handed it to the
Doctor. Polperro just clutched at it. Meanwhile, I took up my post
by the door, while two men in plain clothes, detectives from the
police-station, stood as men-servants and watched the windows. We
feared lest the impostor, once he had got the cheque, should dodge
us somehow, as he had already done at Nice and in Paris. The moment
he had pocketed his money with a smile of triumph, I advanced to
him rapidly. I had in my possession a pair of handcuffs. Before he
knew what was happening, I had slipped them on his wrists and
secured them dexterously, while the constable stepped forward. "We
have got you this time!" I cried. "We know who you are, Dr.
Polperro. You are—Colonel Clay, alias Señor Antonio Herrera, alias
the Reverend Richard Peploe Brabazon."
I never saw any man so astonished in my life! He was utterly
flabbergasted. Charles thought he must have expected to get clear
away at once, and that this prompt action on our part had taken the
fellow so much by surprise as to simply unman him. He gazed about
him as if he hardly realised what was happening.
"Are these two raving maniacs?" he asked at last, "or what do
they mean by this nonsensical gibberish about Antonio Herrera?"
The constable laid his hand on the prisoner's shoulder.
"It's all right, my man," he said. "We've got warrants out
against you. I arrest you, Edward Polperro, alias the Reverend
Richard Peploe Brabazon, on a charge of obtaining money under false
pretences from Sir Charles Vandrift, K.C.M.G., M.P., on his sworn
information, now here subscribed to." For Charles had had the thing
drawn out in readiness beforehand.
Our prisoner drew himself up. "Look here, officer," he said, in
an offended tone, "there's some mistake here in this matter. I have
never given an alias at any time in my life. How do you know this
is really Sir Charles Vandrift? It may be a case of bullying
personation. My belief is, though, they're a pair of escaped
"We'll see about that to-morrow," the constable said, collaring
him. "At present you've got to go off with me quietly to the
station, where these gentlemen will enter up the charge against
They carried him off, protesting. Charles and I signed the
charge-sheet; and the officer locked him up to await his
examination next day before the magistrate.
We were half afraid even now the fellow would manage somehow to
get out on bail and give us the slip in spite of everything; and,
indeed, he protested in the most violent manner against the
treatment to which we were subjecting "a gentleman in his
position." But Charles took care to tell the police it was all
right; that he was a dangerous and peculiarly slippery criminal,
and that on no account must they let him go on any pretext
whatever, till he had been properly examined before the
We learned at the hotel that night, curiously enough, that there
really was a Dr. Polperro, a distinguished art critic, whose
name, we didn't doubt, our impostor had been assuming.
Next morning, when we reached the court, an inspector met us
with a very long face. "Look here, gentlemen," he said, "I'm afraid
you've committed a very serious blunder. You've made a precious bad
mess of it. You've got yourselves into a scrape; and, what's worse,
you've got us into one also. You were a deal too smart with your
sworn information. We've made inquiries about this gentleman, and
we find the account he gives of himself is perfectly correct. His
name is Polperro; he's a well-known art critic and collector
of pictures, employed abroad by the National Gallery. He was
formerly an official in the South Kensington Museum, and he's a
C.B. and LL.D., very highly respected. You've made a sad mistake,
that's where it is; and you'll probably have to answer a charge of
false imprisonment, in which I'm afraid you have also involved our
Charles gasped with horror. "You haven't let him out," he cried,
"on those absurd representations? You haven't let him slip through
your hands as you did that murderer fellow?"
"Let him slip through our hands?" the inspector cried. "I only
wish he would. There's no chance of that, unfortunately. He's in
the court there, this moment, breathing out fire and slaughter
against you both; and we're here to protect you if he should happen
to fall upon you. He's been locked up all night on your mistaken
affidavits, and, naturally enough, he's mad with anger."
"If you haven't let him go, I'm satisfied," Charles answered.
"He's a fox for cunning. Where is he? Let me see him."
We went into the court. There we saw our prisoner conversing
amicably, in the most excited way, with the magistrate (who, it
seems, was a personal friend of his); and Charles at once went up
and spoke to them. Dr. Polperro turned round and glared at him
through his pince-nez.
"The only possible explanation of this person's extraordinary
and incredible conduct," he said, "is, that he must be mad—and his
secretary equally so. He made my acquaintance, unasked, on a glass
seat on the King's Road; invited me to go on his coach to Lewes;
volunteered to buy a valuable picture of me; and then, at the last
moment, unaccountably gave me in charge on this silly and
preposterous trumped-up accusation. I demand a summons for false
Suddenly it began to dawn upon us that the tables were turned.
By degrees it came out that we had made a mistake. Dr. Polperro was
really the person he represented himself to be, and had been
always. His picture, we found out, was the real Maria Vanrenen, and
a genuine Rembrandt, which he had merely deposited for cleaning and
restoring at the suspicious dealer's. Sir J. H. Tomlinson had been
imposed upon and cheated by a cunning Dutchman; his picture,
though also an undoubted Rembrandt, was not the Maria, and
was an inferior specimen in bad preservation. The authority we had
consulted turned out to be an ignorant, self-sufficient quack. The
Maria, moreover, was valued by other experts at no more than five
or six thousand guineas. Charles wanted to cry off his bargain, but
Dr. Polperro naturally wouldn't hear of it. The agreement was a
legally binding instrument, and what passed in Charles's mind at
the moment had nothing to do with the written contract. Our
adversary only consented to forego the action for false
imprisonment on condition that Charles inserted a printed apology
in the Times, and paid him five hundred pounds compensation for
damage to character. So that was the end of our well-planned
attempt to arrest the swindler.
Not quite the end, however; for, of course, after this, the
whole affair got by degrees into the papers. Dr. Polperro, who was
a familiar person in literary and artistic society, as it turned
out, brought an action against the so-called expert who had
declared against the genuineness of his alleged Rembrandt, and
convicted him of the grossest ignorance and misstatement. Then
paragraphs got about. The World showed us up in a sarcastic
article; and Truth, which has always been terribly severe upon Sir
Charles and all the other South Africans, had a pungent set of
verses on "High Art in Kimberley." By this means, as we suppose,
the affair became known to Colonel Clay himself; for a week or two
later my brother-in-law received a cheerful little note on scented
paper from our persistent sharper. It was couched in these
"Oh, you innocent infant!
"Bless your ingenuous little heart! And did it
believe, then, it had positively caught the redoubtable colonel?
And had it ready a nice little pinch of salt to put upon his tail?
And is it true its respected name is Sir Simple Simon? How heartily
we have laughed, White Heather and I, at your neat little ruses! It
would pay you, by the way, to take White Heather into your house
for six months to instruct you in the agreeable sport of amateur
detectives. Your charming naivete quite moves our envy. So you
actually imagined a man of my brains would condescend to anything
so flat and stale as the silly and threadbare Old Master deception!
And this in the so-called nineteenth century! O sancta simplicitas!
When again shall such infantile transparency be mine? When, ah,
when? But never mind, dear friend. Though you didn't catch me, we
shall meet before long at some delightful Philippi.
"Yours, with the profoundest respect and
"Otherwise RICHARD PEPLOE BRABAZON."
Charles laid down the letter with a deep-drawn sigh. "Sey, my
boy," he mused aloud, "no fortune on earth—not even mine—can go
on standing it. These perpetual drains begin really to terrify me.
I foresee the end. I shall die in a workhouse. What with the money
he robs me of when he is Colonel Clay, and the money I waste
upon him when he isn't Colonel Clay, the man is beginning to
tell upon my nervous system. I shall withdraw altogether from this
worrying life. I shall retire from a scheming and polluted world to
some untainted spot in the fresh, pure mountains."
"You must need rest and change," I said, "when you talk
like that. Let us try the Tyrol."
THE EPISODE OF THE TYROLEAN CASTLE
We went to Meran. The place was practically decided for us by
Amelia's French maid, who really acts on such occasions as our
guide and courier.
She is such a clever girl, is Amelia's French maid.
Whenever we are going anywhere, Amelia generally asks (and accepts)
her advice as to choice of hotels and furnished villas. Césarine
has been all over the Continent in her time; and, being Alsatian by
birth, she of course speaks German as well as she speaks French,
while her long residence with Amelia has made her at last almost
equally at home in our native English. She is a treasure, that
girl; so neat and dexterous, and not above dabbling in anything on
earth she may be asked to turn her hand to. She walks the world
with a needle-case in one hand and an etna in the other. She can
cook an omelette on occasion, or drive a Norwegian cariole; she can
sew, and knit, and make dresses, and cure a cold, and do anything
else on earth you ask her. Her salads are the most savoury I ever
tasted; while as for her coffee (which she prepares for us in the
train on long journeys), there isn't a chef de cuisine at a
West-end club to be named in the same day with her.
So, when Amelia said, in her imperious way, "Césarine, we want
to go to the Tyrol—now—at once—in mid-October; where do you
advise us to put up?"—Césarine answered, like a shot, "The
Erzherzog Johann, of course, at Meran, for the autumn, madame."
"Is he ... an archduke?" Amelia asked, a little staggered at
such apparent familiarity with Imperial personages.
"Ma foi! no, madame. He is an hotel—as you would say in
England, the 'Victoria' or the 'Prince of Wales's'—the most
comfortable hotel in all South Tyrol; and at this time of year,
naturally, you must go beyond the Alps; it begins already to be
cold at Innsbruck."
So to Meran we went; and a prettier or more picturesque place, I
confess, I have seldom set eyes on. A rushing torrent; high hills
and mountain peaks; terraced vineyard slopes; old walls and towers;
quaint, arcaded streets; a craggy waterfall; a promenade after the
fashion of a German Spa; and when you lift your eyes from the
ground, jagged summits of Dolomites: it was a combination such as I
had never before beheld; a Rhine town plumped down among green
Alpine heights, and threaded by the cool colonnades of Italy.
I approved Césarine's choice; and I was particularly glad she
had pronounced for an hotel, where all is plain sailing, instead of
advising a furnished villa, the arrangements for which would
naturally have fallen in large part upon the shoulders of the
wretched secretary. As in any case I have to do three hours' work a
day, I feel that such additions to my normal burden may well be
spared me. I tipped Césarine half a sovereign, in fact, for her
judicious choice. Césarine glanced at it on her palm in her
mysterious, curious, half-smiling way, and pocketed it at once with
a "Merci, monsieur!" that had a touch of contempt in it. I always
fancy Césarine has large ideas of her own on the subject of
tipping, and thinks very small beer of the modest sums a mere
secretary can alone afford to bestow upon her.
The great peculiarity of Meran is the number of schlosses (I
believe my plural is strictly irregular, but very convenient to
English ears) which you can see in every direction from its
outskirts. A statistical eye, it is supposed, can count no fewer
than forty of these picturesque, ramshackled old castles from a
point on the Küchelberg. For myself, I hate statistics (except as
an element in financial prospectuses), and I really don't know how
many ruinous piles Isabel and Amelia counted under Césarine's
guidance; but I remember that most of them were quaint and
beautiful, and that their variety of architecture seemed positively
bewildering. One would be square, with funny little turrets stuck
out at each angle; while another would rejoice in a big round keep,
and spread on either side long, ivy-clad walls and delightful
bastions. Charles was immensely taken with them. He loves the
picturesque, and has a poet hidden in that financial soul of his.
(Very effectually hidden, though, I am ready to grant you.) From
the moment he came he felt at once he would love to possess a
castle of his own among these romantic mountains. "Seldon!" he
exclaimed contemptuously. "They call Seldon a castle! But you and I
know very well, Sey, it was built in 1860, with sham antique
stones, for Macpherson of Seldon, at market rates, by Cubitt and
Co., worshipful contractors of London. Macpherson charged me for
that sham antiquity a preposterous price, at which one ought to
procure a real ancestral mansion. Now, these castles are
real. They are hoary with antiquity. Schloss Tyrol is
Romanesque—tenth or eleventh century." (He had been reading it up
in Baedeker.) "That's the sort of place for me!—tenth or
eleventh century. I could live here, remote from stocks and shares,
for ever; and in these sequestered glens, recollect, Sey, my boy,
there are no Colonel Clays, and no arch Madame Picardets!"
As a matter of fact, he could have lived there six weeks, and
then tired for Park Lane, Monte Carlo, Brighton.
As for Amelia, strange to say, she was equally taken with this
new fad of Charles's. As a rule she hates everywhere on earth save
London, except during the time when no respectable person can be
seen in town, and when modest blinds shade the scandalised face of
Mayfair and Belgravia. She bores herself to death even at Seldon
Castle, Ross-shire, and yawns all day long in Paris or Vienna. She
is a confirmed Cockney. Yet, for some occult reason, my amiable
sister-in-law fell in love with South Tyrol. She wanted to vegetate
in that lush vegetation. The grapes were being picked; pumpkins
hung over the walls; Virginia creeper draped the quaint gray
schlosses with crimson cloaks; and everything was as beautiful as a
dream of Burne-Jones's. (I know I am quite right in mentioning
Burne-Jones, especially in connection with Romanesque architecture,
because I heard him highly praised on that very ground by our
friend and enemy, Dr. Edward Polperro.) So perhaps it was excusable
that Amelia should fall in love with it all, under the
circumstances; besides, she is largely influenced by what Césarine
says, and Césarine declares there is no climate in Europe like
Meran in winter. I do not agree with her. The sun sets behind the
hills at three in the afternoon, and a nasty warm wind blows moist
over the snow in January and February.
However, Amelia set Césarine to inquire of the people at the
hotel about the market price of tumbledown ruins, and the number of
such eligible family mausoleums just then for sale in the immediate
neighbourhood. Césarine returned with a full, true, and particular
list, adorned with flowers of rhetoric which would have delighted
the soul of good old John Robins. They were all picturesque, all
Romanesque, all richly ivy-clad, all commodious, all historical,
and all the property of high well-born Grafs and very honourable
Freiherrs. Most of them had been the scene of celebrated
tournaments; several of them had witnessed the gorgeous marriages
of Holy Roman Emperors; and every one of them was provided with
some choice and selected first-class murders. Ghosts could be
arranged for or not, as desired; and armorial bearings could be
thrown in with the moat for a moderate extra remuneration.
The two we liked best of all these tempting piles were Schloss
Planta and Schloss Lebenstein. We drove past both, and even I
myself, I confess, was distinctly taken with them. (Besides, when a
big purchase like this is on the stocks, a poor beggar of a
secretary has always a chance of exerting his influence and earning
for himself some modest commission.) Schloss Planta was the most
striking externally, I should say, with its Rhine-like towers, and
its great gnarled ivy-stems, that looked as if they antedated the
House of Hapsburg; but Lebenstein was said to be better preserved
within, and more fitted in every way for modern occupation. Its
staircase has been photographed by 7000 amateurs.
We got tickets to view. The invaluable Césarine procured them
for us. Armed with these, we drove off one fine afternoon, meaning
to go to Planta, by Césarine's recommendation. Half-way there,
however, we changed our minds, as it was such a lovely day, and
went on up the long, slow hill to Lebenstein. I must say the drive
through the grounds was simply charming. The castle stands perched
(say rather poised, like St. Michael the archangel in Italian
pictures) on a solitary stack or crag of rock, looking down on
every side upon its own rich vineyards. Chestnuts line the glens;
the valley of the Etsch spreads below like a picture.
The vineyards alone make a splendid estate, by the way; they
produce a delicious red wine, which is exported to Bordeaux, and
there bottled and sold as a vintage claret under the name of
Chateau Monnivet. Charles revelled in the idea of growing his own
"Here we could sit," he cried to Amelia, "in the most literal
sense, under our own vine and fig-tree. Delicious retirement! For
my part, I'm sick and tired of the hubbub of Threadneedle
We knocked at the door—for there was really no bell, but a
ponderous, old-fashioned, wrought-iron knocker. So deliciously
mediæval! The late Graf von Lebenstein had recently died, we knew;
and his son, the present Count, a young man of means, having
inherited from his mother's family a still more ancient and
splendid schloss in the Salzburg district, desired to sell this
outlying estate in order to afford himself a yacht, after the
manner that is now becoming increasingly fashionable with the
noblemen and gentlemen in Germany and Austria.
The door was opened for us by a high well-born menial, attired
in a very ancient and honourable livery. Nice antique hall; suits
of ancestral armour, trophies of Tyrolese hunters, coats of arms of
ancient counts—the very thing to take Amelia's aristocratic and
romantic fancy. The whole to be sold exactly as it stood; ancestors
to be included at a valuation.
We went through the reception-rooms. They were lofty, charming,
and with glorious views, all the more glorious for being framed by
those graceful Romanesque windows, with their slender pillars and
quaint, round-topped arches. Sir Charles had made his mind up. "I
must and will have it!" he cried. "This is the place for me.
Seldon! Pah, Seldon is a modern abomination."
Could we see the high well-born Count? The liveried servant
(somewhat haughtily) would inquire of his Serenity. Sir Charles
sent up his card, and also Lady Vandrift's. These foreigners know
title spells money in England.
He was right in his surmise. Two minutes later the Count entered
with our cards in his hands. A good-looking young man, with the
characteristic Tyrolese long black moustache, dressed in a
gentlemanly variant on the costume of the country. His air was a
jager's; the usual blackcock's plume stuck jauntily in the side of
the conical hat (which he held in his hand), after the universal
He waved us to seats. We sat down. He spoke to us in French; his
English, he remarked, with a pleasant smile, being a négligeable
quantity. We might speak it, he went on; he could understand pretty
well; but he preferred to answer, if we would allow him, in French
"French," Charles replied, and the negotiation continued
thenceforth in that language. It is the only one, save English and
his ancestral Dutch, with which my brother-in-law possesses even a
We praised the beautiful scene. The Count's face lighted up with
patriotic pride. Yes; it was beautiful, beautiful, his own green
Tyrol. He was proud of it and attached to it. But he could endure
to sell this place, the home of his fathers, because he had a finer
in the Salzkammergut, and a pied-à-terre near Innsbruck. For Tyrol
lacked just one joy—the sea. He was a passionate yachtsman. For
that he had resolved to sell this estate; after all, three country
houses, a ship, and a mansion in Vienna, are more than one man can
"Exactly," Charles answered. "If I can come to terms with you
about this charming estate I shall sell my own castle in the Scotch
Highlands." And he tried to look like a proud Scotch chief who
harangues his clansmen.
Then they got to business. The Count was a delightful man to do
business with. His manners were perfect. While we were talking to
him, a surly person, a steward or bailiff, or something of the
sort, came into the room unexpectedly and addressed him in German,
which none of us understand. We were impressed by the singular
urbanity and benignity of the nobleman's demeanour towards this
sullen dependant. He evidently explained to the fellow what sort of
people we were, and remonstrated with him in a very gentle way for
interrupting us. The steward understood, and clearly regretted his
insolent air; for after a few sentences he went out, and as he did
so he bowed and made protestations of polite regard in his own
language. The Count turned to us and smiled. "Our people," he said,
"are like your own Scotch peasants—kind-hearted, picturesque,
free, musical, poetic, but wanting, hélas, in polish to strangers."
He was certainly an exception, if he described them aright; for he
made us feel at home from the moment we entered.
He named his price in frank terms. His lawyers at Meran held the
needful documents, and would arrange the negotiations in detail
with us. It was a stiff sum, I must say—an extremely stiff sum;
but no doubt he was charging us a fancy price for a fancy castle.
"He will come down in time," Charles said. "The sum first named in
all these transactions is invariably a feeler. They know I'm a
millionaire; and people always imagine millionaires are positively
made of money."
I may add that people always imagine it must be easier to
squeeze money out of millionaires than out of other people—which
is the reverse of the truth, or how could they ever have amassed
their millions? Instead of oozing gold as a tree oozes gum, they
mop it up like blotting-paper, and seldom give it out again.
We drove back from this first interview none the less very well
satisfied. The price was too high; but preliminaries were arranged,
and for the rest, the Count desired us to discuss all details with
his lawyers in the chief street, Unter den Lauben. We inquired
about these lawyers, and found they were most respectable and
respected men; they had done the family business on either side for
They showed us plans and title-deeds. Everything quite en régle.
Till we came to the price there was no hitch of any sort.
As to price, however, the lawyers were obdurate. They stuck out
for the Count's first sum to the uttermost florin. It was a very
big estimate. We talked and shilly-shallied till Sir Charles grew
angry. He lost his temper at last.
"They know I'm a millionaire, Sey," he said, "and they're
playing the old game of trying to diddle me. But I won't be
diddled. Except Colonel Clay, no man has ever yet succeeded in
bleeding me. And shall I let myself be bled as if I were a chamois
among these innocent mountains? Perish the thought!" Then he
reflected a little in silence. "Sey," he mused on, at last, "the
question is, are they innocent? Do you know, I begin to
believe there is no such thing left as pristine innocence anywhere.
This Tyrolese Count knows the value of a pound as distinctly as if
he hung out in Capel Court or Kimberley."
Things dragged on in this way, inconclusively, for a week or
two. We bid down; the lawyers stuck to it. Sir Charles grew
half sick of the whole silly business. For my own part, I felt sure
if the high well-born Count didn't quicken his pace, my respected
relative would shortly have had enough of the Tyrol altogether, and
be proof against the most lovely of crag-crowning castles. But the
Count didn't see it. He came to call on us at our hotel—a rare
honour for a stranger with these haughty and exclusive Tyrolese
nobles—and even entered unannounced in the most friendly manner.
But when it came to L. s. d., he was absolute adamant. Not one
kreutzer would he abate from his original proposal.
"You misunderstand," he said, with pride. "We Tyrolese gentlemen
are not shopkeepers or merchants. We do not higgle. If we say a
thing we stick to it. Were you an Austrian, I should feel insulted
by your ill-advised attempt to beat down my price. But as you
belong to a great commercial nation—" he broke off with a snort
and shrugged his shoulders compassionately.
We saw him several times driving in and out of the schloss, and
every time he waved his hand at us gracefully. But when we tried to
bargain, it was always the same thing: he retired behind the
shelter of his Tyrolese nobility. We might take it or leave it.
'Twas still Schloss Lebenstein.
The lawyers were as bad. We tried all we knew, and got no
At last Charles gave up the attempt in disgust. He was tiring,
as I expected. "It's the prettiest place I ever saw in my life," he
said; "but, hang it all, Sey, I won't be imposed upon."
So he made up his mind, it being now December, to return to
London. We met the Count next day, and stopped his carriage, and
told him so. Charles thought this would have the immediate effect
of bringing the man to reason. But he only lifted his hat, with the
blackcock's feather, and smiled a bland smile. "The Archduke Karl
is inquiring about it," he answered, and drove on without
Charles used some strong words, which I will not transcribe (I
am a family man), and returned to England.
For the next two months we heard little from Amelia save her
regret that the Count wouldn't sell us Schloss Lebenstein. Its
pinnacles had fairly pierced her heart. Strange to say, she was
absolutely infatuated about the castle. She rather wanted the place
while she was there, and thought she could get it; now she thought
she couldn't, her soul (if she has one) was wildly set upon it.
Moreover, Césarine further inflamed her desire by gently hinting a
fact which she had picked up at the courier's table d'hôte at the
hotel—that the Count had been far from anxious to sell his
ancestral and historical estate to a South African diamond king. He
thought the honour of the family demanded, at least, that he should
secure a wealthy buyer of good ancient lineage.
One morning in February, however, Amelia returned from the Row
all smiles and tremors. (She had been ordered horse-exercise to
correct the increasing excessiveness of her figure.)
"Who do you think I saw riding in the Park?" she inquired. "Why,
the Count of Lebenstein."
"No!" Charles exclaimed, incredulous.
"Yes," Amelia answered.
"Must be mistaken," Charles cried.
But Amelia stuck to it. More than that, she sent out emissaries
to inquire diligently from the London lawyers, whose name had been
mentioned to us by the ancestral firm in Unter den Lauben as their
English agents, as to the whereabouts of our friend; and her
emissaries learned in effect that the Count was in town and
stopping at Morley's.
"I see through it," Charles exclaimed. "He finds he's made a
mistake; and now he's come over here to reopen negotiations."
I was all for waiting prudently till the Count made the first
move. "Don't let him see your eagerness," I said. But Amelia's
ardour could not now be restrained. She insisted that Charles
should call on the Graf as a mere return of his politeness in the
He was as charming as ever. He talked to us with delight about
the quaintness of London. He would be ravished to dine next evening
with Sir Charles. He desired his respectful salutations meanwhile
to Miladi Vandrift and Madame Ventvorth.
He dined with us, almost en famille. Amelia's cook did wonders.
In the billiard-room, about midnight, Charles reopened the subject.
The Count was really touched. It pleased him that still, amid the
distractions of the City of Five Million Souls, we should remember
with affection his beloved Lebenstein.
"Come to my lawyers," he said, "to-morrow, and I will talk it
all over with you."
We went—a most respectable firm in Southampton Row; old family
solicitors. They had done business for years for the late Count,
who had inherited from his grandmother estates in Ireland; and they
were glad to be honoured with the confidence of his successor.
Glad, too, to make the acquaintance of a prince of finance like Sir
Charles Vandrift. Anxious (rubbing their hands) to arrange matters
satisfactorily all round for everybody. (Two capital families with
which to be mixed up, you see.)
Sir Charles named a price, and referred them to his solicitors.
The Count named a higher, but still a little come-down, and left
the matter to be settled between the lawyers. He was a soldier and
a gentleman, he said, with a Tyrolese toss of his high-born head;
he would abandon details to men of business.
As I was really anxious to oblige Amelia, I met the Count
accidentally next day on the steps of Morley's. (Accidentally, that
is to say, so far as he was concerned, though I had been hanging
about in Trafalgar Square for half an hour to see him.) I
explained, in guarded terms, that I had a great deal of influence
in my way with Sir Charles; and that a word from me—I broke off.
He stared at me blankly.
"Commission?" he inquired, at last, with a queer little
"Well, not exactly commission," I answered, wincing. "Still, a
friendly word, you know. One good turn deserves another."
He looked at me from head to foot with a curious scrutiny. For
one moment I feared the Tyrolese nobleman in him was going to raise
its foot and take active measures. But the next, I saw that Sir
Charles was right after all, and that pristine innocence has
removed from this planet to other quarters.
He named his lowest price. "M. Ventvorth," he said, "I am a
Tyrolese seigneur; I do not dabble, myself, in commissions and
percentages. But if your influence with Sir Charles—we understand
each other, do we not?—as between gentlemen—a little friendly
present—no money, of course—but the equivalent of say 5 per cent
in jewellery, on whatever sum above his bid to-day you induce him
to offer—eh?—c'est convenu?"
"Ten per cent is more usual," I murmured.
He was the Austrian hussar again. "Five, monsieur—or
I bowed and withdrew. "Well, five then," I answered, "just to
oblige your Serenity."
A secretary, after all, can do a great deal. When it came to the
scratch, I had but little difficulty in persuading Sir Charles,
with Amelia's aid, backed up on either side by Isabel and Césarine,
to accede to the Count's more reasonable proposal. The Southampton
Row people had possession of certain facts as to the value of the
wines in the Bordeaux market which clinched the matter. In a week
or two all was settled; Charles and I met the Count by appointment
in Southampton Row, and saw him sign, seal, and deliver the
title-deeds of Schloss Lebenstein. My brother-in-law paid the
purchase-money into the Count's own hands, by cheque, crossed on a
first-class London firm where the Count kept an account to his high
well-born order. Then he went away with the proud knowledge that he
was owner of Schloss Lebenstein. And what to me was more important
still, I received next morning by post a cheque for the five per
cent, unfortunately drawn, by some misapprehension, to my order on
the self-same bankers, and with the Count's signature. He explained
in the accompanying note that the matter being now quite
satisfactorily concluded, he saw no reason of delicacy why the
amount he had promised should not be paid to me forthwith direct in
I cashed the cheque at once, and said nothing about the affair,
not even to Isabel. My experience is that women are not to be
trusted with intricate matters of commission and brokerage.
Though it was now late in March, and the House was sitting,
Charles insisted that we must all run over at once to take
possession of our magnificent Tyrolese castle. Amelia was almost
equally burning with eagerness. She gave herself the airs of a
Countess already. We took the Orient Express as far as Munich; then
the Brenner to Meran, and put up for the night at the Erzherzog
Johann. Though we had telegraphed our arrival, and expected some
fuss, there was no demonstration. Next morning we drove out in
state to the schloss, to enter into enjoyment of our vines and
We were met at the door by the surly steward. "I shall dismiss
that man," Charles muttered, as Lord of Lebenstein. "He's too
sour-looking for my taste. Never saw such a brute. Not a smile of
He mounted the steps. The surly man stepped forward and murmured
a few morose words in German. Charles brushed him aside and strode
on. Then there followed a curious scene of mutual misunderstanding.
The surly man called lustily for his servants to eject us. It was
some time before we began to catch at the truth. The surly man was
the real Graf von Lebenstein.
And the Count with the moustache? It dawned upon us now. Colonel
Clay again! More audacious than ever!
Bit by bit it all came out. He had ridden behind us the first
day we viewed the place, and, giving himself out to the servants as
one of our party, had joined us in the reception-room. We asked the
real Count why he had spoken to the intruder. The Count explained
in French that the man with the moustache had introduced my
brother-in-law as the great South African millionaire, while he
described himself as our courier and interpreter. As such he had
had frequent interviews with the real Graf and his lawyers in
Meran, and had driven almost daily across to the castle. The owner
of the estate had named one price from the first, and had stuck to
it manfully. He stuck to it still; and if Sir Charles chose to buy
Schloss Lebenstein over again he was welcome to have it. How the
London lawyers had been duped the Count had not really the
slightest idea. He regretted the incident, and (coldly) wished us a
very good morning.
There was nothing for it but to return as best we might to the
Erzherzog Johann, crestfallen, and telegraph particulars to the
police in London.
Charles and I ran across post-haste to England to track down the
villain. At Southampton Row we found the legal firm by no means
penitent; on the contrary, they were indignant at the way we had
deceived them. An impostor had written to them on Lebenstein paper
from Meran to say that he was coming to London to negotiate the
sale of the schloss and surrounding property with the famous
millionaire, Sir Charles Vandrift; and Sir Charles had
demonstratively recognised him at sight as the real Count von
Lebenstein. The firm had never seen the present Graf at all, and
had swallowed the impostor whole, so to speak, on the strength of
Sir Charles's obvious recognition. He had brought over as documents
some most excellent forgeries—facsimiles of the originals—which,
as our courier and interpreter, he had every opportunity of
examining and inspecting at the Meran lawyers'. It was a
deeply-laid plot, and it had succeeded to a marvel. Yet, all of it
depended upon the one small fact that we had accepted the man with
the long moustache in the hall of the schloss as the Count von
Lebenstein on his own representation.
He held our cards in his hands when he came in; and the servant
had not given them to him, but to the genuine Count. That
was the one unsolved mystery in the whole adventure.
By the evening's post two letters arrived for us at Sir
Charles's house: one for myself, and one for my employer. Sir
Charles's ran thus:—
"HIGH WELL-BORN INCOMPETENCE,—
"I only just pulled through! A very small slip
nearly lost me everything. I believed you were going to Schloss
Planta that day, not to Schloss Lebenstein. You changed your mind
en route. That might have spoiled all. Happily I perceived it, rode
up by the short cut, and arrived somewhat hurriedly and hotly at
the gate before you. Then I introduced myself. I had one more bad
moment when the rival claimant to my name and title intruded into
the room. But fortune favours the brave: your utter ignorance of
German saved me. The rest was pap. It went by itself almost.
"Allow me, now, as some small return for your
various welcome cheques, to offer you a useful and valuable
present—a German dictionary, grammar, and phrase-book!
"I kiss your hand.
The other note was to me. It was as follows:—
"DEAR GOOD MR. VENTVORTH,—
"Ha, ha, ha; just a W misplaced sufficed to take
you in, then! And I risked the TH, though anybody with a head on
his shoulders would surely have known our TH is by far more
difficult than our W for foreigners! However, all's well that ends
well; and now I've got you. The Lord has delivered you into my
hands, dear friend—on your own initiative. I hold my cheque,
endorsed by you, and cashed at my banker's, as a hostage, so to
speak, for your future good behaviour. If ever you recognise me,
and betray me to that solemn old ass, your employer, remember, I
expose it, and you with it to him. So now we understand each other.
I had not thought of this little dodge; it was you who suggested
it. However, I jumped at it. Was it not well worth my while paying
you that slight commission in return for a guarantee of your future
silence? Your mouth is now closed. And cheap too at the
price.—Yours, dear Comrade, in the great confraternity of
"CUTHBERT CLAY, Colonel."
Charles laid his note down, and grizzled. "What's yours, Sey?"
"From a lady," I answered.
He gazed at me suspiciously. "Oh, I thought it was the same
hand," he said. His eye looked through me.
"No," I answered. "Mrs. Mortimer's." But I confess I
He paused a moment. "You made all inquiries at this fellow's
bank?" he went on, after a deep sigh.
"Oh, yes," I put in quickly. (I had taken good care about that,
you may be sure, lest he should spot the commission.) "They say the
self-styled Count von Lebenstein was introduced to them by the
Southampton Row folks, and drew, as usual, on the Lebenstein
account: so they were quite unsuspicious. A rascal who goes about
the world on that scale, you know, and arrives with such
credentials as theirs and yours, naturally imposes on anybody. The
bank didn't even require to have him formally identified. The firm
was enough. He came to pay money in, not to draw it out. And he
withdrew his balance just two days later, saying he was in a hurry
to get back to Vienna."
Would he ask for items? I confess I felt it was an awkward
moment. Charles, however, was too full of regrets to bother about
the account. He leaned back in his easy chair, stuck his hands in
his pockets, held his legs straight out on the fender before him,
and looked the very picture of hopeless despondency.
"Sey," he began, after a minute or two, poking the fire,
reflectively, "what a genius that man has! 'Pon my soul, I admire
him. I sometimes wish—" He broke off and hesitated.
"Yes, Charles?" I answered.
"I sometimes wish ... we had got him on the Board of the
Cloetedorp Golcondas. Mag—nificent combinations he would make in
I rose from my seat and stared solemnly at my misguided
"Charles," I said, "you are beside yourself. Too much Colonel
Clay has told upon your clear and splendid intellect. There are
certain remarks which, however true they may be, no self-respecting
financier should permit himself to make, even in the privacy of his
own room, to his most intimate friend and trusted adviser."
Charles fairly broke down. "You are right, Sey," he sobbed out.
"Quite right. Forgive this outburst. At moments of emotion the
truth will sometimes out, in spite of everything."
I respected his feebleness. I did not even make it a fitting
occasion to ask for a trifling increase of salary.
THE EPISODE OF THE DRAWN GAME
The twelfth of August saw us, as usual, at Seldon Castle,
Ross-shire. It is part of Charles's restless, roving temperament
that, on the morning of the eleventh, wet or fine, he must set out
from London, whether the House is sitting or not, in defiance of
the most urgent three-line whips; and at dawn on the twelfth he
must be at work on his moors, shooting down the young birds with
might and main, at the earliest possible legal moment.
He goes on like Saul, slaying his thousands, or, like David, his
tens of thousands, with all the guns in the house to help him, till
the keepers warn him he has killed as many grouse as they consider
desirable; and then, having done his duty, as he thinks, in this
respect, he retires precipitately with flying colours to Brighton,
Nice, Monte Carlo, or elsewhere. He must be always "on the trek";
when he is buried, I believe he will not be able to rest quiet in
his grave: his ghost will walk the world to terrify old ladies.
"At Seldon, at least," he said to me, with a sigh, as he stepped
into his Pullman, "I shall be safe from that impostor!"
And indeed, as soon as he had begun to tire a little of counting
up his hundreds of brace per diem, he found a trifling piece of
financial work cut ready to his hand, which amply distracted his
mind for the moment from Colonel Clay, his accomplices, and his
Sir Charles, I ought to say, had secured during that summer a
very advantageous option in a part of Africa on the Transvaal
frontier, rumoured to be auriferous. Now, whether it was auriferous
or not before, the mere fact that Charles had secured some claim on
it naturally made it so; for no man had ever the genuine
Midas-touch to a greater degree than Charles Vandrift: whatever he
handles turns at once to gold, if not to diamonds. Therefore, as
soon as my brother-in-law had obtained this option from the native
vendor (a most respected chief, by name Montsioa), and promoted a
company of his own to develop it, his great rival in that region,
Lord Craig-Ellachie (formerly Sir David Alexander Granton),
immediately secured a similar option of an adjacent track, the
larger part of which had pretty much the same geological conditions
as that covered by Sir Charles's right of pre-emption.
We were not wholly disappointed, as it turned out, in the
result. A month or two later, while we were still at Seldon, we
received a long and encouraging letter from our prospectors on the
spot, who had been hunting over the ground in search of gold-reefs.
They reported that they had found a good auriferous vein in a
corner of the tract, approachable by adit-levels; but,
unfortunately, only a few yards of the lode lay within the limits
of Sir Charles's area. The remainder ran on at once into what was
locally known as Craig-Ellachie's section.
However, our prospectors had been canny, they said; though young
Mr. Granton was prospecting at the same time, in the self-same
ridge, not very far from them, his miners had failed to discover
the auriferous quartz; so our men had held their tongues about it,
wisely leaving it for Charles to govern himself accordingly.
"Can you dispute the boundary?" I asked.
"Impossible," Charles answered. "You see, the limit is a
meridian of longitude. There's no getting over that. Can't pretend
to deny it. No buying over the sun! No bribing the instruments!
Besides, we drew the line ourselves. We've only one way out of it,
Sey. Amalgamate! Amalgamate!"
Charles is a marvellous man! The very voice in which he murmured
that blessed word "Amalgamate!" was in itself a poem.
"Capital!" I answered. "Say nothing about it, and join forces
Charles closed one eye pensively.
That very same evening came a telegram in cipher from our chief
engineer on the territory of the option: "Young Granton has somehow
given us the slip and gone home. We suspect he knows all. But we
have not divulged the secret to anybody."
"Seymour," my brother-in-law said impressively, "there is no
time to be lost. I must write this evening to Sir David—I mean to
My Lord. Do you happen to know where he is stopping at
"The Morning Post announced two or three days ago that he was at
Glen-Ellachie," I answered.
"Then I'll ask him to come over and thrash the matter out with
me," my brother-in-law went on. "A very rich reef, they say. I must
have my finger in it!"
We adjourned into the study, where Sir Charles drafted, I must
admit, a most judicious letter to the rival capitalist. He pointed
out that the mineral resources of the country were probably great,
but as yet uncertain. That the expense of crushing and milling
might be almost prohibitive. That access to fuel was costly, and
its conveyance difficult. That water was scarce, and commanded by
our section. That two rival companies, if they happened to hit upon
ore, might cut one another's throats by erecting two sets of
furnaces or pumping plants, and bringing two separate streams to
the spot, where one would answer. In short—to employ the golden
word—that amalgamation might prove better in the end than
competition; and that he advised, at least, a conference on the
I wrote it out fair for him, and Sir Charles, with the air of a
Cromwell, signed it.
"This is important, Sey," he said. "It had better be registered,
for fear of falling into improper hands. Don't give it to Dobson;
let Césarine take it over to Fowlis in the dog-cart."
It is the drawback of Seldon that we are twelve miles from a
railway station, though we look out on one of the loveliest firths
Césarine took it as directed—an invaluable servant, that girl!
Meanwhile, we learned from the Morning Post next day that young Mr.
Granton had stolen a march upon us. He had arrived from Africa by
the same mail with our agent's letter, and had joined his father at
once at Glen-Ellachie.
Two days later we received a most polite reply from the opposing
interest. It ran after this fashion:—
"DEAR SIR CHARLES VANDRIFT—Thanks for yours of
the 20th. In reply, I can only say I fully reciprocate your amiable
desire that nothing adverse to either of our companies should
happen in South Africa. With regard to your suggestion that we
should meet in person, to discuss the basis of a possible
amalgamation, I can only say my house is at present full of
guests—as is doubtless your own—and I should therefore find it
practically impossible to leave Glen-Ellachie. Fortunately,
however, my son David is now at home on a brief holiday from
Kimberley; and it will give him great pleasure to come over and
hear what you have to say in favour of an arrangement which
certainly, on some grounds, seems to me desirable in the interests
of both our concessions alike. He will arrive to-morrow afternoon
at Seldon, and he is authorised, in every respect, to negotiate
with full powers on behalf of myself and the other directors. With
kindest regards to your wife and sons, I remain, dear Sir Charles,
"Cunning old fox!" Sir Charles exclaimed, with a sniff. "What's
he up to now, I wonder? Seems almost as anxious to amalgamate as we
ourselves are, Sey." A sudden thought struck him. "Do you know," he
cried, looking up, "I really believe the same thing must have
happened to both our exploring parties. They must
have found a reef that goes under our ground, and the wicked
old rascal wants to cheat us out of it!"
"As we want to cheat him," I ventured to interpose.
Charles looked at me fixedly. "Well, if so, we're both in luck,"
he murmured, after a pause; "though we can only get to know
the whereabouts of their find by joining hands with them and
showing them ours. Still, it's good business either way. But I
shall be cautious—cautious."
"What a nuisance!" Amelia cried, when we told her of the
incident. "I suppose I shall have to put the man up for the
night—a nasty, raw-boned, half-baked Scotchman, you may be
On Wednesday afternoon, about three, young Granton arrived. He
was a pleasant-featured, red-haired, sandy-whiskered youth, not
unlike his father; but, strange to say, he dropped in to call,
instead of bringing his luggage.
"Why, you're not going back to Glen-Ellachie to-night, surely?"
Charles exclaimed, in amazement. "Lady Vandrift will be so
disappointed! Besides, this business can't be arranged between two
trains, do you think, Mr. Granton?"
Young Granton smiled. He had an agreeable smile—canny, yet
"Oh no," he said frankly. "I didn't mean to go back. I've put up
at the inn. I have my wife with me, you know—and, I wasn't
Amelia was of opinion, when we told her this episode, that David
Granton wouldn't stop at Seldon because he was an Honourable.
Isabel was of opinion he wouldn't stop because he had married an
unpresentable young woman somewhere out in South Africa. Charles
was of opinion that, as representative of the hostile interest, he
put up at the inn, because it might tie his hands in some way to be
the guest of the chairman of the rival company. And I was of
opinion that he had heard of the castle, and knew it well by report
as the dullest country-house to stay at in Scotland.
However that may be, young Granton insisted on remaining at the
Cromarty Arms, though he told us his wife would be delighted to
receive a call from Lady Vandrift and Mrs. Wentworth. So we all
returned with him to bring the Honourable Mrs. Granton up to tea at
She was a nice little thing, very shy and timid, but by no means
unpresentable, and an evident lady. She giggled at the end of every
sentence; and she was endowed with a slight squint, which somehow
seemed to point all her feeble sallies. She knew little outside
South Africa; but of that she talked prettily; and she won all our
hearts, in spite of the cast in her eye, by her unaffected
Next morning Charles and I had a regular debate with young
Granton about the rival options. Our talk was of cyanide processes,
reverberatories, pennyweights, water-jackets. But it dawned upon us
soon that, in spite of his red hair and his innocent manners, our
friend, the Honourable David Granton, knew a thing or two.
Gradually and gracefully he let us see that Lord Craig-Ellachie had
sent him for the benefit of the company, but that he had
come for the benefit of the Honourable David Granton.
"I'm a younger son, Sir Charles," he said; "and therefore I have
to feather my nest for myself. I know the ground. My father will be
guided implicitly by what I advise in the matter. We are men of the
world. Now, let's be business-like. You want to amalgamate.
You wouldn't do that, of course, if you didn't know of something to
the advantage of my father's company—say, a lode on our
land—which you hope to secure for yourself by amalgamation. Very
well; I can make or mar your project. If you choose to
render it worth my while, I'll induce my father and his directors
to amalgamate. If you don't, I won't. That's the long and the short
Charles looked at him admiringly.
"Young man," he said, "you're deep, very deep—for your age. Is
this candour—or deception? Do you mean what you say? Or do you
know some reason why it suits your father's book to amalgamate as
well as it suits mine? And are you trying to keep it from me?" He
fingered his chin. "If I only knew that," he went on, "I should
know how to deal with you."
Young Granton smiled again. "You're a financier, Sir Charles,"
he answered. "I wonder, at your time of life, you should pause to
ask another financier whether he's trying to fill his own
pocket—or his father's. Whatever is my father's goes to his eldest
son—and I am his youngest."
"You are right as to general principles," Sir Charles replied,
quite affectionately. "Most sound and sensible. But how do I know
you haven't bargained already in the same way with your father? You
may have settled with him, and be trying to diddle me."
The young man assumed a most candid air. "Look here," he said,
leaning forward. "I offer you this chance. Take it or leave it.
Do you wish to purchase my aid for this amalgamation by a
moderate commission on the net value of my father's option to
yourself—which I know approximately?"
"Say five per cent," I suggested, in a tentative voice, just to
justify my presence.
He looked me through and through. "Ten is more usual," he
answered, in a peculiar tone and with a peculiar glance.
Great heavens, how I winced! I knew what his words meant. They
were the very words I had said myself to Colonel Clay, as the Count
von Lebenstein, about the purchase-money of the schloss—and in the
very same accent. I saw through it all now. That beastly cheque!
This was Colonel Clay; and he was trying to buy up my silence and
assistance by the threat of exposure!
My blood ran cold. I didn't know how to answer him. What
happened at the rest of that interview I really couldn't tell you.
My brain reeled round. I heard just faint echoes of "fuel" and
"reduction works." What on earth was I to do? If I told Charles my
suspicion—for it was only a suspicion—the fellow might turn upon
me and disclose the cheque, which would suffice to ruin me. If I
didn't, I ran a risk of being considered by Charles an accomplice
and a confederate.
The interview was long. I hardly know how I struggled through
it. At the end young Granton went off, well satisfied, if it was
young Granton; and Amelia invited him and his wife up to dinner at
Whatever else they were, they were capital company. They stopped
for three days more at the Cromarty Arms. And Charles debated and
discussed incessantly. He couldn't quite make up his mind what to
do in the affair; and I certainly couldn't help him. I never
was placed in such a fix in my life. I did my best to preserve a
Young Granton, it turned out, was a most agreeable person; and
so, in her way, was that timid, unpretending South African wife of
his. She was naively surprised Amelia had never met her mamma at
Durban. They both talked delightfully, and had lots of good
stories—mostly with points that told against the Craig-Ellachie
people. Moreover, the Honourable David was a splendid swimmer. He
went out in a boat with us, and dived like a seal. He was burning
to teach Charles and myself to swim, when we told him we could
neither of us take a single stroke; he said it was an
accomplishment incumbent upon every true Englishman. But Charles
hates the water; while, as for myself, I detest every known form of
However, we consented that he should row us on the Firth, and
made an appointment one day with himself and his wife for four the
That night Charles came to me with a very grave face in my own
bedroom. "Sey," he said, under his breath, "have you observed? Have
you watched? Have you any suspicions?"
I trembled violently. I felt all was up. "Suspicions of whom?" I
asked. "Not surely of Simpson?" (he was Sir Charles's valet).
My respected brother-in-law looked at me contemptuously.
"Sey," he said, "are you trying to take me in? No, not of
Simpson: of these two young folks. My own belief is—they're
Colonel Clay and Madame Picardet."
"Impossible!" I cried.
He nodded. "I'm sure of it."
"How do you know?"
I seized his arm. "Charles," I said, imploring him, "do nothing
rash. Remember how you exposed yourself to the ridicule of fools
over Dr. Polperro!"
"I've thought of that," he answered, "and I mean to ca' caller."
(When in Scotland as laird of Seldon, Charles loves both to dress
and to speak the part thoroughly.) "First thing to-morrow I shall
telegraph over to inquire at Glen-Ellachie; I shall find out
whether this is really young Granton or not; meanwhile, I shall
keep my eye close upon the fellow."
Early next morning, accordingly, a groom was dispatched with a
telegram to Lord Craig-Ellachie. He was to ride over to Fowlis,
send it off at once, and wait for the answer. At the same time, as
it was probable Lord Craig-Ellachie would have started for the
moors before the telegram reached the Lodge, I did not myself
expect to see the reply arrive much before seven or eight that
evening. Meanwhile, as it was far from certain we had not the real
David Granton to deal with, it was necessary to be polite to our
friendly rivals. Our experience in the Polperro incident had shown
us both that too much zeal may be more dangerous than too little.
Nevertheless, taught by previous misfortunes, we kept watching our
man pretty close, determined that on this occasion, at least, he
should neither do us nor yet escape us.
About four o'clock the red-haired young man and his pretty
little wife came up to call for us. She looked so charming and
squinted so enchantingly, one could hardly believe she was not as
simple and innocent as she seemed to be. She tripped down to the
Seldon boat-house, with Charles by her side, giggling and squinting
her best, and then helped her husband to get the skiff ready. As
she did so, Charles sidled up to me. "Sey," he whispered, "I'm an
old hand, and I'm not readily taken in. I've been talking to that
girl, and upon my soul I think she's all right. She's a charming
little lady. We may be mistaken after all, of course, about young
Granton. In any case, it's well for the present to be courteous. A
most important option! If it's really he, we must do nothing to
annoy him or let him see we suspect him."
I had noticed, indeed, that Mrs. Granton had made herself most
agreeable to Charles from the very beginning. And as to one thing
he was right. In her timid, shrinking way she was undeniably
charming. That cast in her eye was all pure piquancy.
We rowed out on to the Firth, or, to be more strictly correct,
the two Grantons rowed while Charles and I sat and leaned back in
the stern on the luxurious cushions. They rowed fast and well. In a
very few minutes they had rounded the point and got clear out of
sight of the Cockneyfied towers and false battlements of
Mrs. Granton pulled stroke. Even as she rowed she kept up a
brisk undercurrent of timid chaff with Sir Charles, giggling all
the while, half forward, half shy, like a school-girl who flirts
with a man old enough to be her grandfather.
Sir Charles was flattered. He is susceptible to the pleasures of
female attention, especially from the young, the simple, and the
innocent. The wiles of women of the world he knows too well; but a
pretty little ingénue can twist him round her finger. They rowed on
and on, till they drew abreast of Seamew's island. It is a jagged
stack or skerry, well out to sea, very wild and precipitous on the
landward side, but shelving gently outward; perhaps an acre in
extent, with steep gray cliffs, covered at that time with crimson
masses of red valerian. Mrs. Granton rowed up close to it. "Oh,
what lovely flowers!" she cried, throwing her head back and gazing
at them. "I wish I could get some! Let's land here and pick them.
Sir Charles, you shall gather me a nice bunch for my
Charles rose to it innocently, like a trout to a fly.
"By all means, my dear child, I—I have a passion for flowers;"
which was a flower of speech itself, but it served its purpose.
They rowed us round to the far side, where is the easiest
landing-place. It struck me as odd at the moment that they seemed
to know it. Then young Granton jumped lightly ashore; Mrs. Granton
skipped after him. I confess it made me feel rather ashamed to see
how clumsily Charles and I followed them, treading gingerly on the
thwarts for fear of upsetting the boat, while the artless young
thing just flew over the gunwale. So like White Heather! However,
we got ashore at last in safety, and began to climb the rocks as
well as we were able in search of the valerian.
Judge of our astonishment when next moment those two young
people bounded back into the boat, pushed off with a peal of merry
laughter, and left us there staring at them!
They rowed away, about twenty yards, into deep water. Then the
man turned, and waved his hand at us gracefully. "Good-bye!" he
said, "good-bye! Hope you'll pick a nice bunch! We're off to
"Off!" Charles exclaimed, turning pale. "Off! What do you mean?
You don't surely mean to say you're going to leave us here?"
The young man raised his cap with perfect politeness, while Mrs.
Granton smiled, nodded, and kissed her pretty hand to us. "Yes," he
answered; "for the present. We retire from the game. The fact of it
is, it's a trifle too thin: this is a coup manqué."
"A what?" Charles exclaimed, perspiring visibly.
"A coup manqué," the young man replied, with a compassionate
smile. "A failure, don't you know; a bad shot; a fiasco. I learn
from my scouts that you sent a telegram by special messenger to
Lord Craig-Ellachie this morning. That shows you suspect me. Now,
it is a principle of my system never to go on for one move with a
game when I find myself suspected. The slightest symptom of
distrust, and—I back out immediately. My plans can only be worked
to satisfaction when there is perfect confidence on the part of my
patient. It is a well-known rule of the medical profession. I
never try to bleed a man who struggles. So now we're off.
Ta-ta! Good luck to you!"
He was not much more than twenty yards away, and could talk to
us quite easily. But the water was deep; the islet rose sheer from
I'm sure I don't know how many fathoms of sea; and we could neither
of us swim. Charles stretched out his arms imploringly. "For
Heaven's sake," he cried, "don't tell me you really mean to leave
He looked so comical in his distress and terror that Mrs.
Granton—Madame Picardet—whatever I am to call her—laughed
melodiously in her prettiest way at the sight of him. "Dear Sir
Charles," she called out, "pray don't be afraid! It's only a short
and temporary imprisonment. We will send men to take you off. Dear
David and I only need just time enough to get well ashore and
make—oh!—a few slight alterations in our personal appearance."
And she indicated with her hand, laughing, dear David's red wig and
false sandy whiskers, as we felt convinced they must be now. She
looked at them and tittered. Her manner at this moment was anything
but shy. In fact, I will venture to say, it was that of a bold and
"Then you are Colonel Clay!" Sir Charles cried, mopping
his brow with his handkerchief.
"If you choose to call me so," the young man answered politely.
"I'm sure it's most kind of you to supply me with a commission in
Her Majesty's service. However, time presses, and we want to push
off. Don't alarm yourselves unnecessarily. I will send a boat to
take you away from this rock at the earliest possible moment
consistent with my personal safety and my dear companion's." He
laid his hand on his heart and struck a sentimental attitude. "I
have received too many unwilling kindnesses at your hands, Sir
Charles," he continued, "not to feel how wrong it would be of me to
inconvenience you for nothing. Rest assured that you shall be
rescued by midnight at latest. Fortunately, the weather just at
present is warm, and I see no chance of rain; so you will suffer,
if at all, from nothing worse than the pangs of temporary
Mrs. Granton, no longer squinting—'twas a mere trick she had
assumed—rose up in the boat and stretched out a rug to us.
"Catch!" she cried, in a merry voice, and flung it at us, doubled.
It fell at our feet; she was a capital thrower.
"Now, you dear Sir Charles," she went on, "take that to keep you
warm! You know I am really quite fond of you. You're not half a bad
old boy when one takes you the right way. You have a human side to
you. Why, I often wear that sweetly pretty brooch you gave me at
Nice, when I was Madame Picardet! And I'm sure your goodness to me
at Lucerne, when I was the little curate's wife, is a thing to
remember. We're so glad to have seen you in your lovely Scotch home
you were always so proud of! Don't be frightened, please. We
wouldn't hurt you for worlds. We are so sorry we have to
take this inhospitable means of evading you. But dear David—I
must call him dear David still—instinctively felt that you
were beginning to suspect us; and he can't bear mistrust. He
is so sensitive! The moment people mistrust him, he
must break off with them at once. This was the only way to
get you both off our hands while we make the needful little
arrangements to depart; and we've been driven to avail ourselves of
it. However, I will give you my word of honour, as a lady, you
shall be fetched away to-night. If dear David doesn't do it, why,
I'll do it myself." And she blew another kiss to us.
Charles was half beside himself, divided between alternate
terror and anger. "Oh, we shall die here!" he exclaimed. "Nobody'd
ever dream of coming to this rock to search for me."
"What a pity you didn't let me teach you to swim!" Colonel Clay
interposed. "It is a noble exercise, and very useful indeed in such
special emergencies! Well, ta-ta! I'm off! You nearly scored one
this time; but, by putting you here for the moment, and keeping you
till we're gone, I venture to say I've redressed the board, and I
think we may count it a drawn game, mayn't we? The match stands at
three, love—with some thousands in pocket?"
"You're a murderer, sir!" Charles shrieked out. "We shall starve
or die here!"
Colonel Clay on his side was all sweet reasonableness. "Now, my
dear sir," he expostulated, one hand held palm outward, "Do
you think it probable I would kill the goose that lays the golden
eggs, with so little compunction? No, no, Sir Charles Vandrift; I
know too well how much you are worth to me. I return you on my
income-tax paper as five thousand a year, clear profit of my
profession. Suppose you were to die! I might be compelled to find
some new and far less lucrative source of plunder. Your heirs,
executors, or assignees might not suit my purpose. The fact of it
is, sir, your temperament and mine are exactly adapted one to the
other. I understand you; and you do not
understand me—which is often the basis of the firmest
friendships. I can catch you just where you are trying to catch
other people. Your very smartness assists me; for I admit you
are smart. As a regular financier, I allow, I couldn't hold
a candle to you. But in my humbler walk of life I know just how to
utilise you. I lead you on, where you think you are going to gain
some advantage over others; and by dexterously playing upon your
love of a good bargain, your innate desire to best somebody else—I
succeed in besting you. There, sir, you have the philosophy of our
He bowed and raised his cap. Charles looked at him and cowered.
Yes, genius as he is, he positively cowered. "And do you mean to
say," he burst out, "you intend to go on so bleeding me?"
The Colonel smiled a bland smile. "Sir Charles Vandrift," he
answered, "I called you just now the goose that lays the golden
eggs. You may have thought the metaphor a rude one. But you
are a goose, you know, in certain relations. Smartest man on
the Stock Exchange, I readily admit; easiest fool to bamboozle in
the open country that ever I met with. You fail in one thing—the
perspicacity of simplicity. For that reason, among others, I have
chosen to fasten upon you. Regard me, my dear sir, as a microbe of
millionaires, a parasite upon capitalists. You know the old
Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to
And these again have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum!
Well, that's just how I view myself. You
are a capitalist and a millionaire. In your large way you
prey upon society. YOU deal in Corners, Options, Concessions,
Syndicates. You drain the world dry of its blood and its money. You
possess, like the mosquito, a beautiful instrument of
suction—Founders' Shares—with which you absorb the surplus wealth
of the community. In my smaller way, again, I relieve
you in turn of a portion of the plunder. I am a Robin Hood of my
age; and, looking upon you as an exceptionally bad form of
millionaire—as well as an exceptionally easy form of pigeon for a
man of my type and talents to pluck—I have, so to speak, taken up
my abode upon you."
Charles looked at him and groaned.
The young man continued, in a tone of gentle badinage. "I love
the plot-interest of the game," he said, "and so does dear Jessie
here. We both of us adore it. As long as I find such good pickings
upon you, I certainly am not going to turn away from so valuable a
carcass, in order to batten myself, at considerable trouble, upon
minor capitalists, out of whom it is difficult to extract a few
hundreds. It may have puzzled you to guess why I fix upon you so
persistently. Now you know, and understand. When a fluke finds a
sheep that suits him, that fluke lives upon him. You are my host: I
am your parasite. This coup has failed. But don't flatter yourself
for a moment it will be the last one."
"Why do you insult me by telling me all this?" Sir Charles
The Colonel waved his hand. It was small and white. "Because I
love the game," he answered, with a relish; "and also,
because the more prepared you are beforehand, the greater credit
and amusement is there in besting you. Well, now, ta-ta once more!
I am wasting valuable time. I might be cheating somebody. I must be
off at once.... Take care of yourself, Wentworth. But I know you
will. You always do. Ten per cent is more usual!"
He rowed away and left us. As the boat began to disappear round
the corner of the island, White Heather—so she looked—stood up in
the stern and shouted aloud through her pretty hands to us.
"By-bye, dear Sir Charles!" she cried. "Do wrap the rug around you!
I'll send the men to fetch you as soon as ever I possibly can. And
thank you so much for those lovely flowers!"
The boat rounded the crags. We were alone on the island. Charles
flung himself on the bare rock in a wild access of despondency. He
is accustomed to luxury, and cannot get on without his padded
cushions. As for myself, I climbed with some difficulty to the top
of the cliff, landward, and tried to make signals of distress with
my handkerchief to some passer-by on the mainland. All in vain.
Charles had dismissed the crofters on the estate; and, as the
shooting-party that day was in an opposite direction, not a soul
was near to whom we could call for succour.
I climbed down again to Charles. The evening came on slowly.
Cries of sea-birds rang weird upon the water. Puffins and
cormorants circled round our heads in the gray of twilight. Charles
suggested that they might even swoop down upon us and bite us. They
did not, however, but their flapping wings added none the less a
painful touch of eeriness to our hunger and solitude. Charles was
horribly depressed. For myself, I will confess I felt so much
relieved at the fact that Colonel Clay had not openly betrayed me
in the matter of the commission, as to be comparatively
We crouched on the hard crag. About eleven o'clock we heard
human voices. "Boat ahoy!" I shouted. An answering shout aroused us
to action. We rushed down to the landing-place and cooee'd for the
men, to show them where we were. They came up at once in Sir
Charles's own boat. They were fishermen from Niggarey, on the shore
of the Firth opposite.
A lady and gentleman had sent them, they said, to return the
boat and call for us on the island; their description corresponded
to the two supposed Grantons. They rowed us home almost in silence
to Seldon. It was half-past twelve by the gatehouse clock when we
reached the castle. Men had been sent along the coast each way to
seek us. Amelia had gone to bed, much alarmed for our safety.
Isabel was sitting up. It was too late, of course, to do much that
night in the way of apprehending the miscreants, though Charles
insisted upon dispatching a groom, with a telegram for the police
at Inverness, to Fowlis.
Nothing came of it all. A message awaited us from Lord
Craig-Ellachie, to be sure, saying that his son had not left
Glen-Ellachie Lodge; while research the next day and later showed
that our correspondent had never even received our letter. An empty
envelope alone had arrived at the house, and the postal authorities
had been engaged meanwhile, with their usual lightning speed, in
"investigating the matter." Césarine had posted the letter herself
at Fowlis, and brought back the receipt; so the only conclusion we
could draw was this—Colonel Clay must be in league with somebody
at the post-office. As for Lord Craig-Ellachie's reply, that was a
simple forgery; though, oddly enough, it was written on
However, by the time Charles had eaten a couple of grouse, and
drunk a bottle of his excellent Rudesheimer, his spirits and valour
revived exceedingly. Doubtless he inherits from his Boer ancestry a
tendency towards courage of the Batavian description. He was in
"After all, Sey," he said, leaning back in his chair, "this time
we score one. He has not done us brown; we have at least
detected him. To detect him in time is half-way to catching him.
Only the remoteness of our position at Seldon Castle saved him from
capture. Next set-to, I feel sure, we will not merely spot him, we
will also nab him. I only wish he would try on such a rig in
But the oddest part of it all was this, that from the moment
those two people landed at Niggarey, and told the fishermen there
were some gentlemen stranded on the Seamew's island, all trace of
them vanished. At no station along the line could we gain any news
of them. Their maid had left the inn the same morning with their
luggage, and we tracked her to Inverness; but there the trail
stopped short, no spoor lay farther. It was a most singular and
Charles lived in hopes of catching his man in London.
But for my part, I felt there was a show of reason in one last
taunt which the rascal flung back at us as the boat receded: "Sir
Charles Vandrift, we are a pair of rogues. The law protects
you. It persecutes me. That's all the
THE EPISODE OF THE GERMAN PROFESSOR
That winter in town my respected brother-in-law had little time
on his hands to bother himself about trifles like Colonel Clay. A
thunderclap burst upon him. He saw his chief interest in South
Africa threatened by a serious, an unexpected, and a crushing
Charles does a little in gold, and a little in land; but his
principal operations have always lain in the direction of diamonds.
Only once in my life, indeed, have I seen him pay the slightest
attention to poetry, and that was when I happened one day to recite
Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark, unfathomed caves of ocean bear.
He rubbed his hands at once and murmured enthusiastically, "I
never thought of that. We might get up an Atlantic Exploration
Syndicate, Limited." So attached is he to diamonds. You may gather,
therefore, what a shock it was to that gigantic brain to learn that
science was rapidly reaching a point where his favourite gems might
become all at once a mere drug in the market. Depreciation is the
one bugbear that perpetually torments Sir Charles's soul; that
winter he stood within measurable distance of so appalling a
It happened after this manner.
We were strolling along Piccadilly towards Charles's club one
afternoon—he is a prominent member of the Croesus, in Pall
Mall—when, near Burlington House, whom should we happen to knock
up against but Sir Adolphus Cordery, the famous mineralogist, and
leading spirit of the Royal Society! He nodded to us pleasantly.
"Halloa, Vandrift," he cried, in his peculiarly loud and piercing
voice; "you're the very man I wanted to meet to-day. Good morning,
Wentworth. Well, how about diamonds now, Sir Gorgius? You'll have
to sing small. It's all up with you Midases. Heard about this
marvellous new discovery of Schleiermacher's? It's calculated to
make you diamond kings squirm like an eel in a frying-pan."
I could see Charles wriggle inside his clothes. He was most
uncomfortable. That a man like Cordery should say such things, in
so loud a voice, on no matter how little foundation, openly in
Piccadilly, was enough in itself to make a sensitive barometer such
as Cloetedorp Golcondas go down a point or two.
"Hush, hush!" Charles said solemnly, in that awed tone of voice
which he always assumes when Money is blasphemed against.
"Please don't talk quite so loud! All London can hear
Sir Adolphus ran his arm through Charles's most amicably.
There's nothing Charles hates like having his arm taken.
"Come along with me to the Athenæum," he went on, in the same
stentorian voice, "and I'll tell you all about it. Most interesting
discovery. Makes diamonds cheap as dirt. Calculated to supersede
South Africa altogether."
Charles allowed himself to be dragged along. There was nothing
else possible. Sir Adolphus continued, in a somewhat lower key,
induced upon him by Charles's mute look of protest. It was a
disquieting story. He told it with gleeful unction. It seems that
Professor Schleiermacher, of Jena, "the greatest living authority
on the chemistry of gems," he said, had lately invented, or claimed
to have invented, a system for artificially producing diamonds,
which had yielded most surprising and unexceptionable results.
Charles's lip curled slightly. "Oh, I know the sort of thing,"
he said. "I've heard of it before. Very inferior stones, quite
small and worthless, produced at immense cost, and even then not
worth looking at. I'm an old bird, you know, Cordery; not to be
caught with chaff. Tell me a better one!"
Sir Adolphus produced a small cut gem from his pocket. "How's
that for the first water?" he inquired, passing it across, with a
broad smile, to the sceptic. "Made under my own eyes—and quite
Charles examined it close, stopping short against the railings
in St. James's Square to look at it with his pocket-lens. There was
no denying the truth. It was a capital small gem of the finest
"Made under your own eyes?" he exclaimed, still incredulous.
"Where, my dear sir?—at Jena?"
The answer was a thunderbolt from a blue sky. "No, here in
London; last night as ever was; before myself and Dr. Gray; and
about to be exhibited by the President himself at a meeting of
Fellows of the Royal Society."
Charles drew a long breath. "This nonsense must be stopped," he
said firmly—"it must be nipped in the bud. It won't do, my dear
friend; we can't have such tampering with important Interests."
"How do you mean?" Cordery asked, astonished.
Charles gazed at him steadily. I could see by the furtive gleam
in my brother-in-law's eye he was distinctly frightened. "Where
is the fellow?" he asked. "Did he come himself, or send over
"Here in London," Sir Adolphus replied. "He's staying at my
house; and he says he'll be glad to show his experiments to anybody
scientifically interested in diamonds. We propose to have a
demonstration of the process to-night at Lancaster Gate. Will you
drop in and see it?"
Would he "drop in" and see it? "Drop in" at such a function!
Could he possibly stop away? Charles clutched the enemy's arm with
a nervous grip. "Look here, Cordery," he said, quivering; "this is
a question affecting very important Interests. Don't do anything
rash. Don't do anything foolish. Remember that Shares may rise or
fall on this." He said "Shares" in a tone of profound respect that
I can hardly even indicate. It was the crucial word in the creed of
"I should think it very probable," Sir Adolphus replied, with
the callous indifference of the mere man of science to financial
Sir Charles was bland, but peremptory. "Now, observe," he said,
"a grave responsibility rests on your shoulders. The Market depends
upon you. You must not ask in any number of outsiders to witness
these experiments. Have a few mineralogists and experts, if you
like; but also take care to invite representatives of the menaced
Interests. I will come myself—I'm engaged to dine out, but I can
contract an indisposition; and I should advise you to ask
Mosenheimer, and, say, young Phipson. They would stand for the
mines, as you and the mineralogists would stand for science. Above
all, don't blab; for Heaven's sake, let there be no premature
gossip. Tell Schleiermacher not to go gassing and boasting of his
success all over London."
"We are keeping the matter a profound secret, at
Schleiermacher's own request," Cordery answered, more
"Which is why," Charles said, in his severest tone, "you bawled
it out at the very top of your voice in Piccadilly!"
However, before nightfall, everything was arranged to Charles's
satisfaction; and off we went to Lancaster Gate, with a profound
expectation that the German professor would do nothing worth
He was a remarkable-looking man, once tall, I should say, from
his long, thin build, but now bowed and bent with long devotion to
study and leaning over a crucible. His hair, prematurely white,
hung down upon his forehead, but his eye was keen and his mouth
sagacious. He shook hands cordially with the men of science, whom
he seemed to know of old, whilst he bowed somewhat distantly to the
South African interest. Then he began to talk, in very
German-English, helping out the sense now and again, where his
vocabulary failed him, by waving his rather dirty and
chemical-stained hands demonstratively about him. His nails were a
sight, but his fingers, I must say, had the delicate shape of a
man's accustomed to minute manipulation. He plunged at once into
the thick of the matter, telling us briefly in his equally thick
accent that he "now brobosed by his new brocess to make for us some
goot and sadisfactory tiamonds."
He brought out his apparatus, and explained—or, as he said,
"eggsblained"—his novel method. "Tiamonds," he said, "were nozzing
but pure crystalline carbon." He knew how to crystallise it—"zat
was all ze secret." The men of science examined the pots and pans
carefully. Then he put in a certain number of raw materials, and
went to work with ostentatious openness. There were three distinct
processes, and he made two stones by each simultaneously. The
remarkable part of his methods, he said, was their rapidity and
their cheapness. In three-quarters of an hour (and he smiled
sardonically) he could produce a diamond worth at current prices
two hundred pounds sterling. "As you shall now see me berform," he
remarked, "viz zis simple abbaradus."
The materials fizzed and fumed. The Professor stirred them. An
unpleasant smell like burnt feathers pervaded the room. The
scientific men craned their necks in their eagerness, and looked
over one another; Vane-Vivian, in particular, was all attention.
After three-quarters of an hour, the Professor, still smiling,
began to empty the apparatus. He removed a large quantity of dust
or powder, which he succinctly described as "by-broducts," and then
took between finger and thumb from the midst of each pan a small
white pebble, not water-worn apparently, but slightly rough and
wart-like on the surface.
From one pair of the pannikins he produced two such stones, and
held them up before us triumphantly. "Zese," he said, "are genuine
tiamonds, manufactured at a gost of fourteen shillings and
siggspence abiece!" Then he tried the second pair. "Zese," he said,
still more gleefully, "are broduced at a gost of eleffen and
ninebence!" Finally, he came to the third pair, which he positively
brandished before our astonished eyes. "And zese," he cried,
transported, "haff gost me no more zan tree and eightbence!"
They were handed round for inspection. Rough and uncut as they
stood, it was, of course, impossible to judge of their value. But
one thing was certain. The men of science had been watching close
at the first, and were sure Herr Schleiermacher had not put the
stones in; they were keen at the withdrawal, and were equally sure
he had taken them honestly out of the pannikins.
"I vill now disdribute zem," the Professor remarked in a casual
tone, as if diamonds were peas, looking round at the company. And
he singled out my brother-in-law. "One to Sir Charles!" he said,
handing it; "one to Mr. Mosenheimer; one to Mr. Phibson—as
representing the tiamond interest. Zen, one each to Sir Atolphus,
to Dr. Gray, to Mr. Fane-Fiffian, as representing science. You will
haff zem cut and rebort upon zem in due gourse. We meet again at
zis blace ze day afder do-morrow."
Charles gazed at him reproachfully. The profoundest chords of
his moral nature were stirred. "Professor," he said, in a voice of
solemn warning, "Are you aware that, if you have
succeeded, you have destroyed the value of thousands of pounds'
worth of precious property?"
The Professor shrugged his shoulders. "Fot is dat to me?" he
inquired, with a curious glance of contempt. "I am not a financier!
I am a man of science. I seek to know; I do not seek to make a
"Shocking!" Charles exclaimed. "Shocking! I never before in my
life beheld so strange an instance of complete insensibility to the
claims of others!"
We separated early. The men of science were coarsely jubilant.
The diamond interest exhibited a corresponding depression. If this
news were true, they foresaw a slump. Every eye grew dim. It was a
Charles walked homeward with the Professor. He sounded him
gently as to the sum required, should need arise, to purchase his
secrecy. Already Sir Adolphus had bound us all down to temporary
silence—as if that were necessary; but Charles wished to know how
much Schleiermacher would take to suppress his discovery. The
German was immovable.
"No, no!" he replied, with positive petulance. "You do not
unterstant. I do not buy and sell. Zis is a chemical fact. We must
bublish it for the sake off its seoretical falue. I do not care for
wealse. I haff no time to waste in making money."
"What an awful picture of a misspent life!" Charles observed to
And, indeed, the man seemed to care for nothing on earth but the
abstract question—not whether he could make good diamonds or not,
but whether he could or could not produce a crystalline form of
On the appointed night Charles went back to Lancaster Gate, as I
could not fail to remark, with a strange air of complete and
painful preoccupation. Never before in his life had I seen him so
The diamonds were produced, with one surface of each slightly
scored by the cutters, so as to show the water. Then a curious
result disclosed itself. Strange to say, each of the three diamonds
given to the three diamond kings turned out to be a most inferior
and valueless stone; while each of the three intrusted to the care
of the scientific investigators turned out to be a fine gem of the
I confess it was a sufficiently suspicious conjunction. The
three representatives of the diamond interest gazed at each other
with inquiring side-glances. Then their eyes fell suddenly: they
avoided one another. Had each independently substituted a weak and
inferior natural stone for Professor Schleiermacher's manufactured
pebbles? It almost seemed so. For a moment, I admit, I was half
inclined to suppose it. But next second I changed my mind. Could a
man of Sir Charles Vandrift's integrity and high principle stoop
for lucre's sake to so mean an expedient?—not to mention the fact
that, even if he did, and if Mosenheimer did likewise, the stones
submitted to the scientific men would have amply sufficed to
establish the reality and success of the experiments!
Still, I must say, Charles looked guiltily across at
Mosenheimer, and Mosenheimer at Phipson, while three more
uncomfortable or unhappy-faced men could hardly have been found at
that precise minute in the City of Westminster.
Then Sir Adolphus spoke—or, rather, he orated. He said, in his
loud and grating voice, we had that evening, and on a previous
evening, been present at the conception and birth of an Epoch in
the History of Science. Professor Schleiermacher was one of those
men of whom his native Saxony might well be proud; while as a
Briton he must say he regretted somewhat that this discovery, like
so many others, should have been "Made in Germany." However,
Professor Schleiermacher was a specimen of that noble type of
scientific men to whom gold was merely the rare metal Au, and
diamonds merely the element C in the scarcest of its manifold
allotropic embodiments. The Professor did not seek to make money
out of his discovery. He rose above the sordid greed of
capitalists. Content with the glory of having traced the element C
to its crystalline origin, he asked no more than the approval of
science. However, out of deference to the wishes of those financial
gentlemen who were oddly concerned in maintaining the present price
of C in its crystalline form—in other words, the diamond
interest—they had arranged that the secret should be strictly
guarded and kept for the present; not one of the few persons
admitted to the experiments would publicly divulge the truth about
them. This secrecy would be maintained till he himself, and a small
committee of the Royal Society, should have time to investigate and
verify for themselves the Professor's beautiful and ingenious
processes—an investigation and verification which the learned
Professor himself both desired and suggested. (Schleiermacher
nodded approval.) When that was done, if the process stood the
test, further concealment would be absolutely futile. The price of
diamonds must fall at once below that of paste, and any protest on
the part of the financial world would, of course, be useless. The
laws of Nature were superior to millionaires. Meanwhile, in
deference to the opinion of Sir Charles Vandrift, whose
acquaintance with that fascinating side of the subject nobody could
deny, they had consented to send no notices to the Press, and to
abstain from saying anything about this beautiful and simple
process in public. He dwelt with horrid gusto on that epithet
"beautiful." And now, in the name of British mineralogy, he must
congratulate Professor Schleiermacher, our distinguished guest, on
his truly brilliant and crystalline contribution to our knowledge
of brilliants and of crystalline science.
Everybody applauded. It was an awkward moment. Sir Charles bit
his lip. Mosenheimer looked glum. Young Phipson dropped an
expression which I will not transcribe. (I understand this work may
circulate among families.) And after a solemn promise of death-like
secrecy, the meeting separated.
I noticed that my brother-in-law somewhat ostentatiously avoided
Mosenheimer at the door; and that Phipson jumped quickly into his
own carriage. "Home!" Charles cried gloomily to the coachman as we
took our seats in the brougham. And all the way to Mayfair he
leaned back in his seat, with close-set lips, never uttering a
Before he retired to rest, however, in the privacy of the
billiard-room, I ventured to ask him: "Charles, will you unload
Golcondas to-morrow?" Which, I need hardly explain, is the slang of
the Stock Exchange for getting rid of undesirable securities. It
struck me as probable that, in the event of the invention turning
out a reality, Cloetedorp A's might become unsaleable within the
next few weeks or so.
He eyed me sternly. "Wentworth," he said, "you're a fool!"
(Except on occasions when he is very angry, my respected
connection never calls me "Wentworth"; the familiar
abbreviation, "Sey"—derived from Seymour—is his usual mode of
address to me in private.) "Is it likely I would unload, and
wreck the confidence of the public in the Cloetedorp Company at
such a moment? As a director—as Chairman—would it be just or
right of me? I ask you, sir, could I reconcile it to my
"Charles," I answered, "you are right. Your conduct is noble.
You will not save your own personal interests at the expense of
those who have put their trust in you. Such probity is, alas! very
rare in finance!" And I sighed involuntarily; for I had lost in
At the same time I thought to myself, "I am not a
director. No trust is reposed in me. I have to think
first of dear Isabel and the baby. Before the crash comes I
will sell out to-morrow the few shares I hold, through Charles's
kindness, in the Cloetedorp Golcondas."
With his marvellous business instinct, Charles seemed to divine
my thought, for he turned round to me sharply. "Look here, Sey," he
remarked, in an acidulous tone, "recollect, you're my
brother-in-law. You are also my secretary. The eyes of London will
be upon us to-morrow. If you were to sell out, and operators
got to know of it, they'd suspect there was something up, and the
company would suffer for it. Of course, you can do what you like
with your own property. I can't interfere with that. I do
not dictate to you. But as Chairman of the Golcondas, I am bound to
see that the interests of widows and orphans whose All is invested
with me should not suffer at this crisis." His voice seemed to
falter. "Therefore, though I don't like to threaten," he went on,
"I am bound to give you warning: if you sell out those
shares of yours, openly or secretly, you are no longer my
secretary; you receive forthwith six months' salary in lieu of
notice, and—you leave me instantly."
"Very well, Charles," I answered, in a submissive voice; though
I debated with myself for a moment whether it would be best to
stick to the ready money and quit the sinking ship, or to hold fast
by my friend, and back Charles's luck against the Professor's
science. After a short, sharp struggle within my own mind, I am
proud to say, friendship and gratitude won. I felt sure that,
whether diamonds went up or down, Charles Vandrift was the sort of
man who would come to the top in the end in spite of everything.
And I decided to stand by him!
I slept little that night, however. My mind was a whirlwind. At
breakfast Charles also looked haggard and moody. He ordered the
carriage early, and drove straight into the City.
There was a block in Cheapside. Charles, impatient and nervous,
jumped out and walked. I walked beside him. Near Wood Street a man
we knew casually stopped us.
"I think I ought to mention to you," he said, confidentially,
"that I have it on the very best authority that Schleiermacher, of
"Thank you," Charles said, crustily, "I know that tale,
and—there's not a word of truth in it."
He brushed on in haste. A yard or two farther a broker paused in
front of us.
"Halloa, Sir Charles!" he called out, in a bantering tone.
"What's all this about diamonds? Where are Cloetedorps to-day? Is
it Golconda, or Queer Street?"
Charles drew himself up very stiff. "I fail to understand you,"
he answered, with dignity.
"Why, you were there yourself," the man cried. "Last night at
Sir Adolphus's! Oh yes, it's all over the place; Schleiermacher of
Jena has succeeded in making the most perfect diamonds—for
sixpence apiece—as good as real—and South Africa's ancient
history. In less than six weeks Kimberley, they say, will be a
howling desert. Every costermonger in Whitechapel will wear genuine
Koh-i-noors for buttons on his coat; every girl in Bermondsey will
sport a rivière like Lady Vandrift's to her favourite music-hall.
There's a slump in Golcondas. Sly, sly, I can see; but we
know all about it!"
Charles moved on, disgusted. The man's manners were atrocious.
Near the Bank we ran up against a most respectable jobber.
"Ah, Sir Charles," he said; "you here? Well, this is strange
news, isn't it? For my part, I advise you not to take it too
seriously. Your stock will go down, of course, like lead this
morning. But it'll rise to-morrow, mark my words, and fluctuate
every hour till the discovery's proved or disproved for certain.
There's a fine time coming for operators, I feel sure. Reports this
way and that. Rumours, rumours, rumours. And nobody will know which
way to believe till Sir Adolphus has tested it."
We moved on towards the House. Black care was seated on Sir
Charles's shoulders. As we drew nearer and nearer, everybody was
discussing the one fact of the moment. The seal of secrecy had
proved more potent than publication on the housetops. Some people
told us of the exciting news in confidential whispers; some
proclaimed it aloud in vulgar exultation. The general opinion was
that Cloetedorps were doomed, and that the sooner a man cleared out
the less was he likely to lose by it.
Charles strode on like a general; but it was a Napoleon
brazening out his retreat from Moscow. His mien was resolute. He
disappeared at last into the precincts of an office, waving me
back, not to follow. After a long consultation he came out and
All day long the City rang with Golcondas, Golcondas. Everybody
murmured, "Slump, slump in Golcondas." The brokers had more
business to do than they could manage; though, to be sure, almost
every one was a seller and no one a buyer. But Charles stood firm
as a rock, and so did his brokers. "I don't want to sell," he said,
doggedly. "The whole thing is trumped up. It's a mere piece of
jugglery. For my own part, I believe Professor Schleiermacher is
deceived, or else is deceiving us. In another week the bubble will
have burst, and prices will restore themselves." His brokers,
Finglemores, had only one answer to all inquiries: "Sir Charles has
every confidence in the stability of Golcondas, and doesn't wish to
sell or to increase the panic."
All the world said he was splendid, splendid! There he stationed
himself on 'Change like some granite stack against which the waves
roll and break themselves in vain. He took no notice of the slump,
but ostentatiously bought up a few shares here and there so as to
restore public confidence.
"I would buy more," he said, freely, "and make my fortune; only,
as I was one of those who happened to spend last night at Sir
Adolphus's, people might think I had helped to spread the rumour
and produce the slump, in order to buy in at panic rates for my own
advantage. A chairman, like Caesar's wife, should be above
suspicion. So I shall only buy up just enough, now and again, to
let people see I, at least, have no doubt as to the firm future of
He went home that night, more harassed and ill than I have ever
seen him. Next day was as bad. The slump continued, with varying
episodes. Now, a rumour would surge up that Sir Adolphus had
declared the whole affair a sham, and prices would steady a little;
now, another would break out that the diamonds were actually being
put upon the market in Berlin by the cart-load, and timid old
ladies would wire down to their brokers to realise off-hand at
whatever hazard. It was an awful day. I shall never forget it.
The morning after, as if by miracle, things righted themselves
of a sudden. While we were wondering what it meant, Charles
received a telegram from Sir Adolphus Cordery:—
"The man is a fraud. Not Schleiermacher at all. Just had a wire
from Jena saying the Professor knows nothing about him. Sorry
unintentionally to have caused you trouble. Come round and see
"Sorry unintentionally to have caused you trouble." Charles was
beside himself with anger. Sir Adolphus had upset the share-market
for forty-eight mortal hours, half-ruined a round dozen of wealthy
operators, convulsed the City, upheaved the House, and now—he
apologised for it as one might apologise for being late ten minutes
for dinner! Charles jumped into a hansom and rushed round to see
him. How had he dared to introduce the impostor to solid men as
Professor Schleiermacher? Sir Adolphus shrugged his shoulders. The
fellow had come and introduced himself as the great Jena chemist;
he had long white hair, and a stoop in the shoulders. What reason
had he for doubting his word? (I reflected to myself that on
much the same grounds Charles in turn had accepted the Honourable
David Granton and Graf von Lebenstein.) Besides, what object could
the creature have for this extraordinary deception? Charles knew
only too well. It was clear it was done to disturb the diamond
market, and we realised, too late, that the man who had done it
was—Colonel Clay, in "another of his manifold allotropic
embodiments!" Charles had had his wish, and had met his enemy once
more in London!
We could see the whole plot. Colonel Clay was polymorphic, like
the element carbon! Doubtless, with his extraordinary sleight of
hand, he had substituted real diamonds for the shapeless mass that
came out of the apparatus, in the interval between handing the
pebbles round for inspection, and distributing them piecemeal to
the men of science and representatives of the diamond interest. We
all watched him closely, of course, when he opened the crucibles;
but when once we had satisfied ourselves that something came
out, our doubts were set at rest, and we forgot to watch whether he
distributed those somethings or not to the recipients. Conjurers
always depend upon such momentary distractions or lapses of
attention. As usual, too, the Professor had disappeared into space
the moment his trick was once well performed. He vanished like
smoke, as the Count and Seer had vanished before, and was never
again heard of.
Charles went home more angry than I have ever beheld him. I
couldn't imagine why. He seemed as deeply hipped as if he had lost
his thousands. I endeavoured to console him. "After all," I said,
"though Golcondas have suffered a temporary loss, it's a comfort to
think that you should have stood so firm, and not only stemmed the
tide, but also prevented yourself from losing anything at all of
your own through panic. I'm sorry, of course, for the widows and
orphans; but if Colonel Clay has rigged the market, at least it
isn't YOU who lose by it this time."
Charles withered me with a fierce scowl of undisguised contempt.
"Wentworth," he said once more, "you are a fool!" Then he relapsed
"But you declined to sell out," I said.
He gazed at me fixedly. "Is it likely," he asked at last, "I
would tell you if I meant to sell out? or that I'd sell out
openly through Finglemore, my usual broker? Why, all the world
would have known, and Golcondas would have been finished. As it is,
I don't desire to tell an ass like you exactly how much I've lost.
But I did sell out, and some unknown operator bought in at
once, and closed for ready money, and has sold again this morning;
and after all that has happened, it will be impossible to track
him. He didn't wait for the account: he settled up instantly. And
he sold in like manner. I know now what has been done, and how
cleverly it has all been disguised and covered; but the most I'm
going to tell you to-day is just this—it's by far the biggest haul
Colonel Clay has made out of me. He could retire on it if he liked.
My one hope is, it may satisfy him for life; but, then, no man has
ever had enough of making money."
"You sold out!" I exclaimed. "You, the Chairman of
the company! You deserted the ship! And how about your
trust? How about the widows and orphans confided to you?"
Charles rose and faced me. "Seymour Wentworth," he said, in his
most solemn voice, "you have lived with me for years and had every
advantage. You have seen high finance. Yet you ask me that
question! It's my belief you will never, never understand
THE EPISODE OF THE ARREST OF THE COLONEL
How much precisely Charles dropped over the slump in Cloetedorps
I never quite knew. But the incident left him dejected, limp, and
"Hang it all, Sey," he said to me in the smoking-room, a few
evenings later. "This Colonel Clay is enough to vex the patience of
Job—and Job had large losses, too, if I recollect aright, from the
Chaldeans and other big operators of the period."
"Three thousand camels," I murmured, recalling my dear mother's
lessons; "all at one fell swoop; not to mention five hundred yoke
of oxen, carried off by the Sabeans, then a leading firm of
"Ah, well," Charles meditated aloud, shaking the ash from his
cheroot into a Japanese tray—fine antique bronze-work. "There were
big transactions in live-stock even then! Still, Job or no Job, the
man is too much for me."
"The difficulty is," I assented, "you never know where to have
"Yes," Charles mused; "if he were always the same, like
Horniman's tea or a good brand of whisky, it would be easier, of
course; you'd stand some chance of spotting him. But when a man
turns up smiling every time in a different disguise, which fits him
like a skin, and always apparently with the best credentials, why,
hang it all, Sey, there's no wrestling with him anyhow."
"Who could have come to us, for example, better vouched," I
acquiesced, "than the Honourable David?"
"Exactly so," Charles murmured. "I invited him myself, for my
own advantage. And he arrived with all the prestige of the
"Or the Professor?" I went on. "Introduced to us by the leading
mineralogist of England."
I had touched a sore point. Charles winced and remained
"Then, women again," he resumed, after a painful pause. "I must
meet in society many charming women. I can't everywhere and always
be on my guard against every dear soul of them. Yet the moment I
relax my attention for one day—or even when I don't relax it—I am
bamboozled and led a dance by that arch Mme. Picardet, or that
transparently simple little minx, Mrs. Granton. She's the cleverest
girl I ever met in my life, that hussy, whatever we're to call her.
She's a different person each time; and each time, hang it all, I
lose my heart afresh to that different person."
I glanced round to make sure Amelia was well out of earshot.
"No, Sey," my respected connection went on, after another long
pause, sipping his coffee pensively, "I feel I must be aided in
this superhuman task by a professional unraveller of cunning
disguises. I shall go to Marvillier's to-morrow—fortunate man,
Marvillier—and ask him to supply me with a really good 'tec, who
will stop in the house and keep an eye upon every living soul that
comes near me. He shall scan each nose, each eye, each wig, each
whisker. He shall be my watchful half, my unsleeping self; it shall
be his business to suspect all living men, all breathing women. The
Archbishop of Canterbury shall not escape for a moment his watchful
regard; he will take care that royal princesses don't collar the
spoons or walk off with the jewel-cases. He must see possible
Colonel Clays in the guard of every train and the parson of every
parish; he must detect the off-chance of a Mme. Picardet in every
young girl that takes tea with Amelia, every fat old lady that
comes to call upon Isabel. Yes, I have made my mind up. I shall go
to-morrow and secure such a man at once at Marvillier's."
"If you please, Sir Charles," Césarine interposed, pushing her
head through the portière, "her ladyship says, will you and Mr.
Wentworth remember that she goes out with you both this evening to
"Bless my soul," Charles cried, "so she does! And it's now past
ten! The carriage will be at the door for us in another five
Next morning, accordingly, Charles drove round to Marvillier's.
The famous detective listened to his story with glistening eyes;
then he rubbed his hands and purred. "Colonel Clay!" he said;
"Colonel Clay! That's a very tough customer! The police of Europe
are on the look-out for Colonel Clay. He is wanted in London, in
Paris, in Berlin. It is le Colonel Caoutchouc here, le Colonel
Caoutchouc there; till one begins to ask, at last, IS there
any Colonel Caoutchouc, or is it a convenient class name
invented by the Force to cover a gang of undiscovered sharpers?
However, Sir Charles, we will do our best. I will set on the track
without delay the best and cleverest detective in England."
"The very man I want," Charles said. "What name,
The principal smiled. "Whatever name you like," he said. "He
isn't particular. Medhurst he's called at home. We call him
Joe. I'll send him round to your house this afternoon for
"Oh no," Charles said promptly, "you won't; or Colonel Clay
himself will come instead of him. I've been sold too often. No
casual strangers! I'll wait here and see him."
"But he isn't in," Marvillier objected.
Charles was firm as a rock. "Then send and fetch him."
In half an hour, sure enough, the detective arrived. He was an
odd-looking small man, with hair cut short and standing straight up
all over his head, like a Parisian waiter. He had quick, sharp
eyes, very much like a ferret's; his nose was depressed, his lips
thin and bloodless. A scar marked his left cheek—made by a
sword-cut, he said, when engaged one day in arresting a desperate
French smuggler, disguised as an officer of Chasseurs d'Afrique.
His mien was resolute. Altogether, a quainter or 'cuter little man
it has never yet been my lot to set eyes on. He walked in with a
brisk step, eyed Charles up and down, and then, without much
formality, asked for what he was wanted.
"This is Sir Charles Vandrift, the great diamond king,"
Marvillier said, introducing us.
"So I see," the man answered.
"Then you know me?" Charles asked.
"I wouldn't be worth much," the detective replied, "if I didn't
know everybody. And you're easy enough to know; why, every boy in
the street knows you."
"Plain spoken!" Charles remarked.
"As you like it, sir," the man answered in a respectful tone. "I
endeavour to suit my dress and behaviour on every occasion to the
taste of my employers."
"Your name?" Charles asked, smiling.
"Joseph Medhurst, at your service. What sort of work? Stolen
diamonds? Illicit diamond-buying?"
"No," Charles answered, fixing him with his eye. "Quite another
kind of job. You've heard of Colonel Clay?"
Medhurst nodded. "Why, certainly," he said; and, for the first
time, I detected a lingering trace of American accent. "It's my
business to know about him."
"Well, I want you to catch him," Charles went on.
Medhurst drew a long breath. "Isn't that rather a large order?"
he murmured, surprised.
Charles explained to him exactly the sort of services he
required. Medhurst promised to comply. "If the man comes near you,
I'll spot him," he said, after a moment's pause. "I can promise you
that much. I'll pierce any disguise. I should know in a minute
whether he's got up or not. I'm death on wigs, false moustaches,
artificial complexions. I'll engage to bring the rogue to book if I
see him. You may set your mind at rest, that, while I'm
about you, Colonel Clay can do nothing without my instantly
"He'll do it," Marvillier put in. "He'll do it, if he says it.
He's my very best hand. Never knew any man like him for unravelling
and unmasking the cleverest disguises."
"Then he'll suit me," Charles answered, "for I never knew
any man like Colonel Clay for assuming and maintaining them."
It was arranged accordingly that Medhurst should take up his
residence in the house for the present, and should be described to
the servants as assistant secretary. He came that very day, with a
marvellously small portmanteau. But from the moment he arrived, we
noticed that Césarine took a violent dislike to him.
Medhurst was a most efficient detective. Charles and I told him
all we knew about the various shapes in which Colonel Clay had
"materialised," and he gave us in turn many valuable criticisms and
suggestions. Why, when we began to suspect the Honourable David
Granton, had we not, as if by accident, tried to knock his red wig
off? Why, when the Reverend Richard Peploe Brabazon first discussed
the question of the paste diamonds, had we not looked to see if any
of Amelia's unique gems were missing? Why, when Professor
Schleiermacher made his bow to assembled science at Lancaster Gate,
had we not strictly inquired how far he was personally known
beforehand to Sir Adolphus Cordery and the other mineralogists? He
supplied us also with several good hints about false hair and
make-up; such as that Schleiermacher was probably much shorter than
he looked, but by imitating a stoop with padding at his back he had
produced the illusion of a tall bent man, though in reality no
bigger than the little curate or the Graf von Lebenstein. High
heels did the rest; while the scientific keenness we noted in his
face was doubtless brought about by a trifle of wax at the end of
the nose, giving a peculiar tilt that is extremely effective. In
short, I must frankly admit, Medhurst made us feel ashamed of
ourselves. Sharp as Charles is, we realised at once he was nowhere
in observation beside the trained and experienced senses of this
The worst of it all was, while Medhurst was with us, by some
curious fatality, Colonel Clay stopped away from us. Now and again,
to be sure, we ran up against somebody whom Medhurst suspected; but
after a short investigation (conducted, I may say, with admirable
cleverness), the spy always showed us the doubtful person was
really some innocent and well-known character, whose antecedents
and surroundings he elucidated most wonderfully. He was a perfect
marvel, too, in his faculty of suspicion. He suspected everybody.
If an old friend dropped in to talk business with Charles, we found
out afterwards that Medhurst had lain concealed all the time behind
the curtain, and had taken short-hand notes of the whole
conversation, as well as snap-shot photographs of the supposed
sharper, by means of a kodak. If a fat old lady came to call upon
Amelia, Medhurst was sure to be lurking under the ottoman in the
drawing-room, and carefully observing, with all his eyes, whether
or not she was really Mme. Picardet, padded. When Lady Tresco
brought her four plain daughters to an "At Home" one night,
Medhurst, in evening dress, disguised as a waiter, followed them
each round the room with obtrusive ices, to satisfy himself just
how much of their complexion was real, and how much was patent
rouge and Bloom of Ninon. He doubted whether Simpson, Sir Charles's
valet, was not Colonel Clay in plain clothes; and he had half an
idea that Césarine herself was our saucy White Heather in an
alternative avatar. We pointed out to him in vain that Simpson had
often been present in the very same room with David Granton, and
that Césarine had dressed Mrs. Brabazon's hair at Lucerne: this
partially satisfied him, but only partially. He remarked that
Simpson might double both parts with somebody else unknown; and
that as for Césarine, she might well have a twin sister who took
her place when she was Mme. Picardet.
Still, in spite of all his care—or because of all his
care—Colonel Clay stopped away for whole weeks together. An
explanation occurred to us. Was it possible he knew we were guarded
and watched? Was he afraid of measuring swords with this trained
If so, how had he found it out? I had an inkling, myself—but,
under all the circumstances, I did not mention it to Charles. It
was clear that Césarine intensely disliked this new addition to the
Vandrift household. She would not stop in the room where the
detective was, or show him common politeness. She spoke of him
always as "that odious man, Medhurst." Could she have guessed, what
none of the other servants knew, that the man was a spy in search
of the Colonel? I was inclined to believe it. And then it dawned
upon me that Césarine had known all about the diamonds and their
story; that it was Césarine who took us to see Schloss Lebenstein;
that it was Césarine who posted the letter to Lord Craig-Ellachie!
If Césarine was in league with Colonel Clay, as I was half inclined
to surmise, what more natural than her obvious dislike to the
detective who was there to catch her principal? What more simple
for her than to warn her fellow-conspirator of the danger that
awaited him if he approached this man Medhurst?
However, I was too much frightened by the episode of the cheque
to say anything of my nascent suspicions to Charles. I waited
rather to see how events would shape themselves.
After a while Medhurst's vigilance grew positively annoying.
More than once he came to Charles with reports and shorthand notes
distinctly distasteful to my excellent brother-in-law. "The fellow
is getting to know too much about us," Charles said to me one day.
"Why, Sey, he spies out everything. Would you believe it, when I
had that confidential interview with Brookfield the other day,
about the new issue of Golcondas, the man was under the easy-chair,
though I searched the room beforehand to make sure he wasn't there;
and he came to me afterwards with full notes of the conversation,
to assure me he thought Brookfield—whom I've known for ten
years—was too tall by half an inch to be one of Colonel Clay's
"Oh, but, Sir Charles," Medhurst cried, emerging suddenly from
the bookcase, "you must never look upon any one as above
suspicion merely because you've known him for ten years or
thereabouts. Colonel Clay may have approached you at various times
under many disguises. He may have built up this thing gradually.
Besides, as to my knowing too much, why, of course, a detective
always learns many things about his employer's family which he is
not supposed to know; but professional honour and professional
etiquette, as with doctors and lawyers, compel him to lock them up
as absolute secrets in his own bosom. You need never be afraid I
will divulge one jot of them. If I did, my occupation would be
gone, and my reputation shattered."
Charles looked at him, appalled. "Do you dare to say," he burst
out, "you've been listening to my talk with my brother-in-law and
"Why, of course," Medhurst answered. "It's my business to
listen, and to suspect everybody. If you push me to say so, how do
I know Colonel Clay is not—Mr. Wentworth?"
Charles withered him with a look. "In future, Medhurst," he
said, "you must never conceal yourself in a room where I am without
my leave and knowledge."
Medhurst bowed politely. "Oh, as you will, Sir Charles," he
answered; "that's quite at your own wish. Though how can I
act as an efficient detective, any way, if you insist upon tying my
hands like that, beforehand?"
Again I detected a faint American flavour.
After that rebuff, however, Medhurst seemed put upon his mettle.
He redoubled his vigilance in every direction. "It's not my fault,"
he said plaintively, one day, "if my reputation's so good that,
while I'm near you, this rogue won't approach you. If I can't
catch him, at least I keep him away from coming near
A few days later, however, he brought Charles some photographs.
These he produced with evident pride. The first he showed us was a
vignette of a little parson. "Who's that, then?" he inquired, much
We gazed at it, open-eyed. One word rose to our lips
"And how's this for high?" he asked again, producing
another—the photograph of a gay young dog in a Tyrolese
We murmured, "Von Lebenstein!"
"And this?" he continued, showing us the portrait of a
lady with a most fetching squint.
We answered with one voice, "Little Mrs. Granton!"
Medhurst was naturally proud of this excellent exploit. He
replaced them in his pocket-book with an air of just triumph.
"How did you get them?" Charles asked.
Medhurst's look was mysterious. "Sir Charles," he answered,
drawing himself up, "I must ask you to trust me awhile in this
matter. Remember, there are people whom you decline to suspect.
I have learned that it is always those very people who are
most dangerous to capitalists. If I were to give you the names now,
you would refuse to believe me. Therefore, I hold them over
discreetly for the moment. One thing, however, I say. I know
to a certainty where Colonel Clay is at this present speaking. But
I will lay my plans deep, and I hope before long to secure him. You
shall be present when I do so; and I shall make him confess his
personality openly. More than that you cannot reasonably ask. I
shall leave it to you, then, whether or not you wish to
Charles was considerably puzzled, not to say piqued, by this
curious reticence; he begged hard for names; but Medhurst was
adamant. "No, no," he replied; "we detectives have our own just
pride in our profession. If I told you now, you would probably
spoil all by some premature action. You are too open and impulsive!
I will mention this alone: Colonel Clay will be shortly in Paris,
and before long will begin from that city a fresh attempt at
defrauding you, which he is now hatching. Mark my words, and see
whether or not I have been kept well informed of the fellow's
He was perfectly correct. Two days later, as it turned out,
Charles received a "confidential" letter from Paris, purporting to
come from the head of a second-rate financial house with which he
had had dealings over the Craig-Ellachie Amalgamation—by this
time, I ought to have said, an accomplished union. It was a letter
of small importance in itself—a mere matter of detail; but it
paved the way, so Medhurst thought, to some later development of
more serious character. Here once more the man's singular foresight
was justified. For, in another week, we received a second
communication, containing other proposals of a delicate financial
character, which would have involved the transference of some two
thousand pounds to the head of the Parisian firm at an address
given. Both these letters Medhurst cleverly compared with those
written to Charles before, in the names of Colonel Clay and of Graf
von Lebenstein. At first sight, it is true, the differences between
the two seemed quite enormous: the Paris hand was broad and black,
large and bold; while the earlier manuscript was small, neat, thin,
and gentlemanly. Still, when Medhurst pointed out to us certain
persistent twists in the formation of his capitals, and certain
curious peculiarities in the relative length of his t's, his l's,
his b's, and his h's, we could see for ourselves he was right; both
were the work of one hand, writing in the one case with a
sharp-pointed nib, very small, and in the other with a quill, very
large and freely.
This discovery was most important. We stood now within
measurable distance of catching Colonel Clay, and bringing forgery
and fraud home to him without hope of evasion.
To make all sure, however, Medhurst communicated with the Paris
police, and showed us their answers. Meanwhile, Charles continued
to write to the head of the firm, who had given a private address
in the Rue Jean Jacques, alleging, I must say, a most clever reason
why the negotiations at this stage should be confidentially
conducted. But one never expected from Colonel Clay anything less
than consummate cleverness. In the end, it was arranged that we
three were to go over to Paris together, that Medhurst was to
undertake, under the guise of being Sir Charles, to pay the two
thousand pounds to the pretended financier, and that Charles and I,
waiting with the police outside the door, should, at a given
signal, rush in with our forces and secure the criminal.
We went over accordingly, and spent the night at the Grand, as
is Charles's custom. The Bristol, which I prefer, he finds too
quiet. Early next morning we took a fiacre and drove to the Rue
Jean Jacques. Medhurst had arranged everything in advance with the
Paris police, three of whom, in plain clothes, were waiting at the
foot of the staircase to assist us. Charles had further provided
himself with two thousand pounds, in notes of the Bank of France,
in order that the payment might be duly made, and no doubt arise as
to the crime having been perpetrated as well as meditated—in the
former case, the penalty would be fifteen years; in the latter,
three only. He was in very high spirits. The fact that we had
tracked the rascal to earth at last, and were within an hour of
apprehending him, was in itself enough to raise his courage
greatly. We found, as we expected, that the number given in the Rue
Jean Jacques was that of an hotel, not a private residence.
Medhurst went in first, and inquired of the landlord whether our
man was at home, at the same time informing him of the nature of
our errand, and giving him to understand that if we effected the
capture by his friendly aid, Sir Charles would see that the
expenses incurred on the swindler's bill were met in full, as the
price of his assistance. The landlord bowed; he expressed his deep
regret, as M. le Colonel—so we heard him call him—was a most
amiable person, much liked by the household; but justice, of
course, must have its way; and, with a regretful sigh, he undertook
to assist us.
The police remained below, but Charles and Medhurst were each
provided with a pair of handcuffs. Remembering the Polperro case,
however, we determined to use them with the greatest caution. We
would only put them on in case of violent resistance. We crept up
to the door where the miscreant was housed. Charles handed the
notes in an open envelope to Medhurst, who seized them hastily and
held them in his hands in readiness for action. We had a sign
concerted. Whenever he sneezed—which he could do in the most
natural manner—we were to open the door, rush in, and secure the
He was gone for some minutes. Charles and I waited outside in
breathless expectation. Then Medhurst sneezed. We flung the door
open at once, and burst in upon the creature.
Medhurst rose as we did so. He pointed with his finger.
"This is Colonel Clay!" he said; "keep him well in charge
while I go down to the door for the police to arrest him!"
A gentlemanly man, about middle height, with a grizzled beard
and a well-assumed military aspect, rose at the same moment. The
envelope in which Charles had placed the notes lay on the table
before him. He clutched it nervously. "I am at a loss, gentlemen,"
he said, in an excited voice, "to account for this interruption."
He spoke with a tremor, yet with all the politeness to which we
were accustomed in the little curate and the Honourable David.
"No nonsense!" Charles exclaimed, in his authoritative way. "We
know who you are. We have found you out this time. You are Colonel
Clay. If you attempt to resist—take care—I will handcuff
The military gentleman gave a start. "Yes, I am Colonel
Clay," he answered. "On what charge do you arrest me?"
Charles was bursting with wrath. The fellow's coolness seemed
never to desert him. "You are Colonel Clay!" he muttered.
"You have the unspeakable effrontery to stand there and admit
"Certainly," the Colonel answered, growing hot in turn. "I have
done nothing to be ashamed of. What do you mean by this conduct?
How dare you talk of arresting me?"
Charles laid his hand on the man's shoulder. "Come, come, my
friend," he said. "That sort of bluff won't go down with us. You
know very well on what charge I arrest you; and here are the police
to give effect to it."
He called out "Entrez!" The police entered the room. Charles
explained as well as he could in most doubtful Parisian what they
were next to do. The Colonel drew himself up in an indignant
attitude. He turned and addressed them in excellent French.
"I am an officer in the service of her Britannic Majesty," he
said. "On what ground do you venture to interfere with me,
The chief policeman explained. The Colonel turned to Charles.
"Your name, sir?" he inquired.
"You know it very well," Charles answered. "I am Sir Charles
Vandrift; and, in spite of your clever disguise, I can instantly
recognise you. I know your eyes and ears. I can see the same man
who cheated me at Nice, and who insulted me on the island."
"You Sir Charles Vandrift!" the rogue cried. "No, no,
sir, you are a madman!" He looked round at the police. "Take care
what you do!" he cried. "This is a raving maniac. I had business
just now with Sir Charles Vandrift, who quitted the room as these
gentlemen entered. This person is mad, and you, monsieur, I doubt
not," bowing to me, "you are, of course, his keeper."
"Do not let him deceive you," I cried to the police, beginning
to fear that with his usual incredible cleverness the fellow would
even now manage to slip through our fingers. "Arrest him, as you
are told. We will take the responsibility." Though I
trembled when I thought of that cheque he held of mine.
The chief of our three policemen came forward and laid his hand
on the culprit's shoulder. "I advise you, M. le Colonel," he said,
in an official voice, "to come with us quietly for the present.
Before the juge d'instruction we can enter at length into all these
The Colonel, very indignant still—and acting the part
marvellously—yielded and went along with them.
"Where's Medhurst?" Charles inquired, glancing round as we
reached the door. "I wish he had stopped with us."
"You are looking for monsieur your friend?" the landlord
inquired, with a side bow to the Colonel. "He has gone away in a
fiacre. He asked me to give this note to you."
He handed us a twisted note. Charles opened and read it.
"Invaluable man!" he cried. "Just hear what he says, Sey: 'Having
secured Colonel Clay, I am off now again on the track of Mme.
Picardet. She was lodging in the same house. She has just driven
away; I know to what place; and I am after her to arrest her. In
blind haste, MEDHURST.' That's smartness, IF you like. Though, poor
little woman, I think he might have left her."
"Does a Mme. Picardet stop here?" I inquired of the landlord,
thinking it possible she might have assumed again the same old
He nodded assent. "Oui, oui, oui," he answered. "She has just
driven off, and monsieur your friend has gone posting after
"Splendid man!" Charles cried. "Marvillier was quite right. He
is the prince of detectives!"
We hailed a couple of fiacres, and drove off, in two
detachments, to the juge d'instruction. There Colonel Clay
continued to brazen it out, and asserted that he was an officer in
the Indian Army, home on six months' leave, and spending some weeks
in Paris. He even declared he was known at the Embassy, where he
had a cousin an attaché; and he asked that this gentleman should be
sent for at once from our Ambassador's to identify him. The juge
d'instruction insisted that this must be done; and Charles waited
in very bad humour for the foolish formality. It really seemed as
if, after all, when we had actually caught and arrested our man, he
was going by some cunning device to escape us.
After a delay of more than an hour, during which Colonel Clay
fretted and fumed quite as much as we did, the attaché arrived. To
our horror and astonishment, he proceeded to salute the prisoner
"Halloa, Algy!" he cried, grasping his hand; "what's up? What do
these ruffians want with you?"
It began to dawn upon us, then, what Medhurst had meant by
"suspecting everybody": the real Colonel Clay was no common
adventurer, but a gentleman of birth and high connections!
The Colonel glared at us. "This fellow declares he's Sir Charles
Vandrift," he said sulkily. "Though, in fact, there are two of
them. And he accuses me of forgery, fraud, and theft, Bertie."
The attaché stared hard at us. "This is Sir Charles
Vandrift," he replied, after a moment. "I remember hearing him make
a speech once at a City dinner. And what charge have you to prefer,
Sir Charles, against my cousin?"
"Your cousin?" Charles cried. "This is Colonel Clay, the
The attaché smiled a gentlemanly and superior smile. "This is
Colonel Clay," he answered, "of the Bengal Staff Corps."
It began to strike us there was something wrong somewhere.
"But he has cheated me, all the same," Charles said—"at Nice
two years ago, and many times since; and this very day he has
tricked me out of two thousand pounds in French bank-notes, which
he has now about him!"
The Colonel was speechless. But the attaché laughed. "What he
has done to-day I don't know," he said; "but if it's as apocryphal
as what you say he did two years ago, you've a thundering bad case,
sir; for he was then in India, and I was out there, visiting
"Where are the two thousand pounds?" Charles cried. "Why, you've
got them in your hand! You're holding the envelope!"
The Colonel produced it. "This envelope," he said, "was left
with me by the man with short stiff hair, who came just before you,
and who announced himself as Sir Charles Vandrift. He said he was
interested in tea in Assam, and wanted me to join the board of
directors of some bogus company. These are his papers, I believe,"
and he handed them to his cousin.
"Well, I'm glad the notes are safe, anyhow," Charles murmured,
in a tone of relief, beginning to smell a rat. "Will you kindly
return them to me?"
The attaché turned out the contents of the envelope. They proved
to be prospectuses of bubble companies of the moment, of no
"Medhurst must have put them there," I cried, "and decamped with
Charles gave a groan of horror. "And Medhurst is Colonel Clay!"
he exclaimed, clapping his hand to his forehead.
"I beg your pardon, sir," the Colonel interposed. "I have but
one personality, and no aliases."
It took quite half an hour to explain this imbroglio. But as
soon as all was explained, in French and English, to the
satisfaction of ourselves and the juge d'instruction, the real
Colonel shook hands with us in a most forgiving way, and informed
us that he had more than once wondered, when he gave his name at
shops in Paris, why it was often received with such grave
suspicion. We instructed the police that the true culprit was
Medhurst, whom they had seen with their own eyes, and whom we urged
them to pursue with all expedition. Meanwhile, Charles and I,
accompanied by the Colonel and the attaché—"to see the fun out,"
as they said—called at the Bank of France for the purpose of
stopping the notes immediately. It was too late, however. They had
been presented at once, and cashed in gold, by a pleasant little
lady in an American costume, who was afterwards identified by the
hotel-keeper (from our description) as his lodger, Mme. Picardet.
It was clear she had taken rooms in the same hotel, to be near the
Indian Colonel; and it was she who had received and sent the
letters. As for our foe, he had vanished into space, as always.
Two days later we received the usual insulting communication on
a sheet of Charles's own dainty note. Last time he wrote it was on
Craig-Ellachie paper: this time, like the wanton lapwing, he had
got himself another crest.
"MOST PERSPICACIOUS OF MILLIONAIRES!—Said I not
well, as Medhurst, that you must distrust everybody? And the one
man you never dreamt of distrusting was—Medhurst. Yet see how
truthful I was! I told you I knew where Colonel Clay was
living—and I did know, exactly. I promised to take you to
Colonel Clay's rooms, and to get him arrested for you—and I kept
my promise. I even exceeded your expectations; for I gave you
two Colonel Clays instead of one—and you took the wrong
man—that is to say, the real one. This was a neat little trick;
but it cost me some trouble.
"First, I found out there was a real
Colonel Clay, in the Indian Army. I also found out he chanced to be
coming home on leave this season. I might have made more out of
him, no doubt; but I disliked annoying him, and preferred to give
myself the fun of this peculiar mystification. I therefore waited
for him to reach Paris, where the police arrangements suited me
better than in London. While I was looking about, and delaying
operations for his return, I happened to hear you wanted a
detective. So I offered myself as out of work to my old employer,
Marvillier, from whom I have had many good jobs in the past; and
there you get, in short, the kernel of the Colonel.
"Naturally, after this, I can never go back as a
detective to Marvillier's. But, on the large scale on which I have
learned to work since I first had the pleasure of making your
delightful acquaintance, this matters little. To say the truth, I
begin to feel detective work a cut or two below me. I am now a
gentleman of means and leisure. Besides, the extra knowledge of
your movements which I have acquired in your house has helped still
further to give me various holds upon you. So the fluke will be
true to his own pet lamb. To vary the metaphor, you are not fully
"Remember me most kindly to your charming family,
give Wentworth my love, and tell Mlle. Césarine I owe her a grudge
which I shall never forget. She clearly suspected me. You are much
too rich, dear Charles; I relieve your plethora. I bleed you
financially. Therefore I consider myself—Your sincerest
"Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons."
Charles was threatened with apoplexy. This blow was severe.
"Whom can I trust," he asked, plaintively, "when the detectives
themselves, whom I employ to guard me, turn out to be swindlers?
Don't you remember that line in the Latin grammar—something about,
'Who shall watch the watchers?' I think it used to run, 'Quis
custodes custodiet ipsos?'"
But I felt this episode had at least disproved my suspicions of
THE EPISODE OF THE SELDON GOLD-MINE
On our return to London, Charles and Marvillier had a difference
of opinion on the subject of Medhurst.
Charles maintained that Marvillier ought to have known the man
with the cropped hair was Colonel Clay, and ought never to have
recommended him. Marvillier maintained that Charles had seen
Colonel Clay half-a-dozen times, at least, to his own never; and
that my respected brother-in-law had therefore nobody on earth but
himself to blame if the rogue imposed upon him. The head detective
had known Medhurst for ten years, he said, as a most respectable
man, and even a ratepayer; he had always found him the cleverest of
spies, as well he might be, indeed, on the familiar
set-a-thief-to-catch-a-thief principle. However, the upshot of it
all was, as usual—nothing. Marvillier was sorry to lose the
services of so excellent a hand; but he had done the very best he
could for Sir Charles, he declared; and if Sir Charles was not
satisfied, why, he might catch his Colonel Clays for himself in
"So I will, Sey," Charles remarked to me, as we walked back from
the office in the Strand by Piccadilly. "I won't trust any more to
these private detectives. It's my belief they're a pack of thieves
themselves, in league with the rascals they're set to catch, and
with no more sense of honour than a Zulu diamond-hand."
"Better try the police," I suggested, by way of being helpful.
One must assume an interest in one's employer's business.
But Charles shook his head. "No, no," he said; "I'm sick of all
these fellows. I shall trust in future to my own sagacity. We learn
by experience, Sey—and I've learned a thing or two. One of them is
this: It's not enough to suspect everybody; you must have no
preconceptions. Divest yourself entirely of every fixed idea if you
wish to cope with a rascal of this calibre. Don't jump at
conclusions. We should disbelieve everything, as well as distrust
everybody. That's the road to success; and I mean to pursue
So, by way of pursuing it, Charles retired to Seldon.
"The longer the man goes on, the worse he grows," he said to me
one morning. "He's just like a tiger that has tasted blood. Every
successful haul seems only to make him more eager for another. I
fully expect now before long we shall see him down here."
About three weeks later, sure enough, my respected connection
received a communication from the abandoned swindler, with an
Austrian stamp and a Vienna post-mark.
"MY DEAR VANDRIFT.—(After so long and so varied
an acquaintance we may surely drop the absurd formalities of 'Sir
Charles' and 'Colonel.') I write to ask you a delicate question.
Can you kindly tell me exactly how much I have received from your
various generous acts during the last three years? I have mislaid
my account-book, and as this is the season for making the income
tax return, I am anxious, as an honest and conscientious citizen,
to set down my average profits out of you for the triennial period.
For reasons which you will amply understand, I do not this time
give my private address, in Paris or elsewhere; but if you will
kindly advertise the total amount, above the signature 'Peter
Simple,' in the Agony Column of the Times, you will confer a great
favour upon the Revenue Commissioners, and also upon your constant
friend and companion, CUTHBERT CLAY,
"Mark my word, Sey," Charles said, laying the letter down, "in a
week or less the man himself will follow. This is his cunning way
of trying to make me think he's well out of the country and far
away from Seldon. That means he's meditating another descent. But
he told us too much last time, when he was Medhurst the detective.
He gave us some hints about disguises and their unmasking that I
shall not forget. This turn I shall be even with him."
On Saturday of that week, in effect, we were walking along the
road that leads into the village, when we met a gentlemanly-looking
man, in a rough and rather happy-go-lucky brown tweed suit, who had
the air of a tourist. He was middle-aged, and of middle height; he
wore a small leather wallet suspended round his shoulder; and he
was peering about at the rocks in a suspicious manner. Something in
his gait attracted our attention.
"Good-morning," he said, looking up as we passed; and Charles
muttered a somewhat surly inarticulate, "Good-morning."
We went on without saying more. "Well, that's not Colonel
Clay, anyhow," I said, as we got out of earshot. "For he accosted
us first; and you may remember it's one of the Colonel's most
marked peculiarities that, like the model child, he never speaks
till he's spoken to—never begins an acquaintance. He always waits
till we make the first advance; he doesn't go out of his way to
cheat us; he loiters about till we ask him to do it."
"Seymour," my brother-in-law responded, in a severe tone, "there
you are, now, doing the very thing I warned you not to do! You're
succumbing to a preconception. Avoid fixed ideas. The probability
is this man is Colonel Clay. Strangers are generally scarce
at Seldon. If he isn't Colonel Clay, what's he here for, I'd like
to know? What money is there to be made here in any other way? I
shall inquire about him."
We dropped in at the Cromarty Arms, and asked good Mrs.
M'Lachlan if she could tell us anything about the gentlemanly
stranger. Mrs. M'Lachlan replied that he was from London, she
believed, a pleasant gentleman enough; and he had his wife with
"Ha! Young? Pretty?" Charles inquired, with a speaking glance at
"Weel, Sir Charles, she'll no be exactly what you'd be ca'ing a
bonny lass," Mrs. M'Lachlan replied; "but she's a guid body for a'
that, an' a fine braw woman."
"Just what I should expect," Charles murmured, "He varies the
programme. The fellow has tried White Heather as the parson's wife,
and as Madame Picardet, and as squinting little Mrs. Granton, and
as Medhurst's accomplice; and now, he has almost exhausted the
possibilities of a disguise for a really young and pretty woman; so
he's playing her off at last as the riper product—a handsome
matron. Clever, extremely clever; but—we begin to see through
him." And he chuckled to himself quietly.
Next day, on the hillside, we came upon our stranger again,
occupied as before in peering into the rocks, and sounding them
with a hammer. Charles nudged me and whispered, "I have it this
time. He's posing as a geologist."
I took a good look at the man. By now, of course, we had some
experience of Colonel Clay in his various disguises; and I could
observe that while the nose, the hair, and the beard were varied,
the eyes and the build remained the same as ever. He was a trifle
stouter, of course, being got up as a man of between forty and
fifty; and his forehead was lined in a way which a less consummate
artist than Colonel Clay could easily have imitated. But I felt we
had at least some grounds for our identification; it would not do
to dismiss the suggestion of Clayhood at once as a flight of
His wife was sitting near, upon a bare boss of rock, reading a
volume of poems. Capital variant, that, a volume of poems! Exactly
suited the selected type of a cultivated family. White Heather and
Mrs. Granton never used to read poems. But that was characteristic
of all Colonel Clay's impersonations, and Mrs. Clay's too—for I
suppose I must call her so. They were not mere outer disguises;
they were finished pieces of dramatic study. Those two people were
an actor and actress, as well as a pair of rogues; and in both
their rôles they were simply inimitable.
As a rule, Charles is by no means polite to casual trespassers
on the Seldon estate; they get short shrift and a summary ejection.
But on this occasion he had a reason for being courteous, and he
approached the lady with a bow of recognition. "Lovely day," he
said, "isn't it? Such belts on the sea, and the heather smells
sweet. You are stopping at the inn, I fancy?"
"Yes," the lady answered, looking up at him with a charming
smile. ("I know that smile," Charles whispered to me. "I have
succumbed to it too often.") "We're stopping at the inn, and my
husband is doing a little geology on the hill here. I hope Sir
Charles Vandrift won't come and catch us. He's so down upon
trespassers. They tell us at the inn he's a regular Tartar."
("Saucy minx as ever," Charles murmured to me. "She said it on
purpose.") "No, my dear madam," he continued, aloud; "you have been
quite misinformed. I am Sir Charles Vandrift; and I am
not a Tartar. If your husband is a man of science I respect
and admire him. It is geology that has made me what I am to-day."
And he drew himself up proudly. "We owe to it the present
development of South African mining."
The lady blushed as one seldom sees a mature woman blush—but
exactly as I had seen Madame Picardet and White Heather. "Oh, I'm
so sorry," she said, in a confused way that recalled Mrs. Granton.
"Forgive my hasty speech. I—I didn't know you."
("She did," Charles whispered. "But let that pass.") "Oh, don't
think of it again; so many people disturb the birds, don't you
know, that we're obliged in self-defence to warn trespassers
sometimes off our lovely mountains. But I do it with regret—with
profound regret. I admire the—er—the beauties of Nature myself;
and, therefore, I desire that all others should have the freest
possible access to them—possible, that is to say, consistently
with the superior claims of Property."
"I see," the lady replied, looking up at him quaintly. "I admire
your wish, though not your reservation. I've just been reading
those sweet lines of Wordsworth's—
And O, ye fountains, meadows, hills, and
Forebode not any severing of our loves.
I suppose you know them?" And she beamed on him
"Know them?" Charles answered. "Know them! Oh, of course, I know
them. They're old favourites of mine—in fact, I adore Wordsworth."
(I doubt whether Charles has ever in his life read a line of
poetry, except Doss Chiderdoss in the Sporting Times.) He took the
book and glanced at them. "Ah, charming, charming!" he said, in his
most ecstatic tone. But his eyes were on the lady, and not on the
I saw in a moment how things stood. No matter under what
disguise that woman appeared to him, and whether he recognised her
or not, Charles couldn't help falling a victim to Madame Picardet's
attractions. Here he actually suspected her; yet, like a moth round
a candle, he was trying his hardest to get his wings singed! I
almost despised him with his gigantic intellect! The greatest men
are the greatest fools, I verily believe, when there's a woman in
The husband strolled up by this time, and entered into
conversation with us. According to his own account, his name was
Forbes-Gaskell, and he was a Professor of Geology in one of those
new-fangled northern colleges. He had come to Seldon rock-spying,
he said, and found much to interest him. He was fond of fossils,
but his special hobby was rocks and minerals. He knew a vast deal
about cairngorms and agates and such-like pretty things, and showed
Charles quartz and felspar and red cornelian, and I don't know what
else, in the crags on the hillside. Charles pretended to listen to
him with the deepest interest and even respect, never for a moment
letting him guess he knew for what purpose this show of knowledge
had been recently acquired. If we were ever to catch the man, we
must not allow him to see we suspected him. So Charles played a
dark game. He swallowed the geologist whole without question.
Most of that morning we spent with them on the hillside. Charles
took them everywhere and showed them everything. He pretended to be
polite to the scientific man, and he was really polite, most
polite, to the poetical lady. Before lunch time we had become quite
The Clays were always easy people to get on with; and, bar their
roguery, we could not deny they were delightful companions. Charles
asked them in to lunch. They accepted willingly. He introduced them
to Amelia with sundry raisings of his eyebrows and contortions of
his mouth. "Professor and Mrs. Forbes-Gaskell," he said,
half-dislocating his jaw with his violent efforts. "They're
stopping at the inn, dear. I've been showing them over the place,
and they're good enough to say they'll drop in and take a share in
our cold roast mutton;" which was a frequent form of Charles's
Amelia sent them upstairs to wash their hands—which, in the
Professor's case, was certainly desirable, for his fingers were
grimed with earth and dust from the rocks he had been
investigating. As soon as we were left alone Charles drew me into
"Seymour," he said, "more than ever there is a need for us
strictly to avoid preconceptions. We must not make up our minds
that this man is Colonel Clay—nor, again, that he isn't. We must
remember that we have been mistaken in both ways in the
past, and must avoid our old errors. I shall hold myself in
readiness for either event—and a policeman in readiness to arrest
them, if necessary!"
"A capital plan," I murmured. "Still, if I may venture a
suggestion, in what way are these two people endeavouring to entrap
us? They have no scheme on hand—no schloss, no amalgamation."
"Seymour," my brother-in-law answered in his board-room style,
"you are a great deal too previous, as Medhurst used to say—I
mean, Colonel Clay in his character as Medhurst. In the first
place, these are early days; our friends have not yet developed
their intentions. We may find before long they have a property to
sell, or a company to promote, or a concession to exploit in South
Africa or elsewhere. Then again, in the second place, we don't
always spot the exact nature of their plan until it has burst in
our hands, so to speak, and revealed its true character. What could
have seemed more transparent than Medhurst, the detective, till he
ran away with our notes in the very moment of triumph? What more
innocent than White Heather and the little curate, till they landed
us with a couple of Amelia's own gems as a splendid bargain? I will
not take it for granted any man is not Colonel Clay, merely
because I don't happen to spot the particular scheme he is trying
to work against me. The rogue has so many schemes, and some of them
so well concealed, that up to the moment of the actual explosion
you fail to detect the presence of moral dynamite. Therefore, I
shall proceed as if there were dynamite everywhere. But in the
third place—and this is very important—you mark my words,
I believe I detect already the lines he will work upon. He's a
geologist, he says, with a taste for minerals. Very good. You see
if he doesn't try to persuade me before long he has found a coal
mine, whose locality he will disclose for a trifling consideration;
or else he will salt the Long Mountain with emeralds, and claim a
big share for helping to discover them; or else he will try
something in the mineralogical line to do me somehow. I see
it in the very transparency of the fellow's face; and I'm
determined this time neither to pay him one farthing on any
pretext, nor to let him escape me!"
We went in to lunch. The Professor and Mrs. Forbes-Gaskell, all
smiles, accompanied us. I don't know whether it was Charles's
warning to take nothing for granted that made me do so—but I kept
a close eye upon the suspected man all the time we were at table.
It struck me there was something very odd about his hair. It didn't
seem quite the same colour all over. The locks that hung down
behind, over the collar of his coat, were a trifle lighter and a
trifle grayer than the black mass that covered the greater part of
his head. I examined it carefully. The more I did so, the more the
conviction grew upon me: he was wearing a wig. There was no denying
A trifle less artistic, perhaps, than most of Colonel Clay's
get-ups; but then, I reflected (on Charles's principle of taking
nothing for granted), we had never before suspected Colonel Clay
himself, except in the one case of the Honourable David, whose red
hair and whiskers even Madame Picardet had admitted to be absurdly
false by her action of pointing at them and tittering
irrepressibly. It was possible that in every case, if we had
scrutinised our man closely, we should have found that the disguise
betrayed itself at once (as Medhurst had suggested) to an acute
The detective, in fact, had told us too much. I remembered what
he said to us about knocking off David Granton's red wig the moment
we doubted him; and I positively tried to help myself awkwardly to
potato-chips, when the footman offered them, so as to hit the
supposed wig with an apparently careless brush of my elbow. But it
was of no avail. The fellow seemed to anticipate or suspect my
intention, and dodged aside carefully, like one well accustomed to
saving his disguise from all chance of such real or seeming
I was so full of my discovery that immediately after lunch I
induced Isabel to take our new friends round the home garden and
show them Charles's famous prize dahlias, while I proceeded myself
to narrate to Charles and Amelia my observations and my frustrated
"It is a wig," Amelia assented. "I spotted it at
once. A very good wig, too, and most artistically planted. Men
don't notice these things, though women do. It is creditable to
you, Seymour, to have succeeded in detecting it."
Charles was less complimentary. "You fool," he answered, with
that unpleasant frankness which is much too common with him.
"Supposing it is, why on earth should you try to knock it
off and disclose him? What good would it have done? If it is
a wig, and we spot it, that's all that we need. We are put on our
guard; we know with whom we have now to deal. But you can't take a
man up on a charge of wig-wearing. The law doesn't interfere with
it. Most respectable men may sometimes wear wigs. Why, I knew a
promoter who did, and also the director of fourteen companies! What
we have to do next is, wait till he tries to cheat us, and
then—pounce down upon him. Sooner or later, you may be sure, his
plans will reveal themselves."
So we concocted an excellent scheme to keep them under constant
observation, lest they should slip away again, as they did from the
island. First of all, Amelia was to ask them to come and stop at
the castle, on the ground that the rooms at the inn were
uncomfortably small. We felt sure, however, that, as on a previous
occasion, they would refuse the invitation, in order to be able to
slink off unperceived, in case they should find themselves
apparently suspected. Should they decline, it was arranged that
Césarine should take a room at the Cromarty Arms as long as they
stopped there, and report upon their movements; while, during the
day, we would have the house watched by the head gillie's son, a
most intelligent young man, who could be trusted, with true Scotch
canniness, to say nothing to anybody.
To our immense surprise, Mrs. Forbes-Gaskell accepted the
invitation with the utmost alacrity. She was profuse in her thanks,
indeed; for she told us the Arms was an ill-kept house, and the
cookery by no means agreed with her husband's liver. It was sweet
of us to invite them; such kindness to perfect strangers was quite
unexpected. She should always say that nowhere on earth had she met
with so cordial or friendly a reception as at Seldon Castle.
But—she accepted, unreservedly.
"It can't be Colonel Clay," I remarked to Charles. "He
would never have come here. Even as David Granton, with far more
reason for coming, he wouldn't put himself in our power: he
preferred the security and freedom of the Cromarty Arms."
"Sey," my brother-in-law said sententiously, "you're
incorrigible. You will persist in being the slave of
prepossessions. He may have some good reason of his own for
accepting. Wait till he shows his hand—and then, we shall
So for the next three weeks the Forbes-Gaskells formed part of
the house-party at Seldon. I must say, Charles paid them most
assiduous attention. He positively neglected his other guests in
order to keep close to the two new-comers. Mrs. Forbes-Gaskell
noticed the fact, and commented on it. "You are really too good to
us, Sir Charles," she said. "I'm afraid you allow us quite to
But Charles, gallant as ever, replied with a smile, "We have you
with us for so short a time, you know!" Which made Mrs.
Forbes-Gaskell blush again that delicious blush of hers.
During all this time the Professor went on calmly and
persistently mineralogising. "Wonderful character!" Charles said to
me. "He works out his parts so well! Could anything exceed the
picture he gives one of scientific ardour?" And, indeed, he was at
it, morning, noon, and night. "Sooner or later," Charles observed,
"something practical must come of it."
Twice, meanwhile, little episodes occurred which are well worth
notice. One day I was out with the Professor on the Long Mountain,
watching him hammer at the rocks, and a little bored by his
performance, when, to pass the time, I asked him what a particular
small water-worn stone was. He looked at it and smiled. "If there
were a little more mica in it," he said, "it would be the
characteristic gneiss of ice-borne boulders, hereabouts. But there
isn't quite enough." And he gazed at it curiously.
"Indeed," I answered, "it doesn't come up to sample, doesn't
He gave me a meaning look. "Ten per cent," he murmured in a
slow, strange voice; "ten per cent is more usual."
I trembled violently. Was he bent, then, upon ruining me? "If
you betray me—" I cried, and broke off.
"I beg your pardon," he said. He was all pure innocence.
I reflected on what Charles had said about taking nothing for
granted, and held my tongue prudently.
The other incident was this. Charles picked a sprig of white
heather on the hill one afternoon, after a picnic lunch, I regret
to say, when he had taken perhaps a glass more champagne than was
strictly good for him. He was not exactly the worse for it, but he
was excited, good-humoured, reckless, and lively. He brought the
sprig to Mrs. Forbes-Gaskell, and handed it to her, ogling a
little. "Sweets to the sweet," he murmured, and looked at her
meaningly. "White heather to White Heather." Then he saw what he
had done, and checked himself instantly.
Mrs. Forbes-Gaskell coloured up in the usual manner. "I—I don't
quite understand," she faltered.
Charles scrambled out of it somehow. "White heather for luck,"
he said, "and—the man who is privileged to give a piece of it to
you is surely lucky."
She smiled, none too well pleased. I somehow felt she suspected
us of suspecting her.
However, as it turned out, nothing came, after all, of the
Next day Charles burst upon me, triumphant. "Well, he has shown
his hand!" he cried. "I knew he would. He has come to me to-day
with—what do you think?—a fragment of gold, in quartz, from the
"No!" I exclaimed.
"Yes," Charles answered. "He says there's a vein there with
distinct specks of gold in it, which might be worth mining. When a
man begins that way you know what he's driving at! And
what's more, he's got up the subject beforehand; for he began
saying to me there had long been gold in Sutherlandshire—why not
therefore in Ross-shire? And then he went at full into the
comparative geology of the two regions."
"This is serious," I said. "What will you do?"
"Wait and watch," Charles answered; "and the moment he develops
a proposal for shares in the syndicate to work the mine, or a sum
of money down as the price of his discovery—get in the police, and
For the next few days the Professor was more active and ardent
than ever. He went peering about the rocks on every side with his
hammer. He kept on bringing in little pieces of stone, with gold
specks stuck in them, and talking learnedly of the "probable cost
of crushing and milling." Charles had heard all that before; in
point of fact, he had assisted at the drafting of some dozens of
prospectuses. So he took no notice, and waited for the man with the
wig to develop his proposals. He knew they would come soon; and he
watched and waited. But, of course, to draw him on he pretended to
While we were all in this attitude of mind, attending on
Providence and Colonel Clay, we happened to walk down by the shore
one day, in the opposite direction from the Seamew's island.
Suddenly we came upon the Professor linked arm-in-arm with—Sir
Adolphus Cordery! They were wrapped in deep talk, and appeared to
be most amicable.
Now, naturally, relations had been a trifle strained between Sir
Adolphus and the house of Vandrift since the incident of the Slump;
but under the present circumstances, and with such a matter at
stake as the capture of Colonel Clay, it was necessary to overlook
all such minor differences. So Charles managed to disengage the
Professor from his friend, sent Amelia on with Forbes-Gaskell
towards the castle, and stopped behind, himself, with Sir Adolphus
and me, to clear up the question.
"Do you know this man, Cordery?" he asked, with some little
"Know him? Why, of course I do," Sir Adolphus answered. "He's
Marmaduke Forbes-Gaskell, of the Yorkshire College, a very
distinguished man of science. First-rate mineralogist—perhaps the
best (but one) in England." Modesty forbade him to name the
"But are you sure it's he?" Charles inquired, with growing
doubt. "Have you known him before? This isn't a second case of
Schleiermachering me, is it?"
"Sure it's he?" Sir Adolphus echoed. "Am I sure of myself? Why,
I've known Marmy Gaskell ever since we were at Trinity together.
Knew him before he married Miss Forbes of Glenluce, my wife's
second cousin, and hyphened his name with hers, to keep the
property in the family. Know them both most intimately. Came down
here to the inn because I heard that Marmy was on the prowl among
these hills, and I thought he had probably something good to prowl
after—in the way of fossils."
"But the man wears a wig!" Charles expostulated.
"Of course," Cordery answered. "He's as bald as a bat—in front
at least—and he wears a wig to cover his baldness."
"It's disgraceful," Charles exclaimed; "disgraceful—taking us
in like that." And he grew red as a turkey-cock.
Sir Adolphus has no delicacy. He burst out laughing.
"Oh, I see," he cried out, simply bursting with amusement. "You
thought Forbes-Gaskell was Colonel Clay in disguise! Oh, my stars,
what a lovely one!"
"You, at least, have no right to laugh," Charles
responded, drawing himself up and growing still redder. "You led me
once into a similar scrape, and then backed out of it in a way
unbecoming a gentleman. Besides," he went on, getting angrier at
each word, "this fellow, whoever he is, has been trying to cheat me
on his own account. Colonel Clay or no Colonel Clay, he's been
salting my rocks with gold-bearing quartz, and trying to lead me on
into an absurd speculation!"
Sir Adolphus exploded. "Oh, this is too good," he cried. "I must
go and tell Marmy!" And he rushed off to where Forbes-Gaskell was
seated on a corner of rock with Amelia.
As for Charles and myself, we returned to the house. Half an
hour later Forbes-Gaskell came back, too, in a towering temper.
"What is the meaning of this, sir?" he shouted out, as soon as
he caught sight of Charles. "I'm told you've invited my wife and
myself here to your house in order to spy upon us, under the
impression that I was Clay, the notorious swindler!"
"I thought you were," Charles answered, equally angry. "Perhaps
you may be still! Anyhow, you're a rogue, and you tried to
Forbes-Gaskell, white with rage, turned to his trembling wife.
"Gertrude," he said, "pack up your box and come away from these
people instantly. Their pretended hospitality has been a studied
insult. They've put you and me in a most ridiculous position. We
were told before we came here—and no doubt with truth—that Sir
Charles Vandrift was the most close-fisted and tyrannical old
curmudgeon in Scotland. We've been writing to all our friends to
say ecstatically that he was, on the contrary, a most hospitable,
generous, and large-hearted gentleman. And now we find out he's a
disgusting cad, who asks strangers to his house from the meanest
motives, and then insults his guests with gratuitous vituperation.
It is well such people should hear the plain truth now and again in
their lives; and it therefore gives me the greatest pleasure to
tell Sir Charles Vandrift that he's a vulgar bounder of the first
water. Go and pack your box, Gertrude! I'll run down to the
Cromarty Arms, and order a cab to carry us away at once from this
inhospitable sham castle."
"You wear a wig, sir; you wear a wig," Charles exclaimed,
half-choking with passion. For, indeed, as Forbes-Gaskell spoke,
and tossed his head angrily, the nature of his hair-covering grew
painfully apparent. It was quite one-sided.
"I do, sir, that I may be able to shake it in the face of a
cad!" the Professor responded, tearing it off to readjust it; and,
suiting the action to the word, he brandished it thrice in
Charles's eyes; after which he darted from the room, speechless
As soon as they were gone, and Charles had recovered breath
sufficiently to listen to rational conversation, I ventured to
observe, "This comes of being too sure! We made one mistake. We
took it for granted that because a man wears a wig, he must
be an impostor—which does not necessarily follow. We forgot that
not Colonel Clays alone have false coverings to their heads, and
that wigs may sometimes be worn from motives of pure personal
vanity. In fact, we were again the slaves of preconceptions."
I looked at him pointedly. Charles rose before he replied.
"Seymour Wentworth," he said at last, gazing down upon me with
lofty scorn, "your moralising is ill-timed. It appears to me you
entirely misunderstand the position and duties of a private
The oddest part of it all, however, was this—that Charles,
being convinced Forbes-Gaskell, though he wasn't Colonel Clay, had
been fraudulently salting the rocks with gold, with intent to
deceive, took no further notice of the alleged discoveries. The
consequence was that Forbes-Gaskell and Sir Adolphus went elsewhere
with the secret; and it was not till after Charles had sold the
Seldon Castle estate (which he did shortly afterward, the place
having somehow grown strangely distasteful to him) that the present
"Seldon Eldorados, Limited," were put upon the market by Lord
Craig-Ellachie, who purchased the place from him. Forbes-Gaskell,
as it happened, had reported to Craig-Ellachie that he had found a
lode of high-grade ore on an estate unnamed, which he would
particularise on promise of certain contingent claims to founder's
shares; and the old lord jumped at it. Charles sold at grouse-moor
prices; and the consequence is that the capital of the Eldorados is
yielding at present very fair returns, even after allowing for
expenses of promotion—while Charles has been done out of a good
thing in gold-mines!
But, remembering "the position and duties of a private
secretary," I refrained from pointing out to him at the time that
this loss was due to a fixed idea—though as a matter of fact it
depended upon Charles's strange preconception that the man with the
wig, whoever he might be, was trying to diddle him.
THE EPISODE OF THE JAPANNED DISPATCH-BOX
"Sey," my brother-in-law said next spring, "I'm sick and tired
of London! Let's shoulder our wallets at once, and I will to some
distant land, where no man doth me know."
"Mars or Mercury?" I inquired; "for, in our own particular
planet, I'm afraid you'll find it just a trifle difficult for Sir
Charles Vandrift to hide his light under a bushel."
"Oh, I'll manage it," Charles answered. "What's the good of
being a millionaire, I should like to know, if you're always
obliged to 'behave as sich'? I shall travel incog. I'm dog-tired of
being dogged by these endless impostors."
And, indeed, we had passed through a most painful winter.
Colonel Clay had stopped away for some months, it is true, and for
my own part, I will confess, since it wasn't my place to pay
the piper, I rather missed the wonted excitement than otherwise.
But Charles had grown horribly and morbidly suspicious. He carried
out his principle of "distrusting everybody and disbelieving
everything," till life was a burden to him. He spotted impossible
Colonel Clays under a thousand disguises; he was quite convinced he
had frightened his enemy away at least a dozen times over, beneath
the varying garb of a fat club waiter, a tall policeman, a
washerwoman's boy, a solicitor's clerk, the Bank of England beadle,
and the collector of water-rates. He saw him as constantly, and in
as changeful forms, as mediæval saints used to see the devil.
Amelia and I really began to fear for the stability of that
splendid intellect; we foresaw that unless the Colonel Clay
nuisance could be abated somehow, Charles might sink by degrees to
the mental level of a common or ordinary Stock-Exchange
So, when my brother-in-law announced his intention of going away
incog. to parts unknown, on the succeeding Saturday, Amelia and I
felt a flush of relief from long-continued tension. Especially
Amelia—who was not going with him.
"For rest and quiet," he said to us at breakfast, laying down
the Morning Post, "give me the deck of an Atlantic liner! No
letters; no telegrams. No stocks; no shares. No Times; no Saturday.
I'm sick of these papers!"
"The World is too much with us," I assented cheerfully. I regret
to say, nobody appreciated the point of my quotation.
Charles took infinite pains, I must admit, to ensure perfect
secrecy. He made me write and secure the best state-rooms—main
deck, amidships—under my own name, without mentioning his, in the
Etruria, for New York, on her very next voyage. He spoke of his
destination to nobody but Amelia; and Amelia warned Césarine, under
pains and penalties, on no account to betray it to the other
servants. Further to secure his incog., Charles assumed the style
and title of Mr. Peter Porter, and booked as such in the Etruria at
The day before starting, however, he went down with me to the
City for an interview with his brokers in Adam's Court, Old Broad
Street. Finglemore, the senior partner, hastened, of course, to
receive us. As we entered his private room a good-looking young man
rose and lounged out. "Halloa, Finglemore," Charles said, "that's
that scamp of a brother of yours! I thought you had shipped him off
years and years ago to China?"
"So I did, Sir Charles," Finglemore answered, rubbing his hands
somewhat nervously. "But he never went there. Being an idle young
dog, with a taste for amusement, he got for the time no further
than Paris. Since then, he's hung about a bit, here, there, and
everywhere, and done no particular good for himself or his family.
But about three or four years ago he somehow 'struck ile': he went
to South Africa, poaching on your preserves; and now he's back
again—rich, married, and respectable. His wife, a nice little
woman, has reformed him. Well, what can I do for you this
Charles has large interests in America, in Santa Fé and Topekas,
and other big concerns; and he insisted on taking out several
documents and vouchers connected in various ways with his
widespread ventures there. He meant to go, he said, for complete
rest and change, on a general tour of private inquiry—New York,
Chicago, Colorado, the mining districts. It was a millionaire's
holiday. So he took all these valuables in a black japanned
dispatch-box, which he guarded like a child with absurd
precautions. He never allowed that box out of his sight one moment;
and he gave me no peace as to its safety and integrity. It was a
perfect fetish. "We must be cautious," he said, "Sey, cautious!
Especially in travelling. Recollect how that little curate spirited
the diamonds out of Amelia's jewel-case! I shall not let this box
out of my sight. I shall stick to it myself, if we go to the
We did not go to the bottom. It is the proud boast of the
Cunard Company that it has "never lost a passenger's life"; and the
captain would not consent to send the Etruria to Davy Jones's
locker, merely in order to give Charles a chance of sticking to his
dispatch-box under trying circumstances. On the contrary, we had a
delightful and uneventful passage; and we found our
fellow-passengers most agreeable people. Charles, as Mr. Peter
Porter, being freed for the moment from his terror of Colonel Clay,
would have felt really happy, I believe—had it not been for the
dispatch-box. He made friends from the first hour (quite after the
fearless old fashion of the days before Colonel Clay had begun to
embitter life for him) with a nice American doctor and his charming
wife, on their way back to Kentucky. Dr. Elihu Quackenboss—that
was his characteristically American name—had been studying
medicine for a year in Vienna, and was now returning to his native
State with a brain close crammed with all the latest
bacteriological and antiseptic discoveries. His wife, a pretty and
piquant little American, with a tip-tilted nose and the quaint
sharpness of her countrywomen, amused Charles not a little. The
funny way in which she would make room for him by her side on the
bench on deck, and say, with a sweet smile, "You sit right here,
Mr. Porter; the sun's just elegant," delighted and flattered him.
He was proud to find out that female attention was not always due
to his wealth and title; and that plain Mr. Porter could command on
his merits the same amount of blandishments as Sir Charles
Vandrift, the famous millionaire, on his South African
During the whole of that voyage, it was Mrs. Quackenboss here,
and Mrs. Quackenboss there, and Mrs. Quackenboss the other place,
till, for Amelia's sake, I was glad she was not on board to witness
it. Long before we sighted Sandy Hook, I will admit, I was fairly
sick of Charles's two-stringed harp—Mrs. Quackenboss and the
Mrs. Quackenboss, it turned out, was an amateur artist, and she
painted Sir Charles, on calm days on deck, in all possible
attitudes. She seemed to find him a most attractive model.
The doctor, too, was a precious clever fellow. He knew something
of chemistry—and of most other subjects, including, as I gathered,
the human character. For he talked to Charles about various ideas
of his, with which he wished to "liven up folks in Kentucky a bit,"
on his return, till Charles conceived the highest possible regard
for his intelligence and enterprise. "That's a go-ahead fellow,
Sey!" he remarked to me one day. "Has the right sort of grit in
him! Those Americans are the men. Wish I had a round hundred of
them on my works in South Africa!"
That idea seemed to grow upon him. He was immensely taken with
it. He had lately dismissed one of his chief superintendents at the
Cloetedorp mine, and he seriously debated whether or not he should
offer the post to the smart Kentuckian. For my own part, I am
inclined to connect this fact with his expressed determination to
visit his South African undertakings for three months yearly in
future; and I am driven to suspect he felt life at Cloetedorp would
be rendered much more tolerable by the agreeable society of a
quaint and amusing American lady.
"If you offer it to him," I said, "remember, you must disclose
"Not at all," Charles answered. "I can keep it dark for the
present, till all is arranged for. I need only say I have interests
in South Africa."
So, one morning on deck, as we were approaching the Banks, he
broached his scheme gently to the doctor and Mrs. Quackenboss. He
remarked that he was connected with one of the biggest financial
concerns in the Southern hemisphere; and that he would pay Elihu
fifteen hundred a year to represent him at the diggings.
"What, dollars?" the lady said, smiling and accentuating the
tip-tilted nose a little more. "Oh, Mr. Porter, it ain't good
"No, pounds, my dear madam," Charles responded. "Pounds
sterling, you know. In United States currency, seven thousand five
"I guess Elihu would just jump at it," Mrs. Quackenboss replied,
looking at him quizzically.
The doctor laughed. "You make a good bid, sir," he said, in his
slow American way, emphasising all the most unimportant words:
"But you overlook one element. I am a man of science,
not a speculator. I have trained myself for medical work,
at considerable cost, in the best schools of Europe,
and I do not propose to fling away the results
of much arduous labour by throwing myself out
elastically into a new line of work for which my
faculties may not perhaps equally adapt me."
("How thoroughly American!" I murmured, in the background.)
Charles insisted; all in vain. Mrs. Quackenboss was impressed;
but the doctor smiled always a sphinx-like smile, and reiterated
his belief in the unfitness of mid-stream as an ideal place for
swopping horses. The more he declined, and the better he talked,
the more eager Charles became each day to secure him. And, as if on
purpose to draw him on, the doctor each day gave more and more
surprising proofs of his practical abilities. "I am not a
specialist," he said. "I just ketch the drift, appropriate the
kernel, and let the rest slide."
He could do anything, it really seemed, from shoeing a mule to
conducting a camp-meeting; he was a capital chemist, a very sound
surgeon, a fair judge of horseflesh, a first class euchre player,
and a pleasing baritone. When occasion demanded he could occupy a
pulpit. He had invented a cork-screw which brought him in a small
revenue; and he was now engaged in the translation of a Polish work
on the "Application of Hydrocyanic Acid to the Cure of
Still, we reached New York without having got any nearer our
goal, as regarded Dr. Quackenboss. He came to bid us good-bye at
the quay, with that sphinx-like smile still playing upon his
features. Charles clutched the dispatch-box with one hand, and Mrs.
Quackenboss's little palm with the other.
"Don't tell us," he said, "this is good-bye—for ever!"
And his voice quite faltered.
"I guess so, Mr. Porter," the pretty American replied, with a
telling glance. "What hotel do you patronise?"
"The Murray Hill," Charles responded.
"Oh my, ain't that odd?" Mrs. Quackenboss echoed. "The Murray
Hill! Why, that's just where we're going too, Elihu!"
The upshot of which was that Charles persuaded them, before
returning to Kentucky, to diverge for a few days with us to Lake
George and Lake Champlain, where he hoped to over-persuade the
To Lake George therefore we went, and stopped at the excellent
hotel at the terminus of the railway. We spent a good deal of our
time on the light little steamers that ply between that point and
the road to Ticonderoga. Somehow, the mountains mirrored in the
deep green water reminded me of Lucerne; and Lucerne reminded me of
the little curate. For the first time since we left England a vague
terror seized me. Could Elihu Quackenboss be Colonel Clay
again, still dogging our steps through the opposite continent?
I could not help mentioning my suspicion to Charles—who,
strange to say, pooh-poohed it. He had been paying great court to
Mrs. Quackenboss that day, and was absurdly elated because the
little American had rapped his knuckles with her fan and called him
"a real silly."
Next day, however, an odd thing occurred. We strolled out
together, all four of us, along the banks of the lake, among woods
just carpeted with strange, triangular flowers—trilliums, Mrs.
Quackenboss called them—and lined with delicate ferns in the first
green of springtide.
I began to grow poetical. (I wrote verses in my youth before I
went to South Africa.) We threw ourselves on the grass, near a
small mountain stream that descended among moss-clad boulders from
the steep woods above us. The Kentuckian flung himself at full
length on the sward, just in front of Charles. He had a strange
head of hair, very thick and shaggy. I don't know why, but, of a
sudden, it reminded me of the Mexican Seer, whom we had learned to
remember as Colonel Clay's first embodiment. At the same moment the
same thought seemed to run through Charles's head; for, strange to
say, with a quick impulse he leant forward and examined it. I saw
Mrs. Quackenboss draw back in wonder. The hair looked too thick and
close for nature. It ended abruptly, I now remembered, with a sharp
line on the forehead. Could this, too, be a wig? It seemed very
Even as I thought that thought, Charles appeared to form a
sudden and resolute determination. With one lightning swoop he
seized the doctor's hair in his powerful hand, and tried to lift it
off bodily. He had made a bad guess. Next instant the doctor
uttered a loud and terrified howl of pain, while several of his
hairs, root and all, came out of his scalp in Charles's hand,
leaving a few drops of blood on the skin of the head in the place
they were torn from. There was no doubt at all it was not a wig,
but the Kentuckian's natural hirsute covering.
The scene that ensued I am powerless to describe. My pen is
unequal to it. The doctor arose, not so much angry as astonished,
white and incredulous. "What did you do that for, any way?" he
asked, glaring fiercely at my brother-in-law. Charles was all
abject apology. He began by profusely expressing his regret, and
offering to make any suitable reparation, monetary or otherwise.
Then he revealed his whole hand. He admitted that he was Sir
Charles Vandrift, the famous millionaire, and that he had suffered
egregiously from the endless machinations of a certain Colonel
Clay, a machiavellian rogue, who had hounded him relentlessly round
the capitals of Europe. He described in graphic detail how the
impostor got himself up with wigs and wax, so as to deceive even
those who knew him intimately; and then he threw himself on Dr.
Quackenboss's mercy, as a man who had been cruelly taken in so
often that he could not help suspecting the best of men falsely.
Mrs. Quackenboss admitted it was natural to have
suspicions—"Especially," she said, with candour, "as you're not
the first to observe the notable way Elihu's hair seems to
originate from his forehead," and she pulled it up to show us. But
Elihu himself sulked on in the dumps: his dignity was offended.
"If you wanted to know," he said, "you might as well have
asked me. Assault and battery is not the right way to
test whether a citizen's hair is primitive or acquired."
"It was an impulse," Charles pleaded; "an instinctive
"Civilised man restrains his impulses," the doctor answered.
"You have lived too long in South Africa, Mr.
Porter—I mean, Sir Charles Vandrift, if that's the right way
to address such a gentleman. You appear to have
imbibed the habits and manners of the Kaffirs you lived
For the next two days, I will really admit, Charles seemed more
wretched than I could have believed it possible for him to be on
somebody else's account. He positively grovelled. The fact was, he
saw he had hurt Dr. Quackenboss's feelings, and—much to my
surprise—he seemed truly grieved at it. If the doctor would have
accepted a thousand pounds down to shake hands at once and forget
the incident—in my opinion Charles would have gladly paid it.
Indeed, he said as much in other words to the pretty American—for
he could not insult her by offering her money. Mrs. Quackenboss did
her best to make it up, for she was a kindly little creature, in
spite of her roguishness; but Elihu stood aloof. Charles urged him
still to go out to South Africa, increasing his bait to two
thousand a year; yet the doctor was immovable. "No, no," he said;
"I had half decided to accept your offer—till that
unfortunate impulse; but that settled the question. As an
American citizen, I decline to become the representative
of a British nobleman who takes such means of
investigating questions which affect the hair and happiness
of his fellow-creatures."
I don't know whether Charles was most disappointed at missing
the chance of so clever a superintendent for the mine at
Cloetedorp, or elated at the novel description of himself as "a
British nobleman;" which is not precisely our English idea of a
Three days later, accordingly, the Quackenbosses left the
Lakeside Hotel. We were bound on an expedition up the lake
ourselves, when the pretty little woman burst in with a dash to
tell us they were leaving. She was charmingly got up in the neatest
and completest of American travelling-dresses. Charles held her
hand affectionately. "I'm sorry it's good-bye," he said. "I have
done my best to secure your husband."
"You couldn't have tried harder than I did," the little woman
answered, and the tip-tilted nose looked quite pathetic; "for I
just hate to be buried right down there in Kentucky! However, Elihu
is the sort of man a woman can neither drive nor lead; so we've got
to put up with him." And she smiled upon us sweetly, and
disappeared for ever.
Charles was disconsolate all that day. Next morning he rose, and
announced his intention of setting out for the West on his tour of
inspection. He would recreate by revelling in Colorado silver
We packed our own portmanteaus, for Charles had not brought even
Simpson with him, and then we prepared to set out by the morning
train for Saratoga.
Up till almost the last moment Charles nursed his dispatch-box.
But as the "baggage-smashers" were taking down our luggage, and a
chambermaid was lounging officiously about in search of a tip, he
laid it down for a second or two on the centre table while he
collected his other immediate impedimenta. He couldn't find his
cigarette-case, and went back to the bedroom for it. I helped him
hunt, but it had disappeared mysteriously. That moment lost him.
When we had found the cigarette-case, and returned to the
sitting-room—lo, and behold! the dispatch-box was missing! Charles
questioned the servants, but none of them had noticed it. He
searched round the room—not a trace of it anywhere.
"Why, I laid it down here just two minutes ago!" he cried. But
it was not forthcoming.
"It'll turn up in time," I said. "Everything turns up in the
end—including Mrs. Quackenboss's nose."
"Seymour," said my brother-in-law, "your hilarity is
To say the truth, Charles was beside himself with anger. He took
the elevator down to the "Bureau," as they call it, and complained
to the manager. The manager, a sharp-faced New Yorker, smiled as he
remarked in a nonchalant way that guests with valuables were
required to leave them in charge of the management, in which case
they were locked up in the safe and duly returned to the depositor
on leaving. Charles declared somewhat excitedly that he had been
robbed, and demanded that nobody should be allowed to leave the
hotel till the dispatch-box was discovered. The manager, quite
cool, and obtrusively picking his teeth, responded that such
tactics might be possible in an hotel of the European size, putting
up a couple of hundred guests or so; but that an American house,
with over a thousand visitors—many of whom came and went
daily—could not undertake such a quixotic quest on behalf of a
single foreign complainant.
That epithet, "foreign," stung Charles to the quick. No
Englishman can admit that he is anywhere a foreigner. "Do you know
who I am, sir?" he asked, angrily. "I am Sir Charles Vandrift, of
London—a member of the English Parliament."
"You may be the Prince of Wales," the man answered, "for all I
care. You'll get the same treatment as anyone else, in America. But
if you're Sir Charles Vandrift," he went on, examining his books,
"how does it come you've registered as Mr. Peter Porter?"
Charles grew red with embarrassment. The difficulty
The dispatch-box, always covered with a leather case, bore on
its inner lid the name "Sir Charles Vandrift, K.C.M.G.," distinctly
painted in the orthodox white letters. This was a painful
contretemps: he had lost his precious documents; he had given a
false name; and he had rendered the manager supremely careless
whether or not he recovered his stolen property. Indeed, seeing he
had registered as Porter, and now "claimed" as Vandrift, the
manager hinted in pretty plain language he very much doubted
whether there had ever been a dispatch-box in the matter at all, or
whether, if there were one, it had ever contained any valuable
We spent a wretched morning. Charles went round the hotel,
questioning everybody as to whether they had seen his dispatch-box.
Most of the visitors resented the question as a personal
imputation; one fiery Virginian, indeed, wanted to settle the point
then and there with a six-shooter. Charles telegraphed to New York
to prevent the shares and coupons from being negotiated; but his
brokers telegraphed back that, though they had stopped the numbers
as far as possible, they did so with reluctance, as they were not
aware of Sir Charles Vandrift being now in the country. Charles
declared he wouldn't leave the hotel till he recovered his
property; and for myself, I was inclined to suppose we would have
to remain there accordingly for the term of our natural lives—and
That night again we spent at the Lakeside Hotel. In the small
hours of the morning, as I lay awake and meditated, a thought broke
across me. I was so excited by it that I rose and rushed into my
brother-in-law's bedroom. "Charles, Charles!" I exclaimed, "we have
taken too much for granted once more. Perhaps Elihu Quackenboss
carried off your dispatch-box!"
"You fool," Charles answered, in his most unamiable manner (he
applies that word to me with increasing frequency); "is that
what you've waked me up for? Why, the Quackenbosses left Lake
George on Tuesday morning, and I had the dispatch-box in my own
hands on Wednesday."
"We have only their word for it," I cried. "Perhaps they stopped
on—and walked off with it afterwards!"
"We will inquire to-morrow," Charles answered. "But I confess I
don't think it was worth waking me up for. I could stake my life on
that little woman's integrity."
We did inquire next morning—with this curious result: it
turned out that, though the Quackenbosses had left the Lakeside
Hotel on Tuesday, it was only for the neighbouring Washington
House, which they quitted on Wednesday morning, taking the same
train for Saratoga which Charles and I had intended to go by. Mrs.
Quackenboss carried a small brown paper parcel in her hands—in
which, under the circumstances, we had little difficulty in
recognising Charles's dispatch-box, loosely enveloped.
Then I knew how it was done. The chambermaid, loitering about
the room for a tip, was—Mrs. Quackenboss! It needed but an apron
to transform her pretty travelling-dress into a chambermaid's
costume; and in any of those huge American hotels one chambermaid
more or less would pass in the crowd without fear of challenge.
"We will follow them on to Saratoga," Charles cried. "Pay the
bill at once, Seymour."
"Certainly," I answered. "Will you give me some money?"
Charles clapped his hand to his pockets. "All, all in the
dispatch-box," he murmured.
That tied us up another day, till we could get some ready cash
from our agents in New York; for the manager, already most
suspicious at the change of name and the accusation of theft,
peremptorily refused to accept Charles's cheque, or anything else,
as he phrased it, except "hard money." So we lingered on perforce
at Lake George in ignoble inaction.
"Of course," I observed to my brother-in-law that evening,
"Elihu Quackenboss was Colonel Clay."
"I suppose so," Charles murmured resignedly. "Everybody I meet
seems to be Colonel Clay nowadays—except when I believe they
are, in which case they turn out to be harmless nobodies.
But who would have thought it was he after I pulled his hair out?
Or after he persisted in his trick, even when I suspected
him—which, he told us at Seldon, was against his first
A light dawned upon me again. But, warned by previous
ebullitions, I expressed myself this time with becoming timidity.
"Charles," I suggested, "may we not here again have been the slaves
of a preconception? We thought Forbes-Gaskell was Colonel Clay—for
no better reason than because he wore a wig. We thought Elihu
Quackenboss wasn't Colonel Clay—for no better reason than because
he didn't wear one. But how do we know he ever wears wigs?
Isn't it possible, after all, that those hints he gave us about
make-up, when he was Medhurst the detective, were framed on
purpose, so as to mislead and deceive us? And isn't it possible
what he said of his methods at the Seamew's island that day was
similarly designed in order to hoodwink us?"
"That is so obvious, Sey," my brother-in-law observed, in a most
aggrieved tone, "that I should have thought any secretary worth his
salt would have arrived at it instantly."
I abstained from remarking that Charles himself had not arrived
at it even now, until I told him. I thought that to say so would
serve no good purpose. So I merely went on: "Well, it seems to me
likely that when he came as Medhurst, with his hair cut short, he
was really wearing his own natural crop, in its simplest form and
of its native hue. By now it has had time to grow long and bushy.
When he was David Granton, no doubt, he clipped it to an
intermediate length, trimmed his beard and moustache, and dyed them
all red, to a fine Scotch colour. As the Seer, again, he wore his
hair much the same as Elihu's; only, to suit the character, more
combed and fluffy. As the little curate, he darkened it and
plastered it down. As Von Lebenstein, he shaved close, but
cultivated his moustache to its utmost dimensions, and dyed it
black after the Tyrolese fashion. He need never have had a wig; his
own natural hair would throughout have been sufficient, allowing
"You're right, Sey," my brother-in-law said, growing almost
friendly. "I will do you the justice to admit that's the nearest
thing we have yet struck out to an idea for tracking him."
On the Saturday morning a letter arrived which relieved us a
little from our momentary tension. It was from our enemy
himself—but most different in tone from his previous bantering
"SIR CHARLES VANDRIFT—Herewith I return your
dispatch-box, intact, with the papers untouched. As you will
readily observe, it has not even been opened.
"You will ask me the reason for this strange
conduct. Let me be serious for once, and tell you truthfully.
"White Heather and I (for I will stick to Mr.
Wentworth's judicious sobriquet) came over on the Etruria with you,
intending, as usual, to make something out of you. We followed you
to Lake George—for I had 'forced a card,' after my habitual plan,
by inducing you to invite us, with the fixed intention of playing a
particular trick upon you. It formed no part of our original game
to steal your dispatch-box; that I consider a simple and elementary
trick unworthy the skill of a practised operator. We persisted in
the preparations for our coup, till you pulled my hair out. Then,
to my great surprise, I saw you exhibited a degree of regret and
genuine compunction with which, till that moment, I could never
have credited you. You thought you had hurt my feelings; and you
behaved more like a gentleman than I had previously known you to
do. You not only apologised, but you also endeavoured voluntarily
to make reparation. That produced an effect upon me. You may not
believe it, but I desisted accordingly from the trick I had
prepared for you.
"I might also have accepted your offer to go to
South Africa, where I could soon have cleared out, having embezzled
thousands. But, then, I should have been in a position of trust and
responsibility—and I am not quite rogue enough to rob you
under those conditions.
"Whatever else I am, however, I am not a
hypocrite. I do not pretend to be anything more than a common
swindler. If I return you your papers intact, it is only on the
same principle as that of the Australian bushranger, who made a
lady a present of her own watch because she had sung to him
and reminded him of England. In other words, he did not take it
from her. In like manner, when I found you had behaved, for once,
like a gentleman, contrary to my expectation, I declined to go on
with the trick I then meditated. Which does not mean to say I may
not hereafter play you some other. That will depend upon
your future good behaviour.
"Why, then, did I get White Heather to purloin
your dispatch-box, with intent to return it? Out of pure lightness
of heart? Not so; but in order to let you see I really meant it. If
I had gone off with no swag, and then written you this letter, you
would not have believed me. You would have thought it was merely
another of my failures. But when I have actually got all your
papers into my hands, and give them up again of my own free will,
you must see that I mean it.
"I will end, as I began, seriously. My trade has
not quite crushed out of me all germs or relics of better feeling;
and when I see a millionaire behave like a man, I feel ashamed to
take advantage of that gleam of manliness.
"Yours, with a tinge of penitence, but still a
rogue, CUTHBERT CLAY."
The first thing Charles did on receiving this strange
communication was to bolt downstairs and inquire for the
dispatch-box. It had just arrived by Eagle Express Company. Charles
rushed up to our rooms again, opened it feverishly, and counted his
documents. When he found them all safe, he turned to me with a hard
smile. "This letter," he said, with quivering lips, "I consider
still more insulting than all his previous ones."
But, for myself, I really thought there was a ring of truth
about it. Colonel Clay was a rogue, no doubt—a most unblushing
rogue; but even a rogue, I believe, has his better moments.
And the phrase about the "position of trust and responsibility"
touched Charles to the quick, I suppose, in re the Slump in
Cloetedorp Golcondas. Though, to be sure, it was a hit at me as
well, over the ten per cent commission.
THE EPISODE OF THE GAME OF POKER
"Seymour," my brother-in-law said, with a deep-drawn sigh, as we
left Lake George next day by the Rennselaer and Saratoga Railroad,
"no more Peter Porter for me, if you please! I'm sick of
disguises. Now that we know Colonel Clay is here in America, they
serve no good purpose; so I may as well receive the social
consideration and proper respect to which my rank and position
naturally entitle me."
"And which they secure for the most part (except from hotel
clerks), even in this republican land," I answered briskly.
For in my humble opinion, for sound copper-bottomed snobbery,
registered A1 at Lloyd's, give me the free-born American
We travelled through the States, accordingly, for the next four
months, from Maine to California, and from Oregon to Florida, under
our own true names, "Confirming the churches," as Charles
facetiously put it—or in other words, looking into the management
and control of railways, syndicates, mines, and cattle-ranches. We
inquired about everything. And the result of our investigations
appeared to be, as Charles further remarked, that the Sabeans who
so troubled the sons of Job seemed to have migrated in a body to
Kansas and Nebraska, and that several thousand head of cattle
seemed mysteriously to vanish, à la Colonel Clay, into the pure air
of the prairies just before each branding.
However, we were fortunate in avoiding the incursions of the
Colonel himself, who must have migrated meanwhile on some enchanted
carpet to other happy hunting-grounds.
It was chill October before we found ourselves safe back in New
York, en route for England. So long a term of freedom from the
Colonel's depredations (as Charles fondly imagined—but I will not
anticipate) had done my brother-in-law's health and spirits a world
of good; he was so lively and cheerful that he began to fancy his
tormentor must have succumbed to yellow fever, then raging in New
Orleans, or eaten himself ill, as we nearly did ourselves, on a
generous mixture of clam-chowder, terrapin, soft-shelled crabs,
Jersey peaches, canvas-backed ducks, Catawba wine, winter cherries,
brandy cocktails, strawberry-shortcake, ice-creams, corn-dodger,
and a judicious brew commonly known as a Colorado corpse-reviver.
However that may be, Charles returned to New York in excellent
trim; and, dreading in that great city the wiles of his antagonist,
he cheerfully accepted the invitation of his brother millionaire,
Senator Wrengold of Nevada, to spend a few days before sailing in
the Senator's magnificent and newly-finished palace at the upper
end of Fifth Avenue.
"There, at least, I shall be safe, Sey," he said to me
plaintively, with a weary smile. "Wrengold, at any rate, won't try
to take me in—except, of course, in the regular way of
Boss-Nugget Hall (as it is popularly christened) is perhaps the
handsomest brown stone mansion in the Richardsonian style on all
Fifth Avenue. We spent a delightful week there. The lines had
fallen to us in pleasant places. On the night we arrived Wrengold
gave a small bachelor party in our honour. He knew Sir Charles was
travelling without Lady Vandrift, and rightly judged he would
prefer on his first night an informal party, with cards and cigars,
instead of being bothered with the charming, but still somewhat
hampering addition of female society.
The guests that evening were no more than seven, all told,
ourselves included—making up, Wrengold said, that perfect number,
an octave. He was a nouveau riche himself—the newest of the
new—commonly known in exclusive old-fashioned New York society as
the Gilded Squatter; for he "struck his reef" no more than ten
years ago; and he was therefore doubly anxious, after the American
style, to be "just dizzy with culture." In his capacity of Mæcenas,
he had invited amongst others the latest of English literary
arrivals in New York—Mr. Algernon Coleyard, the famous poet, and
leader of the Briar-rose school of West-country fiction.
"You know him in London, of course?" he observed to Charles,
with a smile, as we waited dinner for our guests.
"No," Charles answered stolidly. "I have not had that honour. We
move, you see, in different circles."
I observed by a curious shade which passed over Senator
Wrengold's face that he quite misapprehended my brother-in-law's
meaning. Charles wished to convey, of course, that Mr. Coleyard
belonged to a mere literary and Bohemian set in London, while he
himself moved on a more exalted plane of peers and politicians. But
the Senator, better accustomed to the new-rich point of view,
understood Charles to mean that he had not the entrée of
that distinguished coterie in which Mr. Coleyard posed as a shining
luminary. Which naturally made him rate even higher than before his
At two minutes past the hour the poet entered. Even if we had
not been already familiar with his portrait at all ages in The
Strand Magazine, we should have recognised him at once for a
genuine bard by his impassioned eyes, his delicate mouth, the
artistic twirl of one gray lock upon his expansive brow, the
grizzled moustache that gave point and force to the genial smile,
and the two white rows of perfect teeth behind it. Most of our
fellow-guests had met Coleyard before at a reception given by the
Lotus Club that afternoon, for the bard had reached New York but
the previous evening; so Charles and I were the only visitors who
remained to be introduced to him. The lion of the hour was attired
in ordinary evening dress, with no foppery of any kind, but he wore
in his buttonhole a dainty blue flower whose name I do not know;
and as he bowed distantly to Charles, whom he surveyed through his
eyeglass, the gleam of a big diamond in the middle of his
shirt-front betrayed the fact that the Briar-rose school, as it was
called (from his famous epic), had at least succeeded in making
money out of poetry. He explained to us a little later, in fact,
that he was over in New York to look after his royalties. "The
beggars," he said, "only gave me eight hundred pounds on my last
volume. I couldn't stand that, you know; for a modern bard,
moving with the age, can only sing when duly wound up; so I've run
across to investigate. Put a penny in the slot, don't you see, and
the poet will pipe for you."
"Exactly like myself," Charles said, finding a point in common.
"I'm interested in mines; and I, too, have come over to look
after my royalties."
The poet placed his eyeglass in his eye once more, and surveyed
Charles deliberately from head to foot. "Oh," he murmured slowly.
He said not a word more; but somehow, everybody felt that Charles
was demolished. I saw that Wrengold, when we went in to dinner,
hastily altered the cards that marked their places. He had
evidently put Charles at first to sit next the poet; he varied that
arrangement now, setting Algernon Coleyard between a railway king
and a magazine editor. I have seldom seen my respected
brother-in-law so completely silenced.
The poet's conduct during dinner was most peculiar. He kept
quoting poetry at inopportune moments.
"Roast lamb or boiled turkey, sir?" said the footman.
"Mary had a little lamb," said the poet. "I shall imitate
Charles and the Senator thought the remark undignified.
After dinner, however, under the mellowing influence of some
excellent Roederer, Charles began to expand again, and grew lively
and anecdotal. The poet had made us all laugh not a little with
various capital stories of London literary society—at least two of
them, I think, new ones; and Charles was moved by generous
emulation to contribute his own share to the amusement of the
company. He was in excellent cue. He is not often brilliant; but
when he chooses, he has a certain dry vein of caustic humour which
is decidedly funny, though not perhaps strictly without being
vulgar. On this particular night, then, warmed with the admirable
Wrengold champagne—the best made in America—he launched out into
a full and embroidered description of the various ways in which
Colonel Clay had deceived him. I will not say that he narrated them
in full with the same frankness and accuracy that I have shown in
these pages; he suppressed not a few of the most amusing
details—on no other ground, apparently, than because they happened
to tell against himself; and he enlarged a good deal on the
surprising cleverness with which several times he had nearly
secured his man; but still, making all allowances for native vanity
in concealment and addition, he was distinctly funny—he
represented the matter for once in its ludicrous rather than in its
disastrous aspect. He observed also, looking around the table, that
after all he had lost less by Colonel Clay in four years of
persecution than he often lost by one injudicious move in a single
day on the London Stock Exchange; while he seemed to imply to the
solid men of New York, that he would cheerfully sacrifice such a
fleabite as that, in return for the amusement and excitement of the
chase which the Colonel had afforded him.
The poet was pleased. "You are a man of spirit, Sir Charles," he
said. "I love to see this fine old English admiration of pluck and
adventure! The fellow must really have some good in him, after all.
I should like to take notes of a few of those stories; they would
supply nice material for basing a romance upon."
"I hardly know whether I'm exactly the man to make the hero of a
novel," Charles murmured, with complacence. And he certainly didn't
"I was thinking rather of Colonel Clay as the hero," the
poet responded coldly.
"Ah, that's the way with you men of letters," Charles answered,
growing warm. "You always have a sneaking sympathy with the
"That may be better," Coleyard retorted, in an icy voice, "than
sympathy with the worst forms of Stock Exchange speculation."
The company smiled uneasily. The railway king wriggled. Wrengold
tried to change the subject hastily. But Charles would not be put
"You must hear the end, though," he said. "That's not quite the
worst. The meanest thing about the man is that he's also a
hypocrite. He wrote me such a letter at the end of his last
trick—here, positively here, in America." And he proceeded to give
his own version of the Quackenboss incident, enlivened with sundry
imaginative bursts of pure Vandrift fancy.
When Charles spoke of Mrs. Quackenboss the poet smiled. "The
worst of married women," he said, "is—that you can't marry them;
the worst of unmarried women is—that they want to marry you." But
when it came to the letter, the poet's eye was upon my
brother-in-law. Charles, I must fain admit, garbled the document
sadly. Still, even so, some gleam of good feeling remained in its
sentences. But Charles ended all by saying, "So, to crown his
misdemeanours, the rascal shows himself a whining cur and a
"Don't you think," the poet interposed, in his cultivated drawl,
"he may have really meant it? Why should not some grain of
compunction have stirred his soul still?—some remnant of
conscience made him shrink from betraying a man who confided in
him? I have an idea, myself, that even the worst of rogues have
always some good in them. I notice they often succeed to the end in
retaining the affection and fidelity of women."
"Oh, I said so!" Charles sneered. "I told you you literary men
have always an underhand regard for a scoundrel."
"Perhaps so," the poet answered. "For we are all of us human.
Let him that is without sin among us cast the first stone." And
then he relapsed into moody silence.
We rose from table. Cigars went round. We adjourned to the
smoking-room. It was a Moorish marvel, with Oriental hangings.
There, Senator Wrengold and Charles exchanged reminiscences of
bonanzas and ranches and other exciting post-prandial topics; while
the magazine editor cut in now and again with a pertinent inquiry
or a quaint and sarcastic parallel instance. It was clear he had an
eye to future copy. Only Algernon Coleyard sat brooding and silent,
with his chin on one hand, and his brow intent, musing and gazing
at the embers in the fireplace. The hand, by the way, was
remarkable for a curious, antique-looking ring, apparently of
Egyptian or Etruscan workmanship, with a projecting gem of several
large facets. Once only, in the midst of a game of whist, he broke
out with a single comment.
"Hawkins was made an earl," said Charles, speaking of some
"What for?" asked the Senator.
"Successful adulteration," said the poet tartly.
"Honours are easy," the magazine editor put in.
"And two by tricks to Sir Charles," the poet added.
Towards the close of the evening, however—the poet still
remaining moody, not to say positively grumpy—Senator Wrengold
proposed a friendly game of Swedish poker. It was the latest
fashionable variant in Western society on the old gambling round,
and few of us knew it, save the omniscient poet and the magazine
editor. It turned out afterwards that Wrengold proposed that
particular game because he had heard Coleyard observe at the Lotus
Club the same afternoon that it was a favourite amusement of his.
Now, however, for a while he objected to playing. He was a poor
man, he said, and the rest were all rich; why should he throw away
the value of a dozen golden sonnets just to add one more pinnacle
to the gilded roofs of a millionaire's palace? Besides, he was
half-way through with an ode he was inditing to Republican
simplicity. The pristine austerity of a democratic senatorial
cottage had naturally inspired him with memories of Dentatus, the
Fabii, Camillus. But Wrengold, dimly aware he was being made fun of
somehow, insisted that the poet must take a hand with the
financiers. "You can pass, you know," he said, "as often as you
like; and you can stake low, or go it blind, according as you're
inclined to. It's a democratic game; every man decides for himself
how high he will play, except the banker; and you needn't take bank
unless you want it."
"Oh, if you insist upon it," Coleyard drawled out, with languid
reluctance, "I'll play, of course. I won't spoil your evening. But
remember, I'm a poet; I have strange inspirations."
The cards were "squeezers"—that is to say, had the suit and the
number of pips in each printed small in the corner, as well as over
the face, for ease of reference. We played low at first. The poet
seldom staked; and when he did—a few pounds—he lost, with
singular persistence. He wanted to play for doubloons or sequins,
and could with difficulty be induced to condescend to dollars.
Charles looked across at him at last; the stakes by that time were
fast rising higher, and we played for ready money. Notes lay thick
on the green cloth. "Well," he murmured provokingly, "how about
your inspiration? Has Apollo deserted you?"
It was an unwonted flight of classical allusion for Charles, and
I confess it astonished me. (I discovered afterwards he had cribbed
it from a review in that evening's Critic.) But the poet
"No," he answered calmly, "I am waiting for one now. When it
comes, you may be sure you shall have the benefit of it."
Next round, Charles dealing and banking, the poet staked on his
card, unseen as usual. He staked like a gentleman. To our immense
astonishment he pulled out a roll of notes, and remarked, in a
quiet tone, "I have an inspiration now. Half-hearted will
do. I go five thousand." That was dollars, of course; but it
amounted to a thousand pounds in English money—high play for an
Charles smiled and turned his card. The poet turned his—and won
"Good shot!" Charles murmured, pretending not to mind, though he
"Inspiration!" the poet mused, and looked once more
Charles dealt again. The poet watched the deal with boiled-fishy
eyes. His thoughts were far away. His lips moved audibly. "Myrtle,
and kirtle, and hurtle," he muttered. "They'll do for three. Then
there's turtle, meaning dove; and that finishes the possible.
Laurel and coral make a very bad rhyme. Try myrtle; don't you think
"Do you stake?" Charles asked, severely, interrupting his
The poet started. "No, pass," he replied, looking down at his
card, and subsided into muttering. We caught a tremor of his lips
again, and heard something like this: "Not less but more republican
than thou, Half-hearted watcher by the Western sea, After long
years I come to visit thee, And test thy fealty to that maiden vow,
That bound thee in thy budding prime For Freedom's bride—"
"Stake?" Charles interrupted, inquiringly, again.
"Yes, five thousand," the poet answered dreamily, pushing
forward his pile of notes, and never ceasing from his murmur: "For
Freedom's bride to all succeeding time. Succeeding; succeeding;
weak word, succeeding. Couldn't go five dollars on it."
Charles turned his card once more. The poet had won again.
Charles passed over his notes. The poet raked them in with a
far-away air, as one who looks at infinity, and asked if he could
borrow a pencil and paper. He had a few priceless lines to set down
which might otherwise escape him.
"This is play," Charles said pointedly. "Will you kindly
attend to one thing or the other?"
The poet glanced at him with a compassionate smile. "I told you
I had inspirations," he said. "They always come together. I can't
win your money as fast as I would like, unless at the same time I
am making verses. Whenever I hit upon a good epithet, I back my
luck, don't you see? I won a thousand on half-hearted and a
thousand on budding; if I were to back succeeding, I
should lose, to a certainty. You understand my system?"
"I call it pure rubbish," Charles answered. "However, continue.
Systems were made for fools—and to suit wise men. Sooner or later
you must lose at such a stupid fancy."
The poet continued. "For Freedom's bride to all ensuing
"Stake!" Charles cried sharply. We each of us staked.
"Ensuing," the poet murmured. "To all ensuing
time. First-rate epithet that. I go ten thousand, Sir Charles, on
We all turned up. Some of us lost, some won; but the poet had
secured his two thousand sterling.
"I haven't that amount about me," Charles said, in that
austerely nettled voice which he always assumes when he loses at
cards; "but—I'll settle it with you to-morrow."
"Another round?" the host asked, beaming.
"No, thank you," Charles answered; "Mr. Coleyard's inspirations
come too pat for my taste. His luck beats mine. I retire from the
Just at that moment a servant entered, bearing a salver, with a
small note in an envelope. "For Mr. Coleyard," he observed; "and
the messenger said, urgent."
Coleyard tore it open hurriedly. I could see he was agitated.
His face grew white at once.
"I—I beg your pardon," he said. "I—I must go back instantly.
My wife is dangerously ill—quite a sudden attack. Forgive me,
Senator. Sir Charles, you shall have your revenge to-morrow."
It was clear that his voice faltered. We felt at least he was a
man of feeling. He was obviously frightened. His coolness forsook
him. He shook hands as in a dream, and rushed downstairs for his
dust-coat. Almost as he closed the front door, a new guest entered,
just missing him in the vestibule.
"Halloa, you men," he said, "we've been taken in, do you know?
It's all over the Lotus. The man we made an honorary member of the
club to-day is not Algernon Coleyard. He's a blatant
impostor. There's a telegram come in on the tape to-night saying
Algernon Coleyard is dangerously ill at his home in England."
Charles gasped a violent gasp. "Colonel Clay!" he shouted,
aloud. "And once more he's done me. There's not a moment to lose.
After him, gentlemen! after him!"
Never before in our lives had we had such a close shave of
catching and fixing the redoubtable swindler. We burst down the
stairs in a body, and rushed out into Fifth Avenue. The pretended
poet had only a hundred yards' start of us, and he saw he was
discovered. But he was an excellent runner. So was I, weight for
age; and I dashed wildly after him. He turned round a corner; it
proved to lead nowhere, and lost him time. He darted back again,
madly. Delighted with the idea that I was capturing so famous a
criminal, I redoubled my efforts—and came up with him, panting. He
was wearing a light dust-coat. I seized it in my hands. "I've got
you at last!" I cried; "Colonel Clay, I've got you!"
He turned and looked at me. "Ha, old Ten Per Cent!" he called
out, struggling. "It's you, then, is it? Never, never to
you, sir!" And as he spoke, he somehow flung his arms
straight out behind him, and let the dust-coat slip off, which it
easily did, the sleeves being new and smoothly silk-lined. The
suddenness of the movement threw me completely off my guard, and
off my legs as well. I was clinging to the coat and holding him. As
the support gave way I rolled over backward, in the mud of the
street, and hurt my back seriously. As for Colonel Clay, with a
nervous laugh, he bolted off at full speed in his evening coat, and
vanished round a corner.
It was some seconds before I had sufficiently recovered my
breath to pick myself up again, and examine my bruises. By this
time Charles and the other pursuers had come up, and I explained my
condition to them. Instead of commending me for my zeal in his
cause—which had cost me a barked arm and a good evening suit—my
brother-in-law remarked, with an unfeeling sneer, that when I had
so nearly caught my man I might as well have held him.
"I have his coat, at least," I said. "That may afford us a
clue." And I limped back with it in my hands, feeling horribly
bruised and a good deal shaken.
When we came to examine the coat, however, it bore no maker's
name; the strap at the back, where the tailor proclaims with pride
his handicraft, had been carefully ripped off, and its place was
taken by a tag of plain black tape without inscription of any sort.
We searched the breast-pocket. A handkerchief, similarly nameless,
but of finest cambric. The side-pockets—ha, what was this? I drew
a piece of paper out in triumph. It was a note—a real find—the
one which the servant had handed to our friend just before at the
We read it through breathlessly:—
"DARLING PAUL,—I told you it was too
dangerous. You should have listened to me. You ought never
to have imitated any real person. I happened to glance at the hotel
tape just now, to see the quotations for Cloetedorps to-day, and
what do you think I read as part of the latest telegram from
England? 'Mr. Algernon Coleyard, the famous poet, is lying on his
death-bed at his home in Devonshire.' By this time all New York
knows. Don't stop one minute. Say I'm dangerously ill, and come
away at once. Don't return to the hotel. I am removing our things.
Meet me at Mary's. Your devoted, MARGOT."
"This is very important," Charles said. "This does
give us a clue. We know two things now: his real name is
Paul—whatever else it may be, and Madame Picardet's is
I searched the pocket again, and pulled out a ring. Evidently he
had thrust these two things there when he saw me pursuing him, and
had forgotten or neglected them in the heat of the mêlée.
I looked at it close. It was the very ring I had noticed on his
finger while he was playing Swedish poker. It had a large compound
gem in the centre, set with many facets, and rising like a pyramid
to a point in the middle. There were eight faces in all, some of
them composed of emerald, amethyst, or turquoise. But one
face—the one that turned at a direct angle towards the wearer's
eye—was not a gem at all, but an extremely tiny convex
mirror. In a moment I spotted the trick. He held this hand
carelessly on the table while my brother-in-law dealt; and when he
saw that the suit and number of his own card mirrored in it by
means of the squeezers were better than Charles's, he had "an
inspiration," and backed his luck—or rather his knowledge—with
perfect confidence. I did not doubt, either, that his odd-looking
eyeglass was a powerful magnifier which helped him in the trick.
Still, we tried another deal, by way of experiment—I wearing the
ring; and even with the naked eye I was able to distinguish in
every case the suit and pips of the card that was dealt me.
"Why, that was almost dishonest," the Senator said, drawing
back. He wished to show us that even far-Western speculators drew a
"Yes," the magazine editor echoed. "To back your skill is legal;
to back your luck is foolish; to back your knowledge is—"
"Immoral," I suggested.
"Very good business," said the magazine editor.
"It's a simple trick," Charles interposed. "I should have
spotted it if it had been done by any other fellow. But his patter
about inspiration put me clean off the track. That's the rascal's
dodge. He plays the regular conjurer's game of distracting your
attention from the real point at issue—so well that you never find
out what he's really about till he's sold you irretrievably."
We set the New York police upon the trail of the Colonel; but of
course he had vanished at once, as usual, into the thin smoke of
Manhattan. Not a sign could we find of him. "Mary's," we found an
We waited on in New York for a whole fortnight. Nothing came of
it. We never found "Mary's." The only token of Colonel Clay's
presence vouchsafed us in the city was one of his customary
insulting notes. It was conceived as follows:—
"O ETERNAL GULLIBLE!—Since I saw you on Lake
George, I have run back to London, and promptly come out again. I
had business to transact there, indeed, which I have now completed;
the excessive attentions of the English police sent me once more,
like great Orion, "sloping slowly to the west." I returned to
America in order to see whether or not you were still impenitent.
On the day of my arrival I happened to meet Senator Wrengold, and
accepted his kind invitation solely that I might see how far my
last communication had had a proper effect upon you. As I found you
quite obdurate, and as you furthermore persisted in
misunderstanding my motives, I determined to read you one more
small lesson. It nearly failed; and I confess the accident has
affected my nerves a little. I am now about to retire from business
altogether, and settle down for life at my place in Surrey. I mean
to try just one more small coup; and, when that is finished,
Colonel Clay will hang up his sword, like Cincinnatus, and take to
farming. You need no longer fear me. I have realised enough to
secure me for life a modest competence; and as I am not possessed
like yourself with an immoderate greed of gain, I recognise that
good citizenship demands of me now an early retirement in favour of
some younger and more deserving rascal. I shall always look back
with pleasure upon our agreeable adventures together; and as you
hold my dust-coat, together with a ring and letter to which I
attach importance, I consider we are quits, and I shall withdraw
with dignity. Your sincere well-wisher, CUTHBERT CLAY, Poet."
"Just like him!" Charles said, "to hold this one last coup over
my head in terrorem. Though even when he has played it, why should
I trust his word? A scamp like that may say it, of course, on
purpose to disarm me."
For my own part, I quite agreed with "Margot." When the Colonel
was reduced to dressing the part of a known personage I felt he had
reached almost his last card, and would be well advised to retire
But the magazine editor summed up all in a word. "Don't believe
that nonsense about fortunes being made by industry and ability,"
he said. "In life, as at cards, two things go to produce
success—the first is chance; the second is cheating."
THE EPISODE OF THE BERTILLON METHOD
We had a terrible passage home from New York. The Captain told
us he "knew every drop of water in the Atlantic personally"; and he
had never seen them so uniformly obstreperous. The ship rolled in
the trough; Charles rolled in his cabin, and would not be
comforted. As we approached the Irish coast, I scrambled up on deck
in a violent gale, and retired again somewhat precipitately to
announce to my brother-in-law that we had just come in sight of the
Fastnet Rock Lighthouse. Charles merely turned over in his berth
and groaned. "I don't believe it," he answered. "I expect it is
probably Colonel Clay in another of his manifold disguises!"
At Liverpool, however, the Adelphi consoled him. We dined
luxuriously in the Louis Quinze restaurant, as only millionaires
can dine, and proceeded next day by Pullman car to London.
We found Amelia dissolved in tears at a domestic cataclysm. It
seemed that Césarine had given notice.
Charles was scarcely home again when he began to bethink him of
the least among his investments. Like many other wealthy men, my
respected connection is troubled more or less, in the background of
his consciousness, by a pervading dread that he will die a beggar.
To guard against this misfortune—which I am bound to admit nobody
else fears for him—he invested, several years ago, a sum of two
hundred thousand pounds in Consols, to serve as a nest-egg in case
of the collapse of Golcondas and South Africa generally. It is part
of the same amiable mania, too, that he will not allow the
dividend-warrants on this sum to be sent to him by post, but
insists, after the fashion of old ladies and country parsons, upon
calling personally at the Bank of England four times a year to
claim his interest. He is well known by sight to not a few of the
clerks; and his appearance in Threadneedle Street is looked forward
to with great regularity within a few weeks of each lawful
So, on the morning after our arrival in town, Charles observed
to me, cheerfully, "Sey, I must run into the City to-day to claim
my dividends. There are two quarters owing."
I accompanied him in to the Bank. Even that mighty official, the
beadle at the door, unfastened the handle of the millionaire's
carriage. The clerk who received us smiled and nodded. "How much?"
he asked, after the stereotyped fashion.
"Two hundred thousand," Charles answered, looking affable.
The clerk turned up the books. "Paid!" he said, with decision.
"What's your game, sir, if I may ask you?"
"Paid!" Charles echoed, drawing back.
The clerk gazed across at him. "Yes, Sir Charles," he answered,
in a somewhat severe tone. "You must remember you drew a quarter's
dividend from myself—last week—at this very counter."
Charles stared at him fixedly. "Show me the signature," he said
at last, in a slow, dazed fashion. I suspected mischief.
The clerk pushed the book across to him. Charles examined the
"Colonel Clay again!" he cried, turning to me with a despondent
air. "He must have dressed the part. I shall die in the workhouse,
Sey! That man has stolen away even my nest-egg from me."
I saw it at a glance. "Mrs. Quackenboss!" I put in. "Those
portraits on the Etruria! It was to help him in his make-up! You
recollect, she sketched your face and figure at all possible
"And last quarter's?" Charles inquired, staggering.
The clerk turned up the entry. "Drawn on the 10th of July," he
answered, carelessly, as if it mattered nothing.
Then I knew why the Colonel had run across to England.
Charles positively reeled. "Take me home, Sey," he cried. "I am
ruined, ruined! He will leave me with not half a million in the
world. My poor, poor boys will beg their bread, unheeded, through
the streets of London!"
(As Amelia has landed estate settled upon her worth a hundred
and fifty thousand pounds, this last contingency affected me less
to tears than Charles seemed to think necessary.)
We made all needful inquiries, and put the police upon the quest
at once, as always. But no redress was forthcoming. The money, once
paid, could not be recovered. It is a playful little privilege of
Consols that the Government declines under any circumstances to pay
twice over. Charles drove back to Mayfair a crushed and broken man.
I think if Colonel Clay himself could have seen him just then, he
would have pitied that vast intellect in its grief and
After lunch, however, my brother-in-law's natural buoyancy
reasserted itself by degrees. He rallied a little. "Seymour," he
said to me, "you've heard, of course, of the Bertillon system of
measuring and registering criminals."
"I have," I answered. "And it's excellent as far as it goes.
But, like Mrs. Glasse's jugged hare, it all depends upon the
initial step. 'First catch your criminal.' Now, we have never
caught Colonel Clay—"
"Or, rather," Charles interposed unkindly, "when you did
catch him, you didn't hold him."
I ignored the unkindly suggestion, and continued in the same
voice, "We have never secured Colonel Clay; and until we secure
him, we cannot register him by the Bertillon method. Besides, even
if we had once caught him and duly noted the shape of his nose, his
chin, his ears, his forehead, of what use would that be against a
man who turns up with a fresh face each time, and can mould his
features into what form he likes, to deceive and foil us?"
"Never mind, Sey," my brother-in-law said. "I was told in New
York that Dr. Frank Beddersley, of London, was the best exponent of
the Bertillon system now living in England; and to Beddersley I
shall go. Or, rather, I'll invite him here to lunch to-morrow."
"Who told you of him?" I inquired. "Not Dr. Quackenboss,
I hope; nor yet Mr. Algernon Coleyard?"
Charles paused and reflected. "No, neither of them," he
answered, after a short internal deliberation. "It was that
magazine editor chap we met at Wrengold's."
"He's all right," I said; "or, at least, I think so."
So we wrote a polite invitation to Dr. Beddersley, who pursued
the method professionally, asking him to come and lunch with us at
Mayfair at two next day.
Dr. Beddersley came—a dapper little man, with pent-house
eyebrows, and keen, small eyes, whom I suspected at sight of being
Colonel Clay himself in another of his clever polymorphic
embodiments. He was clear and concise. His manner was scientific.
He told us at once that though the Bertillon method was of little
use till the expert had seen the criminal once, yet if we had
consulted him earlier he might probably have saved us some serious
disasters. "A man so ingenious as this," he said, "would no doubt
have studied Bertillon's principles himself, and would take every
possible means to prevent recognition by them. Therefore, you might
almost disregard the nose, the chin, the moustache, the hair, all
of which are capable of such easy alteration. But there remain some
features which are more likely to persist—height, shape of head,
neck, build, and fingers; the timbre of the voice, the colour of
the iris. Even these, again, may be partially disguised or
concealed; the way the hair is dressed, the amount of padding, a
high collar round the throat, a dark line about the eyelashes, may
do more to alter the appearance of a face than you could readily
"So we know," I answered.
"The voice, again," Dr. Beddersley continued. "The voice itself
may be most fallacious. The man is no doubt a clever mimic. He
could, perhaps, compress or enlarge his larynx. And I judge from
what you tell me that he took characters each time which compelled
him largely to alter and modify his tone and accent."
"Yes," I said. "As the Mexican Seer, he had of course a Spanish
intonation. As the little curate, he was a cultivated
North-countryman. As David Granton, he spoke gentlemanly Scotch. As
Von Lebenstein, naturally, he was a South-German, trying to express
himself in French. As Professor Schleiermacher, he was a
North-German speaking broken English. As Elihu Quackenboss, he had
a fine and pronounced Kentucky flavour. And as the poet, he drawled
after the fashion of the clubs, with lingering remnants of a
"Quite so," Dr. Beddersley answered. "That is just what I should
expect. Now, the question is, do you know him to be one man, or is
he really a gang? Is he a name for a syndicate? Have you any
photographs of Colonel Clay himself in any of his disguises?"
"Not one," Charles answered. "He produced some himself, when he
was Medhurst the detective. But he pocketed them at once; and we
never recovered them."
"Could you get any?" the doctor asked. "Did you note the name
and address of the photographer?"
"Unfortunately, no," Charles replied. "But the police at Nice
showed us two. Perhaps we might borrow them."
"Until we get them," Dr. Beddersley said, "I don't know that we
can do anything. But if you can once give me two distinct
photographs of the real man, no matter how much disguised, I could
tell you whether they were taken from one person; and, if so, I
think I could point out certain details in common which might aid
us to go upon."
All this was at lunch. Amelia's niece, Dolly Lingfield, was
there, as it happened; and I chanced to note a most guilty look
stealing over her face all the while we were talking. Suspicious as
I had learned to become by this time, however, I did not suspect
Dolly of being in league with Colonel Clay; but, I confess, I
wondered what her blush could indicate. After lunch, to my
surprise, Dolly called me away from the rest into the library.
"Uncle Seymour," she said to me—the dear child calls me Uncle
Seymour, though of course I am not in any way related to
her—"I have some photographs of Colonel Clay, if you want
"You?" I cried, astonished. "Why, Dolly, how did you get
For a minute or two she showed some little hesitation in telling
me. At last she whispered, "You won't be angry if I confess?"
(Dolly is just nineteen, and remarkably pretty.)
"My child," I said, "why should I be angry? You may
confide in me implicitly." (With a blush like that, who on earth
could be angry with her?)
"And you won't tell Aunt Amelia or Aunt Isabel?" she inquired
"Not for worlds," I answered. (As a matter of fact, Amelia and
Isabel are the last people in the world to whom I should dream of
confiding anything that Dolly might tell me.)
"Well, I was stopping at Seldon, you know, when Mr. David
Granton was there," Dolly went on; "—or, rather, when that scamp
pretended he was David Granton; and—and—you won't be angry with
me, will you?—one day I took a snap-shot with my kodak at him and
"Why, what harm was there in that?" I asked, bewildered. The
wildest stretch of fancy could hardly conceive that the Honourable
David had been flirting with Amelia.
Dolly coloured still more deeply. "Oh, you know Bertie Winslow?"
she said. "Well, he's interested in photography—and—and also in
me. And he's invented a process, which isn't of the
slightest practical use, he says; but its peculiarity is, that it
reveals textures. At least, that's what Bertie calls it. It makes
things come out so. And he gave me some plates of his own for my
kodak—half-a-dozen or more, and—I took Aunt Amelia with
"I still fail to see," I murmured, looking at her comically.
"Oh, Uncle Seymour," Dolly cried. "How blind you men are! If
Aunt Amelia knew she would never forgive me. Why, you must
understand. The—the rouge, you know, and the pearl powder!"
"Oh, it comes out, then, in the photograph?" I inquired.
"Comes out! I should think so! It's like little black
spots all over auntie's face. such a guy as she looks in
"And Colonel Clay is in them too?"
"Yes; I took them when he and auntie were talking together,
without either of them noticing. And Bertie developed them. I've
three of David Granton. Three beauties; most
"Any other character?" I asked, seeing business ahead.
Dolly hung back, still redder. "Well, the rest are with Aunt
Isabel," she answered, after a struggle.
"My dear child," I replied, hiding my feelings as a husband, "I
will be brave. I will bear up even against that last
Dolly looked up at me pleadingly. "It was here in London," she
went on; "—when I was last with auntie. Medhurst was stopping in
the house at the time; and I took him twice, tête-à-tête with Aunt
"Isabel does not paint," I murmured, stoutly.
Dolly hung back again. "No, but—her hair!" she suggested, in a
"Its colour," I admitted, "is in places assisted by a—well, you
know, a restorer."
Dolly broke into a mischievous sly smile. "Yes, it is," she
continued. "And, oh, Uncle Sey, where the restorer
has—er—restored it, you know, it comes out in the photograph with
a sort of brilliant iridescent metallic sheen on it!"
"Bring them down, my dear," I said, gently patting her head with
my hand. In the interests of justice, I thought it best not to
Dolly brought them down. They seemed to me poor things, yet well
worth trying. We found it possible, on further confabulation, by
the simple aid of a pair of scissors, so to cut each in two that
all trace of Amelia and Isabel was obliterated. Even so, however, I
judged it best to call Charles and Dr. Beddersley to a private
consultation in the library with Dolly, and not to submit the
mutilated photographs to public inspection by their joint subjects.
Here, in fact, we had five patchy portraits of the redoubtable
Colonel, taken at various angles, and in characteristic unstudied
attitudes. A child had outwitted the cleverest sharper in
The moment Beddersley's eye fell upon them, a curious look came
over his face. "Why, these," he said, "are taken on Herbert
Winslow's method, Miss Lingfield."
"Yes," Dolly admitted timidly. "They are. He's—a friend of
mine, don't you know; and—he gave me some plates that just fitted
Beddersley gazed at them steadily. Then he turned to Charles.
"And this young lady," he said, "has quite unintentionally and
unconsciously succeeded in tracking Colonel Clay to earth at last.
They are genuine photographs of the man—as he is—without
"They look to me most blotchy," Charles murmured. "Great black
lines down the nose, and such spots on the cheek, too!"
"Exactly," Beddersley put in. "Those are differences in
texture. They show just how much of the man's face is human
"And how much wax," I ventured.
"Not wax," the expert answered, gazing close. "This is some
harder mixture. I should guess, a composition of gutta-percha and
india-rubber, which takes colour well, and hardens when applied, so
as to lie quite evenly, and resist heat or melting. Look here;
that's an artificial scar, filling up a real hollow; and
this is an added bit to the tip of the nose; and
those are shadows, due to inserted cheek-pieces, within the
mouth, to make the man look fatter!"
"Why, of course," Charles cried. "India-rubber it must be.
That's why in France they call him le Colonel Caoutchouc!"
"Can you reconstruct the real face from them?" I inquired
Dr. Beddersley gazed hard at them. "Give me an hour or two," he
said—"and a box of water-colours. I think by that
time—putting two and two together—I can eliminate the false and
build up for you a tolerably correct idea of what the actual man
himself looks like."
We turned him into the library for a couple of hours, with the
materials he needed; and by tea-time he had completed his first
rough sketch of the elements common to the two faces. He brought it
out to us in the drawing-room. I glanced at it first. It was a
curious countenance, slightly wanting in definiteness, and not
unlike those "composite photographs" which Mr. Galton produces by
exposing two negatives on the same sensitised paper for ten seconds
or so consecutively. Yet it struck me at once as containing
something of Colonel Clay in every one of his many representations.
The little curate, in real life, did not recall the Seer; nor did
Elihu Quackenboss suggest Count von Lebenstein or Professor
Schleiermacher. Yet in this compound face, produced only from
photographs of David Granton and Medhurst, I could distinctly trace
a certain underlying likeness to every one of the forms which the
impostor had assumed for us. In other words, though he could make
up so as to mask the likeness to his other characters, he could not
make up so as to mask the likeness to his own personality. He could
not wholly get rid of his native build and his genuine
Besides these striking suggestions of the Seer and the curate,
however, I felt vaguely conscious of having seen and observed
the man himself whom the water-colour represented, at some
time, somewhere. It was not at Nice; it was not at Seldon; it was
not at Meran; it was not in America. I believed I had been in a
room with him somewhere in London.
Charles was looking over my shoulder. He gave a sudden little
start. "Why, I know that fellow!" he cried. "You recollect him,
Sey; he's Finglemore's brother—the chap that didn't go out to
Then I remembered at once where it was that I had seen him—at
the broker's in the city, before we sailed for America.
"What Christian name?" I asked.
Charles reflected a moment. "The same as the one in the note we
got with the dust-coat," he answered, at last. "The man is Paul
"You will arrest him?" I asked.
"Can I, on this evidence?"
"We might bring it home to him."
Charles mused for a moment. "We shall have nothing against him,"
he said slowly, "except in so far as we can swear to his identity.
And that may be difficult."
Just at that moment the footman brought in tea. Charles wondered
apparently whether the man, who had been with us at Seldon when
Colonel Clay was David Granton, would recollect the face or
recognise having seen it. "Look here, Dudley," he said, holding up
the water-colour, "do you know that person?"
Dudley gazed at it a moment. "Certainly, sir," he answered
"Who is it?" Amelia asked. We expected him to answer, "Count von
Lebenstein," or "Mr. Granton," or "Medhurst."
Instead of that, he replied, to our utter surprise, "That's
Césarine's young man, my lady."
"Césarine's young man?" Amelia repeated, taken aback. "Oh,
Dudley, surely, you must be mistaken!"
"No, my lady," Dudley replied, in a tone of conviction. "He
comes to see her quite reg'lar; he have come to see her, off and
on, from time to time, ever since I've been in Sir Charles's
"When will he be coming again?" Charles asked, breathless.
"He's downstairs now, sir," Dudley answered, unaware of the
bombshell he was flinging into the midst of a respectable
Charles rose excitedly, and put his back against the door.
"Secure that man," he said to me sharply, pointing with his
"What man?" I asked, amazed. "Colonel Clay? The young man
who's downstairs now with Césarine?"
"No," Charles answered, with decision; "Dudley!"
I laid my hand on the footman's shoulder, not understanding what
Charles meant. Dudley, terrified, drew back, and would have rushed
from the room; but Charles, with his back against the door,
"I—I've done nothing to be arrested, Sir Charles," Dudley
cried, in abject terror, looking appealingly at Amelia. "It—it
wasn't me as cheated you." And he certainly didn't look it.
"I daresay not," Charles answered. "But you don't leave this
room till Colonel Clay is in custody. No, Amelia, no; it's no use
your speaking to me. What he says is true. I see it all now. This
villain and Césarine have long been accomplices! The man's
downstairs with her now. If we let Dudley quit the room he'll go
down and tell them; and before we know where we are, that slippery
eel will have wriggled through our fingers, as he always wriggles.
He is Paul Finglemore; he is Césarine's young man;
and unless we arrest him now, without one minute's delay, he'll be
off to Madrid or St. Petersburg by this evening!"
"You are right," I answered. "It is now or never!"
"Dudley," Charles said, in his most authoritative voice, "stop
here till we tell you you may leave the room. Amelia and Dolly,
don't let that man stir from where he's standing. If he does,
restrain him. Seymour and Dr. Beddersley, come down with me to the
servants' hall. I suppose that's where I shall find this person,
"N—no, sir," Dudley stammered out, half beside himself with
fright. "He's in the housekeeper's room, sir!"
We went down to the lower regions in a solid phalanx of three.
On the way we met Simpson, Sir Charles's valet, and also the
butler, whom we pressed into the service. At the door of the
housekeeper's room we paused, strategically. Voices came to us from
within; one was Césarine's, the other had a ring that reminded me
at once of Medhurst and the Seer, of Elihu Quackenboss and Algernon
Coleyard. They were talking together in French; and now and then we
caught the sound of stifled laughter.
We opened the door. "Est-il drôle, donc, ce vieux?" the man's
voice was saying.
"C'est à mourir de rire," Césarine's voice responded.
We burst in upon them, red-handed.
Césarine's young man rose, with his hat in his hand, in a
respectful attitude. It reminded me at once of Medhurst, as he
stood talking his first day at Marvillier's to Charles; and also of
the little curate, in his humblest moments as the disinterested
With a sign to me to do likewise, Charles laid his hand firmly
on the young man's shoulder. I looked in the fellow's face: there
could be no denying it; Césarine's young man was Paul Finglemore,
our broker's brother.
"Paul Finglemore," Charles said severely, "otherwise Cuthbert
Clay, I arrest you on several charges of theft and conspiracy!"
The young man glanced around him. He was surprised and
perturbed; but, even so, his inexhaustible coolness never once
deserted him. "What, five to one?" he said, counting us over. "Has
law and order come down to this? Five respectable rascals to arrest
one poor beggar of a chevalier d'industrie! Why, it's worse than
New York. There, it was only you and me, you know, old Ten
"Hold his hands, Simpson!" Charles cried, trembling lest his
enemy should escape him.
Paul Finglemore drew back even while we held his shoulders. "No,
not you, sir," he said to the man, haughtily. "Don't dare to
lay your hands upon me! Send for a constable if you wish, Sir
Charles Vandrift; but I decline to be taken into custody by a
"Go for a policeman," Dr. Beddersley said to Simpson, standing
The prisoner eyed him up and down. "Oh, Dr. Beddersley!" he
said, relieved. It was evident he knew him. "If you've
tracked me strictly in accordance with Bertillon's methods, I don't
mind so much. I will not yield to fools; I yield to science. I
didn't think this diamond king had sense enough to apply to you.
He's the most gullible old ass I ever met in my life. But if it's
you who have tracked me down, I can only submit to it."
Charles held to him with a fierce grip. "Mind he doesn't break
away, Sey," he cried. "He's playing his old game! Distrust the
"Take care," the prisoner put in. "Remember Dr. Polperro! On
what charge do you arrest me?"
Charles was bubbling with indignation. "You cheated me at Nice,"
he said; "at Meran; at New York; at Paris!"
Paul Finglemore shook his head. "Won't do," he answered, calmly.
"Be sure of your ground. Outside the jurisdiction! You can only do
that on an extradition warrant."
"Well, then, at Seldon, in London, in this house, and
elsewhere," Charles cried out excitedly. "Hold hard to him, Sey; by
law or without it, blessed if he isn't going even now to wriggle
away from us!"
At that moment Simpson returned with a convenient policeman,
whom he had happened to find loitering about near the area steps,
and whom I half suspected from his furtive smile of being a
particular acquaintance of the household.
Charles gave the man in charge formally. Paul Finglemore
insisted that he should specify the nature of the particular
accusation. To my great chagrin, Charles selected from his
rogueries, as best within the jurisdiction of the English courts,
the matter of the payment for the Castle of Lebenstein—made in
London, and through a London banker. "I have a warrant on that
ground," he said. I trembled as he spoke. I felt at once that the
episode of the commission, the exposure of which I dreaded so much,
must now become public.
The policeman took the man in charge. Charles still held to him,
grimly. As they were leaving the room the prisoner turned to
Césarine, and muttered something rapidly under his breath, in
German. "Of which tongue," he said, turning to us blandly, "in
spite of my kind present of a dictionary and grammar, you still
doubtless remain in your pristine ignorance!"
Césarine flung herself upon him with wild devotion. "Oh, Paul,
darling," she cried, in English, "I will not, I will not! I will
never save myself at your expense. If they send you to
prison—Paul, Paul, I will go with you!"
I remembered as she spoke what Mr. Algernon Coleyard had said to
us at the Senator's. "Even the worst of rogues have always some
good in them. I notice they often succeed to the end in retaining
the affection and fidelity of women."
But the man, his hands still free, unwound her clasping arms
with gentle fingers. "My child," he answered, in a soft tone, "I am
sorry to say the law of England will not permit you to go with me.
If it did" (his voice was as the voice of the poet we had met),
"'stone walls would not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage.'" And
bending forward, he kissed her forehead tenderly.
We led him out to the door. The policeman, in obedience to
Charles's orders, held him tight with his hand, but steadily
refused, as the prisoner was not violent, to handcuff him. We
hailed a passing hansom. "To Bow Street!" Charles cried,
unceremoniously pushing in policeman and prisoner. The driver
nodded. We called a four-wheeler ourselves, in which my
brother-in-law, Dr. Beddersley and myself took our seats. "Follow
the hansom!" Charles cried out. "Don't let him out of your sight.
After him, close, to Bow Street!"
I looked back, and saw Césarine, half fainting, on the front
door steps, while Dolly, bathed in tears, stood supporting the
lady's-maid, and trying to comfort her. It was clear she had not
anticipated this end to the adventure.
"Goodness gracious!" Charles screamed out, in a fresh fever of
alarm, as we turned the first corner; "where's that hansom gone to?
How do I know the fellow was a policeman at all? We should have
taken the man in here. We ought never to have let him get out of
our sight. For all we can tell to the contrary, the constable
himself—may only be one of Colonel Clay's confederates!"
And we drove in trepidation all the way to Bow Street.
THE EPISODE OF THE OLD BAILEY
When we reached Bow Street, we were relieved to find that our
prisoner, after all, had not evaded us. It was a false
alarm. He was there with the policeman, and he kindly allowed us to
make the first formal charge against him.
Of course, on Charles's sworn declaration and my own, the man
was at once remanded, bail being refused, owing both to the serious
nature of the charge and the slippery character of the prisoner's
antecedents. We went back to Mayfair—Charles, well satisfied that
the man he dreaded was under lock and key; myself, not too well
pleased to think that the man I dreaded was no longer at large, and
that the trifling little episode of the ten per cent commission
stood so near discovery.
Next day the police came round in force, and had a long
consultation with Charles and myself. They strongly urged that two
other persons at least should be included in the charge—Césarine
and the little woman whom we had variously known as Madame
Picardet, White Heather, Mrs. David Granton, and Mrs. Elihu
Quackenboss. If these accomplices were arrested, they said, we
could include conspiracy as one count in the indictment, which gave
us an extra chance of conviction. Now they had got Colonel Clay, in
fact, they naturally desired to keep him, and also to indict with
him as many as possible of his pals and confederates.
Here, however, a difficulty arose. Charles called me aside with
a grave face into the library. "Seymour," he said, fixing me, "this
is a serious business. I will not lightly swear away any woman's
character. Colonel Clay himself—or, rather, Paul Finglemore—is an
abandoned rogue, whom I do not desire to screen in any degree. But
poor little Madame Picardet—she may be his lawful wife, and she
may have acted implicitly under his orders. Besides, I don't know
whether I could swear to her identity. Here's the photograph the
police bring of the woman they believe to be Colonel Clay's chief
female accomplice. Now, I ask you, does it in the least degree
resemble that clever and amusing and charming little creature, who
has so often deceived us?"
In spite of Charles's gibes, I flatter myself I do really
understand the whole duty of a secretary. It was clear from his
voice he did not wish me to recognise her; which, as it
happened, I did not. "Certainly, it doesn't resemble her, Charles,"
I answered, with conviction in my voice. "I should never have known
her." But I did not add that I should no more have known Colonel
Clay himself in his character of Paul Finglemore, or of Césarine's
young man, as that remark lay clearly outside my secretarial
Still, it flitted across my mind at the time that the Seer had
made some casual remarks at Nice about a letter in Charles's
pocket, presumably from Madame Picardet; and I reflected further
that Madame Picardet in turn might possibly hold certain answers of
Charles's, couched in such terms as he might reasonably desire to
conceal from Amelia. Indeed, I must allow that under whatever
disguise White Heather appeared to us, Charles was always that
disguise's devoted slave from the first moment he met it. It
occurred to me, therefore, that the clever little woman—call her
what you will—might be the holder of more than one indiscreet
"Under these circumstances," Charles went on, in his austerest
voice, "I cannot consent to be a party to the arrest of White
Heather. I—I decline to identify her. In point of fact"—he grew
more emphatic as he went on—"I don't think there is an atom of
evidence of any sort against her. Not," he continued, after a
pause, "that I wish in any degree to screen the guilty. Césarine,
now—Césarine we have liked and trusted. She has betrayed our
trust. She has sold us to this fellow. I have no doubt at all that
she gave him the diamonds from Amelia's rivière; that she took us
by arrangement to meet him at Schloss Lebenstein; that she opened
and sent to him my letter to Lord Craig-Ellachie. Therefore, I say,
we ought to arrest Césarine. But not White Heather—not
Jessie; not that pretty Mrs. Quackenboss. Let the guilty suffer;
why strike at the innocent—or, at worst, the misguided?"
"Charles," I exclaimed, with warmth, "your sentiments do you
honour. You are a man of feeling. And White Heather, I allow, is
pretty enough and clever enough to be forgiven anything. You may
rely upon my discretion. I will swear through thick and thin that I
do not recognise this woman as Madame Picardet."
Charles clasped my hand in silence. "Seymour," he said, after a
pause, with marked emotion, "I felt sure I could rely upon
your—er—honour and integrity. I have been rough upon you
sometimes. But I ask your forgiveness. I see you understand the
whole duties of your position."
We went out again, better friends than we had been for months. I
hoped, indeed, this pleasant little incident might help to
neutralise the possible ill-effects of the ten per cent disclosure,
should Finglemore take it into his head to betray me to my
employer. As we emerged into the drawing-room, Amelia beckoned me
aside towards her boudoir for a moment.
"Seymour," she said to me, in a distinctly frightened tone, "I
have treated you harshly at times, I know, and I am very sorry for
it. But I want you to help me in a most painful difficulty. The
police are quite right as to the charge of conspiracy; that
designing little minx, White Heather, or Mrs. David Granton, or
whatever else we're to call her, ought certainly to be
prosecuted—and sent to prison, too—and have her absurd head of
hair cut short and combed straight for her. But—and you will help
me here, I'm sure, dear Seymour—I cannot allow them to
arrest my Césarine. I don't pretend to say Césarine isn't guilty;
the girl has behaved most ungratefully to me. She has robbed me
right and left, and deceived me without compunction. Still—I put
it to you as a married man—can any woman afford to go into
the witness-box, to be cross-examined and teased by her own maid,
or by a brute of a barrister on her maid's information? I assure
you, Seymour, the thing's not to be dreamt of. There are details of
a lady's life—known only to her maid—which cannot be made
public. Explain as much of this as you think well to Charles, and
make him understand that if he insists upon arresting
Césarine, I shall go into the box—and swear my head off to prevent
any one of the gang from being convicted. I have told Césarine as
much; I have promised to help her: I have explained that I am her
friend, and that if she'll stand by me, I'll
stand by her, and by this hateful young man of hers."
I saw in a moment how things went. Neither Charles nor Amelia
could face cross-examination on the subject of one of Colonel
Clay's accomplices. No doubt, in Amelia's case, it was merely a
question of rouge and hair-dye; but what woman would not sooner
confess to a forgery or a murder than to those toilet secrets?
I returned to Charles, therefore, and spent half an hour in
composing, as well as I might, these little domestic difficulties.
In the end, it was arranged that if Charles did his best to protect
Césarine from arrest, Amelia would consent to do her best in return
on behalf of Madame Picardet.
We had next the police to tackle—a more difficult business.
Still, even they were reasonable. They had caught Colonel
Clay, they believed, but their chance of convicting him depended
entirely upon Charles's identification, with mine to back it. The
more they urged the necessity of arresting the female confederates,
however, the more stoutly did Charles declare that for his part he
could by no means make sure of Colonel Clay himself, while he
utterly declined to give evidence of any sort against either of the
women. It was a difficult case, he said, and he felt far from
confident even about the man. If his decision faltered, and
he failed to identify, the case was closed; no jury could convict
with nothing to convict upon.
At last the police gave way. No other course was open to them.
They had made an important capture; but they saw that everything
depended upon securing their witnesses, and the witnesses, if
interfered with, were likely to swear to absolutely nothing.
Indeed, as it turned out, before the preliminary investigation
at Bow Street was completed (with the usual remands), Charles had
been thrown into such a state of agitation that he wished he had
never caught the Colonel at all.
"I wonder, Sey," he said to me, "why I didn't offer the rascal
two thousand a year to go right off to Australia, and be rid of him
for ever! It would have been cheaper for my reputation than keeping
him about in courts of law in England. The worst of it is, when
once the best of men gets into a witness-box, there's no saying
with what shreds and tatters of a character he may at last come out
"In your case, Charles," I answered, dutifully, "there
can be no such doubt; except, perhaps, as regards the
Then came the endless bother of "getting up the case" with the
police and the lawyers. Charles would have retired from it
altogether by that time, but, most unfortunately, he was bound over
to prosecute. "You couldn't take a lump sum to let me off?" he
said, jokingly, to the inspector. But I knew in my heart it was one
of the "true words spoken in jest" that the proverb tells of.
Of course we could see now the whole building-up of the great
intrigue. It had been worked out as carefully as the Tichborne
swindle. Young Finglemore, as the brother of Charles's broker, knew
from the outset all about his affairs; and, after a gentle course
of preliminary roguery, he laid his plans deep for a campaign
against my brother-in-law. Everything had been deliberately
designed beforehand. A place had been found for Césarine as
Amelia's maid—needless to say, by means of forged testimonials.
Through her aid the swindler had succeeded in learning still more
of the family ways and habits, and had acquired a knowledge of
certain facts which he proceeded forthwith to use against us. His
first attack, as the Seer, had been cleverly designed so as to give
us the idea that we were a mere casual prey; and it did not escape
Charles's notice now that the detail of getting Madame Picardet to
inquire at the Crédit Marseillais about his bank had been solemnly
gone through on purpose to blind us to the obvious truth that
Colonel Clay was already in full possession of all such facts about
us. It was by Césarine's aid, again, that he became possessed of
Amelia's diamonds, that he received the letter addressed to Lord
Craig-Ellachie, and that he managed to dupe us over the Schloss
Lebenstein business. Nevertheless, all these things Charles
determined to conceal in court; he did not give the police a single
fact that would turn against either Césarine or Madame
As for Césarine, of course, she left the house immediately after
the arrest of the Colonel, and we heard of her no more till the day
of the trial.
When that great day came, I never saw a more striking sight than
the Old Bailey presented. It was crammed to overflowing. Charles
arrived early, accompanied by his solicitor. He was so white and
troubled that he looked much more like prisoner than prosecutor.
Outside the court a pretty little woman stood, pale and anxious. A
respectful crowd stared at her silently. "Who is that?" Charles
asked. Though we could both of us guess, rather than see, it was
"That's the prisoner's wife," the inspector on duty replied.
"She's waiting to see him enter. I'm sorry for her, poor thing.
She's a perfect lady."
"So she seems," Charles answered, scarcely daring to face
At that moment she turned. Her eyes fell upon his. Charles
paused for a second and looked faltering. There was in those eyes
just the faintest gleam of pleading recognition, but not a trace of
the old saucy, defiant vivacity. Charles framed his lips to words,
but without uttering a sound. Unless I greatly mistake, the words
he framed on his lips were these: "I will do my best for him."
We pushed our way in, assisted by the police. Inside the court
we saw a lady seated, in a quiet black dress, with a becoming
bonnet. A moment passed before I knew—it was Césarine. "Who
is—that person?" Charles asked once more of the nearest inspector,
desiring to see in what way he would describe her.
And once more the answer came, "That's the prisoner's wife,
Charles started back, surprised. "But—I was told—a lady
outside was Mrs. Paul Finglemore," he broke in, much puzzled.
"Very likely," the inspector replied, unmoved. "We have plenty
that way. When a gentleman has as many aliases as Colonel
Clay, you can hardly expect him to be over particular about having
only one wife between them, can you?"
"Ah, I see," Charles muttered, in a shocked voice. "Bigamy!"
The inspector looked stony. "Well, not exactly that," he
replied, "occasional marriage."
Mr. Justice Rhadamanth tried the case. "I'm sorry it's him,
Sey," my brother-in-law whispered in my ear. (He said him,
not he, because, whatever else Charles is, he is not
a pedant; the English language as it is spoken by most educated men
is quite good enough for his purpose.) "I only wish it had been Sir
Edward Easy. Easy's a man of the world, and a man of society; he
would feel for a person in my position. He wouldn't allow
these beasts of lawyers to badger and pester me. He would back his
order. But Rhadamanth is one of your modern sort of judges, who
make a merit of being what they call 'conscientious,' and won't
hush up anything. I admit I'm afraid of him. I shall be glad when
"Oh, you'll pull through all right," I said in my
capacity of secretary. But I didn't think it.
The judge took his seat. The prisoner was brought in. Every eye
seemed bent upon him. He was neatly and plainly dressed, and, rogue
though he was, I must honestly confess he looked at least a
gentleman. His manner was defiant, not abject like Charles's. He
knew he was at bay, and he turned like a man to face his
We had two or three counts on the charge, and, after some formal
business, Sir Charles Vandrift was put into the box to bear witness
Prisoner was unrepresented. Counsel had been offered him, but he
refused their aid. The judge even advised him to accept their help;
but Colonel Clay, as we all called him mentally still, declined to
avail himself of the judge's suggestion.
"I am a barrister myself, my lord," he said—"called some nine
years ago. I can conduct my own defence, I venture to think, better
than any of these my learned brethren."
Charles went through his examination-in-chief quite swimmingly.
He answered with promptitude. He identified the prisoner without
the slightest hesitation as the man who had swindled him under the
various disguises of the Reverend Richard Peploe Brabazon, the
Honourable David Granton, Count von Lebenstein, Professor
Schleiermacher, Dr. Quackenboss, and others. He had not the
slightest doubt of the man's identity. He could swear to him
anywhere. I thought, for my own part, he was a trifle too cocksure.
A certain amount of hesitation would have been better policy. As to
the various swindles, he detailed them in full, his evidence to be
supplemented by that of bank officials and other subordinates. In
short, he left Finglemore not a leg to stand upon.
When it came to the cross-examination, however, matters began to
assume quite a different complexion. The prisoner set out by
questioning Sir Charles's identifications. Was he sure of his man?
He handed Charles a photograph. "Is that the person who represented
himself as the Reverend Richard Peploe Brabazon?" he asked
Charles admitted it without a moment's delay.
Just at that moment, a little parson, whom I had not noticed
till then, rose up, unobtrusively, near the middle of the court,
where he was seated beside Césarine.
"Look at that gentleman!" the prisoner said, waving one hand,
and pouncing upon the prosecutor.
Charles turned and looked at the person indicated. His face grew
still whiter. It was—to all outer appearance—the Reverend Richard
Brabazon in propriâ personâ.
Of course I saw the trick. This was the real parson upon whose
outer man Colonel Clay had modelled his little curate. But the jury
was shaken. And so was Charles for a moment.
"Let the jurors see the photograph," the judge said,
authoritatively. It was passed round the jury-box, and the judge
also examined it. We could see at once, by their faces and
attitudes, they all recognised it as the portrait of the clergyman
before them—not of the prisoner in the dock, who stood there
smiling blandly at Charles's discomfiture.
The clergyman sat down. At the same moment the prisoner produced
a second photograph.
"Now, can you tell me who that is?" he asked Charles, in
the regular brow-beating Old Bailey voice.
With somewhat more hesitation, Charles answered, after a pause:
"That is yourself as you appeared in London when you came in the
disguise of the Graf von Lebenstein."
This was a crucial point, for the Lebenstein fraud was the one
count on which our lawyers relied to prove their case most fully,
within the jurisdiction.
Even while Charles spoke, a gentleman whom I had noticed before,
sitting beside White Heather, with a handkerchief to his face, rose
as abruptly as the parson. Colonel Clay indicated him with a
graceful movement of his hand. "And this gentleman?" he
Charles was fairly staggered. It was the obvious original of the
false Von Lebenstein.
The photograph went round the box once more. The jury smiled
incredulously. Charles had given himself away. His overweening
confidence and certainty had ruined him.
Then Colonel Clay, leaning forward, and looking quite engaging,
began a new line of cross-examination. "We have seen, Sir Charles,"
he said, "that we cannot implicitly trust your identifications. Now
let us see how far we can trust your other evidence. First, then,
about those diamonds. You tried to buy them, did you not, from a
person who represented himself as the Reverend Richard Brabazon,
because you believed he thought they were paste; and if you could,
you would have given him 10 pounds or so for them. Do you
think that was honest?"
"I object to this line of cross-examination," our leading
counsel interposed. "It does not bear on the prosecutor's evidence.
It is purely recriminatory."
Colonel Clay was all bland deference. "I wish, my lord," he
said, turning round, "to show that the prosecutor is a person
unworthy of credence in any way. I desire to proceed upon the
well-known legal maxim of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus. I
believe I am permitted to shake the witness's credit?"
"The prisoner is entirely within his rights," Rhadamanth
answered, looking severely at Charles. "And I was wrong in
suggesting that he needed the advice or assistance of counsel."
Charles wriggled visibly. Colonel Clay perked up. Bit by bit,
with dexterous questions, Charles was made to acknowledge that he
wanted to buy diamonds at the price of paste, knowing them to be
real; and, a millionaire himself, would gladly have diddled a poor
curate out of a couple of thousand.
"I was entitled to take advantage of my special knowledge,"
Charles murmured feebly.
"Oh, certainly," the prisoner answered. "But, while professing
friendship and affection for a clergyman and his wife, in
straitened circumstances, you were prepared, it seems, to take
three thousand pounds' worth of goods off their hands for ten
pounds, if you could have got them at that price. Is not that
Charles was compelled to admit it.
The prisoner went onto the David Granton incident. "When you
offered to amalgamate with Lord Craig-Ellachie," he asked, "had you
or had you not heard that a gold-bearing reef ran straight from
your concession into Lord Craig-Ellachie's, and that his portion of
the reef was by far the larger and more important?"
Charles wriggled again, and our counsel interposed; but
Rhadamanth was adamant. Charles had to allow it.
And so, too, with the incident of the Slump in Golcondas.
Unwillingly, shamefacedly, by torturing steps, Charles was
compelled to confess that he had sold out Golcondas—he, the
Chairman of the company, after repeated declarations to
shareholders and others that he would do no such thing—because he
thought Professor Schleiermacher had made diamonds worthless. He
had endeavoured to save himself by ruining his company. Charles
tried to brazen it out with remarks to the effect that business was
business. "And fraud is fraud," Rhadamanth added, in his pungent
"A man must protect himself," Charles burst out.
"At the expense of those who have put their trust in his honour
and integrity," the judge commented coldly.
After four mortal hours of it, all to the same effect, my
respected brother-in-law left the witness-box at last, wiping his
brow and biting his lip, with the very air of a culprit. His
character had received a most serious blow. While he stood in the
witness-box all the world had felt it was he who was the
accused and Colonel Clay who was the prosecutor. He was convicted
on his own evidence of having tried to induce the supposed David
Granton to sell his father's interests into an enemy's hands, and
of every other shady trick into which his well-known business
acuteness had unfortunately hurried him during the course of his
adventures. I had but one consolation in my brother-in-law's
misfortunes—and that was the thought that a due sense of his own
shortcomings might possibly make him more lenient in the end to the
trivial misdemeanours of a poor beggar of a secretary!
I was the next in the box. I do not desire to enlarge
upon my own achievements. I will draw a decent veil, indeed, over
the painful scene that ensued when I finished my evidence. I can
only say I was more cautious than Charles in my recognition of the
photographs; but I found myself particularly worried and harried
over other parts of my cross-examination. Especially was I shaken
about that misguided step I took in the matter of the cheque for
the Lebenstein commission—a cheque which Colonel Clay handed to me
with the utmost politeness, requesting to know whether or not it
bore my signature. I caught Charles's eye at the end of the
episode, and I venture to say the expression it wore was one of
relief that I too had tripped over a trifling question of ten per
cent on the purchase money of the castle.
Altogether, I must admit, if it had not been for the police
evidence, we would have failed to make a case against our man at
all. But the police, I confess, had got up their part of the
prosecution admirably. Now that they knew Colonel Clay to be really
Paul Finglemore, they showed with great cleverness how Paul
Finglemore's disappearances and reappearances in London exactly
tallied with Colonel Clay's appearances and disappearances
elsewhere, under the guise of the little curate, the Seer, David
Granton, and the rest of them. Furthermore, they showed
experimentally how the prisoner at the bar might have got himself
up in the various characters; and, by means of a wax bust, modelled
by Dr. Beddersley from observations at Bow Street, and aided by
additions in the gutta-percha composition after Dolly Lingfield's
photographs, they succeeded in proving that the face as it stood
could be readily transformed into the faces of Medhurst and David
Granton. Altogether, their cleverness and trained acumen made up on
the whole for Charles's over-certainty, and they succeeded in
putting before the jury a strong case of their own against Paul
The trial occupied three days. After the first of the three, my
respected brother-in-law preferred, as he said, not to prejudice
the case against the prisoner by appearing in court again. He did
not even allude to the little matter of the ten per cent commission
further than to say at dinner that evening that all men were bound
to protect their own interests—as secretaries or as principals.
This I took for forgiveness; and I continued diligently to attend
the trial, and watch the case in my employer's interest.
The defence was ingenious, even if somewhat halting. It
consisted simply of an attempt to prove throughout that Charles and
I had made our prisoner the victim of a mistaken identity.
Finglemore put into the box the ingenuous original of the little
curate—the Reverend Septimus Porkington, as it turned out, a
friend of his family; and he showed that it was the Reverend
Septimus himself who had sat to a photographer in Baker Street for
the portrait which Charles too hastily identified as that of
Colonel Clay in his personification of Mr. Richard Brabazon. He
further elicited the fact that the portrait of the Count von
Lebenstein was really taken from Dr. Julius Keppel, a Tyrolese
music-master, residing at Balham, whom he put into the box, and who
was well known, as it chanced, to the foreman of the jury.
Gradually he made it clear to us that no portraits existed of
Colonel Clay at all, except Dolly Lingfield's—so it dawned upon me
by degrees that even Dr. Beddersley could only have been misled if
we had succeeded in finding for him the alleged photographs of
Colonel Clay as the count and the curate, which had been shown us
by Medhurst. Altogether, the prisoner based his defence upon the
fact that no more than two witnesses directly identified him; while
one of those two had positively sworn that he recognised as the
prisoner's two portraits which turned out, by independent evidence,
to be taken from other people!
The judge summed up in a caustic way which was pleasant to
neither party. He asked the jury to dismiss from their minds
entirely the impression created by what he frankly described as
"Sir Charles Vandrift's obvious dishonesty." They must not allow
the fact that he was a millionaire—and a particularly shady
one—to prejudice their feelings in favour of the prisoner. Even
the richest—and vilest—of men must be protected. Besides, this
was a public question. If a rogue cheated a rogue, he must still be
punished. If a murderer stabbed or shot a murderer, he must still
be hung for it. Society must see that the worst of thieves were not
preyed upon by others. Therefore, the proved facts that Sir Charles
Vandrift, with all his millions, had meanly tried to cheat the
prisoner, or some other poor person, out of valuable diamonds—had
basely tried to juggle Lord Craig-Ellachie's mines into his own
hands—had vilely tried to bribe a son to betray his father—had
directly tried, by underhand means, to save his own money, at the
risk of destroying the wealth of others who trusted to his
probity—these proved facts must not blind them to the truth that
the prisoner at the bar (if he were really Colonel Clay) was an
abandoned swindler. To that point alone they must confine their
attention; and if they were convinced that the prisoner was
shown to be the self-same man who appeared on various occasions as
David Granton, as Von Lebenstein, as Medhurst, as Schleiermacher,
they must find him guilty.
As to that point, also, the judge commented on the obvious
strength of the police case, and the fact that the prisoner had not
attempted in any one out of so many instances to prove an alibi.
Surely, if he were not Colonel Clay, the jury should ask
themselves, must it not have been simple and easy for him to do so?
Finally, the judge summed up all the elements of doubt in the
identification—and all the elements of probability; and left it to
the jury to draw their own conclusions.
They retired at the end to consider their verdict. While they
were absent every eye in court was fixed on the prisoner. But Paul
Finglemore himself looked steadily towards the further end of the
hall, where two pale-faced women sat together, with handkerchiefs
in their hands, and eyes red with weeping.
Only then, as he stood there, awaiting the verdict, with a fixed
white face, prepared for everything, did I begin to realise with
what courage and pluck that one lone man had sustained so long an
unequal contest against wealth, authority, and all the Governments
of Europe, aided but by his own skill and two feeble women! Only
then did I feel he had played his reckless game through all those
years with this ever before him! I found it hard to
The jury filed slowly back. There was dead silence in court as
the clerk put the question, "Do you find the prisoner at the bar
guilty or not guilty?"
"We find him guilty."
"On all the counts?"
"On all the counts of the indictment."
The women at the back burst into tears, unanimously.
Mr. Justice Rhadamanth addressed the prisoner. "Have you
anything to urge," he asked in a very stern tone, "in mitigation of
whatever sentence the Court may see fit to pass upon you?"
"Nothing," the prisoner answered, just faltering slightly. "I
have brought it upon myself—but—I have protected the lives of
those nearest and dearest to me. I have fought hard for my own
hand. I admit my crime, and will face my punishment. I only regret
that, since we were both of us rogues—myself and the
prosecutor—the lesser rogue should have stood here in the dock,
and the greater in the witness-box. Our country takes care to
decorate each according to his deserts—to him, the Grand Cross of
St. Michael and St. George; to me, the Broad Arrow!"
The judge gazed at him severely. "Paul Finglemore," he said,
passing sentence in his sardonic way, "you have chosen to dedicate
to the service of fraud abilities and attainments which, if turned
from the outset into a legitimate channel, would no doubt have
sufficed to secure you without excessive effort a subsistence one
degree above starvation—possibly even, with good luck, a sordid
and squalid competence. You have preferred to embark them on a
lawless life of vice and crime—and I will not deny that you seem
to have had a good run for your money. Society, however, whose
mouthpiece I am, cannot allow you any longer to mock it with
impunity. You have broken its laws openly, and you have been found
out." He assumed the tone of bland condescension which always
heralds his severest moments. "I sentence you to Fourteen Years'
Imprisonment, with Hard Labour."
The prisoner bowed, without losing his apparent composure. But
his eyes strayed away again to the far end of the hall, where the
two weeping women, with a sudden sharp cry, fell at once in a faint
on one another's shoulders, and were with difficulty removed from
court by the ushers.
As we left the room, I heard but one comment all round, thus
voiced by a school-boy: "I'd a jolly sight rather it had been old
Vandrift. This Clay chap's too clever by half to waste on a
But he went there, none the less—in that "cool sequestered vale
of life" to recover equilibrium; though I myself half regretted
I will add but one more little parting episode.
When all was over, Charles rushed off to Cannes, to get away
from the impertinent stare of London. Amelia and Isabel and I went
with him. We were driving one afternoon on the hills beyond the
town, among the myrtle and lentisk scrub, when we noticed in front
of us a nice victoria, containing two ladies in very deep mourning.
We followed it, unintentionally, as far as Le Grand Pin—that big
pine tree that looks across the bay towards Antibes. There, the
ladies descended and sat down on a knoll, gazing out disconsolately
towards the sea and the islands. It was evident they were suffering
very deep grief. Their faces were pale and their eyes bloodshot.
"Poor things!" Amelia said. Then her tone altered suddenly.
"Why, good gracious," she cried, "if it isn't Césarine!"
So it was—with White Heather!
Charles got down and drew near them. "I beg your pardon," he
said, raising his hat, and addressing Madame Picardet: "I believe I
have had the pleasure of meeting you. And since I have doubtless
paid in the end for your victoria, may I venture to inquire
for whom you are in mourning?"
White Heather drew back, sobbing; but Césarine turned to him,
fiery red, with the mien of a lady. "For him!" she answered;
"for Paul! for our king, whom you have imprisoned! As long
as he remains there, we have both of us decided to wear
mourning for ever!"
Charles raised his hat again, and drew back without one word. He
waved his hand to Amelia and walked home with me to Cannes. He
seemed deeply dejected.
"A penny for your thoughts!" I exclaimed, at last, in a jocular
tone, trying feebly to rouse him.
He turned to me, and sighed. "I was wondering," he answered, "if
I had gone to prison, would Amelia and Isabel have done as
much for me?"
For myself, I did not wonder. I knew pretty well. For
Charles, you will admit, though the bigger rogue of the two, is
scarcely the kind of rogue to inspire a woman with profound