City Chronicles/The Fylmire Diamond
No. XI.—THE FYLMIRE DIAMOND.
SIR George and Lady Fylmire were just finishing breakfast and a discussion in a small room on the ground floor at Fylmire Place.
"It's got to go," said Sir George doggedly. He was a tired man of about thirty-three.
"It shan't, then," said her Ladyship. "I can't think how we come to be in a hole like this. How is it?"
"Don't know. Happens so. The farms don't let, or let for half nothing. We spend twice as much as the governor did, and we get half as much. Something of the kind. Why bother? We've got to make something to be going on with."
Lady Fylmire was young, beautiful, distinctly common, impatient, and impetuous. She tapped the table with her manicured nails. "What I want to know is, Whose fault is it?"
"Nobody's. No good worrying about faults. Of course, you throw it about a bit, and then I've been unlucky racin'. What's it matter? Two years ago it was the Romney. This year it's got to be the Fylmire diamond."
"No. You must sell another picture. And it's hateful of you to put it all on to me."
"Never put anything on anybody. It's no good making a fuss, Agnes. I can't sell another picture. There was too much talk in the papers last time—these confounded people won't mind their own business. The stone was valued for probate at fifteen thousand. Then we can each take some, and we can get on; and nobody will know, and nobody will talk. You must be sensible."
Lady Fylmire stamped her foot. "Don't go on talking like that. I tell you I won't have the thing sold. I've worn it everywhere, and I won't wear an imitation."
Sir George rose and paced the room with his hands in his pockets. "Yes," he said, " it's true enough that you've worn it everywhere. We can't have twenty people to dinner but you must have that great yellow pebble flaring in your hair. It ought to be at the bank—that's where it was always kept in the governor's time. That little safe in your room wouldn't stop a burglar long. Besides, you might lose it. I don't trust that ingenious removable setting. You know how careless you are, Agnes."
"Perhaps not quite as careless as you think."
"You wouldn't know the difference between the real stone and the imitation. They do these things awfully cleverly nowadays. Why, an expert can't tell without taking them into his back shop and testing them with a lot of acids and so on." This, by the way, is not a strictly accurate description of the methods employed for identifying precious stones.
"Is that what they did when they valued it?"
"Well, no. I don't know that they did anything. I suppose they took my word for it. It wasn't in dispute at all. It was the real stone."
"Well, I don't care. I like the feeling that I am wearing fifteen thousand in my hair, and I won't have the stone sold. You know I always have my own way when I've really made up my mind to a thing."
"Yes, you do when you can. This time you can't, I'm sorry to have to point it out, but the diamond does not happen to be yours."
Her Ladyship then observed that he was a brute and left the room. He yawned, lit a cigarette, and took up the Morning Post.
A month or two later Lady Fylmire allowed herself more amenable to argument. She brought her husband a little account from her dressmaker (£453 17s. 9d.). She also kissed him on the brow and said he must do as he liked about the Fylmire diamond.
Mr. John Duffen Reeves was a dealer and expert in precious stones. He spoke Dutch fluently, and had an enlarged thumb, from which you might have deduced correctly, as he would have admitted, that at one time he had worked as a diamond polisher in Amsterdam. He had lived with precious stones all his life, and had the knowledge of them that is not to be got from books, but only from incessant handling and observation. He was forty-five years of age and looked younger. He was a good-looking man of slightly foreign appearance, and had a quiet but authoritative manner. He was wealthy enough to have given up his business if it had not happened that his business interested him. In the practice of it his knowledge of human nature had increased and his belief in it had lessened. That was, perhaps, inevitable. He was reasonably honest, without any quixotic reluctance to make a good profit when he saw the chance. His discretion, as it had need to be, was remarkable and undoubted.
He had had dealings on several occasions both with Sir George and with his father, and a visit from the younger baronet came as no surprise to him. He received Sir George in his private office. After a little preliminary conversation Sir George said, "You know, it was on a business matter that I wanted to see you."
Mr. Reeves said that he was charmed. Was he to have the pleasure of selling Sir George another rope of pearls?
"Well, no," said Sir George. "What I mean to say is the boot's rather on the other leg. I don't want to buy—I want to sell. This is all in confidence, you know."
"Well, you know the Fylmire diamond?"
Mr. Reeves did. He had had the privilege of seeing it several times. It was historical—a very fine yellow diamond. Surely Sir George did not mean to sell that?
"Don't know exactly," said Sir George. "You see, one reaches a point. One's got to have some money to—er—go on with, and landowning's no great catch. The question is, Could the stone be sold without giving the show away?"
"Without publicity? Certainly, Sir George. At any rate, for a time."
"And, coming down to figures, about how much would it—er—fetch?"
"It was valued some years ago at fifteen thousand, I think. That struck me at the time as being rather under the mark. Of course, it is difficult to value these fancy stones. They are worth what you can get for them, and that varies with the state of the market."
"What do you mean by fancy stones?"
"Something out of the run. Any coloured diamond would be a fancy stone. The Fylmire diamond is a honey yellow, so far as I remember, as remarkable for its quality as for its size. It is without flaw, bright and lively, and has been very well cut. Of course, if it had been a sapphire-blue or a true red it would have been worth more. But it is a good and important stone, and I should be very glad to make you an offer for it."
"It could be copied, I suppose?"
"Quite easily and quite exactly. Well enough to take in anybody but an expert—and to take in the expert, too, if he only saw it by artificial light and not very near."
"I've got it with me," said Sir George, drawing a worn morocco case from his coat pocket. "I wish you'd have a look at it and give me a rough idea of what you would give for it. The setting unfastens, you know, so that you can take the stone out."
Mr. Reeves opened the case and took out the stone. He turned it over in his hand and smiled. "Yes," he said, "that's very well made."
"Made? How? What do you mean?"
"This is not the Fylmire diamond. It is not a diamond at all. It is a copy in strass."
"You are joking, of course?"
"Certainly not, Sir George."
"And you are quite certain?"
Mr. Reeves took the stone to the window and looked at it through a glass. "There can be no doubt about it. You supposed this to be the Fylmire diamond, then?"
"Certainly. I did not know that there was a copy of it in existence. How on earth——?" He stopped short, and then suddenly blurted out, "That's Agnes!"
"I beg your pardon! But perhaps this is a subject it would be inconvenient to speak of further?"
"It's a delicate matter, and a pretty serious one. But as I tried to sell you that fraud, an explanation is due to you."
"I could not consent to hear it on those grounds. You require no defence."
"Put it, then, on the grounds that I have a good deal of confidence in you and in your discretion; that I'm in a deuce of a hole and want your advice. My wife was very strongly opposed to the sale of the diamond. I pointed out to her that she could have the stone copied, and I'm afraid I rather exaggerated the way the imitation would take in an expert. It is possible, from something I said quite innocently, that she may have supposed that the stone would be bought on my assurance that it was the Fylmire diamond, without any very critical examination. She hates imitations, and likes to feel that she is wearing something really valuable. It is my conviction that she had the copy made and then tried to—well—er——"
"To play a little practical joke," suggested Mr. Reeves. "And do you suppose that she has sold the diamond, or perhaps borrowed money on it?"
"No. For one thing, I know she's got no money just now. Then she would not have parted with the diamond. That was her idea—she wanted the actual diamond. And when she has an idea, she is most remarkably——"
"Remarkably firm about it. I'm inclined to agree with you that the diamond has not been sold. I don't think that it would have changed hands without my hearing something about it. Well, your course is clear enough."
"Blest if I see it!"
"Say—treating the matter lightly, of course—that the practical joke has failed."
"That would be all right if I knew that she had done this for certain. But suppose she didn't? She was always careless about her jewels, and it is possible that the substitution of the sham for the real stone was made some time ago, not by her, and without her knowledge. In that case I should seem to be accusing her, and she would resent it—er—very considerably. If I were quite sure that the real stone was still in her possession, that would be a very different thing."
"It is quite simple. You will take this imitation back to her, and give any reason but the right one for not having sold it. Then wait for some occasion on which she would naturally wear the Fylmire diamond. If the real stone is still in her possession, she will wear that and not the imitation. Of that I feel absolutely certain."
"So do I," said Sir George. "But you leave out one important point. I am not an expert. I should not know the difference between the sham and the real, even in the brightest light."
"True," said Mr. Reeves. "But I will show you how to tell the difference in the dark."
"Have you sold it?" asked Lady Fylmire eagerly, at the first opportunity.
"Well, no," said Sir George languidly. "I've had a pretty good week racin', and they tell me there will be a better chance later on. I've left it over for a bit."
"I'm so glad. That's a weight off my mind. Now I shall be able to sleep."
"Don't know that it should take you like that, now that you've made up your mind to it. After all, it's only putting off the evil day."
Lady Fylmire recovered herself. "Yes, I know. But, you see, I was so anxious to wear it at the Sarrabuts' dance next week."
"That's it. I see." He was by no means sure that that was it, and he did not see. But he handed back to her the worn morocco case with the clever copy of the Fylmire diamond in it.
She opened the case, looked affectionately at the model, and kissed it devoutly. "I don't know how I shall bear to part with you," she said, with a sigh.
Sir George was more mystified than ever. He was fond of making a bet, but he would have been sorry at the moment to have been asked to stake any money on the question whether his wife did or did not know that the real stone had been replaced by a sham.
He settled the point easily enough on the night of Lady Sarrabut's dance. His wife was wearing what purported to be the Fylmire diamond, and in the dark brougham it was quite easy for him, following the instructions of Mr. Reeves, to decide that it really was the diamond and not the imitation.
The instructions had been simple enough. Many diamonds, though not all, are phosphorescent. The quality is specially possessed by yellow diamonds; as a rule the smaller stones are the more luminous. For a considerable time after exposure to a bright light they continue to glow. Mr. Reeves had had opportunities of observing the Fylmire diamond, and he had noticed that it possessed this quality in an unusual degree. Sir George had already noted the appearance of the imitation in darkness and semi-darkness. This was quite different; a yellow fire seemed to be floating over his wife's head. She sat upright in the brougham—her pretty hair had been exquisitely arranged—and he watched her intently. He said nothing—that was for the return journey. And he did not much like the idea of facing that return journey; he was quite certain there would be no end of a row. His partners must have found him very dull; he was never a brilliant man conversationally, and to-night he was very absent-minded. He was glad when his wife decided to return immediately after supper; he was anxious to go through with it and get it over.
She leant back in the carriage now, since she was tired, and the arrangement of her hair no longer mattered.
Sir George began in a husky, unnatural voice that he hardly recognised as his own. (He had used it once before, however, when he had been called upon unexpectedly to read the lessons in a village church.)
"Look here, Agnes," he said, "I hate rows, and we have too much of them, anyhow, but there's something that I've got to say."
"I wonder what your excuse for a quarrel is to-night?" said Lady Fylmire querulously.
"I wish it was nothing more than an excuse. Here are the facts. When you handed me the diamond to sell, it was not the diamond, and you knew it was only an imitation. You are wearing the real stone to-night. Don't dispute it—it's true. And it's pretty low down. I couldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen and known it for myself." Then he waited for the outburst. None came.
"That is all quite true," said Lady Fylmire. "How did you find it out?"
"The expert to whom I took it detected the imitation at once. Luckily, he has had dealings with me before—he had no doubt that I had offered it in the belief that it was the real stone. I knew you were wearing the real stone to-night, because the real stone declares itself in the dark. It is phosphorescent. Possibly you didn't know that."
He forebore to add that a week before he had not known it either.
"No," she said, "I didn't know it."
"And have you got anything to say?"
"Yes, I've a good deal to say. I've been a fool, George, but I haven't been quite as bad as you think."
Her voice shook a little, and her husband noticed with surprise that she was not showing fight.
"I don't say that I think badly of you, but I do think you—er—didn't exactly realise what you were doing."
"That's true. I didn't. Well, I'll tell you the story. You remember nagging me about being careless with the diamond?"
"Yes, I said something about it."
"Well, as it happened, Lady Sarrabut had talked to me about the same thing some time before. She had told me that I had much better keep the diamond at the bank, and have a copy made which I could wear. The copy was already ordered when you told me you meant to sell the diamond. Now, I didn't want you to sell the diamond—I think I said so."
"You did," said Sir George drily.
"Then I got that bill from my dressmaker woman, and she wanted her money at once; so I changed my mind and decided to let you sell the diamond. I did mean then to give the real stone to you. It was just at the last moment that I was tempted. There were the two stones together, and it seemed almost impossible to tell which was which. You were just driving off to catch your train, and I had no time to think it over properly. It was all done in a second—the real stone taken out of the setting and the sham put in its place. Oh! what I've suffered! Your cart hadn't got down to the gates before I'd repented. I thought of sending a groom after you, but I wanted to wear the diamond at this dance, and I was so distracted I didn't know what to do. I went upstairs and cried—I don't suppose you care, not now."
The light of a street lamp flashed into the brougham and showed her Ladyship, very pretty in her distress.
"Look here, Agnes," said her husband awkwardly. "That's all right. I see how it was. You needn't go on telling me and—er—working yourself up this way. As it happens, no harm's done."
"But I want to tell you. It wouldn't be fair to myself not to tell you. I had an awful day. I went a walk in the village, and the policeman stared at me, and though I know him, of course, and know what a fool he is, I was rather frightened. I felt as if he might perhaps know about it. And at last I quite made up my mind. If you had come back and told me that you had sold the diamond, I should have confessed everything at once. Don't you remember how glad I was when you came back and said you'd put off selling the diamond for a bit? That was because I could undo my wicked action, and would be able to wear the Fylmire diamond at the Sarrabuts' with a clear conscience, and wouldn't have to confess. You do forgive me, George, dearest, don't you?"
"Yes, that's all right, now you've owned up."
"It might have been penal servitude?"
"Don't know, exactly. Sort of skating round the edge of it, I should think. I shouldn't get playing about like that any more, Agnes, if I were you."
Then Agnes completely broke down. She wept copiously, and between her sobs made sundry statements—as, for example, that she would never play about any more at all any way; that she wished the Fylmire diamond was at the bottom of the sea, and was prepared to throw it there herself; that perhaps if George had been kinder to her this would never have happened; and finally that she wished to give up the use of jewellery and other worldly trappings and, if possible, to enter a convent.
Her husband consoled her as best he could. Becoming gradually consoled, she said he would never know how deeply she loved him, and that she thought he had the finest and noblest character of any man in the world.
"Easy on, I say," said Sir George, modestly and—as I think—correctly.
A few days later Sir George again called on Mr. Reeves. He had the same leather case in his pocket, but its contents were different. He produced it with a hesitating—
"I've—er—brought that diamond I was speaking about the other day."
"Ah! yes," said Mr. Reeves, as he opened the case. "A fine stone—a beautiful thing!" But he said no more; he never even hinted a question. Sir George had imagined that it might be necessary to administer a slight snub to Mr. Reeves, but there was no opportunity. Mr. Reeves had given his advice; he now held the Fylmire diamond in his hands. He was content with that.
But Sir -George, imagining what ghastly suppositions Reeves's discreet reticence might cover, felt the necessity of telling a plausible story.
"By the way, Mr. Reeves, you were all wrong last time."
"When you brought the copy of the diamond? Surely not. I am convinced it was the copy and not the original stone."
"No, I don't mean that. I mean your suggestion that—er—Lady Fylmire was playing a practical joke on me."
"This is too bad," said Mr. Reeves. "That was your own idea, Sir George. I have decided opinions about diamonds, but I don't know enough of the ways of great ladies to have the right to criticise them."
"Well, somebody said something, and it was wrong. It was a mere mistake. Acting on my advice, Lady Fylmire had a copy of the diamond made. Not being an expert, she was unable to distinguish between the two. She gave me the copy, fully believing it to be the original."
"Quite so. Perfectly natural. I think I remember saying at the time that the copy was particularly well made. Now, with regard to this stone, Sir George—do you think you could be tempted to part with it?"
Sir George thought he could. When he left, a few minutes later, he left the diamond behind him, and had Mr. Reeves's cheque in his pocket. He was a little pleased with the tact with which he had managed everything.
And Mr. Reeves sat and smiled pleasantly. It was not entirely because he had bought the Fylmire diamond for £13,000 that morning, and would sell it to a wealthy American for £20,000 that afternoon—though that in itself was pleasant enough. His profession brought before him many curiosities of human nature—his memory was a museum of them. To this museum he had just added one more exhibit.