Jewel Mysteries I have Known/My Lady of the Sapphires
MY LADY OF THE SAPPHIRES
MY LADY OF THE SAPPHIRES
A PHOTOGRAPH of My Lady of the Sapphires is hung immediately opposite to the writing-table in my private office. It is there much on the principle which compels a monk to set a skull upon his praying-stool, or a son of Mohammed to ejaculate pious phrases at the call of the muezzin. "Nemo solus sapit," wrote Plautus. Had Fate cast him in the mould of a jeweller, rather than that of a playwright, he would have set down a stronger phrase.
I first saw My Lady two years ago, though it was only upon the day of my introduction that I learnt her name. She had then, though I knew it not, been before the town for many weeks as a physiognomist, a mistress of the stars, a reader of faces, and in many other capacities interesting to the idle and the credulous. Society, which laughed at her predictions, paid innumerable guineas for the possession of them; great dames sat in her boudoir and discussed amatory possibilities; even the youth of the city, drawn by the prettiness of her manner and her unquestionable good looks, came cheerfully to hear that they would have money "from two sources," or had passed through the uninteresting complaints of infancy without harm. In her way, she was the event of the season. Dowagers scolded her, but came again and again to probe family secrets, and learn the hidden things about their husbands; men flocked to her to know what possibility there was of an early return to the bliss of single life; mere boys ventured upon the hazard of a little mild flirtation—and were at once shown the door by a formidable lackey. Throughout her career scandal never lifted its voice against her. She was engaged ultimately to Jack Lucas, and her marriage was as brilliant as her career had been fortunate.
When a curious chance and combination of events first brought me to acquaintance with her she was in the very height of her practice. Carriages crowded daily in Dover Street where, with her mother, she had rooms—and it was the thing to consult her. Yet, until I dined casually one night with Colonel Oldfield, the collector of cat's-eyes, and Bracebridge, at the Bohemian Club, hard by her house, I had never heard of her. The conversation turned during the soup—when talk is always watery—upon the press of broughams in the street without, and Oldfield mentioned her history to me, and the surprising nature of many things she had told him.
"It is easy enough," said he, "to look at a man's hand and deduce scarlet-fever and measles somewhere between two and twelve years of age; but when a woman tells you calmly that you were ready to die for two other women at the age of one-and-twenty, it's a thing to make you pause."
"Which I hope you did," exclaimed Bracebridge. "Love is distinctly a matter for specialization."
"I did pause, sir," said the colonel severely, "and that's where her cleverness comes in. She told me that neither of the women cared the snap of a finger for me, and I have really come to the conclusion that she was right. Years put a glamour upon most things, but it is hard, even at fifty, to recall a woman's 'no' of thirty years ago."
"Memory is a dangerous vice which should be controlled," said Bracebridge; "if you want peace, you must learn to forget. There should be no yesterday for the man of the world. But I know the morbid kind of recollection you speak about. There was a fellow here only the other night who kept a proposal book. He put the 'noes' on one side, and the 'ayes' on the other, and balanced the columns every Christmas. One day he left the book in a cab, and has spent his time since going to Scotland Yard for it. That comes of reminiscences!"
"I agree with you in the main," said the Colonel; "there is very little in any man's private life which is of concern to any one but himself. The lady we are speaking of knows this, and makes her fortune by her knowledge. The truth is that we all love a little plainspokenness. There is far too much praise about. Tell a fool that he is not a clever man discreetly, and you flatter him; inform him that he is a brainless ass, and he will kick you. But when you put a black cap on your head, and take a wand in your hand, and charge a guinea for the spectacle, the fool will hear of his folly cheerfully."
"Then the girl you mention is a mere vulgar fortune-teller," said I, intervening for the first time. "It's astonishing how little difference there is, when you come to reckon it up, between the tastes of a grand dame and the tastes of her cook. The one goes in at the front door to get her hand read for a guinea; the other goes out of the back to have an equally plausible delineation for sixpence. Credulity does not know any distinction of class; in the case I mention rank is represented by one pound odd. Those of us who have no particular objection to spill salt, shiver to see the new moon through glass. That man alone who tells you frankly that he believes in all superstitions is free from the blemish. But common fortune-telling, I confess, leaves me unmoved."
"If it began and ended in the mere vulgar allotment of tragedy and of marriage, I should agree with you," said Bracebridge, speaking with unusual seriousness; "but I am inclined to think that this is a case of noteworthy cleverness, or at least of uncommon wit. The girl, possibly, is a charlatan: but if one half said of her be true, she is the best at the profession we have known. And after all, it's an achievement to be the best at some occupation, if it's only that of picking pockets."
"Speaking of that," said Oldfield, "I once knew a man in the '60th' who was proud because a society paper described him as the finest idler in Europe. That was a negative distinction of surpassing beauty, you must admit. In the lady's case, however, there is something substantial to praise. She can talk of things of which I would not attempt to spell the name, with a fluency which is charming, if it is not accurate; she has a room full of unreadable books; and I believe there are a dozen men in town who will swear that she has made diamonds before their very eyes. That should interest you, Sutton. A woman who is the possessor of what she calls the 'alkahest' or universal solvent, is not to be interviewed for a guinea every day. Besides, she might give you some useful hints."
"And who knows," said Bracebridge, "what might come of it. I presume you pay three pounds odd an ounce for the genuine metal to-day. Under certain contingencies, you might get it for threepence, and a wife into the bargain."
I listened to their banter with amusement for some minutes, and then cut in a little seriously.
"I did not know," said I, "that physiognomy and alchemy usually ran well in double harness, but I must take your word for it. Anything of this sort is always amusing to a jeweller, though he is apt to get a little too much of it. The last gold maker who came to me began by promising to make a million in six months, and ended by wanting to borrow half-a-crown. I've seen scores of that sort."
"You may laugh at her as much as you please," said Oldfield; "but of one thing be assured. If I am any judge of precious stones at all, she can make rubies, and good ones too. She cast one for me when I was last at her place, and I offered her fifty pounds upon the spot for it. A quack would have taken the money, but she refused it; you couldn't want any better proof of her bona fides than that."
"Pardon me," I interrupted, "but I can't accept the conclusion. Probably the ruby you thought she made was the only one in the place. It was like the stock knife of the Cheap Jack. You couldn't expect her to part with it."
"Certainly I did. If she had made only one stone, I should have jumped to your opinion; but she turned them out by the dozen. Most of them were small; some were altogether too insignificant to notice. One only, as I say, was substantial; and in explanation of that, she admitted her want of control over the action of the crystals in the crucible. Sometimes they will prove worth money; more often they are quite without value. But she has hopes that the day will come when she will complete a discovery which will astonish the universe."
"They all hope that," said I; "but the universe remains unmoved."
"And, of course, you don't believe a word of it," cried Bracebridge, as he helped himself to salad. "Well, it's part of your business, I suppose, to believe only in what you see, and not altogether in that. But the Colonel's right about the girl, and I can second every word he says. She made a piece of gold as big as your thumbnail before my very eyes. There was no pretence or humbug about it; and I may tell you that she'll only do this sort of thing for those she knows well. If you went to her to-morrow, and said, 'I want to see your experiments,' she'd laugh at you, and send you away feeling like a fool."
"And seriously," said I, beginning to experience a glimmer of interest, "you believe that she has discovered something of importance?"
"Seriously I do; and if you went to her house you would swear by her for the next month, possibly for two."
"You don't convince me at all," I replied, trying to look utterly unconcerned. "I have known too many gold-makers for that. Some of them are now in workhouses; others are in prison. One of the last got three months for stealing an overcoat, which was ridiculously unromantic."
"Not at all," said the Colonel; "theft is a complex subject capable of analysis. A thief is a man who buys in the cheapest market. We all try to do that in our way. There is no earthly reason why a savant, who is near to possessing the philosopher's stone, should not be charged before a magistrate with stealing a red herring. Life is all contrast, and the contrast we speak of is a very pretty one. Go and see her at your earliest opportunity."
"That's my advice too," said Bracebridge; "and if you've a fancy to watch her at the crucible, I'll speak for you. What's more, I'll bet you an even hundred pounds that you admit my conclusions."
"Which are?" I asked.
"That she has come nearer to the solution of the diamond problem than any man or woman living or dead."
"I don't bet on certainties," said I; "but if you care to trouble the lady to burn her doubtlessly pretty hands on my account, well, let's have the interview by all means. If she convinces me that she can make any sort of precious stone worth selling in the market, I'll give a hundred pounds to a children's hospital—the Colonel can name it."
"Is it a serious offer?" asked the Colonel, looking, as I thought, a little meaningly at Bracebridge, but I said,—
"I was never more serious, and town will be quite dismal enough after this week" (it was the week of Goodwood). "Fix it up as early as you can; and conjure the lady, whose name I have not yet had the pleasure of hearing, to take care of your reputation. If she can cast me a ruby or a sapphire worth looking at, I will set it in diamonds and make her a present of it. You may tell her so from me."
"I'll give her your message undiluted," said Bracebridge, with a great deal of content, "but I'll warrant that she'll have the laugh of you, and so shall we."
They said no more upon the matter until the end of the dinner, and it was not referred to in the smoking room after. We quitted the club at an early hour to hear a song at a music-hall which the Colonel raved about; and after that I left them and returned to Bayswater, with the recollection of my rash promise gone clean out of my head. I did not even recall it on the following morning, and it was some three days after that I received a note from the Colonel saying that he had, during Bracebridge's absence from town, made an appointment for me with Miss Jessie Fleming—for such was the fair alchemist's name—and that she would be glad to tell me anything she could about her work on the following afternoon at half-past two o'clock. The letter at once brought to my mind the whole of the conversation, at the club. I remembered with a smile of contempt that the lady was to show me, during a short interview, how the whole of a jeweler's occupation was soon to be done with; how diamonds and sapphires and even the precious metal itself, were presently to be as common as pebbles in a brook; and I concluded with easy assurance that if any children's hospital depended upon my being convinced, it would have to close its doors at an early date. I had seen so much of this sort of thing; so many stories of fortunes lying in a metal pot had been whispered into my ear; this could be but an addition to the list; it remained to see if it would be an amusing addition.
I will confess readily that if the pretender had been a man, I would have declined curtly to see him. The whole of those who had come to me hitherto with a pretended insight into the arcana of metals were men—mostly half-pay officers—whose wits were half gone with their money. Here, however, was, by all accounts, a charming professor of the lost art. The season was beginning to be dull; there were no more "at homes"; possibly she would amuse me. I had given my promise to the men—and to put it briefly I found myself at Miss Jessie Fleming's door on the following day, not a little expectant, disdainfully incredulous, and exceedingly anxious to prove for myself if the physiognomist's personal attractions were even a tithe of those which had been claimed for her by so many long headed and usually sensible men.
My knock at the modest-looking portal was answered by a formidable flunky, who did not wait to hear my name, but conducted me up a staircase draped almost to darkness with heavy curtains, and so to a well-furnished waiting-room on the first floor. Here three women, all well known in society, were engaged in an heroic effort to appear absorbed in the illustrated papers; but they were obviously uncomfortable at my presence, and cast furtive looks over the pages as though in appeal to me to make no mention of anything I had seen. I had no opportunity, however, to abate their fear of publicity; for scarce was I come into the room when the flunky appeared again at the folding-doors which cut it off from the sanctum of My Lady, and beckoned me to follow him.
I had come out on this expedition purely, as I have said, to be amused. When I found myself at last before the new Pythia of London, enthroned as she was for the immediate interpretation of the oracle, I confess that I did not foresee any disappointment of the venture. The room was half in darkness, but there was light enough by which to observe many fine pieces of china and delicate sketches upon its gold and green walls; and to note the quaint conceits of the whole scheme of decoration. A lamp of Eastern shape spread a soft red glow upon sofas and seductive lounges; a conservatory, heaped up with shade-suggesting palms, gave off at one end of it through doors of exquisitely coloured glass; there was a strange tripod of brass before the fireplace; and flowers everywhere, seeming to grow from the very grate, to flourish in all the crannies, to cover tables and bookcases, and even to decorate the dress of the young girl who now stood to receive me, and welcomed me with cordiality.
My first impression of the physiognomist—an impression which remains with me—was the outcome of her extremely youthful appearance. I am certain that whatever age she might have been she did not look it. Youth in rich generosity was stamped upon her slightest action and her most serious word. It flashed from her eyes, was seen in the unsurpassable freshness of her complexion, in the golden sheen of her hair, in the rotundity of her arms, and the development of her slight but well-formed figure. If she had any serious mood, it was not apparent when first I spoke to her; nor did a rapid analysis of her face tell me of any uncommon mental power. Her chin was a firm one, it is true; but I noticed that she had little height of head above her ears, and that there was even something of weakness in her forehead. At the same time there could not be two opinions of the general charm of her manner; and she possessed in a very large degree that magnetic power of attracting sympathy and admiration which is peculiarly the attribute of women.
Directly I had come into the pretentious chamber of audience, and the flunky had closed the folding-doors behind me, this fascinating little prophetess began to talk, her words rippling over one another like the waves of a river; her natural excitement betraying itself in the obvious restraint of her gestures.
"I'm so glad it's you!" she exclaimed, clasping her hands together, as though in ecstasy. "Those old women bother me to death, and there have been twelve of them here this morning. Colonel Oldfield told me all about you yesterday, and I was interested at once. We must have a good long talk. Oh, do listen to that dreadful creature; she talks in scales beginning at the lower C and going up to no possible note in the music of heaven or earth. I suppose she won't go away."
Her remark, and the clapping of her little hands to equally little ears, followed upon the sound of altercation between one of the ladies in the waiting-room and the flunky of formidable mien. Apparently the lady would not depart without a séance, and the footman was compelling her. In the end she went, declaring the whole thing a cheat, and "that chit of a girl" a particular imposture. When the sound of her voice had died away upon the stairs, My Lady took up the thread of her remarks.
"Now," said she, "I want to have a good look at you, and you must have a good look at me. People like ourselves should know each other to begin with. Don't think I'm going to bore you with the nonsense I trade in—you are far too clever for that, and would find me out in a minute. You see, I'm like a man with a good cellar: I keep the old wine for the old birds who are not caught with chaff. That's a delightfully mixed metaphor, isn't it? and not very polite, when I think of it. But come and sit down near the light, where I can see you."
She spoke so quickly that I did not pretend to hear half of that which she said, or to answer her; but I seated myself upon the ottoman near the entrance to the conservatory; and when she had thrown open the glass doors, she herself took the low arm-chair facing me. I saw then that she wore a strange dress in the Egyptian fashion, and that her breast was all covered with jingling gold medals, while her hair was similarly ornamented.
"Come," she said, resting her head upon her hand, "I want to know from you why you are here. It is not for me to tell you about your life, is it?"
"I will be frank," I replied; "it is not. My life has already spoken a good deal for itself. What I did come here to see was the making of diamonds. They tell me you possess the philosopher's stone, or something near to it."
She looked at me with a penetrating gaze, and then laughed a little hardly.
"And you believed it?" she asked presently.
"Not for a moment," said I; "but I thought it was not unlikely that you had some amusing trick which you would not mind showing me. I am very much interested in jewels, you know."
"So am I," she exclaimed, but with the air of one whose mind is away from the words—"there is nothing more beautiful or more mysterious on earth than a diamond. It just seems to be a prison for lovely things of which it gives us the lights when we treat it well. And you thought I might amuse you with a trick? That was a poor compliment, wasn't it?"
The thing was said with a swift reversion of her mind to the subject, as I could see; and there was a world of humour in her eyes when she turned them on me.
"It was no poor compliment," said I, "since you have convinced such a man as Colonel Oldfield that you can make rubies. He is a judge of jewels, too."
"And a very good one," she replied; "but really there was nothing in my experiment. What I do has been done by French chemists for twenty years past. The Colonel came here with an open mind—but you, you closed the doors of yours as you came upstairs."
I protested feebly, but she did not listen to my answer.
"Yes," she exclaimed, speaking very rapidly, "I have been thinking about you as you sat there, and I am sure that I know you now. You are a man so well accustomed to steer in the shallows of your business that you never look beyond them. You make a gospel of distrust, and you consider confidence the sign of a weak intellect. You have been often deceived, for your breadth of view is not large; and you will be often deceived again. It is impossible for you to conceive beauty which is not saleable; and for romance you have no place in your heart. You have come here, saying all the way, 'I am going to interview an impostor; she will not amuse me—most possibly she will bore me. It is ten thousand to one that her experiments are all rubbish, but I will take the ten thousandth chance, in the hope that she might have found out something which I can sell—sell—sell.' Yet you are honest in a measure, since you ask me for a trick, knowing well that a trick is all you can reasonably expect from me. You are, in short, not very far removed from that dreadful person 'the pure man of business'; and you feel woefully strange already in the presence of one whose occupation is romance, and whose profession is undisguisedly practised in the offices of mystery. Do I speak the truth?"
She bent forward so that I could look straight into her eyes as she finished the excited sketch of character; and while with any other speaker my vanity had been sore wounded, I listened to her with no other feeling than those of growing admiration. The potency of her personality was beyond description; I have never met a woman who could communicate her own magnetism so quickly when she chose to talk seriously. And beyond this, I had already corrected my assumption that she was not clever. She had, indeed, one of the quickest brains I have ever dealt with.
"You are very hard on me," said I, as she waited for me to speak, "but I cannot say that you do not get to the bottom of the affair. You do me an injustice, however, when you say that my visit is purely commercial. No one in London would be more unselfishly interested than myself if any progress were made with the thousand attempts to manufacture jewels. If you have succeeded, even in a small degree, your fortune is made."
"Do you think that?" she cried. "Well, a word from Mr. Bernard Sutton is a word indeed; but we shall see. Meanwhile, we are going to have some fruit and wine. Don't you find it fearfully close in here?—that's the heat from my furnace in the conservatory there. I've had a little one put up especially for my experiments. As you were coming, we had to get the metal melted; and we've had a fire there since last night."
"You will experiment for me, then?" said I, with considerable interest.
"If you are very good," she replied, "I may show you something; but first you must taste my sherbet, and tell me all about the diamonds which I have bought and not made. You've heard, perhaps, that I waste all my money on jewellery."
I told her that I had not, but the flunky appearing at that moment, she did not pursue the subject, occupying herself in mixing me an effervescing draught in a great crystal goblet. The drink was gratifying on the hot day; and when I had taken it there was a warm coursing of blood through my veins as though I had drunk of rich Burgundy.
"Now," said she, when the man had gone, but had left the little table piled up with fruit—"now we can talk seriously. Let us carry the liquid with us—that's what Jack Lucas always calls it; he gets me that sherbet from some place in the East with an unpronounceable name. I am going to put you into an arm-chair, and you are not to ask a single question until I have finished. Have you got any cigarettes with you?—you may smoke if you are very good."
We went into the conservatory, which was ridiculously small, and close almost to suffocation, and there I saw many evidences of her attempt to fathom the unfathomable mysteries. There were racks with bottles round three sides of the apartment, and in the corner of the other side there stood a common little furnace such as smiths use. These, with a number of brass plates covered with hieroglyphics, some presses in steel, a basket containing strips of metal and a quantity of crystals, were her whole equipment for the business before her; but there was a low arm-chair in the shape of those used for dental horrors; and there she asked me to sit while she herself prepared for the undertaking.
"The first thing for you to do," said she, "is to make yourself comfortable. A man who is ill at ease is in the worst possible mental state, for he cannot concentrate himself. Just at present I want you to concentrate yourself on that cigarette and the fizzing stuff. When everything is ready I shall call out."
With this said, she set the fruit and the cup at the side of my chair, and then rolled up the sleeves of her dress quickly, putting on an apron which covered her finery; and she looked for all the world like an unusually pretty housemaid. I watched her with even a larger interest than I had done; and I remember thinking, as I settled in the great lounge, that whatever her mental claims might be upon the admiration of the city, her personal qualities were undeniable.
These were especially to be observed when she began to busy herself with the furnace and the tiny crucibles upon it, the glow of soft light seeming to emphasize the youthfulness of her perfect face, and to converge upon it as light focussed upon a picture. She had now fallen into a very serious mood, and after she had used the bellows vigorously at her fire, and placed the smallest of the crucibles upon it again, she sat herself upon a stool at the side of my chair, and resting her head upon her open hand—her favourite attitude—she spoke with evident earnestness.
"The mysteries of jewels," she exclaimed, "and the mysteries of gold have eaten the heart out of many a clever man, from Gebir to Sir Isaac Newton. If you will read the history of the philosophers, even of some in the story of that which we call the modern ages, you will find amongst the greatest the names of those who sought for an 'alkahest' or universal solvent. Even the wisest of men have hoped for a full knowledge of the arcana of metals. Paracelsus himself believed in the fifth, or the quintessence of creation. Roger Bacon, to whom death came out of neglect, prescribed as the elixir of life gold dissolved in nitro-hydrochloric acid. Why should I tell you how science now laughs at these old philosophers, and lumps them together as little better than maniacs? Yet does she laugh at them with good reason? Is it not just possible that she will be ultimately the means of turning the laugh upon herself? In our day she has come very near to knowing of the transmutability of metals. Allotropy has turned the eyes of many back to the remoter past. The chemist is beginning to ask himself, Were these men such fools? The near future may cast a light upon long centuries of darkness. But those only will reap who come to the work with open minds, with the certain conviction that in all pertaining to this vast science we are still children. Do you follow me in this?"
"Perfectly," I replied; and assuredly a prettier lecture was never given. The girl's eyes seemed to flash lights as she warmed to her subject; her enthusiasm was so contagious that I found myself softening before it. She was earnest, at any rate; and most of her kind were quacks.
"If you grant this long premiss, and do not consider that all inquiry is necessarily useless," she continued, "you solve the greater difficulties which surround my conceptions. It remains to ask, What steps must the chemist follow who would seek to turn from his crucible the perfect jewel? Let us take the sapphire as an instance. It is my favourite stone, one compelling, as the ancients declare, the wearer to all good works. Well, the sapphire in all its beautiful tints is only a variety of corundum, coloured by metallic oxide. It is a common crystal, a six-sided prism terminated in a six-sided pyramid. It is taken from gneiss, and we know to-day that alumina is the basis of it, as it is the basis of so many precious stones. Granted this, what is the work before the chemist? Is it not simply to cast in his crucible the crystals of the base, to colour them with the metallic oxide, if he can and to harden them so that they will bear the test? The process is a long one—it needs days to bring it to perfection: the annealing, the polishing, the setting—these are not work for an hour. What I have to show you now are but the stages of it. These you shall see and judge for yourself; but I ask you very sincerely to weigh up this great question for yourself, not to be led by the incredulity of the fanatic, and to believe with me that we are on the brink of a discovery which shall pour jewels on the world as the sea casts pebbles upon a beach."
I said nothing in answer to this remarkable delivery, for the truth was that I watched the girl rather than heard her words. Her earnestness, nay, her enthusiasm, was so pretty to see that all my interest seemed absorbed in her; and now, when she rose swiftly and drew the curtains over the windows, leaving the place illuminated only by one rose-coloured lamp, I followed all her actions as one follows the change of a picture.
"Let us keep away the daylight," said she, "and then we can see the crystals forming. By-and-by I will show you the perfect jewel. Now look."
What she did in the next few minutes I am quite unable to say, so swift were her movements and so hurried her talk. But I remember that she opened the furnace door, allowing soft rays of deep yellow light to flood the room; and then quickly she cast a dozen crystals upon the table from the glowing crucible; and from a press near to her hand she took three more and laid them on the plate. The largest of the crystals, which was blue as a sapphire, and possessed little light at a distance, she presently picked up with tiny tongs, and coming over to me, she knelt at my side, holding the jewel before my eyes, and clasping my left hand in hers. And then she cried with the wildest excitement in her voice, and her breast heaving with her emotion,—
"Oh, look at it! is there anything more beautiful on earth than a perfect sapphire? and I made it, it is all my work, all my own!"
While she cried thus she held my hand firmly, and the pressure of her own was hot as fire, but this I only remembered afterwards, for gradually, as I looked at the jewel critically, it took the colour and the shape of a perfect gem. It was not a large stone, perhaps one of three carats, but the longer I looked upon it the more brilliant and beautiful did it appear to be. Never had I seen more perfect shape or promise of light when set; and with the realization of the discovery my head reeled as the possibility that this mere girl had succeeded where so many had failed loomed at last before me. It was true, then, as Oldfield said, that she could manufacture a perfect jewel before his eyes. Here was one which, if well cut, I could sell for a hundred pounds. She had made that, as I could swear: why should she not make a hundred, a thousand? My heart leaped at the conclusion.
"Tell me," said I, "you had no help in this work?"
"You saw that I had none," she cried. "Look at the other crystals; there are five of them. You have seen them come straight from the crucible—and you know that I have succeeded. Will you buy my sapphire? Buy it in proof that I have conquered you. When you return to-morrow I will tell you everything. I am exhausted now. The work always excites me terribly. My nerves are all unstrung; I can do no more to-day."
"If you will sell me the stone you hold in those tongs, I will give you fifty pounds for it," I said, concluding that, even had I been tricked, a real jewel, and a very good one, was before my eyes. But at this promise she cried out with joy, and putting the stone in a little box with lightning speed, she handed it to me.
"Pay me to-morrow, any time," she said. "It was good of you to come here, and to listen to me. I am very grateful. When you come again you shall know all my secret. Only think well of me and be my friend."
With this she led the way quickly into her own room, and the lackey appeared in answer to her ring. The interview was at an end, abruptly as it seemed to me, and I left her with a strange feeling of dizziness, and my head burning with excitement—but her sapphire was in my pocket.
When I met Bracebridge, who was waiting in my room for me, he had an ugly leer upon his face.
"Well," said he, "I fancy my hundred's all right?"
"With Oldfield," said he. "I bet him a hundred she'd sell you a piece of glass for a sapphire; and I don't suppose you'll deny that she did it?"
"I'm not going to deny anything of the sort," said I; "she did sell me glass, and of the commonest kind. I am now seeking an undiscovered superlative. The biggest fool in London is no designation for me."
"Ah," said he, "you should take it quietly. She's done a complete dozen of us at the game. That paraphernalia which Jack Lucas rigged up in her conservatory for her is the medium, I fancy. Lucas, you know, is a professor or something at Emmanuel, Cambridge. He taught her all that jargon about crystals."
"But," said I, as I pitched her glass into the fireplace, "what I want to know is, how did I come to think that the stuff was real? I could have sworn to it."
"So could we all," he replied, with a great burst of laughter; "but I'll tell you in a word—she hypnotized you. I always said you were a grand subject."
I looked him in the face for a minute, during which he made an heroic attempt to be serious. But it was too much for him. Presently he gave one great shout of hilarity which you could have heard half-way down the street, and then rolled about in his chair uncontrollably.
"You seem to find it amusing," said I, "but I fail to catch the point."
"You'll be seeing it by-and-by," said he, and at that he went off to the club to be first with it.