Knaves of Diamonds/Chapter 3
THE KING'S ROSE DIAMOND.
Day by day, stone by stone, the parcel had increased, and every one of the now splendid collection of gems represented not only so many pounds sterling in hard cash, when once successfully translated from the Kimberley Compound and sorting-houses to the outside world, but also many moments of desperate yet skilfully hidden anxiety, during which the fickle needle of Fate had swayed to and fro between two poles of fortune and ruin.
Some men in Frank Ridley's position—and he was one of the most trusted sorters in camp—would have taken the stones out one by one, or employed kaffirs to take them from him after they had been searched, and pass them direct to one of the illicit dealers outside; but that was not his way. He had no other confidant than his own conscience, not always an approving one, but at any rate one that would not give him away.
To have taken the stones out one by one would only have multiplied the risk of discovery and ruin by the number of them, for the possession of a single illicit diamond would have meant disgrace and penal servitude just as certainly as would the discovery on his person of the whole twenty or thirty thousand pounds worth of gems—the very pick of the Kimberley mine output for nearly six months past.
So one afternoon he made up his mind that he had tempted the Fates far enough, and at six that evening he walked off to his lodgings with his heart in his mouth and a fortune in the lining of his somewhat shabby felt wideawake.
That night, albeit with some little fear and trembling, he permitted himself the luxury of a few minutes' examination of his plunder in bulk, and an estimate of its value—not to him, but to the more fortunate man who should succeed in getting the parcel through safely to London or Amsterdam. If he could only have done that himself he would never have needed to do another day's work in the world—but he was an employé, a sorter, and therefore a marked man, and the secret
ramifications of the wonderful system which inclosed him and all like him as in a net were many and wide.
No, that risk was too great, considering that he could now make four or five thousand pounds in an hour or so, and at the same time transfer all his risk and liability to someone else, and go back to his work with a light heart, and, in a certain sense, a clear
Yet there was one magnificent rose-diamond, which must have weighed somewhere between forty and fifty carats, which he would dearly have loved to see nicely cut and polished, and glittering on the neck or in
the hair of a certain well-loved someone far away in old Carlisle; for he knew well enough that there was not another of its size and colour in the world. The nearest to it was in the De Beers collection, and the mere possession of it by anyone but a monarch or a millionaire would mean just what his own possession of it meant, so there was no use thinking about that.
With something very like a sigh for the unattainable possibilities of his so far successful theft, he tied up the gems in a bit of dirty rag, and stuffed this into the toe of a rather dilapidated Wellington boot. Then he had a wash and a change, and went for a walk down town.
On his way along Stockdale Street, he chanced to meet a well-dressed, dapper-looking little man, who nodded to him as one might do to a casual acquaintance, and said in a quick, chirpy sort of tone:
"How do, Ridley? Going strong, eh?"
"Pretty well, Mr. Mosenstein," he replied, with a quick look up and down the street. "Returns are looking up again. We've had some very pretty finds the last day or two."
"Oh, glad to hear it, even from a man who wastes his opportunities as idiotically as you do. Anything particularly choice?"
"Well, yes. Are you doing anything in second-hand boots just now, Mr. Mosenstein?"
It may here be conveniently explained that the gentleman with whom young Ridley had thus fallen into conversation, was in those days known in camp as Mickey Mosenstein. The wider world knows him now as Michael Mosenstein, Esq., M.L.A., and director of many important financial undertakings. But in those days he was just an extremely clever man, a Jew of reputed Florentine ancestry, but more recent and authentic London extraction, who had made his debut in Kimberley as a dealer in cheap jewellery and slop-made outfits—and in fact anything that found a ready sale in camp—and who was now looked upon as one of the smartest and most successful "operators" on the Diamond Fields.
Inspector Lipinzki and some of his more trusted subordinates cherished certain suspicions as to the scope of his operations, but till now his dealings had been blameless, at least so far as tangible evidence was concerned, added to which he had recently married a very pretty and exceedingly clever wife—which meant much on the Fields in those days.
Mr. Mosenstein did not seem in the least annoyed by the apparent reference to his former comparatively humble means of livelihood. On the contrary, he looked up with a quick glance at Ridley, and said, with a smile of pleasant anticipation:
"Well, I haven't done anything in the old clo' line for some time now, but you know I'm always on for a trade. What's the figure?"
"I'll see you—I mean I'd like to see the goods first before I say anything to that. It's a big price for a pair of second-hand boots, you know, Mr. Ridley. Still, I'm glad to see that you're beginning to rise to a proper sense of your opportunities. When can I see the boots?"
"I was thinking of taking them down to Tooley's to-morrow about this time to have them soled and heeled."
"So you're on to that lay, are you? Well, you're not such a blighted idiot as I thought you were, Ridley; so I apologise. I shall be sending to Tooley's myself—but, look here, if we mean business, what's the good of wasting time like that? Go and get your boots now, and take them to Tooley's. He isn't shut, and he's got a pair of mine to mend. I'll be there in half an hour, and if I take your parcel away with me instead of my own, well, what's that to anybody but you or me?"
It wasn't altogether a new device, but it worked, and in the result Mr. Mosenstein's valuation of the boots was so far satisfactory that about two hours later Frank Ridley went home with a cheque for £2,500 and an I.O.U. for a like amount in his pocket, and a pair of another man's boots under his arm, neatly wrapped up in a copy of the Diamond Fields Independent. The cheque was on Lloyd's Bank, London, and was payable, not to Frank Ridley, but to Miss Alice Ransome. The I.O.U. was personal, but both went to England by the next mail.
There occurs here the unpleasant necessity of adding that the cheque was stopped by cable long before Miss Ransome had any chance of presenting it. The fate of the I.O.U. was to be determined later on. Meanwhile, Mr. Frank Ridley's thoughts turned homeward and mingled with loving memories and fond anticipations.
That same night between eleven and twelve, Mr. Mosenstein had a visit from a man of his own people, a youth of some twenty-one summers, whose life had so far been mostly winter. Not many of the seed of Abraham run to waste, at any rate in the financial sense, but Joshua Mosenstein, known for short in camp as Jossey Mo, had somehow managed to do so.
He was distantly related to Mickey Mosenstein, and again and again that rising financier had, with the traditional generosity of his people to their kindred, metaphorically taken him out of the gutter and set him on his feet on the pavement. The subject of their interview that particular night was closely akin to this species of rescue work. No one else was present, and Mr. Mosenstein spoke plainly
and to the point.
"It just comes to this, Jossey," he said, towards the end of the discussion, "you'll never be any good to yourself or any credit to your relations as long as you go sloshing around in this good-for-nothing sort of way of yours. Now, here's a good solid chance for you. Do as I tell you, man. Own up and play the greeney. You won't get more than five years as a first offender, and if you behave yourself you'll get out with three. I know the ropes down yonder, don't you fear, and I'll pull 'em hard for you. Then when you come out there's five thousand for you in solid cash and a thousand a year for five years after that. Now, Jossey, what do you say to that?"
"What do you want me to be trapped at all for?" the tempted Joshua objected rather sulkily. "If you've got the gonivahs, why don't you plant 'em somewhere safe and run 'em down when you get a chance like
the others do?"
"Because I don't do business like the others," replied Mickey, with an air of conscious pride; "and because I'm playing a deeper game, and for a bigger stake. It's this way, you see. Ridley and me were shadowed while we were talking in Stockdale Street. He didn't see it, but I did, and that's what made me think of this lay. We were shadowed again at Tooley's, and I was followed home here by one of the smouches.
"Now Lipinzki's no fool, and neither is Fox, nor Lowe, nor any of them. What do I want talking to Ridley for just after he's come out of the sorting-room? What do I want to meet him again the same night at a boot-store and bring a pair of his boots home by mistake for?
"I tell you, Jossey, those chaps know as well as I do that I took a parcel of stones from Ridley to-night, and before long Lipinzki will be here with a search-warrant to look for them. Now, if he doesn't find any, he'll reckon that I've planted 'em, and am going to run 'em, as you say. That means that we shall be watched, and that everyone who goes out of camp, especially anyone belonging to me, will be stopped and searched, and so the missis 'll have about as much chance of getting those stones down to Cape Town and on to the steamer as I would.
"Now see how my plan works out. They know I've got stones from Ridley, but they don't know what stones—see? They come here with their warrant, arrest us both, and search us, find this other little lot on you, and jump to the conclusion that they're the right ones, and that I've just given 'em to you. But there's no proof of that, and they can't get one, for you'll play the funk, own up, and swear you bought 'em from a kaffir, while I do the indignant virtuous lay.
"You needn't be afraid of Ridley. They don't want him yet. They'll wait for him, and nab him when convenient. It's me they want. De Beers would give a good bit just now to plant me on the Breakwater for a few years while they put this Amalgamation business through. That's where my game comes in. This parcel should pan out at thirty thousand at the very least, and that's just why I want to fight these amalgamators on their own ground.
"If I got nabbed, the whole game would be up; but if you go for me, Jossey, I'll make my fortune, and yours, too, pippin. Mosenstein Consols 'll go flying up sky high, and it won't be a matter of thousands then, Jossey. It'll be millions, my boy—millions, and you shall have your share when you come out, never fear.
"You know if you were left to yourself, Jossey, you'd never make a thousand in a century of blue moons, let alone ten thousand in three years or so. Come, now, what do you say? You'll have to look sharp, for they may be here any minute— Ah, yes, I thought so; there's the official knock. Now don't act the goat, and fly in the face of good fortune. Here's the gonivahs. That's it, in your waistcoat pocket. Now, button your coat. That'll do!
"Well, gentlemen, good-evening. What can I do for you this evening, if it isn't morning already?"
"You can hand over that parcel of diamonds you got from Frank Ridley to-night, Mr. Mosenstein, and then you can come with us," replied Inspector Lipinzki politely, but still a trifle stiffly. "I've a search-warrant here, but you'll save us a lot of trouble, and yourself and household a lot of inconvenience, by passing over the stones at once. We know they're in the house."
"Then you know a mighty lot more about my house than I do myself, Mr. Lipinzki," snapped the little man somewhat viciously. "There are no diamonds here but what are my own lawful property; and they're all cut
stones, so I'm afraid I can't give you what you've come for. But of course if you've got a warrant you can act on it—though it's a piece of most unwarrantable tyranny. And this a British colony, too. Why don't they call it a penal settlement and have done with it? Shall I ask my wife to get up and come down?"
"I hope there'll be no necessity for that," replied the inspector, with a pleasant smile. "But now, gentlemen, we must get to work, please. It isn't pleasant for any of us, I know; but it's our duty, and it must be done."
The formality resulted exactly as the astute Mickey had predicted it would. The diamonds—a parcel of stones worth about two hundred pounds at first cost—were promptly found in Jossey's pocket, and he played the tyro in I.D.B. with a perfection that was by no means all art.
Mickey, of course, did the virtuously indignant relative and disappointed benefactor without a flaw, not only at the moment of discovery, but at the police-court the next morning. So well, indeed, did both play their parts, that, to Inspector Lipinzki's intense disgust, the magistrate refused to send the chief criminal to the Special Court for trial, and so, after providing generously for the defence of his erring relative, he left the court-house a triumphantly white-washed man.
Nearly five years later, Michael Mosenstein, Esq., was sitting at the writing-table in the library of his town residence in Lancaster Gate.
He was reading a letter, and swearing softly under his breath at every line of it. When he had read it through for the second time, he crushed it up in his hand, stuffed it into his trouser pocket, went and stood on the hearthrug, with his short, sturdy legs wide apart, and said to a life-sized portrait of himself which hung in the middle of the opposite wall:"No, bust me if I do! I've been generous to both of them, and I can't stick it any longer. I'll give 'em just another thousand apiece for old times' sake, and that's the lot. Half-a-million apiece—whew! Why don't they ask for the whole caboodle at once? I'll see them selling fried fish first!"
The explanation of this resolution may be briefly given as follows. Thanks to exemplary behaviour and a certain amount of judiciously applied influence, Mr. Mosenstein's scapegoat had got off with a little over three years. The day he came out he received the welcome but not unexpected intelligence that, through the death of a relative in London, he had come into about five thousand pounds ready cash, and property and securities yielding about another thousand a year.
The same evening he renewed the acquaintance of Frank Ridley, who had been discharged without any assigned reason a few weeks after the great coup which had proved so worthless to him. The bank had been advised by cable that a leaf had been stolen out of Mr. Mosenstein's London cheque-book and cautioned not to cash any cheques without further notice. Hence the first £2,500 had not been paid. The I.O.U. Mr. Mosenstein had laughed at. The stones had cost him quite enough already, or would do before he had done with Jossey, and he didn't propose to pay any more.
It was a case of dog eating dog, but Ridley could do nothing without disclosing the whole transaction, and that would mean not less than ten years on the Breakwater for him, so he grinned and bore it, and waited till Jossey came out.
Meanwhile Mr. Mosenstein grew and flourished exceedingly. Everything he touched turned either to gold or diamonds—though he never touched anything illicit after the last big deal.
He was quite a great man now, but, as everyone knows him, there is no need to repeat that, and there was not a cloud on his financial or social horizon save his connection with Jossey and the present impossibility of getting introductions to Court.
He had given Ridley a couple of thousands in cash on Jossey's strong representation, and fondly thought that would settle his unprovable claim for good; but that was just where he had made the biggest mistake of his life. Jossey came out of penal servitude a very different person to the shiftless ne'er-do-weel that he was when he entered it. It had done him a lot of good. It had put backbone into him, and, besides, he had learnt many things that he wotted not of
After more than three years of penal toil and discipline, embittered by deprivation of all creature comforts, it was only in the course of nature that when he regained his freedom and found himself in command of plenty of money, he should be strongly inclined to compensate himself for his vicarious sufferings on a somewhat liberal scale.
It was in this humour that Ridley had found him. He had made a little money, more or less honestly, since his discharge, and so there was no suggestion of sponging. But he was very sore still about the cheque and the I.O.U., and in Jossey he thought he saw the means of getting square with the millionaire who had done him such an unscrupulous "shot in the eye."
To this end he worked both skilfully and successfully on the ex-convict's feelings, until he came to look upon himself as a martyr and Michael Mosenstein as a monster of ingratitude. What were a few paltry thousands to the millions that he was literally rolling in—the millions which would never have been his if he, Joshua, had not borne the penalty of his crime? He had the plainest right to a good substantial share of them, and so, too, for the matter of that, had the man from whom Mickey had so dishonestly obtained the stones on which his new fortunes had been founded.
As time went on these arguments were very strongly inforced by the fact that the aforesaid "paltry thousands" did not go very far when Mr. Joshua Mosenstein had once learnt the joys of spending money with the cheerful freedom that is born of a sure and certain hope that when it is done there will be plenty more forthcoming. The logical result was that the two worthies, now fast friends and allies in a common object, had made demand after demand on the apparently bottomless purse of the multi-millionaire, until at last a certain fact had come to their knowledge which, after due deliberation together, had inspired them to write the joint letter that had so disturbed Michael Mosenstein's equanimity.
They travelled home by the same mailboat which carried their letter, and on the morning following its delivery they paid a visit to the millionaire at his West End mansion. The interview was not exactly a friendly one. Mr. Mosenstein blustered, and his visitors quietly but firmly doubled their already exorbitant demands.
The man of millions threatened to have them put into the street, and broadly hinted at the advisability of giving them into custody as blackmailers. That brought matters to a head in a somewhat dramatic fashion. The ex-sorter took out his pocket-book and produced from it half a sheet of note-paper, on which was pasted a short newspaper cutting. He handed it to the millionaire and said:
"That's from the Cape Times, Mr. Mosenstein. Do you think you could throw any light on the subject? I have an idea that you could, especially with our assistance. De Beers would give a good deal to know how that stone got away. I believe they would even accept me as Queen's evidence to get the mystery cleared up. What do you think?"
With slowly widening eyes and sinking heart, the man of many millions and more ambitions read the cutting. It ran thus:
"The King of the Belgians has just indulged his well-known taste for gems by the addition to his already priceless collection of a magnificent rose-coloured diamond, weighing nearly thirty carats in its cut state. His Majesty is rumoured to have paid the enormous price of a thousand pounds a carat to the Amsterdam merchant of whom he bought it. In colour and water it is the exact counterpart of the famous rose-diamond in the De Beers collection, but it is much larger.
"Its origin is involved in some little mystery. The merchants from whom His Majesty purchased it affirm that the dealer from whom they bought it declared that it was an ancient Eastern gem re-cut in Amsterdam; but experts who have seen it state with equal positiveness that it is a Kimberley stone.
"A rumour reaches us from Diamondopolis that a certain kaffir, who has since disappeared, boasted one night in his cups, just after he had been discharged from the Kimberley Compound, that he had found the biggest rooi-klippe (red stone) that ever was found on the Fields. If this is true, the stone never reached the diamond room at De Beers. It is just possible that some of the I.D.B. fraternity could throw some light on the subsequent wanderings of the 'mooi rooi-klippe' of which the vanished kaffir boasted."
Frank Ridley and Joshua Mosenstein watched the millionaire's changing face narrowly as he read. When they saw that he had finished, Ridley said quietly:
"I can find that kaffir if necessary, Mr. Mosenstein. Of course, the Diamond Law does not hold good in this country, but the laws as to conspiracy and dealing in stolen goods do. If De Beers prosecuted, they would find my evidence worth buying. Jossey here has done his time, and could make a clean breast of it without fear; and so the only one who could be touched would be—"
"Oh, that'll do!" exclaimed the millionaire, in a last burst of despairing anger. "What do you want?"
"I want half a million down, and another half in approved securities—preferably De Beers," replied Ridley; "and as a matter of principle, I must have that cheque in favour of Miss Ransome duly honoured. A millionaire's wife should be above suspicion."
"And I want a million, too," chimed in Jossey, "same way as Frank wants his. And what's more, Mickey Mosenstein," he went on, shaking his finger in his face, "as you disgraced me by sending me to the Breakwater for your crime, you must restore my credit in the eyes of the society that I mean to go into now by making your wife let me marry that pretty little sister Rebecca of hers. I 'ave loved her all my life and she was always fond of me, and she'll have me when I'm a millionaire. I daresay you can spare her a decent marriage portion."
They were big terms, but Mr. Mosenstein did not yet despair of being introduced into London society, and so in the end he yielded. A few weeks later, two new-made South African millionaires, one English and one Hebrew, blossomed forth, each in his congenial sphere of London society. A little later on there were two splendid weddings, and, until these lines appear in print, the mystery of the King's Rose Diamond will remain unsolved.