The Itinerant Diamond Mine
The Itinerant Diamond Mine
BY JAMES BARNES
OOM PAULUS, the baboon, sat on the steps leading to the office of the Von Weiner Diamond Mines Company, Ltd., scratching his ribs. When Oom Paulus occupied the very top step he appeared, generally, in an attitude of straining after freedom. But to-day he meditated.
It was glaring hot out in the sun-swept compound—the sheet-iron houses were like baking-ovens. Against the shimmering sky-line rose the hillocks of gray-blue clay; below, deep in the shadow, lay the great pit traversed by its webs of cable.
The office door was open, and Mr. Wigmore Weedon, the mine manager, sat at a desk smoking Boer tobacco out of a black gourd pipe. His Buleweyo "smasher" hat was pushed on the back of his head, and he was reading and incidentally fumigating a crumpled copy of The Cape Times. In the back office, that was but an anteroom to the huge steel safe, sat his assistant, Patrick Fitzpatrick, mumbling audibly in a rich brogue over a column of figures in the ledger.
Mr. Weedon was short, thick-set, red-faced, and athletic. The gentleman of the double name was the reverse. He was tall, lanky, and apparently anæmic. He had a small head, set on a long, sinewy neck like a ball on a flagstaff, above which his thick, red hair bristled like a myriad-spiked crown. He glanced up as Mr. Weedon lazily hailed from the outer office.
"Hullo!—I say, Fitzpatrick, seen the latest news from Cape Town? Sees there's been some illicit diamond buying going on—thought they'd run all the 's.' out long ago—risky business nowadays. Hard job to dispose of uncut stones."
"Have they caught any wan?" asked the tall clerk, marking the place in the ledger.
"No," replied Mr. Weedon; "but the Kimberley and Dorn Spruit people have suspected a leak for some time—appears to trickle toward Cape Town."
As Mr. Fitzpatrick displayed no further interest, the manager turned to the sporting page and smoked on silently. All at once he looked at his watch and swung himself round in his chair.
"I say!" he called again; "forgot to tell you, Fitz—we're to have a visitor to-day—Sir Archibald Holmes, one of the London directors—silly old Juggins. Hope he won't stay long—going into town this evening?"
"Yes, sor," replied Fitzpatrick; "I'm dinin' with me fri'nd Mr. Mooney." Then, changing the subject, " 'Twas a good sortin' this week—we'll have something to show the gintleman from London."
The ape out on the door-step made a sound—half bark, half whisper. Mr. Weeden glanced out of the window.
"Here he comes—look alive!" he said, knocking out his pipe and stowing away his paper. "Oh, my great aunt! Isn't he a proper figger!"
A tall, military-looking person, in white duck and a pith helmet, was walking across the compound, accompanied by a little man in khaki, wearing a straw hat with a brilliant-colored ribbon.
" 'Social' Benton is with him," continued Mr. Weedon. "He's stuck closer than a poor relation. Buck up there, Fitz. . . . Put your coat on."
Mr. Benton was a commissioner and outside representative of the company, and spent most of his time at Johannesburg, with frequent excursions to Kimberley. His nickname proclaimed his habits.
Paulus, the ape, was watching the approach of the two figures, plucking suspiciously at his hairy chest, as the manager and Fitzpatrick appeared at the door behind him—the lanky one heaving himself into a worn alpaca coat.
"I say, Weedon," shouted Mr. Benton from afar, halting his companion, "call off that bally ape!—cawn'tsher, like a good chap? Took a nip out of my cawf larst week."
"Shouldn't be such a stranger," rejoined the manager, making a motion with his foot.
Paulus leaped down with a jar to the full length of his chain and sat upright, showing his teeth with an ugly snarl.
"Come in, Sir Archibald," went on Mr. Weedon; "come in and get out of the sun. . . . Don't mind that brute—we use him for a watch-dog."
The visitor in the white ducks strode up the steps, and, followed by the gentleman with the gaudy hatband, entered the office. As he seated himself in the proffered chair, Sir Archibald glanced about him. On a shelf from which hung a pair of service revolvers in their holsters was a box of Albert biscuit and a huge conical shell. Sir Archibald screwed a monocle into his face and regarded the latter attentively.
"Ah! relic of war, I suppose—eh?"
"Yes," explained the manager; "one of the hundred-pounders the Boers chucked into Kimberley— landed on its side up near the club and failed to go off. I had an ex-artillery sergeant take it out into the veldt—promised to render it harmless, for ten bob."
The visitor, his curiosity satisfied, gazed out of the door.
"Beastly dull prospect you have here, isn't it? Beastly dull," he said. "Why don't you plant some trees about—eh, what?"
"Wouldn't grow," returned Mr. Weedon. "Nothing grows. Fitzpatrick, here, tried to keep a sprig of shamrock alive in a box—watered it every fifteen minutes, but it wouldn't live. . . . Oh, by the way, Benton, we'll show Sir Archibald the stones. Won't you come this way, sir?"
The group followed him into the back office, stopping before the safe that extended a foot or so into the room; the rest of it, built up with brick, made a sort of buttresslike excrescence at the back of the building, resting on a bed of concrete. The manager, with a twirling of the little brass knob, swung the ponderous doors open. Inside were a number of drawers extending to the ceiling, labelled like a calendar, and dated some seven years in advance. Mr. Weedon pulled out one marked "19ll," and placed it on the edge of the table.
"These stones," he remarked, "will not appear on the market for five years. . . . Some beauties here, Sir Archibald; look at this." Picking out one, he held it in the palm of his hand. Mr. Fitzpatrick shoved the tray farther down the table and stood aloof from the others, who had gathered close to the manager behind the massive steel door.
A distant whistle sounded. Mr. Fitzpatrick fidgeted. It was growing late—would he have time to keep his appointment with Mr. Mooney? He shot a look of dislike at Sir Archibald.
"Aw, wonderful! wonderful! quite wonderful!" the London director was ambling on, twisting the stone between thumb and forefinger. "And to think that this may—er—as it were, some day, shine on the bosom of some fair—"
He never finished the sentence. The reason for which takes us back to the door-step and to the hill ape tugging at his chain.
The plunge Paulus had made to avoid Mr. Weedon's threatening boot had sadly strained the worn buckle of his waist-band—so much so that, when he jumped again to his post of vantage on the top step, it parted, and—father of all apes!—he was free! Not an instant did he pause. The open door enticed him—maybe he had observed the source of supply of the biscuits. At all events, he leaped noiselessly to the narrow shelf and, to maintain his hold, caught the big shell with both his wiry hands. It toppled, and then—nose downward—it plunged to the floor. And that was the reason that Sir Archibald never finished.
Everything went to smithereens. All work stopped in the big pit a mile away; the mules started kicking in the stable sheds; the pickers and sorters began plunging out of doors and windows. When the dust and smoke cleared, there was little left of the private office of the Von Weiner Diamond Mines Company, Ltd.
Three dazed and ragged objects crawled out of the débris—Sir Archibald, Mr. "Social" Benton, and the manager. But what of Fitzpatrick? He had stood outside of the shelter of the steel door, as they remembered it. When found by Piet van Troomp, the first employee to reach the scene, he was reposing beneath the wreck of the splintered desk, the sofa, the partition, the table, the ledgers, and all the chairs, some dozen paces out in the compound.
From every direction came hurrying figures—naked kaffirs, and Dutch and English overseers, excited sorters and frightened foremen. Mr. Weeden was the first one to regain his senses. How the thing had happened no one could explain. Of course it was the shell! But Oom Paulus' connection with the mystery is given now for the first time. When they had, as it were, called the roll and taken stock, it was found that Mr. "Social" Benton was bruised and, to all purposes, stone-deaf; Sir Archibald had a few contusions, a ruined suit of white duck, and a handsome repeating watch that would repeat no more. But poor Patrick Fitzpatrick! There is no use in attempting to describe his appearance—the wonder of the thing was that he was alive and breathing. As to the diamonds—the output for the year 19ll was simply non est, nor apparently in futurum esse. Many little crystals were picked up immediately, or at scattered intervals for weeks after. But we anticipate.
When Mr. Fitzpatrick came to himself, he resembled nothing so much as a very long baby with a red mustache, wrapped in swaddling-clothes. He was in the bottom of an extemporized ambulance, being drawn into town by a pair of slowly plodding mules. That he could look out of both eyes was a positive wonder, for he was as full of punctures as a gun-maker's pattern. The first sign that he made of returning life showed an intense irritability, not only of body, but of mind. He let loose a string of Hibernian semi-profanity that startled the mules into a gallop and almost unseated the young Boer doctor on the tail-board. Having relieved his mind, Mr. Fitzpatrick loudly demanded stimulant. The young doctor was overcome. Here was a man, but a few minutes since apparently in extremis, who was now displaying a strength of body and purpose that was beyond his experience. But he was to be still more surprised: before they had fairly entered the outskirts of the town, Mr. Fitzpatrick was sitting up and declaring his firm dislike to hospitals, with a special reference to Dutchmen as doctors. Despite his yards of bandaging, he was meditating sliding over the tail-board of the wagon. This idea crystallized into a firm determination, and he succeeded, swaddling-clothes and all, in getting out of the wagon at the corner of Schriener Street, immediately in front of the cottage of his friend Mr. Mooney—which brings us to the real beginning of this remarkable story.
Mr. Michael Mooney was a socialist, agnostic, shoemaker, and member of the Clan-na-Gael, and he had once made utterance that nothing ever surprised him. However, on this occasion he was, to say the least, upset, for, chair and all, he went over backward as his friend Patrick Fitzpatrick burst on his vision, for all the world like the winner of a sack-race, as he bobbed, hopped, and cannoned through the door, the doctor clamoring after him like a loser claiming a foul.
"For the love of Saint Constantine!" cried Mr. Mooney, who, despite his agnosticism, was particular as to his invocations, "Fitz, Fitz, what ails you?" He was still feet upward on the floor.
But his friend did not stop to reply, his multitudinous bandages were slipping; and at that moment he descried Mrs. Mooney's astounded countenance looking in from the kitchen. With a howl he jumped into the bedroom and plunged, head foremost, through the fly-screen on to the bed.
Mr. Mooney, rubbing the back of his head, had followed. "For the love of—"
"Shut the dure!" yelled Mr. Fitzpatrick. "Shut the dure—don't let them get at me!"
"But what in the name of—shure, pwhat's the—"
"Shut the dure! Shlip the bohlt!"
This time Mr. Mooney mechanically obeyed, catching the doctor on the end of an obtruding elbow.
"And now," said he, looking at the writhing figure before him, "for the love of Hivin, pwhat's the matther? You're a shpectacle—shure, you're a shpectacle!"
"Don't let thim get at me! Kape thim away—they'll be afther robbin' and murtherin' me!"
"And fur the tinth toime, I ask, pwhat's the matther with ye?" Mr. Mooney's anger was besting his curiosity.
"Whist!" blurted Mr. Fitzpatrick, stifling his groanings, "I'm full av diamonds! Call Doctor O'Fallon; but don't let thim hoshpital people get their hands on me."
Then, with a beseeching look in his eyes, he fainted dead away in the bed.
It was three weeks later and he was still there.
Now, it has been noticed in scientific circles that men's dispositions are often changed to diametrical opposites as the result of shock, wound, or accident. Mr. Patrick Fitzpatrick had developed into a querulous, irritable, exacting, self-opinionated convalescent. His numberless incisions, punctures, scratches, and shot-holes were healing nicely, but he was obsessed with a fear of his future—and in this he received no little encouragement.
"Shure, Fitz," observed Mr. Mooney one evening, as he sat by the bedside, "you're a human p'int of the law in regard to which there is no pricedint; but they do be tellin' that they'll replivin ye."
"Oh, don't say it!" groaned the man on the bed. "Don't let thim get hold of me."
"Shure, if they attimpt that," returned Mr. Mooney, grinning fiercely from the depths of his spiked red beard, "we'll sue thim for damagis! Phwat right have they got to replivin ye? They blow ye forty feet tro' the side of a house, with injuries to your hilth and disposishun, fill ye full of pibbles, and thin want to hold ye for gettin' in th' way o' a panful o' diamonds that would have had no value for five years anyhow." Mr. Mooney mused. "I've an idea! Will ye listen?" he held out, suddenly.
"Phwat is it? Not the hoshpital. Niver that! I'd rather go to th' poor-house, or to work on th' railway."
"Ye niver nade to worhk agin as long as ye live, Fitz."
"And phwat 'll I do? Beg?"
"Shtarve—is it- May the—"
"Nor shtarve at all—"
"Be exhibitin' mesilf like an orange-outange or a wild man from Paylang? No! I'll niver—"
"Hold on, now, Patrick—yure fortune's made, me biy—if—"
"You're schreamin' mad," interrupted Mr. Fitzpatrick, with a groan as he turned over in his bed.
"If you'll only let me tell you how," continued Mr. Mooney, paying no attention.
"G-'wan, thin—phwat is ut?"
"If ye l'ave me on the ground floor, I'll syndicate ye, sell the shares, and we'll live on the income." Mooney lowered his voice to a conspirator's whisper. "Soon as you're able, we'll go to London and float the Fitzpatrick Itinerant Diamond Mine Company, total value fifty thousand pounds, ten thousand shares, at five pounds a share." Mr. Mooney was warming. "Full amount to be paid"—he paused confidingly—"afther—"
"Afther phwat?" queried Mr. Fitzpatrick.
"Afther yure demise, me biy! You can have a good toime pwhile you're living 'for you'll be a long toime dead'—pwhich is an old wan. . . . Ye l'ave it all to me! Ye'll be the mine, I'll be the prisident, priss agint, board o' directors, and gineral manager. We'll let Doctor O'Fallon in as medical adviser and minority holder; dhraw a conthract—bindin' to all parties—and go ahead with the projec'! Our fortune's made, me biy. . . . Whish! take care! Here comes Weedon outside. . . . It's dyin' ye'd better be doin'."
Now, to tell the truth, the Von Weiner Diamond Mines Company, Ltd., had no more idea of attempting to replevin any valuables that might be still in their former employee's possession than they had of filling in their big ditch. That the once faithful Fitzpatrick was supposed to be possessed of the major part of a year's output would have been news to them. But from the Irish doctor's account he was in a critical state of health, suffering from complications of the results of the accident—any one of which might bring him to an untimely end.
Mr. Weedon's visit was short. The conversation was limited to a few inquiries that elicited whispered replies. But as the manager left, Mr. Mooney led him aside and mentioned casually that, if Mr. Fitzpatrick displayed strength enough, he intended taking him to London, where his shattered system could be submitted to the care of some specialist in whom Doctor O'Fallon expressed great confidence.
The invalid's recovery was so rapid, that within a week he was able to be moved to Cape Town, where, with his promoter, manager, and press agent, he boarded the Pembroke Castle for Southampton. The medical adviser and minority holder was to follow a week later on the mail-steamer Saxon.
Doctor O'Fallon's sudden and unexplained departure excited neither grief nor comment, although, odd to relate, Mr. "Social" Benton and Piet van Troomp, the Boer overseer, saw him off on the Union Castle Line dock at Cape Town Bay.
On the second day out Mr. Mooney had discovered that controlling a walking diamond mine and ostensibly managing a shoe shop were two different matters. The Mine displayed a complaining irritability.
"You must stop that, Fitz," objected Mr. Mooney on one occasion, as they sat in a corner of the smoke-room, "or the habit will grow on ye. Shure, there was a man in the county where I come from who was shot three times with a Seattle gun, and never a pennyweight of lead did they take from him. He got used to it and would have lived to a foine old age, av it hadn't been for the fact that wan day, on a visit to friends on Bantry Bay, he was timpted to go for a schwim. I don't know whither it was hid furst or fate furst he wint down, but he sank to the bottom before he could say 'Huroo.' Now, diamonds are less hivy, and more to be proud of, and ye can carry and enjoy thim for thurty years to come."
"There's siveril that worrit me," groaned Mr. Fitzpatrick, pointing to different portions of his anatomy.
"An' iviry wan that worrits ye is maybe worth one thousand pounds, ye philanderer! Whin we git to London, the prisident, authorized by the board o' directors, is goin' to have ye prospicted and surveyed; and shure, whin ye have that done, ye'll be in love with yoursilf! Ye'll shine like the sky on a starry night, and we'll have a map made of ye that will go with the prosphectus. L'ave the surface worhk alone, and pin your faith to the deep levels."
All this cheering talk had little effect on Fitzpatrick, whose discomfort palpably and visibly increased. Before the voyage was half over Mr. Mooney perceived that, if he wished to make a success as a promoter, he must induce the Mine to abstain from a tendency to indulge in spirits until after it had been properly syndicated and the shares sold, or disposed of. Then, for all Mr. Mooney cared, it might begin to fill up its galleries. The treatment prescribed by the ship's doctor kept Fitzpatrick in his stateroom until Mr. Mooney had landed him at a little hotel in Jermyn Street, London. There the board of directors drew up a resolution that for two weeks the Mine would conduct itself as a sober and industrious corporation should, and this was signed and duly recorded on the minutes.
In a few days Doctor O'Fallon arrived, and between him and Mr. Mooney there was laid a plan of campaign. A legal opinion, given by a well-known solicitor, stated that no one could forcibly dispossess the Mine of its possessions during its lifetime, and that, according to precedent, it had a right to will what should become of it after it had lost all interest in the riches that are had upon earth. As to the valuable property itself, under Doctor O'Fallon's orders, it had taken to rubber-tipped sticks and to going about in goloshes.
It came at last! A sub rosa inquiry from Mr. Isaac Solomon, a diamond broker to whom Mr. Mooney had secured an introduction, and a meeting was arranged at the hotel. A clear title to the uncut stones being one of the hampering necessities of the business—in fact, a sine qua non—Mr. Solomon, who did not live up to the reputation of his name, became excited at the lawyer's decision and enthusiastic on the doctor's report. It was promised that further proofs of the company's assertions would be produced, and that within a short time conclusive evidence of the Mine's total value would be forthcoming.
And this was on the very day the pledge was up, and from signs and portents the valuable property was as thirsty as a sand-bank in the sun.
Mr. Mooney, by all rights, should have been on the lookout for strange departures. At exactly five minutes past five in the afternoon the Mine escaped from his observation. Having sought hopefully but fruitlessly at the bar, the president bethought himself of the hotel reading-room, and there he found the rubber-tipped walking-sticks and the huge goloshes—but Fitzpatrick was gone!
Now, London is a large place in which to search for any wandering body whose orbit may be eccentric. To the president's accurate knowledge Mr. Fitzpatrick, when he vanished, possessed only the sum of five shillings, ninepence. This would not carry him very far, so Mr. Mooney was doing his best to encourage an optimistic view of affairs, when something happened that completely changed every plan for the future.
The reading-room of this particular Jermyn Street hotel was up one little flight of stairs, down another—at the end of a narrow hallway—past the entrance of the coal cellar, once to the right, then to the left—and there you were! It was called a "reading-room," because it contained four advertising blotters of a chain of railway hotels, a highly colored lithograph of a view in the Trossachs, and occasionally a discarded journal left by some wandering guest and overlooked by the man who lit the fires. For the last twenty-four hours it had been the office and board-room of the Fitzpatrick Itinerant Diamond Mine Company, by the right of the dominant domain.
The president and board of directors had held a prolonged session ever since the discovery of the Mine's disappearance. They had consulted themselves out of all ideas the night previous, and since morning had insulted each other by a complete and exhausted silence. The rain plashed against the murky windows that overlooked the alleyway at the rear of the building, and the silence was broken only by the stertorous breathing of Mr. Mooney, and the pungent sizzling of a block of soft coal in the open grate.
Doctor O'Fallon had read the blotters through from cover to cover and now sat twirling his thumbs, until he could stand it no longer—his nerves demanded movement. Just as he rose softly in order not to disturb the sleeper, he heard a voice monotonously calling from a distance: "Mr. Michael Mooney! Mr. Michael Mooney!" and as the sound penetrated to the reading-room the president and board of directors awoke with a start.
In the doorway stood the hotel page-boy. "Morning pipers for Mr. Mooney," he announced.
Doctor O'Fallon took one rain-dampened sheet and handed the other to his companion, who was stumping toward him on a slumber-deadened leg.
All misunderstandings between the medical man and the president suddenly vanished; with a gasp Mr. Mooney fell into the doctor's arms.
"Listen to this!" he faltered, hoarsely. "Saint Ignatius! It accounts for Fitzpatrick!"
Doctor O'Fallon looked over his shoulder and, omitting the brogue, they began reading together the following in croaking undertones:
"Illicit Diamond Buyers at Work Again. By despatch from Cape Town.—That the 'I. D. Bs.' have not all passed out of existence is shown by reports from up-country. Rumors have been rife for some time that stones were being smuggled out of the mines. But now the Von Weiner diamond fields seem to be the source of operations. It is said that a deep-laid plot has been discovered, and that a Boer overseer named Von Troomp has been arrested—"
"Oh, Saint Inez! listen to that!" interpolated Mr. Mooney.
"Also that two of the mine's employees much higher in station, whose names are withheld, have been found to be among the leaders. Arrests are expected to follow shortly in London."
The deep-breathing silence that followed was broken at last by the presiding officer.
"Control yursilf, O'Fallon. Let's think what we'd better be doin'," he said, in a futile effort to calm his own desire for self-obliteration.
"Takin' to our heels and crossin' the ocean," replied the medical adviser; "we're swamped entirely, high and dry."
"The police have Fitzpatrick," commented Mooney, "that's shure!"
"And phwat could he tell thim?" blurted the doctor. "It's Benton and the Dutch overseer I'm afraid of. . . . Perhaps we're watched now!"
"The cellar!" suggested Mr. Mooney, remembering the open stairway, and with that the president and board of directors caught the medical adviser by the coat sleeve and rushed from the room.
A moment later they emerged from the rear entrance into the alley and vanished around the corner. Unknown to themselves, this was exactly the method and course that had been pursued by Patrick Fitzpatrick in his own mysterious disappearance of the day before.
The Itinerant Mine, being of a free and independent nature, had indulged a growing resentment at being treated as a mere asset, and, moreover, he had not been in accord with the company's plans. Why should they deem it necessary for him to absent himself at the meeting with Mr. Solomon? Why was it necessary for him to remain in bed and pretend to be at death's door? Why should they wish to rent a lonely little place down in the- New Forest? He felt a slow submergence of his personality and longed to express his individuality in his own way.
The first thing he did, after assuring himself that he had given Mr. Mooney the slip, was to enter the door of an enticing public house. But the odors of the place were repugnant to his nostrils; the fumes positively disgusted him! Mr. Fitzpatrick set to one side the steaming beverage he had ordered, and called for something more cooling. It was with difficulty he could swallow the merest sip.
What had happened? Was he going to be reformed against his own will and inclination? He gazed at himself in the mirror; it was as if he had been touched by a wand of the supernatural!
"I'm niver goin' to take another dhrink," he declared, with fervor. "Niver on this earth."
Paying his bill, which took all but one shilling of his visible possessions, Mr. Fitzpatrick sauntered out into the Strand. In the confusion of the sudden discovery of his enforced reformation he was dazed. Maybe the fact that he faced a very glaring incandescent light added to his temporary blindness, but he walked straight into a hansom cab—not standing still, mind you, but being driven as only a London cabby can drive under the promise of a double fare.
When he was dragged to the sidewalk one of the very first persons to bend over him was a thick-set, red-faced young man of colonial appearance who had happened to be passing by. His surprise on brushing the mud from Mr. Fitzpatrick's countenance was manifested by long-drawn gasps that changed to a grin of elation.
"Is the gentleman a friend of yours?" asked an inquisitive onlooker, one of a score who were trying to shut off all air and clamoring inquiries and suggestions.
"Yes," responded the red-faced young man; "can't some of you call a policeman?"
" 'Ere 'e comes now," cried some one from the outskirts of the crowd. A bustling constable appeared, notebook in hand, fumbling breathlessly for his pencil.
The red-faced one took command of the situation. A few whispered sentences in the constable's ear and the latter obeyed his every suggestion, the result being that the unconscious victim was soon ensconced in one of those hand-barrow ambulances provided by the London police, and was on his way to the hospital.
It was a dark and dingy day, when the smoky yellow atmosphere outside penetrated into the great white wards, that the Itinerant Mine stirred his cramped length and looked around him with comprehensive eyes. He did not ask where he was, he reasoned it out for himself, the place of all places he hated most!
"Shure," said he aloud, but somewhat weakly, "I'm in the hoshpital at lasht—I am," and he repeated it.
"Quite right," said a voice from the foot of the bed. "Now lie still like a good man—we're taking care of you."
It was a tall nurse, with a pleasant voice. She took the patient's temperature and counted his pulse, which, for the moment, stilled him.
"Will ye tell me wan thing," said Fitzpatrick, "an' that is, whin will I be afther gettin' out, ma'am?"
"In good time," replied the nurse, kindly, forming an opinion that the accusation against her patient could not be of a very heinous character. "All in good time. . . . There are several people here asking for you."
Mr. Fitzpatrick closed his eyes in an effort of concentration, and when he opened them there was Mr. Wigmore Weedon standing beside him. Whether the exclamation that fell from Fitzpatrick's lips was one of consternation or joy it was hard to determine.
"How are you, Patrick?" said Mr. Weedon. "You weren't expecting to see me, eh? were you?" He spoke kindly, but with a note of hidden and gloating triumph, tempered with reproach.
"I was not," came the response, faintly. "But I shuppose—and how did ye find me?" He stretched out his hand, which Mr. Weedon took with some embarrassment as the prisoner-patient continued: "I'm that glad to see you, sor—an' if ye'll l'ave me to explain—" He paused, and then resumed: "Whist! Listen! Do you know how I got them?"
"How you got—"
"How I got the diamonds—how I came possessed av thim? But don't worry, Mr. Weedon, ivery wan will be yours to resthore to the company."
"Patrick," said the manager, "where are they?"
"I have thim, sor, ivery wan—that is—"
"How many—of what value?"
"I can't say—but Mooney and the doctor held thim at fifty thousand pounds. Av ye give me your little finger—and priss gintly—"
"Fifty thousand pounds!" Mr. Weedon gasped. The missing stones were not worth one-tenth that sum.
"There's wan here," went on the Human Mine, running his hands over the coverlet, "that's always givin' me trouble—and there's siveral more—"
"No, no—where are the ones you took, they took—Benton and Von Troomp gathered up the day of the explosion, and that Mooney and O'Fallon carried away?"
"That I took! Niver a wan did I touch. ... It was this way: they formed the company to dishpose of the sthones—all legal like, I was told. But what Benton or Von Troomp had to do with ut, I dinno—I niver heard mention av thim in th' affair at all."
"But where are Mooney and O'Fallon?" Mr. Weedon asked the question with affected airiness.
"I nayther know nor care."
"How did you come to get mixed up with them? What was your position? And—"
"I resigned me position entoirely."
"Yes, but what was it?"
"Th' mine, I tell ye."
"That doesn't explain anything—what do you mean?"
"I was the mine—they were the promoters. But I belong to you now, and all the sthones in me possession—thim that was blown into me in the accident."
A light began to dawn on Mr. Weedon, but for the moment he could think of nothing to say.
"There's wan here, an' wan there," the weak voice continued, plaintively. " The docthors will be afther gettin' thim for ye. But you'd betther take care that they don't be helpin' thimsilves."
"Patrick," put in Mr. Weedon at last, "you've overtaxed yourself—don't talk any more." As he spoke his face was redder than ever, and, rising, he tiptoed hastily away.
A few minutes later he was in consultation with the resident surgeon. The latter was of the immediate opinion that the aid of the X-ray should be called in before determining upon any plan of prospecting, and on being assured that it was painless, the patient agreed to submit to the process. But when all was ready for the photographic survey, the Mine's courage began to dwindle. When he was wheeled into the laboratory and saw the preparations that had been made—the big bulbs, the electric connections, the ominous glass table, and all of it—he restrained with difficulty the temptation to make a dash for the stairway.
It was plainly shown that Mr. Fitzpatrick was the possessor of a minor portion of a paper of tin tacks, some sections of a watch chain, five or six screws of assorted sizes, and other objects; but nothing that could be affirmed to be a diamond had left any trace of its existence.
The Itinerant Mine was humbled and humiliated beyond words to express. His importance had vanished. He was a fraud, a delusion, and a snare.
It was while he was in this state of depression that news came from Cape Town that "Social" Benton had turned King's evidence. The Von Weiner Diamond Mine Company, Ltd., owed their former employee a humble and substantial apology. Mr. Wigmore Weedon attempted to rally him to a state of hope. As soon as he could leave the hospital and was able to make the voyage, his old position would be found open to him.
It was with a perfunctory politeness that Patrick Fitzpatrick thanked him.
"But d'ye think," said he, "that the photygraps could be mistaken?"
Mr. Weedon shook his head. "I haven't the least idea in the world that O'Fallon or Mooney thought you had a diamond to your skin, Patrick," he concluded. "It was a mad chance to try to get a title to the stones they had stolen."
"And to think av that," said the ex-Mine, slowly—"to think av that! The dirty I. D. Bs.!"