A Dash from Diamond City, by George Manville Fenn.
The setting is South Africa, during the Boer war. Two young men are sent from Mafeking with important despatches which they have to get back to the General at Kimberley, travelling through Boer-occupied country, and meeting with many mishaps. Just before they finally arrive they are both severely wounded, and are unconscious for a fortnight. Luckily the despatches, which had been sewn into a jacket, now filthy and blood-stained, are still to be found, though there had been the idea that the jacket would most probably have been thrown away, as it wasn't at first anywhere to be found.
There are other threads in the story, for instance there's one about illicit-diamond-dealing, and of course we meet Boers and Kaffirs, as well as English people.
There is the usual well-written sequence of tense moments we get from this author. A good read, and a nice audiobook if you prefer that. NH
A DASH FROM DIAMOND CITY, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
THREE WHITE ONES.
Tick, tap, tap—tap, ticker—ticker—tapper—tapper; tick—teck, tacker—tap went a typewriting machine, and scratch—scratch went two pens, in one of the minor offices connected with that vast wealth-producing industry known as the De Beers Diamond-Mines, where, seated at desk and table, three young men were hard at work, one manipulating the typewriter, one writing a letter, and the third making entries in a fat leather-covered book with broad bands and a big letter distinguishing it upon the back.
The words: "minor office in a diamond-mine," naturally suggest wealth, Turkey carpets, french-polished furniture, and plate-glass; but the office in question was an example of simplicity, for its walls were mud and its roof corrugated-iron, while the roughness of the interior was only slightly softened down by a lining of what a carpenter calls matchboarding. In spite of its vast wealth, Kimberley is still little better than a moving camp, and holds out few prospects of ever becoming a magnificent town.
The interior of that newly-created office, allowing for the tapping of the typewriter and the scratching of the pens, was very quiet; but outside there was the strange sound produced by the mingling of voices with trampling feet and the distant whirr and rattle of machinery, till a clock began striking, followed by the clangour of a bell, and then all was changed.
"Time!" shouted the manipulator of the typewriter, springing from his stool to stretch his wiry six feet of length, at the same time spoiling a keen, manly face by distorting it with a yawn. The clerk who had been bending over the thick account-book ceased making entries, applied the blotting-paper, and closed the book with a bang, to turn round and display a pink-and-white, fat, smooth face, disfigured by nearly white eyebrows and lashes and curly whitey-brown hair. As he stood up he yawned and wrinkled his fat face a good deal; but the wrinkles died down into a smile which gave him a meek and mild appearance, the said smile being doubled directly after by his taking a little round shaving-glass out of his desk, propping it up by means of a contrivance behind, and then, by the help of a pocket-comb, proceeding to rearrange his hair, which, from the resistance offered, appeared to be full of knots and kinks.
The last to leave his desk was a manly-looking young fellow who appeared to be twenty, but who possessed documentary evidence that he was only eighteen. He neither stretched nor yawned, but drew himself up with a sigh of relief, and, after carefully locking up the letters he had written, he turned to the typist.
"Going out, Ingleborough?" he said.
"Yes; I shan't be long. I must go on to the compound. Back in—"
"Five minutes?" dashed in his questioner.
"No; that I shan't," said the young man smartly; "but I will not exceed fifteen. Get out my rifle and belts, West."
"All right," was the reply, and as the door closed the young clerk crossed to a plain deal cupboard in the corner of the office, threw open the broad door, and revealed an arms-rack with some twenty of the newest-pattern rifles standing ready for use, and bayonets and bandoliers to match each breech-loading piece.
A peculiarly innocent baby-like look came over his companion's face as he opened his desk and took out a little flat oblong mahogany case and said softly:
"Going to play at soldiers again? Only to think of Oliver West, Esquire, learning to shoulder arms and right-about face when a drill-sergeant barks at him."
"Look here, Anson," cried the young fellow warmly; "is that meant for a sneer?"
"Me sneer?" protested the plump-looking cherubic clerk. "Oh dear, no! I never indulge in sneers, and I never quarrel, and I never fight."
"Humph!" ejaculated the rifle-bearer.
"I only think it's all braggadocio nonsense for a lot of fellows to go wasting time drilling and volunteering when they might acquire such an accomplishment as this."
As the speaker addressed his warlike companion he tapped the lid of his case, opened it, and revealed three joints of a flute lying snugly in purple-velvet fittings, and, taking them out, he proceeded to lick the ends all round in a tomcat sort of way, and screwed them together, evidently with a great deal of satisfaction to himself, for he smiled softly.
"Bah! It's a deal more creditable to be prepared to defend the place against the Boers. Better join us, Anson."
"Me? No, thank you, unless you start a band and make me bandmaster."
"We shall want no music," said West, laughing. "The Boers will give us plenty of that with their guns."
"Nonsense! It's all fudge," said the flautist, smiling. "There'll be no fighting, and even if there were I'm not going to shoulder a rifle. I should be afraid to let it off."
"You?" cried West, staring into the smooth, plump face. "Why, you once told me you were a first-rate shot."
"Did I? Well, it was only my fun," said the clerk, placing his flute to his lips and beginning to run dumb scales up and down, skilfully enough as to the fingering, but he did not produce a sound.
"I say, don't you begin to blow!" cried West, looking rather contemptuously at the musician and forcing himself to restrain a laugh at the grotesque round face with the eyes screwed-up into narrow slits.
"Oh, no one will come here now," was the reply. "I get so little practice. I shall blow gently." Directly afterwards he began to run up and down, playing through some exercise with which he was familiar extremely softly; and then by way of a change he began what is technically known as "double-tonguing."
This was too much for Oliver West. He had stood rubbing first one rifle and then the other with a slightly-oiled rag to get rid of specks of rust or dust, every now and then stealing a glance at the absurdly screwed-up face, feeling the while that a good hearty laugh would do him good, but determined to maintain his composure so as not to hurt the performer's feelings. But the double-tonguing was too much.
Tootle-too, tootle-too, tootle, tootle-too went the performer, running up the gamut till he reached the octave and was about to run down again, but he stopped short, lowered his instrument, and turned from a warm pink to a deep purply crimson, for West suddenly burst out into a half-hysterical roar of laughter, one which he vainly strove to check.
"I—I—I—I beg your pardon," he cried at last.
"Thank you," snorted out Anson; "but I don't see anything to laugh at."
"I couldn't help it, Anson. You did look so—so comic. Such a face!"
"Did I?" cried the musician angrily. "Such a face, indeed! You should see your own. Your grin looked idiotic: half-way between a bushman and a baboon."
"Thank you," said West, calming down at once, and feeling nettled in turn.
"Oh, you're quite welcome," said Anson sarcastically. "I have heard about casting pearls before swine; but I never saw the truth of the saying before."
"Thank you again," said West, frowning. "But if I were you I would not waste any more of my pearls in such company."
"I do not mean to," said Anson, with his eyes glittering.
He got no farther, though he was prepared to say something crushing, for the door was flung open and their fellow-clerk came back quickly.
"Hullo!" he cried, "flute and hautboy. I say, Sim, put that thing away and don't bring it here, or I shall have an accident with it some day. You ought to have stopped him, Noll. But come out, both of you. There's some fun in the compound. They're going to thoroughly search half-a-dozen Kaffirs, and I thought you'd like to see."
"Been stealing diamonds?" cried Anson excitedly.
"Suspected," replied Ingleborough.
"I'll come too," said Anson, and he began to rapidly unscrew his flute, but so hurriedly that in place of separating the top joint from the next he pulled it open at the tuning-slide, changed colour, and swung himself round so as to turn his back to his companions, keeping in that position till his instrument was properly separated and replaced in its case, whose lid he closed, and then turned the key.
"I'm ready," he cried, facing round and buttoning his jacket over the little mahogany case.
"Do you take that shepherd's pipe to bed with you?" said Ingleborough scornfully.
"Generally," replied the fat-looking clerk innocently. "You see, it's so nice when one wakes early, and I have learned to blow so softly now that I can often get an hour's practice before I have my morning's bath."
"How delightful for the other boarders! You're at Dick Tomlin's house, aren't you?"
"Yes," said Anson.
"Have they any room for another boarder, Sim?"
"I—I really don't know, but I'll ask, if you like, this evening."
"No, no; don't, please," cried Ingleborough. "Perhaps it might be too strong for me. I ought to go through a course of bagpipes first."
Anson had fastened two buttons of his jacket so as to hold the flute-case from slipping, and now he fastened another button, smiling pleasantly the while.
"That's meant for a joke," he said.
"Quite right," cried Ingleborough abruptly. "Come along."
He stepped out, closely followed by West, and Anson called after them: "With you directly," as the door swung to.
"Don't do that again," whispered West.
"Say anything to chaff old Anson. Did you see how he behaved?"
"I saw him smile like a Chinese mandarin ornament. That's all."
"I saw him smile and look smooth; but he can't bear a joke. His hands were all of a tremble as he buttoned up his jacket, and there was a peculiar look in his eye. It's not good policy to make enemies."
"Nonsense! He's a poor slack-baked animal. I wonder they ever had him here."
West glanced back; but Anson had not yet left the office.
"Relative of one of the directors," said West quickly; "and I've noticed several things lately to make me think he does not like us."
"Oh, if you come to that," said Ingleborough, "so have I. That's quite natural, for we don't like him. One can't; he's so smooth and soft. But why doesn't he come? I'll just give him a minute after we get up to the compound gate, and if he is not there then he'll have to stay outside."
"Here he comes," cried West, and the next minute their fellow-clerk joined them, just as they got up to a gate in the high fence of the enclosure where the Kaffir workers about the diamond-mines were kept to all intents prisoners till they had served the time for which they had engaged.
"Haven't kept you two waiting, have I?" said Anson, with a pleasant smile directed at both.
"No, no, all right," replied West, and directly after they were admitted to the compound, just in time to find that half-a-dozen of the stalwart Kaffir workers were standing perfectly nude awaiting the examination about to be made by some of the officers—an examination which they seemed to look upon as a joke, for they laughed and chatted together.
"Looking as innocent as old Anson, only not so white," whispered Ingleborough. "But we shall see."
The examination of the men was not a pleasant duty, but it was carried out in the most matter-of-fact way by a couple of experienced white men, who began at once.
"Now, you," cried the one who seemed to be the head; "this way."
The big black spoken to stepped forward at once, smiling good-temperedly, and stopped by a heavy wooden stool, upon which he planted a foot, and in obedience to orders separated his toes in turn to show that he had no diamonds hidden between them. Then he was seized by the searchers, the first holding the black's head on one side while his companion took hold of the lobe of the right ear and twisted it about, ending by thrusting in a small wooden scoop and afterwards turning it to act as a sound.
"Don't seem to have a diamond in there," said Anson, smiling and looking very innocent, but deeply interested. "Turn him over."
But the searchers had not waited for Anson's words, and were already turning the black's head over, the man yielding himself to every push and thrust, smiling good-humouredly the while, though the treatment was decidedly rough.
"Nothing in the other ear," said Anson, smiling at West. "Shouldn't wonder if he's got ever so many tucked in his cheeks, like a monkey pouches nuts."
This time it seemed as if the same idea had struck the searchers, for the black was ordered to open his mouth, and a big coarse finger was thrust in, and the interior of the mouth was carefully explored, without result.
"Here, I know," whispered Anson, rubbing his hands together. "Oh, the artfulness of the beggar!"
"Where are they, then, old Double-cunning?" cried Ingleborough contemptuously.
"Stuck with gum in amongst his woolly hair—I say, isn't it fun?"
"Rather disgusting," replied West. "I shouldn't like the job."
"Oh, I don't know," said Anson; "it sets me thinking, and it's interesting. Hah! I was right."
He stood rubbing his hands together in his childish enjoyment, while one of the searchers carefully passed his hands all over the black's head, but found no small diamonds tangled up amongst the curly little knots of hair.
"Well, I did think he'd got some there," continued Anson.—"Oh, of course! One might have guessed it before."
This was upon the black's head being forced back a trifle, while a pinch of snuff was blown through a pea-shooter right into the prisoner's nose, making him sneeze violently.
But still no diamonds made their appearance, and after a little further search the man was set at liberty, giving place to another supposed culprit.
This man came up smiling and confident, opening his mouth wide, to display its state of innocency and a magnificent set of teeth at the same time.
"Take care! he bites," said Ingleborough banteringly; and Anson, who had pressed to the front, started back in horror, to be greeted with a burst of laughter.
"How fond you are of a joke!" he cried, smoothing his face.
At the same moment one of the searchers sent a puff of snuff in the black's face, with the result that he was seized with a violent burst of coughing and sneezing.
"Two—three—four!" cried Anson excitedly, and, springing forward, he picked up three of the diamonds ejected by the black, who, after a little further search, yielded up a couple of very small stones from one ear, and was marched off for punishment.
"I do like this!" said Anson, rubbing his hands together. "What brutes of thieves they are!"
"Yes, you ought to take to searching," said West, smiling. "You'd make a capital detective."
"Think so?" said the young man, growing serious directly. "You're not chaffing me, are you?"
"Chaffing? Not at all! I mean it," replied West.
"Well, do you know," said Anson, in a confidential way, "I don't think I should make a bad one. I know I should like it better than the work I do now. But look what a big strong fellow this one is. I wonder whether he has any."
"Half-a-dozen, I daresay," said West, looking curiously at another stalwart black, who came forward slowly and unwillingly to take the place of the second man, set aside for punishment.
"N-n-no," said Anson thoughtfully. "I don't think this one has any."
"Why?" asked West.
"I can't say," replied Anson dreamily. "I only know that I don't think he has any." And, as it happened, the most rigid examination failed to discover any of the gems. But, all the same, the culprit was set aside for punishment, two of the watchers present at the examination declaring that they had seen him put his hand to his mouth and swallow something.
The next man, upon being summoned to the stool, came up boldly and displayed a child-like eagerness to prove his innocence, opening his mouth widely and passing his fore-fingers round between gums and cheeks, thrusting his little fingers into his ears, and then bending down and going through the motion of one washing his head.
But he did not wash any gems out of his shock of little nubbly curls.
"No got no dymons, boss," he cried. "Me go now, boss?"
"No," said the chief searcher sharply. "Clap that foot of yours upon the stool."
The black stared at him hard and shook his head.
"Do you hear?" cried the searcher. "Clap that right foot upon the stool."
The black stared at him vacantly, shook his head again, and turned to the second searcher, who translated the order into the man's own tongue.
At this the black smiled and nodded. Then, turning to the chief searcher, he placed his bare left foot upon the stool.
"No, no: the other," cried the stern official, pointing to the right foot, and the order was emphasised by his assistant.
Once more the black looked intelligent, placed both his feet upon the ground, changed them several times by shuffling them about, and once more placed his left foot upon the stool.
Anson chuckled with delight, and turned to West.
But this act on the part of the black was too much for the chief searcher's composure.
"Up with the black scoundrel's foot!" he roared, and his assistant seized the black's ankle, and gave it such a vigorous hoist that the man's equilibrium was upset, so that, though the foot was planted firmly on the stool, he fell over backwards, leaving his support upon the stool, where it was probed by the searchers, who were not at all surprised to find a large stone hidden between the little and the next toe.
"There's a blackguard!" cried Anson excitedly, turning to his companions. "He ought to be well flogged, and no mistake. Well, I never!"
The last words were uttered in disgust at the man's behaviour, for he burst into a hearty laugh as if thoroughly enjoying the discovery, professing at the same time to be utterly astonished.
"How come there?" he cried. "'Tick 'tween um toe—so."
He illustrated "so" by stamping his foot down over and over again and raising it up, the last time cleverly picking an ordinary pebble from the ground with his toes, and holding it out as easily as if he had used his fingers and thumb.
But his action had no effect upon those around, who were well used to the Kaffirs' tricks, and received everything with the grimmest of looks as they passed their prisoner along for punishment, and finally ordered forward the last man. This prisoner took West's attention from the first, for he was a well-built, keenly intelligent-looking fellow, who seemed quite awake to his position and behaved throughout with a calm air of conscious innocence.
It struck West, too, that the Kaffir kept on gazing very hard at Anson, as if attracted by his gently-smiling, innocent-looking face, and as if he were silently pleading to the most amiable-looking personage of the party to intercede for him and save him from punishment.
Anson, however, did not appear to notice the man's eager looks, being too much interested in the search for illicitly-acquired stones, and eagerly watching every phase of the proceedings, his eyes sparkling and cheeks flushed with pink at every fresh discovery, while he rubbed his hands and looked from one to the other with all the pleasure of some big, fat, stupid child.
"Now then," cried the chief searcher roughly; "come along."
The Kaffir quietly submitted to the rough handling he experienced in being forced up to the stool, and, anticipating the order, he opened his mouth; but the under-searcher roughly told him to "shut up," and he closed his fine white teeth with an audible snap, while the search was commenced at his feet, the toes being carefully examined without result.
Then his closely-knotted hair, which looked as if it would have made, if he were scalped, good trimmings of astrachan wool for the collar and cuffs of an English gentleman's overcoat, was carefully searched by well-trained fingers; the ears were probed and inspected; nostrils searched and given a final wring between thumb and finger as if he were being insulted in old-fashioned style by pulling his nose; and lastly, his cheeks were felt outside and in, and the searchers, who looked puzzled, made the black kneel down and remain for some time in that position, with his mouth wide open and head thrown back so that the sun shone right into his great mouth.
"He's all right!" said Anson enthusiastically. "You've got the wrong pig by the ear this time. I thought this fellow looked honest."
The Kaffir darted a grateful look at the speaker, which told plainly enough that he comprehended the words, and Anson replied with a smile.
"Ah, you ought to be on this job, Mr Anson," said the chief searcher sarcastically. "You'd be invaluable here."
Anson laughed good-humouredly.
"You're bantering," he said; "I know. But I should like it, and I fancy I could find the diamonds quickly enough if a man had hidden any."
"Find them then now," said the man who had spoken. "Come on."
There was a general laugh here, in which Anson joined.
"Nay," he said good-humouredly; "get another subject who has some hidden. That chap has none, unless he has swallowed some."
"What would you do then, squire?" said the man. "Shoot him, and make a post-mortem exam?"
"Ugh! horrid!" cried Anson, with a look of the most intense disgust. "But I say, I mean it. Fetch another chap, and let me examine him. I should like to, really."
"Why don't you search this one?" said Ingleborough contemptuously, and West laughed.
Anson winced and turned upon them half-angrily. But he changed his manner before he had finished speaking, and his face broke up into a broad smile.
"Because I don't want to be laughed at by you chaps and called a fool," he said. "I'm not stupid enough as it is to believe he has any diamonds hidden."
"Well, I am," said Ingleborough coolly.
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed Anson mockingly. "You go on with the search then, and find them."
"There is no need," said Ingleborough coldly; "those two know what they're about."
He was wrong in saying "two," for the under-searcher now continued the examination, and Anson's eyes were screwed-up and twinkled again upon seeing the man give up at the end of another two minutes and shrug his shoulders.
"No go," he said, turning to his companion. "Someone has been too clever here."
"Look again," said his chief.
"No: I shan't look any more. I've done."
West's eyes were resting upon the Kaffir, and he saw the man draw in a deep slow breath which made his broad chest expand, retaining the air for a minute and then slowly ejecting it.
"Ah! you'll never make a first-class searcher, Jem," said the head man.
"I never did profess to be so smart as you are," retorted the other sharply.
"No, Jemmy, you never did," said his chief; "but you ought to have found something here."
"Why, you don't think he has any about him, do you?" cried the man, who was staggered by his chief's cool, confident way of speaking.
"Yes, I do," said the chief, "and so does Mr Ingleborough there. Don't you, sir?"
Ingleborough nodded shortly, and West saw the Kaffir's eyes flash, while when he turned to Anson he saw that his fellow-clerk's face looked cold and hard.
But Anson's aspect changed the next moment, as soon as he saw he was observed, and he said, with a broad grin: "Wish I was a betting man: I could easily win half-a-crown or two over this."
But it struck West that there was a ring of insincerity in the tone of his voice, and the hard look began to come like a grey shadow over his fat pink cheeks as he saw the chief searcher go closer up to the Kaffir, bring his hands down heavily upon the man's shoulders, and stand facing him and looking him full in the eyes.
There was utter silence now. The Kaffir stood for a moment firmly gazing back into his white holder's eyes; but it manifestly required a strong effort, and West felt sure that he saw a quiver like a shadow of dread run down the black, making his knees slightly shake.
The whole thing was momentary, and the looker-on could not feel sure. Then the searcher spoke.
"You're a clever one," he said, with a harsh laugh, "and you don't mind hurting yourself to do a bit of the illicit. Turn round."
He gave the Kaffir a sharp thrust with one hand, a pull with the other, and the man stood with his back to the lookers-on.
What followed was performed with the quick dexterity of a clever surgeon, the searcher bending down, grasping the great firm muscles of the Kaffir's right leg about mid-way between hip and knee, and pressing hard with his two thumbs, when to the surprise of West a small perpendicular slit opened and a good-sized diamond was forced out, to fall upon the ground and be received by the under-searcher, while the wound closed up again with all the elasticity of a cut made in a piece of indiarubber.
"Bravo!" cried West, and then he held his breath as he saw the clever manipulation performed upon the Kaffir's other leg, a second diamond being forced out of the man's elastic muscle, to be secured in turn.
"That will do," said the chief searcher, after a quick glance down the Kaffir's arms, the man scowling and looking depressed as he was marched away.
"Almost a pity you didn't back your opinion heavily, Mr Anson, eh?" added the official.
"Well, I am deceived," said Anson, wrinkling up his forehead. "Who'd ever have thought of that?"
"The Kaffirs, seemingly," said Ingleborough coolly? and he smiled in Anson's disconsolate face.
"But it's wicked," cried Anson, "downright wicked for a man to cut himself like that for the sake of a bit of glittering glass. I say, mustn't it hurt very much?"
"Can't say," said West merrily. "Try!"
"What, me?" cried Anson, looking startled and involuntarily thrusting his hands down to touch the parts in question. "Oh no! It's horrible what people will do for the sake of gain."
"Quite sure you wouldn't like to try, Mr Anson?" said the searcher. "I'll do it for you if you like. Only wants a very sharp knife and a good hard pinch to numb the muscle; then it's done in a few minutes—one good cut, the stone pressed in, and the cold surface makes the skin contract."
Anson's face seemed to curdle up, and two creases formed, one round each corner of his mouth, as if putting it between parentheses, as he shook his head.
"Look here," he said, "what's the good of bantering so? Are you going to search any more men?"
"No," said the official; "that's the lot."
"But are you going to punish them?"
"Oh yes! They'll have to take their dose for it, sir; you may be sure of that. We're going to be more and more severe over this illicit-diamond-dealing."
"Are you?" said Anson innocently.
"We just are. It'll be a shooting matter soon if it can't be stopped otherwise."
"How horrid!" said Anson. "But I say, these men don't deal illicitly, do they?"
"They wouldn't if a set of scoundrels did not set them on to steal, so that they could buy of the poor ignorant savages, giving them shillings for what they sell for pounds."
"How sad it seems!" said Anson thoughtfully.
"And how innocent you seem!" said West, laughing.
"Yes, it's charming," cried Ingleborough. "Why, you know all about it."
"I?" cried Anson. "Oh, of course I know something about it. I've heard of the illicit-diamond-dealing, and read about it; but it has all gone in at one ear and out at the other. You see, I devote so much time to music. That and my work at the office keep me from taking much notice of other things. Politics, for instance, and the rumours of war. Do you think it at all likely that there will be any fighting, West?"
"I can't say," was the reply; "but we're going to be perfectly ready for the Boers in case there is, and it's quite time we were off, Ingleborough, if we intend to answer at the roll-call."
"Hah! Yes," cried the young man addressed. "Better come with us, Anson."
The latter shook his head, and his companions separated from him at the gate.
"Better come," said Ingleborough again. "Join, and then you'll be on the spot if we do form a band."
"Oh no!" said Anson, smiling. "You make up your minds at headquarters to form a band, and then, if you like, I'll come and train it."
"He's a rum fellow," said West, as the two young men fell into step.
"Ah," said Ingleborough roughly, "I am afraid Master Anson's more R. than F."
"More R. than F?" said West questioningly.
"If you must have it in plain English, more rogue than fool."
"Well, I fancy he isn't quite so simple as he pretends to be."
"Bah! I'm not a quarrelsome fellow, but I always feel as if I must kick him. He aggravates me."
"Nice soft sort of a fellow to kick," said West, laughing.
"Ugh!" ejaculated Ingleborough, and his foot flew out suddenly as if aimed at the person of whom they spoke. "Don't know anything about diamonds! What things people will do for the sake of a bit of glittering glass! Look here, West, for all his talk I wouldn't trust him with a consignment of stones any farther than I could see him."
"Don't be prejudiced!" said West. "You don't like him, and so you can only see his bad side."
"And that's all round," replied Ingleborough laughing. "No; I don't like him. I never do like a fellow who is an unnatural sort of a prig. He can't help being fat and pink and smooth, but he can help his smiling, sneaky manner. I do like a fellow to be manly. Hang him! Put him in petticoats, with long hair and a bonnet, he'd look like somebody's cook. But if I had an establishment and he was mine, I should be afraid he'd put something unpleasant into my soup."
"Never mind about old Anson," said West merrily, "but look here. What about that illicit-diamond-buying? Do you think that there's much of it taking place?"
"Much?" cried his companion. "It is tremendous. The company's losing hundreds of thousands of pounds yearly."
"It's a fact," said Ingleborough earnestly; "and no end of people are hard at work buying stolen diamonds, in spite of the constant sharp look-out kept by the police."
"But I should have thought that the licences and the strict supervision would have checked the greater part of it."
"Then you'd have thought wrong, my boy. I wish it did, for as we are going on now it makes everyone suspicious and on the look-out. I declare that for months past I never meet any of our people without fancying they suspect me of buying and selling diamonds on the sly."
"And that makes you suspicious too," said West quietly.
Ingleborough turned upon him sharply, and looked him through and through.
"What made you say that?" he said at last.
"Previous conversation," replied West.
"Humph! Well, perhaps so."
RUMOURS OF WAR.
The Diamond-Fields Horse had drilled one evening till they were tired, and after it was all over, including a fair amount of firing, the smell of blank cartridges began to give way to the more pleasant odour of tobacco smoke, the officers lighting their cigars, and the privates filling up their pipes to incense the crisp evening air.
"I'm about tired of this game," said one of a group who were chatting together; "there's too much hard work about it."
"Yes," said another. "Someone told me it was playing at soldiers. I don't see where the play comes."
"Look at the honour of it," said another. "We shall be defending the town directly from an attack by the Boers."
There was a burst of laughter at this, and when it ended the first speaker broke out contemptuously with: "The Boers! We shall have to wait a longtime before they attack us."
"I don't know so much about that," said the man who had spoken of the attack. "I believe they mean mischief."
"Bosh!" came in chorus.
"Ah, you may laugh, but they've got Majuba Hill on the brain. The idiots think they fought and thrashed the whole British Army instead of a few hundred men. Here, Ingleborough, you heard what was said?"
The young man addressed left off chatting with West and nodded.
"You went to Pretoria with the superintendent of police about that diamond case, and you were there a couple of months."
"Yes," said Ingleborough. "What of that?"
"Why, you must have seen a good deal of the Boers then!"
"Of course I did."
"Well, what do you say? Will they fight if it comes to a row?"
"Certainly they will!" replied Ingleborough.
There was a derisive laugh at his words, and West flushed a little on hearing it, as the volunteers gathered round.
"Bah! It's all bluff!" cried a voice. "They know that by holding out they can get what they want. They'd cave in directly if we showed a bold front."
"Moral," said West; "show a bold front."
"That's what we're doing," said one of the men; "but there's too much of it. Some of the officers have war on the brain, and want to force the soldiering element to the very front. We've done enough to show the Doppers that we should fight if there was any occasion. There was no drilling going on when you were at Pretoria, eh, Ingleborough?"
"Yes, there was, a good deal," said the young man slowly. "They did not make any fuss, but in a quiet way they were hard at work, especially with their gun drill."
"Gun drill!" cried one of the group contemptuously. "What, with a few rusty old cannon and some wooden quakers?"
There was a roar of laughter at this, and West coloured a little more deeply with annoyance, but Ingleborough shrugged his shoulders, turned his little finger into a tobacco-stopper, and went on smoking.
"The Boers are puffed-up with conceit," he said gravely, "and they believe that their victory at Majuba Hill has made them invincible; but all the same they've got some level-headed men amongst them, and I believe before long that it will come to a fight and that they will fight desperately."
His hearers laughed.
"What for?" shouted one.
"To drive the British out of South Africa, seize Cape Colony and Natal, and make the country a Dutch republic."
There was a momentary silence before someone cried: "I say, Ingleborough, are you going mad?"
"I hope not," said the young man quietly. "Why?"
"Because you are talking the greatest bosh I've heard for months!"
"I don't think I am," said Ingleborough gravely. "I know that the Boers are terribly inflated with vanity and belief in themselves, but they have wisdom in their heads as well."
"I've never seen any of it!" said the previous speaker. "Bah! Rubbish! They drive us out of South Africa! Why, that would mean taking Rhodesia too."
"Of course," replied Ingleborough, "and that's what they believe they are going to do."
"No," said Ingleborough gravely; "but with their rifles. Do you know that they can at any time arm a hundred thousand men with the best magazine-rifles in the world?"
"No!" came in chorus. "We don't."
"And that they have a magnificent force of artillery, which includes such guns as would dwarf any that we could bring against them, thoroughly outrange ours, and that in addition they have a great number of repeating-cannon—Maxims and Nordenfelts? Above all, they have a vast supply of ammunition."
"Where did they get it from?" cried one.
"The moon," shouted another, and there was a roar.
"The fellow's a regular Boer himself," shouted a man behind; and there was a hiss raised, followed by a menacing groan, which made West's blood tingle as he closed up to his friend's side.
"The old story," said Ingleborough contemptuously, "You can't bear the honest truth."
"Yes, we can," cried one of the men; "but we can't bear lies. Do you think we are fools to believe your cock-and-bull stories about magazine-rifles and guns that would dwarf all that the British Army could bring up against the Boers?"
"You can do as you like about believing," said Ingleborough coldly. "I have only told you what I learned for myself when I was staying in Pretoria."
"And do you mean to tell us that the Boers have guns like that?"
"I do," said Ingleborough.
"Then where did they get them?"
"From the great French and German makers, From Creusot and Krupp."
"And how did they get them up to Pretoria?"
"From the Cape and Delagoa Bay."
"What nonsense!" cried another voice. "Their arms and ammunition would have been stopped at once. What do you say to that?"
"The Boers are slim," said Ingleborough. "Hundreds of tons of war material have been going up-country for years as ironmongery goods and machinery. They have a tremendous arsenal there, and they mean to fight, as you'll see before long."
The hissing and threatening sounds ceased, for there was so much conviction in the tone adopted by the speaker that his hearers began to feel uneasy and as if there might be something in the declarations, while, upon Ingleborough turning to West with: "Come Oliver, let's get home!" the little crowd of volunteers hedged the pair in, and the man who had been the most ready to laugh laid a hand upon his arm.
"Hold hard a minute," he cried frankly. "I felt ready to laugh at you and chaff all your words; but I'm not going to be a dunder-headed fool and shut my eyes to danger if there really is any. Look here, Ingleborough: are you an alarmist, or is there really any truth in what you have said?"
"It is all true," replied the young man calmly.
"Well, then, I for one will believe you, my lad; for, now you have spoken out as you have, I begin to put that and that together and I feel that the Boers have been playing dark."
"They have been playing dark," said Ingleborough warmly, "and I should not be surprised to hear any day that they had declared war and found us anything but prepared."
"They only want to be free," said a voice.
"Free?" cried Ingleborough. "Yes, free to do exactly what they please: to tax every stranger, or outlander, as they call us, for their own benefit: to rob and enslave the unfortunate natives, and even murder them if it suits their hand. Free? Yes, look at their history from the first. Why, their whole history has been a course of taking land from the original owners by force."
That very night rumours reached Kimberley which sent a tingle into the cheeks of every man who had joined in the demonstration against Ingleborough: though the greatest news of all had not yet arrived, that the Transvaal Government had thrown down the glove and made the advance.
AN UGLY CHARGE.
As everyone knows, the declaration of war was not long in coming, and the news came like a thunderclap to all in Kimberley, where those who had been in doubt as to the wisdom of the preparations previously made were the loudest in finding fault because more had not been done.
"But do you think it's true, Ingle?" said West.
"Think what is true?"
"That the Boers have invaded Natal."
"I'm sure it is," was the reply; "and before very long we shall have them here."
"Why should they come here?" said West.
"Because they have plenty of gold at Johannesburg, and they want to utilise it for settings to our diamonds, my lad. They're a nice, modest, amiable people, these Boers, with very shrewd eyes for the main chance. They'll soon be down here to take possession, so if you feel at all uncomfortable you had better be off south."
"Is that what you are going to do?" asked West quietly.
"I? Of course not! I shall keep with the volunteers."
"Of course," said West; "and I shall too."
Ingleborough smiled grimly and went on with his work, West following suit, and they were busy enough till "tiffin-time" that morning.
Their "tiffin" went on as usual; but out in the town there was a buzz of excitement which resembled that heard in a beehive when some mischievous boy has thrust in a switch and given it a good twist round before running for his life.
So eager and excited did everyone seem that West could hardly tear himself away from the main street, which was full of talking groups, everyone seeming to be asking the same question—"What is to be done first?"—but getting no reply.
"We ought to fortify the place," said West to himself, and full of this idea, which he intended to propound to Ingleborough and Anson as soon as he reached the office, he hurried in that direction, all the faster from the fact that he had been so interested in the busy state of the streets that he had overstayed his time.
On approaching the office door the conscious blood rose to his cheeks, for he could hear an angry voice speaking, upon which he could only place one interpretation—namely, that one of the principals was finding fault severely because he, the guilty one, was not back to his time.
"What a fool I am!" muttered West. Then, pulling himself together, he stepped forward, muttering again: "Must take my dose like a man."
The next moment he had opened the door quickly, entered and closed it, and then stood staring in wonder at the scene before him.
For there was no angry principal present—only his two fellow-clerks: Ingleborough stern and frowning, and Anson with his ordinarily pink face turned to a sallow white, and, instead of being plump and rounded, looking sunken and strange.
"What's the matter?" said West, for Anson, who had the moment before been talking rapidly, suddenly ceased. "You're not quarrelling, are you?" he continued, for no one replied. "Oh well, I'll be off till you've done."
"No, don't go," cried Anson, springing forward and grasping his arm.
"Let go!" cried West. "I don't want to be mixed up with any quarrels; but you might have got them over outside. There, I'm off."
"Stop where you are!" cried Ingleborough. "You have a perfect right to hear what I have said, and you're welcome."
"Yes, stop where you are, West," cried Anson, clinging to the young fellow's arm. "I believe that the war scare has sent Ingle off his head. You never heard such a bit of scandal as he is trying to hatch up. I believe it's all out of jealousy."
"No, you do not," said Ingleborough coldly.
"But I do," cried Anson. "It's scandalous. He's trying to ruin me."
"By hatching up a story which, if it got to the principals' ears, would mean me being turned off neck and crop, no matter how innocent I am."
"How what?" replied Ingleborough ironically. "Innocent? Why, I've suspected you for some months past."
"Oh, my gracious!" cried Anson. "Hark at him! He does mean it—he must mean it, unless we can bring him to his senses, West. You will help me, won't you?"
"How can I tell till I know what it's all about? What's the quarrel, Ingle?"
"Ask him," answered the young man addressed, frowning.
"Very well, then; I'll ask him. What's the row, Anson?"
"I have hardly patience to tell you, West," was the reply. "But I suppose I must, though it makes my face burn with shame."
"Humph!" grunted Ingleborough.
"Then it is something you are ashamed of?" said West quickly.
"Me? Oh no, West; I'm not ashamed. I've nothing to be ashamed of: only being accused by a fellow-clerk, a brother-clerk, I might say, of doing a terrible thing."
"And did you?" said West sharply.
"I? Good gracious, no! I was out in the main street about half-an-hour ago, being of course interested in the news, when I saw a couple of Kaffirs talking, and it made me wonder what would become of them if it came to fighting, and I naturally enough asked the poor fellows whether they'd stay in Kimberley or go back to their own country."
"Well?" said West, for the speaker stopped.
"Well, that's all as far as I'm concerned," said Anson; "only just then Ingleborough, who is never happy without he's mixing himself up somehow with the police folk, and who must have been watching me in a miserable underhanded way, suddenly pounced upon me; and you'll never believe it, my dear West, he actually accused me of illicit-diamond-buying from the Kaffirs."
"And that means very severe punishment," said West. "Well, were you doing it?"
"Was I? Oh, for shame, West! How could you think such a thing possible? My dear fellow, I couldn't do such a thing? Is it likely?"
"Ingleborough says it is," replied the young man addressed, shortly.
"Yes, but only because he is absurdly jealous of me, and dislikes to see me in the office. It would ruin me for ever if it were reported, and he says he is going to, although I have been begging and praying him not to do such a thing. What do you say?"
"If it's true, and Ingleborough says it is, I don't see how he could help, reporting your conduct to the directors."
"But it isn't true!" cried Anson, almost in a whine. "Oh, West, how can you? You know I couldn't do such a thing!"
"Do you mean to say that you are quite innocent?"
"Oh, quite!" cried Anson. "It was as I told you. I only asked the two poor hard-working fellows what they meant to do, and then to my utter astonishment Ingleborough pounced upon me with that terrible charge. Help me, my dear friend, to make him see that he has deceived himself!"
"Do you hear, Ingle?" cried West sympathetically. "It is a terrible charge to bring against a fellow."
"Terrible!" said Ingleborough sternly.
"And you have thought what it means?"
"His dismissal and imprisonment?"
"There is no room for buts, my lad," said Ingleborough harshly. "Diamond-buying from the natives is, as we all well know, penal; and we know, too, that it is our duty to help to protect the property of our employers, and to see that the laws are obeyed."
"Of course, my dear Ingleborough," said Anson; "and that's what I have always tried to do, as you know."
"I know that you have been playing a false game for months—that is, I feel perfectly sure you have, though I cannot prove it. But this I can prove: that you were buying stolen diamonds from two natives this afternoon, all parties choosing the time because you believed the excitement would secure you from notice."
"Oh, West, hark at him!" cried Anson, in a piteous tone. "Ingleborough, you don't know how wrong you are!"
"That's true!" said their fellow-clerk.
"Look here, Anson," cried West angrily; "what's the good of going on like a great girl—oh-ing, and making weak appeals? Why don't you speak out like a man? Is it true, or is it not, that you bought these diamonds?"
"It's all a mistake of Ingleborough's and as false as false can be! I couldn't do such a thing!"
"Nor yet throw them away as soon as you found that you were seen?"
"Of course not!" cried Anson excitedly.
"What are these, then?" cried Ingleborough sternly, as he took a couple of rough crystals from his trousers pocket and held them out in his hand to the astonished gaze of his comrades.
"Those?" said Anson, whose face began to turn of a sickly green; "they look like diamonds."
"Yes: they are the two that you threw away, and which I went and picked up."
"Oh!" cried Anson, with a piteous groan; "hark at him, West! I wouldn't have believed that a man could have been so base as to hatch up such a plot as this to ruin his brother-employe. West, I assure you that I never set eyes upon those diamonds before in my life. It's all a cruel, dastardly plot, and I—Oh dear! Oh dear! Oh dear! Is it possible that a man can be so base?"
He took out his handkerchief and applied it to his eyes, uttering a low piteous groan the while.
"You hear this, Ingleborough?" said West.
"Yes, I hear," said Ingleborough sourly, as he thrust the gems back in his pocket. "So do you, and you know now what it is my duty to do."
West was silent.
"Oh, do speak and help me!" cried Anson. "Don't stand by and see me ruined, West! You know how he has taken up lately with the new superintendent of police, and been always with him, and watching the poor natives till he is half a detective himself, and goes about suspecting innocent people. I am innocent, West, and it's all a horrible mistake of his, or a cruel trick to ruin me; and I'm afraid I've been mistaken in him altogether, and that it is a wicked conspiracy."
"Ingleborough wouldn't do a mean thing!" said West warmly.
"That's what I want to believe," whined Anson; "but he's got hold of two diamonds, and he's going to charge me with buying them, and he'll get me sent to Cape Town breakwater."
"Not if you are innocent!" said West.
"Well, that's what I am, and he can't prove that I've any of the precious stones about me. Come and search me if you like!"
"You will be searched by the police authorities," said Ingleborough sternly.
"What!—Oh, it's abominable!" cried Anson. "Here, West, aren't you going to do anything to help an innocent man?"
"What can I do," said West, "but look on? I'll tell you this, though: I don't believe it possible of you! There must be some mistake!"
"Thank you for nothing," cried Anson bitterly. "It's the old story—and you call yourself a friend! Well, I'm not going to be bullied. I've given you both a chance to own that you are all wrong; but you always were both of you dead against me. I'll do now what I ought to have done at once—go to the principals. I shall get justice there."
Saying this, he clapped on his hat, giving it a fierce cock on one side, passed out, and banged the door after him.
Ingleborough paid no heed to his companion's enquiring look, but crossed quickly to the window and looked out.
"Anson thinks he is going to make a bolt," said Ingleborough, half to himself; "but he'll soon find out his mistake."
"How?" said West eagerly.
"Norton is outside with a couple of the police," Ingleborough replied.
"But this is very horrible!" cried West. "Once more, are you quite sure that you have not made a mistake?"
"Quite! I am certain!"
"But is it wise to be so certain?"
"Yes," replied Ingleborough quietly. "Surely I can believe my own eyes!"
"But might he not have been questioning the Kaffirs, as he said?"
"Certainly," replied Ingleborough, with a grim smile; "but I do not see why he should receive two diamonds from them and give them money in exchange, and lastly why he should flick the two diamonds away into the dust as soon as he caught sight of me. Do you?"
"No," said West thoughtfully. "Well, I am very sorry. What will be the next proceeding?"
"The next thing in an ordinary way would be that the scoundrel would bolt; but, as he must have found out by this time that he is carefully watched, he will no doubt go straight to the principals and brave it out by telling them his own tale and trying to persuade them that I have hatched up a conspiracy against him."
"And of course he will not be believed," replied West thoughtfully; "for it is next door to high treason for anyone to be found buying diamonds illicitly from the natives."
"High treason?" cried Ingleborough, laughing. "Why, my dear boy, it's much worse than regicide. The authorities in Kimberley look upon diamond-smuggling or stealing as the blackest crime in the calendar."
"Hallo!" cried West just then. "So soon?"
For there was a sharp rap at the door, and a man entered to announce that the principals of the great company desired the presence of Ingleborough and West directly.
"I don't see why they want me!" said West. "I know nothing about the matter."
"You'll have to go all the same," said Ingleborough. "He has dragged your name into the case, and he trusts to you to speak in his behalf."
"And of course I shall," said West; "for I'm horribly sorry for the poor fellow. He couldn't withstand the temptation to buy the diamonds for a mere nothing and sell them at a heavy price."
"I don't want to be malicious, Noll," said Ingleborough; "but I've for some time been under the impression that Master Anson was a humbug. There, come along! Of course I don't like a piece of business like this; but we must make rogues go to the wall. You're too soft-hearted, Noll, my boy."
"Perhaps so," replied the lad; "but I'd rather be so than too hard-hearted."
A VAIN SEARCH.
West saw at once upon entering the presence of the principals that things appeared bad for Anson, who stood facing a table at which three of the directors of the great company were seated, all looking very stern. They signed to Ingleborough and West to stand upon their right— Anson was facing them to the left.
Then there was a brief colloquy in a low tone between the three directors, ending in one of them saying aloud: "You speak."
The gentleman thus addressed turned to Ingleborough.
"Mr Anson has sought this interview with the directors, Mr Ingleborough, to inform us that you have made up a malicious tale about his having been engaged in illicit-diamond-buying. Of course, if you could prove such a charge, it was your duty to inform us."
"Of course, sir," replied Ingleborough; "but, though I have for some time suspected him, this affair only occurred during our tiffin-time this morning, and as soon as we returned to the office I felt bound to accuse him as my fellow-clerk, and tell him what I intended to do."
"So as to give him, if guilty, a good chance to conceal the diamonds or escape?"
"Oh no, sir," said Ingleborough quietly. "I took proper precautions against that."
"Indeed?" said the director. "What did you do?"
"Mr Superintendent Norton is a friend of mine, sir, and I went to him at once. He and two of his keenest men have been carefully watching Anson ever since."
"Humph! Quite right," said the director, and he glanced at Anson, who was smiling contemptuously then; but West had seen him wince sharply when Ingleborough mentioned the superintendent's name. "Well," continued the director, "let us hear your version of this business."
"Really, gentlemen," cried Anson, "I ought to have the assistance of a law officer and—"
"Stop, Mr Anson," said the director sharply; "we have heard you all through. Have the goodness to be silent now while Mr Ingleborough gives us his statement."
"But legal assistance, sir."
"You can have as much as you like, sir, as soon as the matter is brought before the magistrates. We must first of all hear what Mr Ingleborough has to say. Now, sir, have the goodness to tell us everything you know about this business."
Ingleborough made his statement perfectly clearly, and it was listened to in silence, and the diamonds were produced.
Afterwards the three directors spoke together in a low tone of voice for a few minutes, ending by turning to Anson to tell him that he must consider himself for the present as suspended from all further duty in connection with the company's business.
"We have no desire to proceed to extremities, Mr Anson," he said in conclusion, "and every opportunity will be given you to clear yourself; but in the meantime you must consider yourself under supervision, and your lodgings will be searched."
"I protest, sir," cried the young man warmly. "You have no right to order such a thing to be done without magisterial authority."
"Then we will assume the right, Mr Anson, as it is a question of our property being stolen by our black employes and finding a purchaser in one of our clerks. Mr West, as the superintendent is keeping an eye upon Anson, I presume he is here?"
"I passed him at the door as I came in, sir," answered West.
"Have the goodness to call him in."
Anson winced; but he faced the tall stern-looking officer of police as he entered and heard the reason for his being called in.
"Then you wish a search to be made, gentlemen?" said the superintendent.
"Look here," cried Anson fiercely; "there's law for everybody. I'm not your servant any longer, for I refuse to stay with such a pack of tyrannical dividend-making scoundrels."
"That will do," growled the superintendent, in a low, deep voice. "Keep a civil tongue in your head. You'll do no good for yourself by this."
"You mind your own business," cried Anson, turning upon the officer so fiercely that West wondered at the change in his fellow-clerk's manner.
"All right: I will," said the officer, seizing him sharply.
"Here, what are you going to do?" cried Anson, in alarm.
"Search you, my lad," was the reply.
"Then I call everyone present to witness that this is illegal. I'm not going to stand quietly by and be treated like a worm."
"Leave off wriggling, then," said the officer.
"I won't. I refuse to be treated like one of the black labourers."
"Look here, sir," said the officer sternly; "I don't want to treat you like a Kaffir unless you behave like one. You are charged with illicit buying, and your game's up; so the best thing you can do is to produce everything you have on you and have done with the matter."
"Search me if you dare," cried Anson, still keeping up his defiant manner.
"Right: I dare," said the officer. "Mr Ingleborough, be ready to lend a hand if I want it."
"If John Ingleborough dares to lay a hand on me I'll send a bullet through him."
In an instant Ingleborough's hand came down heavily upon Anson's shoulder and gripped him fast.
"Never mind him, Norton. It's all bluff. He is unarmed."
"Armed or unarmed," said the superintendent, "I'm going to search him," and directly after a quick pair of hands were busy going through the suspect's pockets.
"Urrr!" he growled, showing his white teeth between his thick red lips, as he cast off thoroughly the mask of servile humility he had previously worn; "it's lucky for you that I am unarmed. But search away. Go on. I'll have heavy damages for this dastardly assault and defamation of character, and the public shall know all about the games carried on by this beautiful diamond syndicate. Curse you all—masters and men! You shall pay for it, and, as for you, John Ingleborough, look out for yourself. Yes, and you too, Oliver West, you miserable sneak. I always hated you."
"Hadn't you better save your breath, Anson?" said West quietly. "You're only making everybody believe you guilty."
"Let 'em," cried the suspect, whose plump round face was now distorted with impotent rage. "I'll be even with all of you for this."
"Humph! Nothing in his pockets; nothing sewn in the seams of his clothes, nor in the band of his trousers," muttered the searcher. Then aloud: "Now then, hold up!"
Anson behaved like a horse, or, as West and Ingleborough afterwards laughingly said, like an ass, lifting to order each foot in turn for the bottoms of his trousers to be examined and the heels of his boots, which had not been bored nor plugged.
"He has nothing upon him, gentlemen," said the officer, at last.
"But you have not thoroughly searched him," said one of the directors, frowning.
"Oh yes, sir," replied the officer; "a party like this wouldn't carry diamonds about him same as a Kaffir would. He wouldn't play any tricks with his person by slitting or swallowing: he knows too much about the risks. You can be perfectly satisfied that he has nothing about him. I was, as soon as I had turned out his pockets."
"They'll be satisfied before they've done," sneered Anson.
"I should like to see his desk and stool in the office where he has worked, gentlemen," continued the officer.
"Yah!" snarled Anson. "Yes: go on; search everywhere. Perhaps you'd like to search the place where I lodge?"
"Afterwards," said the officer quietly.
West saw his fellow-clerk wince slightly again, though it passed unnoticed by the others, and directly after the whole party adjourned to the office, the superintendent's men following them, and, without doing anything to excite attention, forming a guard at the door.
"There's nothing here," said the superintendent in a low tone to Ingleborough and West.
"How do you know?" said the former.
"By his manner. He's all brag and bounce!"
"Yes," said Ingleborough; "but you don't know your man."
"Look here!" cried Anson; "none of that! Search if you like, but no plotting and planning there! I don't see why they shouldn't be charged too. Search their desks as well as mine. Perhaps you'll find some illicit-diamonds there."
West started, for a strange suspicion shot through his breast.
"If you do they'll swear I put 'em there, and the superintendent will believe them."
"You scoundrel!" cried West passionately, and Anson uttered a low sneering laugh; but his face grew set directly, as the officer turned upon him.
"Which is your desk, sir?" he said sharply.
"Search them all!" was the reply.
"Which is his desk?" said the superintendent to West now.
The young man made no reply, and Ingleborough pointed it out.
"Friends and brother-workers!" said Anson, in a sneering manner. "Look here, noble employers, play fair! Let's have all the desks and the whole place searched."
No one spoke, and after a cursory examination of the tall stool in front of the desk the officer picked up a thick silver-mounted rattan cane thrust in a stand by the side of the desk in company with three umbrellas.
"Yours?" he said, turning to the suspect.
"Yes, and one of the umbrellas too. The worst one's mine. That dandy silk one is West's. The handles of all three are sure to unscrew and are hollowed out to hold diamonds, no doubt."
"Of course," said the officer, and after a glance at the umbrellas he turned the thick heavy cane over in his hands, noticing that in addition to a silver cap there was a thick silver ring about six inches from the top.
"Oh yes, that's hollow too," cried Anson mockingly, "and stuffed full of diamonds, I daresay.—Ah! mind you don't cut your fingers!"
For the officer, as he held the thick cane in both hands, tried to unscrew the top part, thickest by the ring, and, after yielding a little, he gave it a sharp tug, drawing out about a foot of a bright blue damascened sword, and then thrusting it back with an impatient "Pish!"
"A sword-stick," said the officer.
"Well, why not?" cried Anson. "I don't carry a revolver."
The officer thrust the cane into the stand, and then, with Anson watching him keenly, raised the lid of the broad flat desk, turned over some books and papers, measured its depth outside and in to make sure that there was no false bottom, and then brought out the clerk's little flat mahogany box, Anson grinning sneeringly as the lid was opened and the joints of the flute lay exposed to view.
"Now you've got 'em, sir!" cried Anson, with a mocking laugh. "Blow through them, and you'll find it's all wind."
The superintendent turned the box upside down, and the joints were left upon the top of the desk, except that the top joint with its gaping mouth-hole stuck in the velvet fitting, but looked the most hollow of the set.
"There's nothing here, gentlemen," said the officer, replacing the other joints and gravely closing the desk.
"Oh, nonsense!" cried Anson, jeering. "You haven't half looked. Perhaps, though, young West has the whole swag in his desk."
"Would you like to examine the other desks, gentlemen?" said the officer.
"No, certainly not," said the leading director sharply; "we have no wish to insult our employes."
"Only one," snarled Anson. "Do you call this fair play?"
West drew a breath full of relief, and glanced at Ingleborough, who made no sign, but stood looking stolidly at the officer.
"I'm quite satisfied, gentlemen," said the latter. "There is nothing here. Do you charge Mr Anson with illicit dealing?"
"You have not searched his apartments yet," said the chief director. "We wish to have further proofs first."
Anson opened his mouth a short distance as his chief spoke, and closed it again with a sharp little snap.
"You wish the prisoner's rooms to be searched then, gentlemen?"
"I'm not a prisoner," cried Anson angrily. "I've neither been charged nor taken into custody."
"Certainly!" said the director sternly. "Search Mr Anson's rooms preliminary to his being charged and taken into custody. Mr West, go in front with the superintendent to show the way. I do not wish to make a procession, to create excitement and make us the observed of all."
"I understand, sir. Mr Anson will walk in advance with me, and you can follow as you please. There is no need for Mr West to walk with us. I know the way!"
"Of course!" snarled Anson. "Mr Ingleborough's doing, I suppose. Then I have been watched."
"Yes, my doing," said the person named. "As soon as I suspected you of illicit dealing I kept an eye upon you and told Mr Norton here what I thought."
"Cowardly, sneaking cur!" cried Anson, grinding his teeth.
"No, sir," cried the director sternly: "faithful servant of the company."
"Where are your proofs that I am not?" cried Anson fiercely.
"Not found yet," said the officer; "but with all your cunning I daresay we shall trace them."
"Go on," said Anson. "I'm ready for you."
The next minute the whole party were straggling through the camp-like town towards the outskirts, to gather together at the very ordinary shed-like house of mud wall and fluted corrugated-iron roofing, where the wife of one of the men at the mine stared in wonder at the party, and then looked in awe at her lodger, her eyes very wide open and startled as she grasped what the visit meant.
"Oh, Mr Anson, what have you been a-doing of?" she cried, and burst into tears.
West looked at the poor woman with a feeling of pity, and then felt disposed to kick Anson for his brutality, for the clerk's gesture was that of an ill-tempered cur: he literally snapped at her.
"Out of the way, you idiot!" he cried, "and let this police-constable and his party come by."
West saw the directors exchange glances before following the superintendent into the little house, leaving the two clerks to the last, the police-constables remaining watchfully at the door.
"Master Anson is regularly cutting the ground from under him, Ingle," said West softly.
"Yes: the fool! I take it to be a tacit confession. You don't think I've made a mistake now?"
West shook his head and looked distressed, but said nothing.
"Of course he'll never come back to us, and he knows it, or he'd never put on this defiant manner. Hark at him!"
For at that moment the object of their thoughts shouted loudly: "Here, you two spies, what are you waiting behind for? Come in and help search the place."
West frowned and hung back, but Ingleborough laid a hand on his shoulder.
"Come along," he said; "you must help me to see it through! It isn't pleasant, but it's part of one's duty."
The next minute they were in Anson's combined bed and sitting room, a very ordinary-looking place, with the simplest of furniture and plenty of suggestions all round of spots where an ingenious man might have hidden a little fortune in diamonds; for the mud walls were lined with matchboard, the ceiling was of the same material, and then there was the floor, where in any part a board could have been lifted and a receptacle made for the precious crystals, without counting the articles of furniture, including the bedding.
"I'm sorry I have no more chairs, gentlemen," said the tenant banteringly. "Sit on the table, and three of you can make a sofa of the bed. Never mind tumbling it! You'll do nothing compared to Mr Superintendent Norton when he begins. I say, though, you should have given me notice of all this, and then I'd have had a carpenter here to skin the walls and ceiling so as to have made everything nice and easy for you. I say, Mr Norton, you'll want a pickaxe and shovel directly, won't you?"
The directors had paid no heed to the speaker's bantering remarks, but the superintendent was getting hot, tired, and annoyed by the constant chatter of the man he was longing to arrest; and, though he had treated everything so far with calm indifference, his lack of success in his search for something incriminating in such places as experience had taught him were in favour with those who carried on diamond-smuggling began now to tell upon his temper, and he turned sharply upon the speaker: to snap out words which showed that his thoughts ran on all-fours with those of Ingleborough.
"Look here, young man!" he said; "I don't know whether you are aware of it, but you are hard at work building up a black case against yourself, and if you're not careful you'll find yourself before long working out your two years as a convict on the Cape Town breakwater."
"I shall!" cried Anson. "What for? Where's your evidence? You've got a jumped-up cock-and-bull story made by a fellow-clerk who says one thing while I say another. You've only his word for it. You've found no diamonds on me, and you've found none in my lodgings."
"Not yet," said the superintendent meaningly.
"Oh, I see! Not yet! Go on, then, pray! I'm not paid by time, so I can afford to lose a few hours. Search away! Perhaps our clever friend Ingleborough can tell you where to look. Perhaps he wouldn't like to, though. It would hurt his feelings to accuse a brother-clerk of being an illicit trader. But don't mind me, Ingle. It's good sport for you. Why don't you help, and think you're a good little boy playing at 'hot boiled beans and very good butter' again? Now then, Norton's going across to the other side. You should call out 'colder' when he's going away from the place, and 'warmer' when he gets nearer. Then 'hot,' and last of all 'burning.' Come, keep up the game!"
"I should just like to ram that pair of clean socks between your teeth, my fine fellow, and keep it there with a leather strap," muttered the officer; and, as if about to put his wish into practice, he stooped and picked up the closely rolled-up pair of socks lying with some other articles of attire placed freshly washed upon a shelf by Anson's landlady.
"Now then," cried Anson boisterously, "cry 'burning,' somebody: there must be some diamonds inside that!"
The directors frowned, and Ingleborough and West looked on angrily as the officer dashed the soft woollen ball back upon the heap and then went on with his search for nearly an hour.
By this time the lookers-on were as much disgusted as the superintendent.
"I'm very sorry, gentlemen," he cried; "but I can do no more. There is nothing else to be done unless we have my men in and regularly strip the wood-work down."
"Oh, pray have them in, then," cried Anson. "If I were you I'd—"
"Silence, sir!" cried the chief director fiercely, and Anson stared. "We have not the slightest doubt of your guilt. Your conduct all through has proved it. That will do, Mr Norton."
"You think the evidence sufficient to justify an arrest, gentlemen?"
"We will consult together," replied the director who had just spoken, "and communicate our decision to you."
"What, aren't you satisfied yet?" cried Anson mockingly.
"Quite," replied his chief; "and of course, sir, your post is vacant. For the present, Mr Norton, you will keep an eye upon this man, and see that he does not leave the town."
"Unless I'm very much mistaken, sir," said the superintendent, "neither our friend here nor anyone else will leave Kimberley for some time to come."
"Is it so bad as that?"
"Yes, sir. The Boers are gradually closing in, I am told. But I'll keep an eye on Mr Anson here all the same."
Five minutes later the party were on their way back to the mine buildings, where the first thing that West heard was that the Boers were gathering in great force, and, as far as could be judged, were making the Diamond City their objective.
Troubles were gathering fast, and news kept on coming hotter and hotter.
West and Ingleborough were back in their places at the office, talking over the war news and mingling with it the scenes they had just gone through.
"Norton promised me he'd call in here when he left the governors," said Ingleborough.
"Then he must have forgotten it," replied West, "for he has been with them quite an hour. I say, I didn't know that you were such a friend of the superintendent."
"Well, I'm not in the habit of talking much," said Ingleborough, smiling. "But I do like him; he's such a straightforward, manly fellow, and I take so much interest in the way he runs down criminals. I often wish I had joined the detectives who have this diamond-smuggling in hand."
"Pst! here he is!" said West quickly, for there were steps outside, and directly after a sharp rap at the door.
"May I come in, Ingleborough?"
"Yes. Entrez! West said you'd gone."
"Did he? You knew I was not?"
"What have they decided?" he asked.
"To let the matter drift for the present: only I'm to keep an eye on the scoundrel. They say that we shall all have our hands full enough directly in strengthening the town, and they're right. I'm afraid we're going to have a warm time."
"Think they'll attack us?" asked West.
"Safe to. Now's the time for you volunteers to show what you're made of, for I believe that the enemy will make straight for Kimberley. Our getting the diamond-fields has always been a sore point with them, and we shall have our work cut out to save them."
"Yes," said Ingleborough thoughtfully, "and if I'm not mistaken, you'll have more cause to watch Anson than for smuggling. He has his knife into the company."
"Exactly," said Norton; "and if he can make friends with and help the enemy, he will."
"You mean he'll be a dangerous spy in the camp?" said West excitedly.
"That's it, Mr West; but if he plays that game and is caught his punishment will not be a couple of years on the breakwater."
"No," said Ingleborough: "the military will deal with him then."
"How?" asked West, whose veins began to tingle and a cold shuddering sensation to run down his spine.
"A couple of lines of infantry, a volley of musketry, and—"
"Finis," said the superintendent. "Good day. I don't wish him any harm; but I feel pretty sure he'll run straight into some trap. That sort of fellow always does."
The next minute the door had closed upon the superintendent, and the two young men sat thoughtfully looking in each other's eyes.
"Only a few hours ago, and we three were calmly working together," said West sadly; "and I looked upon Anson as an unsatisfactory fellow whom I never could like, but whose worst faults were being a cringing kind of bore and a perfect nuisance with his flute."
"And I as a smooth hypocrite whom one ought not to trust," said Ingleborough.
"And now he's gone, and we're to have the Boers at us and most likely have to soldier in real earnest. Hallo! Here's Norton back again."
For there was a quick step outside, and the door was thrown open. But it was not the superintendent's face that met their eyes, for their late fellow-clerk stepped boldly in.
"How are you, gentlemen?" he said, with a strong emphasis upon the last word. "So I've got the sack; but I'm not going to leave my property behind."
He stepped to his desk and took out his flute-case, tucked it under his arm, and then drew the sword-cane and umbrella from the stand, giving the pair a maliciously triumphant look.
"Can't afford to leave the sword-stick as a memento for you, Ingle, nor the flute for sneaky West. Goodbye, both of you. Look out for our next merry meeting. Ta, ta!"
Neither of the young men replied, but sat gazing fixedly at the speaker till he passed out, banging the door.
But only to open it again to look in and utter the one word: "Cads!"
Then the door was banged, and West leaped from his stool and made a dash.
"Stop, stupid!" thundered out Ingleborough, supplementing his words by a bound and flinging his arm round his companion's chest. "Let the brute go. You don't want to kick him?"
"But I do," shouted West, struggling. "Let go."
"Keep still," growled Ingleborough, and then, "Why, Noll," he cried, "I do believe—"
"What?" said West, cooling down and looking wonderingly in his companion's excited eyes, for Ingleborough had stopped short.
"That flute—that sword-cane—"
"Well, he has got them. Bah! I'm glad you stopped me from punching his head. Let him have them; they're his."
"Yes," said Ingleborough; "but the handle of the cane and the top joint of the flute. There was room for a dozen big diamonds in each."
"What! Then let's go and stop him!"
"Yes; we could but be wrong. Come on."
"Hah! Listen," cried West, and a sound arose which turned their thoughts in a different channel, for it was like the first note of the coming war.
The trumpet rang out the "assemblee" and thrilled both through and through, sending them to the arm-press for rifle and bandolier.
Clerking was over for many months to come. The pen was to give way to the modern substitute for the sword.
Rumours that proved to be false and rumours that proved to be true were plentiful enough during the following fortnight; and in that time Kimberley was transformed from a busy mining camp in which the black and white inhabitants were constantly going and coming like ants in a hill to a town whose siege was imminent, and whose people thought of nothing but preparing for the enemy, and whose talk was of rifle, cartridge, and trench.
But there was something done beside talk, the people loyally joining with the small military garrison in preparing for the defence of the place; and, while one portion worked to strengthen every spot that would form a redoubt, the other strove as long as was possible to get in stores to enable the defenders to hold out if they were besieged. For the determination was strong to save the enormous wealth of the place from the enemy whose borders were so short a distance from their lines.
Drilling and instruction in the use of arms were carried on almost night and day, and in a very short time the military element seemed to have pretty well swallowed up the civil, while each hour found the people more ready to meet the first rush of the dogs of war.
It was a most unsuitable place for defence, being a mere mining camp pitched in a wide bare plain, the only part suitable for turning into a keep being the huge mound cast up by the excavations in the search for diamonds; and this was fortified to the best of the defenders' ability almost from the first. But the situation had its advantages as well as failings, for the flat, open, desert-like land stretched right away on all sides, giving an enemy no undue advantages in the shape of kopje or ravine to turn into a natural fortress from which the town could be attacked.
The place, then, was a fair example of weakness and strength, the latter, however, daily growing, in the shape of a stern determination to give the Boers a very warm reception when they did attack.
So the days glided rapidly by, with authentic news at first fairly abundant, but invariably of a very serious nature, and whenever they were off the new duties they had to fulfil, the said news was amply discussed by the two young men, who from their prior preparation had stood forward at once as prominent members of the semi-military force.
"Be patient," said Ingleborough laughingly, one evening; "there'll be plenty of fighting by-and-by. I'd no idea you were going to develop into such a fire-eater."
"Fire-eater? Absurd! I only feel deeply interested in all we are doing."
"That's right, Noll! So do we all; but let's have no rashness. Remember all the drill and discipline. That's where we shall be able to tell against the enemy. They can use their rifles well enough; but they are an undisciplined mob at the best. By the way, have you run against the flute-player lately?"
"No, but I met the people with whom he lodges yesterday. They knew me again, and came up as if wanting to speak."
"Oh, they began by talking about the war and asking me whether I thought it would last long."
"To which you said No, eh?"
"I only said that I hoped not, and then they volunteered the information that they believed Anson was going to leave the town for the south."
"Indeed?" said Ingleborough sharply. "What made them think that?"
"Because their lodger had packed up all his little belongings and had bought a wagon and a span of oxen, which he kept just outside."
"Well, he'll lose them if he doesn't look out. He'll find himself between two fires. Either the oxen will be seized for stores, or the Boers will cut them off. The fellow must be either desperate or mad."
"In a fright, I should say," said West. "I don't think he would stomach the fighting."
"Oh, it's all nonsense! The report this evening was that the Boers are closing round us fast. He'll be stopped by one side or the other. Norton ought to know of this, though."
"I daresay he does know already," said West; "for he told me the other day that he was keeping his eye on our friend."
"So he did," said Ingleborough thoughtfully. "He has some idea of catching him trying to communicate with the enemy. If he does, Master Simon will not get off so easily as he did over the diamond business. Well, I'm tired, and I shall go to bed. Let's sleep while we can. There's no knowing what a day will bring forth!"
"You are right," said West. "You think we shall really come to close quarters?"
"Yes, and very close quarters too. I've expected it before now."
Nothing happens so surely as the unexpected, someone once said; and it was so the very next day.
Military drill was, as intimated, constantly going on; but that next morning there was a larger gathering than usual, the principal part of the regulars being drawn up in lines with the volunteer defenders—in all, a goodly show.
It was to some extent a general inspection; but after it was over the men were formed up as three sides of a hollow square, and the Colonel in command addressed the men, complimenting them upon their behaviour, and then giving them the contents in a great measure of the despatches he had received from headquarters, in combination with the reports of the scouts and from the outposts. He concluded by saying that in a few hours they would, in all probability, be completely shut off from communication with the south, for the Boers were closing round them in great force, and that until they were relieved they would be called upon to hold Kimberley, making a brave defence to save so important a town from falling into the hands of the invader.
Here he was stopped by a tremendous burst of cheering, which hindered him from saying, as he intended, that they must be of good heart and full of trust that the General in command would soon send help.
But the enthusiastic cheering taught the Commandant plainly that the men before him needed no "heartening up," and he smiled with satisfaction as he felt convinced that every call he made upon them would be answered.
What followed was short and to the point. He thanked them, made a few remarks about his determination that no Boers should drag the British flag from where it fluttered, told the garrison that he was proud to say that they had an ample supply of provisions and military stores, and that the Boers had only to make their first attack to find how they had deceived themselves about the British surrender at Majuba Hill.
Here there was another deafening burst of cheers.
Finally he made a fresh allusion to the well-known town farther north which was being surrounded by the enemy even as they were being shut in there.
"It will be a race," he said, "between us as to which town will first beat the Boers off; and the victors will then have the glorious task of going to the relief of the others."
After this the regulars were marched off to their quarters, leaving the volunteers standing fast; and the Commandant now summoned their officers to his side.
As it happened, this was within a few yards of the spot where West and Ingleborough were drawn up in the line, and every word the Commandant spoke came to them clear and plain.
"I have another little business to speak about, gentlemen," he said, "in connection with a second despatch which was enclosed to me this morning within my own. It is a letter of instructions I am ordered to convey to our brave brother-in-arms now in command at Mafeking; and, on thinking the matter over, I concluded that it would be unwise to select one of my own men to carry that despatch, from their want of knowledge of the country and people, and far better to apply to you gentlemen to recommend to me a thoroughly trustworthy man or two, who, regardless of all obstacles, would carry the despatch, bringing to bear force or cunning so as to evade the enemy's scouts, for the road is sure to swarm with them, even if it is not occupied by the Boers in force. It is possible, too, that Mafeking may be completely invested when he or they reach its neighbourhood; but I must have a despatch-rider who will look upon even that as a trifle to be overcome or crossed, and who will not rest until the despatch is safely placed in Colonel Baden-Powell's hands. Let me be fully understood: I want messengers who will be ready to fight if necessary or fly if needs be, but only to rebound and try in another direction—in short, men who will button up this despatch and say: 'It shall be placed in Baden-Powell's hands by hook or crook as soon as a swift horse can cover the ground.' This is what I want, and it is urgent, or it would not be placed in my hands to deliver with such stern commands. It means life or death to hundreds, if not thousands. So now then, whom do you know that will, with the assistance of a brave comrade, risk his life and carry my despatch?"