E-text prepared by Ed Ferris
THE DIAMOND MASTER
Author of "Elusive Isabel," "The Thinking Machine," etc.
Illustrated by Herman Pfeifer
Indianapolis The Bobbs-Merrill Company Publishers
I THE FIRST DIAMOND II TWEEDLEDUM AND TWEEDLEDEE III THURSDAY AT THREE IV THE UNLIMITED SUPPLY V THE ASTUTE MR. BIRNES VI THE MYSTERIOUS WOMAN VII A WINGED MESSENGER VIII SOME CONJECTURES IX AND MORE DIAMONDS! X THE BIG GAME XI THE SILENT BELL XII THE THIRD DEGREE XIII MR. CZENKI APPEARS XIV CAUGHT IN THE NET XV THE TRUTH IN PART XVI MR. CZENKI EXPLAINS XVII THE GREAT CUBE
THE FIRST DIAMOND
There were thirty or forty personally addressed letters, the daily heritage of the head of a great business establishment; and a plain, yellow-wrapped package about the size of a cigarette-box, some three inches long, two inches wide and one inch deep. It was neatly tied with thin scarlet twine, and innocent of markings except for the superscription in a precise, copperplate hand, and the smudge of the postmark across the ten-cent stamp in the upper right-hand corner. The imprint of the cancellation, faintly decipherable, showed that the package had been mailed at the Madison Square substation at half-past seven o'clock of the previous evening.
Mr. Harry Latham, president and active head of the H. Latham Company, manufacturing jewelers in Fifth Avenue, found the letters and the package on his desk when he entered his private office a few minutes past nine o'clock. The simple fact that the package bore no return address or identifying mark of any sort caused him to pick it up and examine it, after which he shook it inquiringly. Then, with kindling curiosity, he snipped the scarlet thread with a pair of silver scissors, and unfolded the wrappings. Inside was a glazed paper box, such as jewelers use, but still there was no mark, no printing, either on top or bottom.
The cover of the box came off in Mr. Latham's hand, disclosing a bed of white cotton. He removed the downy upper layer, and there—there, nestling against the snowy background, blazed a single splendid diamond, of six, perhaps seven, carats. Myriad colors played in its blue-white depths, sparkling, flashing, dazzling in the subdued light. Mr. Latham drew one long quick breath, and walked over to the window to examine the stone in the full glare of day.
A minute or more passed, a minute of wonder, admiration, allurement, but at last he ventured to lift the diamond from the box. It was perfect, so far as he could see; perfect in cutting and color and depth, prismatic, radiant, bewilderingly gorgeous. Its value? Even he could not offer an opinion—only the appraisement of his expert would be worth listening to on that point. But one thing he knew instantly—in the million-dollar stock of precious stones stored away in the vaults of the H. Latham Company, there was not one to compare with this.
At length, as he stared at it fascinated, he remembered that he didn't know its owner, and for the second time he examined the wrappings, the box inside and out, and finally he lifted out the lower layer of cotton, seeking a fugitive card or mark of some sort. Surely the owner of so valuable a stone would not be so careless as to send it this way, through the mail—unregistered—without some method of identification! Another sharp scrutiny of box and cotton and wrappings left him in deep perplexity.
Then another idea came. One of the letters, of course! The owner of the diamond had sent it this way, perhaps to be set, and had sent instructions under another cover. An absurd, even a reckless thing to do, but ——! And Mr. Latham attacked the heap of letters neatly stacked up in front of him. There were thirty-six of them, but not one even remotely hinted at diamonds. In order to be perfectly sure, Mr. Latham went through his mail a second time. Perhaps the letter of instructions had come addressed to the company, and had gone to the secretary, Mr. Flitcroft.
He arose to summon Mr. Flitcroft from an adjoining room, then changed his mind long enough carefully to replace the diamond in the box and thrust the box into a pigeonhole of his desk. Then he called Mr. Flitcroft in.
"Have you gone through your morning mail?" Mr. Latham inquired of the secretary.
"Yes," he replied. "I have just finished."
"Did you happen to come across a letter bearing on—that is, was there a letter to-day, or has there been a letter of instructions as to a single large diamond which was to come, or had come, by mail?"
"No, nothing," replied Mr. Flitcroft promptly. "The only letter received to-day which referred to diamonds was a notification of a shipment from South Africa."
Mr. Latham thoughtfully drummed on his desk.
"Well, I'm expecting some such letter," he explained. "When it comes please call it to my attention. Send my stenographer in."
Mr. Flitcroft nodded and withdrew; and for an hour or more Mr. Latham was engrossed in the routine of correspondence. There was only an occasional glance at the box in the pigeonhole, and momentary fits of abstraction, to indicate an unabated interest and growing curiosity in the diamond. The last letter was finished, and the stenographer arose to leave.
"Please ask Mr. Czenki to come here," Mr. Latham directed.
And after a while Mr. Czenki appeared. He was a spare little man, with beady black eyes, bushy brows, and a sinister scar extending from the point of his chin across the right jaw. Mr. Czenki drew a salary of twenty-five thousand dollars a year from the H. Latham Company, and was worth twice that much. He was the diamond expert of the firm; and for five or six years his had been the final word as to quality and value. He had been a laborer in the South African diamond fields—the scar was an assegai thrust—about the time Cecil Rhodes' grip was first felt there; later he was employed as an expert by Barney Barnato at Kimberly, and finally he went to London with Adolph Zeidt. Mr. Latham nodded as he entered, and took the box from the pigeonhole.
"Here's something I'd like you to look at," he remarked.
Mr. Czenki removed the cover and turned the glittering stone out into his hand. For a minute or more he stood still, examining it, as he turned and twisted it in his fingers, then walked over to a window, adjusted a magnifying glass in his left eye and continued the scrutiny. Mr. Latham swung around in his chair and stared at him intently.
"It's the most perfect blue-white I've ever seen," the expert announced at last. "I dare say it's the most perfect in the world."
Mr. Latham arose suddenly and strode over to Mr. Czenki, who was twisting the jewel in his fingers, singling out, dissecting, studying the colorful flashes, measuring the facets with practised eyes, weighing it on his finger-tips, seeking a possible flaw.
"The cutting is very fine," the expert went on. "Of course I would have to use instruments to tell me if it is mathematically correct; and the weight, I imagine, is—is about six carats, perhaps a fraction more."
"What's it worth?" asked Mr. Latham. "Approximately, I mean?"
"We know the color is perfect," explained Mr. Czenki precisely. "If, in addition, the cutting is perfect, and the depth is right, and the weight is six carats or a fraction more, it's worth—in other words, if that is the most perfect specimen in existence, as it seems to be, it's worth whatever you might choose to demand for it—twenty, twenty-five, thirty thousand dollars. With this color, and assuming it to be six carats, even if badly cut, it would be worth ten or twelve thousand."
Mr. Latham mopped his brow. And this had come by mail, unregistered!
"It would not be possible to say where—where such a stone came from—what country?" Mr. Latham inquired curiously. "What's your opinion?"
The expert shook his head. "If I had to guess I should say Brazil, of course," he replied; "but that would be merely because the most perfect blue-white diamonds come from Brazil. They are found all over the world—in Africa, Russia, India, China, even in the United States. The simple fact that this color is perfect makes conjecture useless."
Mr. Latham lapsed into silence, and for a time paced back and forth across his office; Mr. Czenki stood waiting.
"Please get the exact weight," Mr. Latham requested abruptly. "Also test the cutting. It came into my possession in rather an—an unusual manner, and I'm curious."
The expert went out. An hour later he returned and placed the white, glazed box on the desk before Mr. Latham.
"The weight is six and three-sixteenths carats," he stated. "The depth is absolutely perfect according to the diameter of the girdle. The bezel facets are mathematically correct to the minutest fraction—thirty-three, including the table. The facets on the collet side are equally exact—twenty-five, including the collet, or fifty-eight facets in all. As I said, the color is flawless. In other words," he continued without hesitation, "I should say, speaking as an expert, that it is the most perfect diamond existing in the world to-day."
Mr. Latham had been staring at him mutely, and he still sat silent for an instant after Mr. Czenki had finished.
"And its value?" he asked at last.
"Its value!" Mr. Czenki repeated musingly. "You know, Mr. Latham," he went on suddenly, "there are a hundred experts, commissioned by royalty, scouring the diamond markets of the world for such stones as this. So, if you are looking for a sale and a price, by all means offer it abroad first." He lifted the sparkling, iridescent jewel from the box again, and gazed at it reflectively. "There is not one stone belonging to the British crown, for instance, which would in any way compare with this."
"Not even the Koh-i-noor?" Mr. Latham demanded, surprised.
Mr. Czenki shook his head.
"Not even the Koh-i-noor. It is larger, that's all—a fraction more than one hundred and six carats, but it has neither the coloring nor the cutting of this." There was a pause. "Would it be impertinent if I ask who owns this?"
"I don't know," replied Mr. Latham slowly. "I don't know; but it isn't ours. Perhaps later I'll be able to—"
"I beg your pardon," the expert interrupted courteously, and there was a slight expression of surprise on his thin scarred face. "Is that all?"
Mr. Latham nodded absently and Mr. Czenki left the room.
TWEEDLEDUM AND TWEEDLEDEE
A little while later, when Mr. Latham started out to luncheon, he thrust the white glazed box into an inside pocket. It had occurred to him that Schultze—Gustave Schultze, the greatest importer of precious stones in America—was usually at the club where he had luncheon, and—
He found Mr. Schultze, a huge blond German, sitting at a table in an alcove, alone, gazing out upon Fifth Avenue in deep abstraction, with perplexed wrinkles about his blue eyes. The German glanced around at Latham quickly as he proceeded to draw out a chair on the opposite side of the table.
"Sid down, Laadham, sid down," he invited explosively. "I haf yust send der vaiter to der delephone to ask—"
There was a restrained note of excitement in the German's voice, but at the moment it was utterly lost upon Mr. Latham.
"Schultze, you've probably imported more diamonds in the last ten years than any other half-dozen men in the United States," he interrupted. "I have something here I want you to see. Perhaps, at some time, it may have passed through your hands."
He placed the glazed box on the table. For an instant the German stared at it with amazed eyes, then one fat hand darted toward it, and he spilled the diamond out on the napkin in his plate. Then he sat gazing as if fascinated by the lambent, darting flashes deep from the blue-white heart.
"Mein Gott, Laadham!" he exclaimed, and with fingers which shook a little he lifted the stone and squinted through it toward the light, with critical eyes. Mr. Latham was leaning forward on the table, waiting, watching, listening.
"Well?" he queried impatiently, at last.
"Laadham, id is der miracle!" Mr. Schultze explained solemnly, with his characteristic, whimsical philosophy. "I haf der dupligade of id, Laadham—der dwin, der liddle brudder. Zee here!"
From an inner pocket he produced a glazed white box, identical with that which Mr. Latham had just set down, then carefully laid the cover aside.
"Look, Laadham, look!"
Mr. Latham looked—and gasped! Here was the counterpart of the mysterious diamond which still lay in Mr. Schultze's outstretched palm.
"Dey are dwins, Laadham," remarked the German quaintly, finally. "Id came by der mail in dis morning—yust like das, wrapped in paper, but mit no marks, no name, no noddings. Id yust came!"
With his right hand Mr. Latham lifted the duplicate diamond from its cotton bed, and with his left took the other from the German's hand. Then, side by side, he examined them; color, cutting, diameter, depth, all seemed to be the same.
"Dwins, I dell you," repeated Mr. Schultze stolidly. "Dweedledum und Dweedledee, born of der same mudder und fadder. Laadham, id iss der miracle! Dey are der most beaudiful der world in—yust der pair of dem."
"Have you made," Mr. Latham began, and there was an odd, uncertain note in his voice—"Have you made an expert examination?"
"I haf. I measure him, der deepness, der cudding, der facets, und id iss perfect. Und I take my own judgment of a diamond, Laadham, before any man der vorld in but Czenki."
"And the weight?"
"Prezizely six und d'ree-sixdeendh carads. Dere iss nod more as a difference of a d'irty-second bedween dem."
Mr. Latham regarded the importer steadily, the while he fought back an absurd, nervous thrill in his voice.
"There isn't that much, Schultze. Their weight is exactly the same."
For a long time the two men sat staring at each other unseeingly. Finally the German, with a prodigious Teutonic sigh, replaced the diamond from Mr. Latham's right hand in one of the glazed boxes and carefully stowed it away in a cavernous pocket; Mr. Latham mechanically disposed of the other in the same manner.
"Whose are they?" he demanded at length. "Why are they sent to us like this, with no name, no letter of explanation? Until I saw the stone you have I believed this other had been sent to me by some careless fool for setting, perhaps, and that a letter would follow it. I merely brought it here on the chance that it was one of your importations and that you could identify it. But since you have received one under circumstances which seem to be identical, now—" He paused helplessly. "What does it mean?"
Mr. Schultze shrugged his huge shoulders and thoughtfully flicked the ashes from his cigar into the consomme.
"You know, Laadham," he said slowly, "dey don't pick up diamonds like dose on der streed gorners. I didn't believe dere vas a stone of so bigness in der Unided States whose owner I didn't know id vas. Dose dat are here I haf bring in myself, mostly—dose I did not I haf kept drack of. I don'd know, Laadham, I don'd know. Der longer I lif der more I don'd know."
The two men completed a scant luncheon in silence.
"Obviously," remarked Mr. Latham as he laid his napkin aside, "the diamonds were sent to us by the same person; obviously they were sent to us with a purpose; obviously we will, in time, hear from the person who sent them; obviously they were intended to be perfectly matched; so let's see if they are. Come to my office and let Czenki examine the one you have." He hesitated an instant. "Suppose you let me take it. We'll try a little experiment."
He carefully placed the jewel which the German handed to him, in an outside pocket, and together they went to his office. Mr. Czenki appeared, in answer to a summons, and Mr. Latham gave him the German's box.
"That's the diamond you examined for me this morning, isn't it?" he inquired.
Mr. Czenki turned it out into his hand and scrutinized it perfunctorily.
"Yes," he replied after a moment.
"Are you quite certain?" Mr. Latham insisted.
Something in the tone caused Mr. Czenki to raise his beady black eyes questioningly for an instant, after which he walked over to a window and adjusted his magnifying glass again. For a moment or more he stood there, then:
"It's the same stone," he announced positively.
"Id iss der miracle, Laadham, when Czenki make der mistake!" the German exploded suddenly. "Show him der odder von."
Mr. Czenki glanced from one to the other with quick, inquisitive glance; then, without a word, Mr. Latham produced the second box and opened it. The expert stared incredulously at the two perfect stones and finally, placing them side by side on a sheet of paper, returned to the window and sat down. Mr. Latham and Mr. Schultze stood beside him, looking on curiously as he turned and twisted the jewels under his powerful glass.
"As a matter of fact," asked Mr. Latham pointedly at last, "you would not venture to say which of those stones it was you examined this morning, would you?"
"No," replied Mr. Czenki curtly, "not without weighing them."
"And if the weight is identical?"
"No," said Mr. Czenki again. "If the weight is the same there is not the minutest fraction of a difference between them."
THURSDAY AT THREE
Mr. Latham ran through his afternoon mail with feverish haste and found—nothing; Mr. Schultze achieved the same result more ponderously. On the following morning the mail still brought nothing. About eleven o'clock Mr. Latham's desk telephone rang.
"Come to my offiz," requested Mr. Schultze, in gutteral excitement. "Mein Gott, Laadham, der—come to my offiz, Laadham, und bring der diamond!"
Mr. Latham went. Including himself, there were the heads of the five greatest jewel establishments in America, representing, perhaps, one-tenth of the diamond trade of the country, in Mr. Schultze's office. He found the other four gathered around a small table, and on this table—Mr. Latham gasped as he looked—lay four replicas of the mysterious diamond in his pocket.
"Pud id down here, Laadham," directed Mr. Schultze. "Dey're all dwins alike—Dweedeldums und Dweedledeeses."
Mr. Latham silently placed the fifth diamond on the table, and for a minute or more the five men stood still and gazed, first at the diamonds, then at one another, and then again at the diamonds. Mr. Solomon, the crisply spoken head of Solomon, Berger and Company, broke the silence.
"These all came yesterday morning by mail, one to each of us just as the one came to you," he informed Mr. Latham. "Mr. Harris here, of Harris and Blacklock, learned that I had received such a stone, and brought the one he had received for comparison. We made some inquiries together and found that a duplicate had been received by Mr. Stoddard, of Hall-Stoddard-Higginson. The three of us came here to see if Mr. Schultze could give us any information, and he telephoned for you."
Mr. Latham listened blankly.
"It's positively beyond belief," he burst out. "What—what does it mean?"
"Id means," the German importer answered philosophically, "dat if diamonds like dese keep popping up like dis, dat in anoder d'ree months dey vill nod be vorth more as five cents a bucketful."
The truth of the observation came to the four others simultaneously. Hitherto there had been only the sense of wonder and admiration; now came the definite knowledge that diamonds, even of such great size and beauty as these, would grow cheap if they were to be picked out of the void; and realization of this astonishing possibility brought five shrewd business brains to a unit of investigation. First it was necessary to find how many other jewelers had received duplicates; then it was necessary to find whence they came. A plan was adopted, and an investigation ordered to begin at once.
"Dere iss someding back of id, of course," declared Mr. Schultze. "Vas iss? Dey are nod being send for our healdh!"
During the next six days half a score of private detectives were at work on the mystery, with the slender clews at hand. They scanned hotel registers, quizzed paper-box manufacturers, pestered stamp clerks, bedeviled postal officials, and the sum total of their knowledge was negative, save in the fact that they established beyond question that only these five men had received the diamonds.
And meanwhile the heads of the five greatest jewel houses in New York were assiduous in their search for that copperplate superscription in their daily mail. On the morning of the eighth day it came. Mr. Latham was nervously shuffling his unopened personal correspondence when he came upon it—a formal white square envelope, directed by that same copperplate hand which had directed the boxes. He dropped into his chair, and opened the envelope with eager fingers. Inside was this letter:
MY DEAR SIR:
One week ago I took the liberty of sending to you, and to each of four other leading jewelers of this city whose names you know, a single large diamond of rare cutting and color. Please accept this as a gift from me, and be good enough to convey my compliments to the other four gentlemen, and assure them that theirs, too, were gifts.
Believe me, I had no intention of making a mystery of this. It was necessary definitely to attract your attention, and I could conceive of no more certain way than in this manner. In return for the value of the jewels I shall ask that you and the four others concerned give me an audience in your office on Thursday afternoon next at three o'clock; that you make known this request to the others; and that three experts whose judgment you will all accept shall meet with us.
I believe you will appreciate the necessity of secrecy in this matter, for the present at least. Respectfully,
E. VAN CORTLANDT WYNNE
They were on hand promptly, all of them—Mr. Latham, Mr. Schultze, Mr. Solomon, Mr. Stoddard and Mr. Harris. The experts agreed upon were the unemotional Mr. Czenki, Mr. Cawthorne, an Englishman in the employ of Solomon, Berger and Company, and Mr. Schultze, who gravely admitted that he was the first expert in the land, after Mr. Czenki, and whose opinion of himself was unanimously accepted by the others. The meeting place was the directors' room of the H. Latham Company.
At one minute of three o'clock a clerk entered with a card, and handed it to Mr. Latham.
"'Mr. E. van Cortlandt Wynne,'" Mr. Latham read aloud, and every man in the room moved a little in his chair. Then: "Show him in here, please."
"Now, gendlemens," observed Mr. Schultze sententiously, "ve shall zee vat ve shall zee."
The clerk went out and a moment later Mr. Wynne appeared. He was tall and rather slender, alert of eyes, graceful of person; perfectly self-possessed and sure of himself, yet without one trace of egotism in manner or appearance—a fair type of the brisk, courteous young business man of New York. He wore a tweed suit, and in his left hand carried a small sole-leather grip. For an instant he stood, framed by the doorway, meeting the sharp scrutiny of the assembled jewelers with a frank smile. For a little time no one spoke—merely gazed—and finally:
"Mr. Latham?" queried Mr. Wynne, looking from one to the other.
Mr. Latham came to his feet with a sudden realization of his responsibilities as a temporary host, and introductions followed. Mr. Wynne passed along on one side of the table, shaking hands with each man in turn until he came to Mr. Czenki. Mr. Latham introduced them.
"Mr. Czenki," repeated Mr. Wynne, and he allowed his eyes to rest frankly upon the expert for a moment. "Your name has been repeated to me so often that I almost feel as if I knew you."
Mr. Czenki bowed without speaking.
"I am assuming that this is the Mr. Czenki who was associated with Mr. Barnato and Mr. Zeidt?" the young man went on.
"That is correct, yes," replied the expert.
"And I believe, too, that you once did some special work for Professor Henri Moissan in Paris?"
Mr. Czenki's black eyes seemed to be searching the other's face for an instant, and then he nodded affirmatively.
"I made some tests for him, yes," he volunteered.
Mr. Wynne passed on along the other side of the long table, and stopped at the end. Mr. Latham was at his right, Mr. Schultze at his left, and Mr. Czenki sat at the far end, facing him. The small sole-leather grip was on the floor at Mr. Wynne's feet. For a moment he permitted himself to enjoy the varying expressions of interest on the faces around the table.
"Gentlemen," he began, then, "you all, probably, have seen my letter to Mr. Latham, or at least you are aware of its contents, so you understand that the diamonds which were mailed to you are your property. I am not a eleemosynary institution for the relief of diamond merchants," and he smiled a little, "for the gifts are preliminary to a plain business proposition—a method of concentrating your attention, and, in themselves, part payment, if I may say it, for any worry or inconvenience which followed upon their appearance. There are only five of them in the world, they are precisely alike, and they are yours. I beg of you to accept them with my compliments."
Mr. Schultze tilted his chair back a little, the better to study the young man's countenance.
"I am going to make some remarkable statements," the young man continued, "but each of those statements is capable of demonstration here and now. Don't hesitate to interrupt if there is a question in your mind, because everything I shall say is vital to each of you as bearing on the utter destruction of the world's traffic in diamonds. It is coming, gentlemen, it is coming, just as inevitably as that night follows day, unless you stop it. You can stop it by concerted action, in a manner which I shall explain later."
He paused and glanced along the table. Only the face of Mr. Czenki was impassive.
"Since the opening of the fields in South Africa," Mr. Wynne resumed quietly, "something like five hundred million dollars' worth of diamonds have been found there; and we'll say arbitrarily that all the other diamond fields of the world, including Brazil and Australia, have produced another five hundred million dollars' worth —in other words, since about 1868 a billion dollars' worth of diamonds has been placed upon the market. Gentlemen, that represents millions and millions of carats—forty, fifty, sixty million carats in the rough, say. Please bear those figures in mind a moment.
"Now, suddenly, and as yet secretly, the diamond output of the world has been increased fiftyfold—that is, gentlemen, within the year I can place another billion dollars' worth of diamonds, at the prices that hold now, in the open market; and within still another year I can place still another billion in the market; and on and on indefinitely. To put it differently, I have found the unlimited supply."
"Mein Gott, vere iss id?" demanded the German breathlessly.
Heedless of the question, Mr. Wynne leaned forward on the table, and gazed with half-closed eyes into the faces before him. Incredulity was the predominant expression, and coupled with that was amazement. Mr. Harris, with quite another emotion displaying itself on his face, pushed back his chair as if to rise; a slight wrinkle in his brow was all the evidence of interest displayed by Mr. Czenki.
"I am not crazy, gentlemen," Mr. Wynne went on after a moment, and the perfectly normal voice seemed to reassure Mr. Harris, for he sat still. "The diamonds are now in existence, untold millions of dollars' worth of them—but there is the tedious work of cutting. They're in existence, packed away as you pack potatoes—I thrust my two hands into a bag and bring them out full of stones as perfect as the ones I sent you."
He straightened up again and the deep earnestness of his face relaxed a little.
"I believe you said, Mr. Wynne, that you could prove any assertion you might make, here and now?" suggested Mr. Latham coldly. "It occurs to me that such extraordinary statements as these demand immediate proof."
Mr. Wynne turned and smiled at him.
"You are quite right," he agreed; and then, to all of them: "It's hardly necessary to dwell upon the value of colored diamonds—the rarest and most precious of all—the perfect rose-color, the perfect blue and the perfect green." He drew a small, glazed white box from his pocket and opened it. "Please be good enough to look at this, Mr. Czenki."
He spun a rosily glittering object some three-quarters of an inch in diameter, along the table toward Mr. Czenki. It flamed and flashed as it rolled, with that deep iridescent blaze which left no doubt of what it was. Every man at the table arose and crowded about Mr. Czenki, who held a flamelike sphere in his outstretched palm for their inspection. There was a tense, breathless instant.
"It's a diamond!" remarked Mr. Czenki, as if he himself had doubted it. "A deep rose-color, cut as a perfect sphere."
"It's worth half a million dollars if it's worth a cent!" exclaimed Mr. Solomon almost fiercely.
"And this, please."
Mr. Wynne, from the other end of the table, spun another glittering sphere toward them—this as brilliantly, softly green as the verdure of early spring, prismatic, gleaming, radiant. Mr. Czenki's beady eyes snapped as he caught it and held it out for the others to see, and some strange emotion within caused him to close his teeth savagely.
"And this!" said Mr. Wynne again.
And a third sphere rolled along the table. This was blue—elusively blue as a moonlit sky. Its rounded sides caught the light from the windows and sparkled it back.
And now the three jewels lay side by side in Mr. Czenki's open hand, the while the five greatest diamond merchants of the United States glutted their eyes upon them. Mr. Latham's face went deathly white from sheer excitement, the German's violently red from the same emotion, and the others—there was amazement, admiration, awe in them. Mr. Czenki's countenance was again impassive.
THE UNLIMITED SUPPLY
"If you will all be seated again, please?" requested Mr. Wynne, who still stood, cool and self-certain, at the end of the table.
The sound of his voice brought a returning calm to the others, and they resumed their seats—all save Mr. Cawthorne, who walked over to a window with the three spheres in his hand and stood there examining them under his glass.
"You gentlemen know, of course, the natural shape of the diamond in the rough?" Mr. Wynne resumed questioningly. "Here are a dozen specimens which may interest you—the octahedron, the rhombic dodecahedron, the triakisoctahedron and the hexakisoctahedron." He spread them along the table with a sweeping gesture of his hand, colorless, inert pebbles, ranging in size from a pea to a peanut. "And now, you ask, where do they come from?"
The others nodded unanimously.
"I'll have to state a fact that you all know, as part answer to that question," replied Mr. Wynne. "A perfect diamond is a perfect diamond, no matter where it comes from—Africa, Brazil, India or New Jersey. There is not the slightest variation in value if the stone is perfect. That being true, it is a matter of no concern to you, as dealers, where these come from—sufficient it is that they are here, and, being here, they bring home to you the necessity of concerted action to uphold the diamond as a thing of value."
"You said der vorld's oudpud had been increased fiftyfold?" suggested Mr. Schultze. "Do ve understand you prove him by dese?"
The young man smiled slightly and drew a leather packet from an inner pocket. He stripped it of several rubber bands, and then turned to Mr. Czenki again.
"Mr. Czenki, I have been told that a few years ago you had an opportunity of examining the Koh-i-noor. Is that correct?"
"I believe the Koh-i-noor was temporarily removed from its setting, and that you were one of three experts to whom was intrusted the task of selecting four stones of the identical coloring to be set alongside it?"
"That is correct," Mr. Czenki agreed.
"You held the Koh-i-noor in your hand, and you would be able to identify it?"
"I would be able to identify it," said Mr. Cawthorne positively.
He had turned at the window quickly; it was the first time he had spoken. Mr. Wynne walked around the table to Mr. Czenki, and Mr. Cawthorne approached them.
"Suppose, then, you gentlemen examine this together," suggested Mr. Wynne.
He lifted a great glittering jewel from the leather packet and held it aloft that all might see. Then he carefully placed it on the table in front of the experts; the others came to their feet and stood gazing as if fascinated.
"By Jove!" exclaimed Mr. Cawthorne.
For a minute or more the two experts studied the huge diamond—one hundred and six carats and a fraction—beneath their glasses, and finally Mr. Cawthorne picked it up and led the way toward the window. Mr. Czenki and the German followed him.
"Gentlemen," and Mr. Cawthorne now turned sharply to face the others, "this is the Koh-i-noor! Mr. Czenki didn't mention it, but I was one of the three experts who had opportunity to examine the Koh-i-noor. This is the Koh-i-noor!"
Startled, questioning eyes were turned upon Mr. Wynne; he was smiling. There was a question in his face as he regarded Mr. Czenki.
"It is either the Koh-i-noor or an exact duplicate," said Mr. Czenki.
"It is the Koh-i-noor," repeated Mr. Cawthorne doggedly.
"Id seems to me," interposed Mr. Schultze, "dat if der Koh-i-noor vas missing somebody would haf heard, ain'd id? I haf nod heard. Mr. Czenki made a misdake der oder day—maybe you make id to-day?"
"You have made a mistake, I assure you, Mr. Cawthorne," remarked Mr. Wynne quietly. "You identify that as the Koh-i-noor, of course, by a slight inaccuracy in one of the facets adjoining the collet. That inaccuracy is known to every diamond expert—the mistake you make is a compliment to that as a replica."
He resumed his position at the end of the table, and Mr. Schultze sat beside him. Amazement was a thing of the past, as far as he was concerned. Mr. Czenki dropped into his chair again.
"And now, Mr. Czenki, speaking as an expert, what would you say was the most perfect diamond the world?" asked Mr. Wynne.
"The five blue-white stones you mailed to these gentlemen," replied the expert without hesitation.
"Perhaps I should have specified the most perfect diamond known to the world at large," Mr. Wynne added smilingly.
Again Mr. Cawthorne looked around, with bewilderment in his eyes. The others nodded their approval of Mr. Czenki's opinion.
"The Regent, yes," Mr. Wynne agreed; "one hundred and thirty-six and three-quarter carats, cut as a brilliant, worn by Napoleon in his sword-hilt, now in the Louvre at Paris, the property of the French Government—valued at two and a half million dollars." His hand disappeared into the leather packet again; poised on his finger-tips, when he withdrew them, was another huge jewel. He dropped it into Mr. Schultze's hand. "There is further proof that the diamond output has increased fiftyfold."
Mr. Schultze seemed dazed as he turned and twisted the diamond in his hand. After a moment he passed it on down the table without a word.
"A duplicate also," and Mr. Wynne glanced at Mr. Cawthorne. "It is reasonably certain that you would have heard of that if it had disappeared from the Louvre." He turned to Mr. Schultze again. "I may add that this fiftyfold increase in output is not confined to small stones," he went on tauntingly. "They are of all sizes and values. For instance?"
He lifted still another jewel from the packet and held it aloft for an instant.
"The Orloff!" gasped Mr. Solomon.
"No," the young man corrected; "this, too, is a duplicate. The original is in the Russian sceptre. This is a replica—color, weight and cutting being identical—one hundred and ninety-three carats, nearly as large as a pigeon's egg."
Again Mr. Wynne glanced along the table. Suddenly the frank amazement had vanished from the faces of these men, and he found only the tense interest of an audience watching a clever juggler. For a time Mr. Schultze studied the Orloff duplicate, then passed it along to the experts.
"Der grand Cullinan diamond weighs only two or d'ree pounds," he questioned in a tone of deep resignation. "Maybe you haf him in der backage, alretty?"
"Not yet," replied Mr. Wynne, "but I may possibly get that on my next trip out. Who knows?"
There was a long, tense silence. Mechanically Mr. Czenki placed the three spheres and the replicas in an orderly little row on the table in front of him and the uncut stones beside them—six, seven, eight million dollars' worth of diamonds.
"Gentlemen, are you convinced?" demanded Mr. Wynne suddenly. "Is there one lingering doubt in any mind here as to the tremendous find which makes the production of all those possible?"
"Id iss der miracle, Mr. Vynne," admitted the German gravely, after a little pause. "Dere iss someding before us as nefer vas in der vorld. I am gonvinced!"
"Up to this moment, gentlemen, the De Beers Syndicate has controlled the diamond market," Mr. Wynne announced, "but now, from this moment, I control it. I hold it there, in the palm of my hand, with the unlimited supply back of me. I am offering you an opportunity to prevent the annihilation of the market. It rests with you. If I turn loose a billion dollars' worth of diamonds within the year you are ruined—all of you. You know that—it's hardly necessary to tell you. And, gentlemen, I don't care to do it."
"What is your proposition?" queried Mr. Latham quietly. His face was ghastly white; haggard lines, limned by amazement and realization, were marked clearly on it. "What is your proposition?" he repeated.
"Wait a minute," interposed Mr. Solomon protestingly, and he turned to the young man. "The Syndicate controls the market by force of a reserve stock of ten or fifteen million dollars. Do we understand that you have more than these ready for market now?"
Mr. Wynne stooped and lifted the small sole-leather grip which had been unheeded on the floor. He unfastened the catch and turned the bag upside down upon the table. When he raised it again the assembled jewelers gazed upon a spectacle unknown and undreamed of in the history of the world—a great, glittering heap of diamonds, flashing, colorful, prismatic, radiant, bedazzling. They rattled like pebbles upon the mahogany table as they slipped and slid one against another, and then, at rest, resolved themselves into a steady, multi-colored blaze which was almost blinding.
"Now, gentlemen, on the table before you there are about thirty million dollars' worth of diamonds," Mr. Wynne announced calmly. "They are all perfect, every one of them; and they're mine. I know where they come from; you can't find out. It's none of your business. Are you satisfied now?"
Mr. Latham looked, looked until his eyes seemed bursting from his head, and then, with an inarticulate little cry, fell forward on the table with his face on his arms. The German importer came to his feet with one vast Teutonic oath, then sat down again; Mr. Solomon plunged his hand into the blazing heap and laughed senselessly. The others were silent, stunned, overcome. Mr. Wynne walked around the table and replaced the spheres and replicas in his pocket, after which he resumed his former position.
"I have stated my case, gentlemen," he continued quietly, very quietly. "Now for my proposition. Briefly it is this: For a consideration I will destroy the unlimited supply. I will bind myself to secrecy, as you must; I will guarantee that no stone from the same source is ever offered in the market or privately, while you gentlemen," and his manner was emphatically deliberate, "purchase from me at one-half the carat price you now pay one hundred million dollars' worth of diamonds!"
He paused. There was not a sound; no one moved.
"You may put them on the market as you may agree, slowly, thus preventing any material fluctuation in value," he went on. "How to hold this tremendous reserve secretly and still permit the operation of the other diamond mines of the world is the great problem you will have to face."
He leaned over, picked up a handful from the heap and replaced them in the leather bag. The others he swept off into it, then snapped the lock.
"I will give you one week to decide what you will do," he said in conclusion. "If you accept the proposition, then six weeks from next Thursday at three o'clock I shall expect a cash payment of ten million dollars for a portion of the stones now cut and ready; within a year all the diamonds will have been delivered and the transaction must be closed." He hesitated an instant. "I'm sorry, gentlemen, if the terms seem hard, but I think, after consideration, you will agree that I have done you a favor by coming to you instead of going into the market and destroying it. I will call next Thursday at three for your answer. That is all. Good day!"
The door opened and closed behind him. A minute, two minutes, three minutes passed and no one spoke. At last the German came to his feet slowly with a sigh.
"Anyhow, gendlemens," he remarked, "dat young man has a hell of a lod of diamonds, ain'd id?"
THE ASTUTE MR. BIRNES
It was a few minutes past four o'clock when Mr. Wynne strode through the immense retail sales department of the H. Latham Company, and a uniformed page held open the front door for him to pass out. Once on the sidewalk the self-styled diamond master of the world paused long enough to pull on his gloves, carelessly chucking the small sole-leather grip with its twenty-odd million dollars' worth of precious stones under one arm; then he turned up Fifth Avenue toward Thirty-fourth Street. A sneak thief brushed past him, appraised him with one furtive glance, then went his way, seeking quarry more promising.
Simultaneously with Mr. Wynne's appearance three men whose watchful eyes had been fastened on the doorway of the H. Latham Company for something more than an hour stirred. One of them—Frank Claflin—was directly across the street, strolling along idly, the most purposeless of all in the hurrying, well-dressed throng; another—Steve Birnes, chief of the Birnes Detective Agency—appeared from the hallway of a building adjoining the H. Latham Company, and moved along behind Mr. Wynne, some thirty feet in the rear; the third—Jerry Malone—was half a block away, up Fifth Avenue, coming slowly toward them.
Mr. Birnes adjusted his pace to that of Mr. Wynne, step for step, and then, seeming assured of his safety from any chance glance, ostentatiously mopped his face with a handkerchief, flirting it a little to the left as he replaced it in his pocket. Claflin, across the street, understood from that that he was to go on up Fifth Avenue to Thirty-fourth Street, the next intersection, and turn west to board any crosstown car which Mr. Wynne might possibly take; and a cabby, who had been sitting motionless on his box down the street, understood from it that he was to move slowly along behind Mr. Birnes, and be prepared for an emergency.
Half-way between Thirty-third and Thirty-fourth Streets, Jerry Malone approached and passed Mr. Wynne without so much as a glance at him, and went on toward his chief.
"Drop in behind here," Mr. Birnes remarked crisply to Malone, without looking around. "I'll walk on ahead and turn east in Thirty-fourth Street to nail him if he swings a car. Claflin's got him going west."
Mr. Wynne was perhaps some twenty feet from the corner of Thirty-fourth Street and Fifth Avenue when Mr. Birnes passed him. His glance lingered on the broad back of the chief reflectively as he swung by and turned into the cross street, after a quick, business-like glance at an approaching car. Then Mr. Wynne smiled. He paused on the edge of the curb long enough for an automobile to pass, then went on across Thirty-fourth Street to the uptown side and, turning flatly, looked Mr. Birnes over pensively, after which he leaned up against an electric-light pole and scribbled something on an envelope.
A closed cab came wriggling and squirming up Fifth Avenue. As it reached the middle of Thirty-fourth Street Mr. Wynne raised his hand, and the cab drew up beside him. He said something to the driver, opened the door and stepped in. Mr. Birnes smiled confidently. So that was it, eh? He, too, crossed Thirty-fourth Street and lifted his hand. The cab which had been drifting along behind him immediately came up.
"Now, Jimmy, get on the job," instructed Mr. Birnes, as he stepped in. "Keep that chap in sight and when he stops you stop."
Mr. Wynne's cab jogged along comfortably up the avenue, twisting and winding a path between the other vehicles, the while Mr. Birnes regarded it with thoughtful gaze. Its number dangled on a white board in the rear; Mr. Birnes just happened to note it.
"Grand Central Station, I'll bet a hat," he mused.
But the closed cab didn't turn into Forty-second Street; it went past, then on past Delmonico's, past the Cathedral, past the Plaza, at Fifty-ninth Street, and still on uptown. It was not hurrying— it merely moved steadily; but once free of the snarl which culminates at the Fifty-ninth Street entrance to Central Park, its speed was increased a little. Past Sixty-fourth Street, Sixty-fifth, Sixty-sixth, and at Sixty-seventh it slowed up and halted at the sidewalk on the far side.
"Stop in front of a door, Jimmy," directed the detective hastily.
Jimmy obeyed gracefully, and Mr. Birnes stepped out, hardly half a block behind the closed cab. He went through an elaborate pretense of paying Jimmy, the while he regarded Mr. Wynne, who had also alighted and was paying the driver. The small sole-leather grip was on the ground between his feet as he ransacked his pocketbook. A settlement was reached, the cabby nodded, touched his horse with his whip and continued to jog on up Fifth Avenue.
"Now, he didn't order that chap to come back or he wouldn't have paid him," the detective reasoned. "Therefore he's close to where he is going."
But Mr. Wynne seemed in no hurry; instead he stood still for a minute gazing after the retreating vehicle, which fact made it necessary for Mr. Birnes to start a dispute with Jimmy as to just how much the fare should be. They played the scene admirably; had Mr. Wynne been listening he might even have heard part of the vigorous argument. Whether he listened or not he turned and gazed straight at Mr. Birnes until, finally, the detective recognized the necessity of getting out of sight.
With a final explosion he handed a bill to Jimmy and turned to go up the steps of the house. He had no business there, but he must do something.
Jimmy turned the cab short and went rattling away down Fifth Avenue to await orders in the lee of a corner a block or so away. And, meanwhile, as Mr. Wynne still stood on the corner, Mr. Birnes had to go on up the steps. But as he placed his foot on the third step he knew—though he had not looked, apparently, yet he knew—that Mr. Wynne had raised his hand, and that in that hand was a small white envelope. And further, he knew that Mr. Wynne was gazing directly at him.
Now that was odd. Slowly it began to dawn upon the detective that Mr. Wynne was trying to attract his attention. If he heeded the signal—evidently it was intended as such—it would be a confession that he was following Mr. Wynne, and realizing this he took two more steps up. Mr. Wynne waved the envelope again, after which he folded it across twice and thrust it into a crevice of a water-plug beside him. Then he turned east along Sixty-seventh Street and disappeared.
The detective had seen the performance, all of it, and he was perplexed. It was wholly unprecedented. However, the first thing to do now was to keep Mr. Wynne in sight, so he came down the steps and walked rapidly on to Sixty-seventh Street, pausing to peer around the corner before he turned. Mr. Wynne was idling along, half a block away, without the slightest apparent interest in what was happening behind. Inevitably Mr. Birnes' eyes were drawn to the water-plug across the street. A tag end of white paper gleamed tantalizingly. Now what the deuce did it mean?
Being only human, Mr. Birnes went across the street and got the paper. It was an envelope. As he unfolded it and gazed at the address, written in pencil, his mouth opened in undignified astonishment. It was addressed to him—Steve Birnes, Chief of the Birnes Detective Agency. Mr. Wynne had still not looked back, so the detective trailed along behind, opening the envelope as he walked. A note inside ran briefly:
My address is No. —— East Thirty-seventh Street. If it is necessary for you to see me please call there about six o'clock this afternoon. E. VAN CORTLANDT WYNNE
Now here was, perhaps, as savory a kettle of fish as Mr. Birnes had ever stumbled upon. It is difficult to imagine a more embarrassing situation for the professional sleuth than to find himself suddenly taken into the confidence of the person he is shadowing. But was he being taken into Mr. Wynne's confidence? Ah! That was the question! Admitting that Mr. Wynne knew who he was, and admitting that he knew he was being followed, was not this apparent frankness an attempt to throw him off the scent? He would see, would Mr. Birnes.
He quickened his pace a little, then slowed up instantly, because Mr. Wynne had stopped on the corner of Madison Avenue, and as a downtown car came rushing along he stepped out to board it. Mr. Birnes scuttled across the street, and by a dexterous jump swung on the car as it fled past. Mr. Wynne had gone forward and was taking a seat; Mr. Birnes remained on the back platform, sheltered by the accommodating bulk of a fat man, and flattered himself that Mr. Wynne had not seen him. By peering over a huge shoulder the detective was still able to watch Mr. Wynne.
He saw him pay his fare, and then he saw him place the small sole-leather grip on his knees and unfasten the catch. Not knowing what was in that grip Mr. Birnes was curious to see what came out of it. Nothing came out of it—it was empty! There was no question of this, for Mr. Wynne opened it wide and turned it upside down to shake it out. It didn't mean anything in particular to Mr. Birnes, the fact that the grip was empty, so he didn't get excited about it.
Mr. Wynne left the car at Thirty-fourth Street, the south end of the Park Avenue tunnel, by the front door, and the detective stepped off the rear end. Mr. Wynne brushed past him as he went up the stairs, and as he did so he smiled a little—a very little. He walked on up Park Avenue to Thirty-seventh Street, turned in there and entered a house about the middle of the block, with a latch-key. The detective glanced at the number of the house, and felt aggrieved—it was the number that was written in the note! And Mr. Wynne had entered with a key! Which meant, in all probability, that he did live there, as he had said!
But why did he take that useless cab ride up Fifth Avenue? If he had no objection to any one knowing his address, why did he go so far out of his way? Mr. Birnes couldn't say. As he pondered these questions he saw a maid-servant come out of a house adjoining that which Mr. Wynne had entered, an he went up boldly to question her.
Did a Mr. Wynne live next door? Yes. How long had he lived there? Five or six months. Did he own the house? No. The people who owned the house had gone to Europe for a year and had rented it furnished. No, Mr. Wynne didn't have a family. He lived there alone except for two servants, a cook and a housemaid. She had never noticed anything unusual about Mr. Wynne, or the servants, or the house. Yes, he went out every day, downtown to business. No, she didn't know what his business was, but she had an idea that he was a broker. That was all.
From a near-by telephone booth the detective detailed Claflin and Malone, who had returned to the office, to keep a sharp watch on the house, after which he walked on to Fifth Avenue, and down Fifth Avenue to the establishment of the H. Latham Company. Mr. Latham would see him—yes. In fact, Mr. Latham, harried by the events of the past two hours, bewildered by a hundred-million-dollar diamond deal which had been thrust down his throat gracefully, but none the less certainly, and ridden by the keenest curiosity, was delighted to see Mr. Birnes.
"I've got his house address all right," Mr. Birne boasted, in the beginning. Of course it was against the ethics of the profession to tell how he got it.
"Progress already," commented Mr. Latham with keen interest. "That's good."
Then the detective detailed the information he had received from the maid, adding thereto divers and sundry conclusions of his own.
Mr. Latham marveled exceedingly.
"He tried to shake us all right when he went out," Mr. Birnes went on to explain, "but the trap was set and there was no escape."
With certain minor omissions he told of the cab ride to Sixty-seventh Street, the trip across to a downtown car, and, as a matter of convincing circumstantial detail, added the incident of the empty gripsack.
"Empty?" repeated Mr. Latham, startled. "Empty, did you say?"
"Empty as a bass drum," the detective assured him complacently. "He turned it upside down and shook it."
"Then what became of them?" demanded Mr. Latham.
"Became of what?"
"The diamonds, man—what became of the diamonds?"
"You didn't mention any diamonds to me except those five the other day," the detective reminded him coldly. "Your instructions were to find out all about this man—who he is, what he does, where he goes, and the rest. This is my preliminary report. You didn't mention diamonds."
"I didn't know he would have them," Mr. Latham exploded irascibly. "That empty gripsack, man—when he left here he carried millions—I mean a great quantity of diamonds in it."
"A great quantity of —," the detective began; and then he sat up straight in his chair and stared at Mr. Latham in bewilderment.
"If the gripsack was empty when he was on the car," Mr. Latham rushed on excitedly, "then don't you see that he got rid of the diamonds somehow from the time he left here until you saw that the gripsack was empty? How did he get rid of them? Where does he keep them? And where does he get them?"
Mr. Birnes closed his teeth grimly and his eyes snapped. Now he knew why Mr. Wynne had taken that useless cab ride up Fifth Avenue. It was to enable him to get rid of the diamonds! There was an accomplice—in detective parlance the second person is always an accomplice—in that closed cab! It had all been prearranged; Mr. Wynne had deliberately made a monkey of him—Steven Birnes! Reluctantly the detective permitted himself to remember that he didn't know whether there was anybody in that cab or not when Mr. Wynne entered it, and—and—! Then he remembered that he did know one thing—the number of the cab!
He arose abruptly, with the light of a great determination in his face.
"Whose diamonds were they?" he demanded.
"They were his, as far as we know," replied Mr. Latham.
"How much were they worth?"
Mr. Latham looked him over thoughtfully.
"I am not at liberty to tell you that, Mr. Birnes," he said at last. "There are a great number of them, and they are worth—they are worth a large sum of money. And they are all unset. That's enough for you to know, I think."
It seemed to be quite enough for Mr. Birnes to know.
"It may be that I will have something further to report this evening," he told Mr. Latham. "If not, I'll see you to-morrow, here."
He went out. Ten minutes later he was talking to a friend in police headquarters, over the telephone. The records there showed that the license for the particular cab he had followed had been issued to one William Johns. He was usually to be found around the cabstand in Madison Square, and lived in Charlton Street.
THE MYSTERIOUS WOMAN
Mr. Birnes' busy heels fairly spurned the pavements of Fifth Avenue as he started toward Madison Square. Here was a long line of cabs drawn up beside the curb, some twenty or thirty in all. The fifth from the end bore the number he sought—Mr. Birnes chuckled; and there, alongside it, stood William Johns, swapping Billingsgate with the driver of a hansom, the while he kept one eye open for a prospective fare. It was too easy! Mr. Birnes paused long enough to congratulate himself upon his marvelous acumen, and then he approached the driver.
"You are William Johns?" he accused him sharply.
"That's me, Cap," the cabby answered readily.
"A few minutes past four o'clock this afternoon you went up Fifth Avenue, and stopped at the corner of Thirty-fourth Street to pick up a fare—a young man."
"You drove him to the corner of Sixty-seventh Street and Fifth Avenue," the detective went on just to forestall possible denials. "He got out there, paid you, and you went on up Fifth Avenue."
"Far be it from me to deceive you, Cap," responded the cabby with irritating levity. "I done that same."
"Who was that man?" demanded Mr. Birnes coldly.
"Search me! I never seen him before."
The detective regarded the cabby with accusing eyes. Then, quite casually, he flipped open his coat and Johns caught a glimpse of a silver shield. It might only have been accident, of course, still—
"Now, Johns, who was the man in the cab when you stopped to pick up the second man at Thirty-fourth Street?"
"Wrong, Cap," and the cabby grinned. "There wasn't any man."
"Don't attempt to deny—"
"No man, Cap. It was a woman."
"A woman!" the detective repeated. "A woman!"
"Sure thing—a woman, a regular woman. And, Cap, she was a pippin, a peachorino, a beauty bright," he added, gratuitously.
Mr. Birnes stared thoughtfully across the street for a little while. So there was a woman in it! Mr. Wynne had transferred the contents of the gripsack to her, in a cab, on a crowded thoroughfare, right under his nose!
"I was a little farther down the line there," Johns went on to explain. "About a quarter of four o'clock, I guess, she came along. She got in, after telling me to drive slowly up Fifth Avenue so I would pass Thirty-fourth Street five minutes or so after four o'clock. If a young man with a gripsack hailed me at the corner I was to stop and let him get in; then I was to go on up Fifth Avenue. If I wasn't stopped I was to drive on to Thirty-fifth Street, cut across to Madison Avenue, down to Thirty-third Street, then back to Fifth Avenue and past Thirty-fourth Street again, going uptown. The guy with the gripsack caught us first crack out of the box."
"And then?" demanded the detective eagerly.
"I went on up Fifth Avenue, according to sailing orders, and the guy inside stopped me at Sixty-seventh Street. He got out and gimme a five-spot, telling me to go a few blocks, then turn and bring the lady back to the Sixth Avenue 'L' at Fifty-eighth Street. I done it. That's all. She went up the steps, and that's the last I seen of her."
"Did she carry a small gripsack?"
"Yep. It would hold about as much as a high hat."
Explicit as the information was it led nowhere, apparently. Mr. Birnes readily understood this much, yet there was a chance—a bare chance—that he might trace the girl on the 'L,' in which case—anyway, it was worth trying.
"What did she look like? How was she dressed?" he asked.
"She had on one of them blue tailor-made things with a lid to match, and a long feather in it," the cabby answered obligingly. "She was pretty as a—as a—she was a beaut, Cap, sort of skinny, and had all sorts of hair on her head—brownish, goldish sort of hair. She was about twenty-two or three, maybe, and—and—Cap, she was the goods, that's all."
In the course of a day a thousand women, more or less, answering that description in a general sort of way, ride back and forth on the elevated trains. Mr. Birnes sighed as he remembered this; still it might produce results. Then came another idea.
"Did you happen to look in the cab after the young woman left it?" he inquired.
"Had any fares since?"
Mr. Birnes opened the door of the closed cab and glanced in. Perhaps there might be a stray glove, a handkerchief, some more definite clew than this vague description. He scrutinized the inside of the vehicle carefully; there was nothing. Yes, by Jingo, here was something—a white streak under the edge of the cushion on the seat! Mr. Birnes' hopeful fingers fished it out. It was a white envelope, sealed and—and addressed to him!
If you are as clever as I imagine you are, you will find this. My address is No. —— East Thirty-seventh Street. I shall be pleased to see you if you will call. E. VAN CORTLANDT WYNNE.
It was most disconcerting, really.
A WINGED MESSENGER
A snow-white pigeon dropped down out of an azure sky and settled on a top-most girder of the great Singer Building. For a time it rested there, with folded pinions, in a din of clanging hammers; and a workman far out on a delicately balanced beam of steel paused in his labors to regard the bird with friendly eyes. The pigeon returned his gaze unafraid.
"Well, old chap, if I had as little trouble getting up here and down again as you do I wouldn't mind the job," the workman remarked cheerfully.
The pigeon cooed an answer. The steel worker extended a caressing hand, whereupon the bird rose swiftly, surely, with white wings widely stretched, circled once over the vast steel structure, then darted away to the north. The workman watched the snow-white speck until it was lost against the blue sky, then returned to his labors.
Some ten minutes later Mr. E. van Cortlandt Wynne, sitting at a desk in his Thirty-seventh Street house, was aroused from his meditations by the gentle tinkle of a bell. He glanced up, arose, and went up the three flights of stairs to the roof. Half a dozen birds rose and fluttered around him as he opened the trap; one door in their cote at the rear of the building was closed. Mr. Wynne opened this door, reached in and detached a strip of tissue paper from the leg of a snow-white pigeon. He unfolded it eagerly; on it was written: Safe. I love you. D.
Mr. Gustave Schultze dropped in to see Mr. Latham after luncheon, and listened with puckered brows to a recital of the substance of the detective's preliminary report, made the afternoon before.
"Mr. Birnes left here rather abruptly," Mr. Latham explained in conclusion, "saying he would see me again, either last night or to-day. He has not appeared yet, and it may be that when he comes he will be able to add materially to what we now know."
The huge German sat for a time with vacant eyes.
"Der gread question, Laadham," he observed at last, gravely, "iss vere does Vynne ged dem."
"I know that—I know it," said Mr. Latham impatiently. "That is the very question we are trying to solve."
"Und if we don'd solve him, Laadham, ve'll haf to do vatever as he says," Mr. Schultze continued slowly. "Und ve may haf to do vatever as he says, anywhow."
"Put one hundred million dollars into diamonds in one year—just the five of us?" demanded the other. "It's preposterous."
"Id iss brebosterous," the German agreed readily; "but das iss no argument." He was silent for a little while. "Vere does he ged dem? Vere does he ged dem?" he repeated thoughtfully. "Do you believe, Laadham, it vould be bossible to smuggle in dwenty, d'irty, ein hundred million dollars of diamonds?"
"Certainly not," was the reply.
"Den, if dey were nod smuggled in, dey are somewhere on der records of der Custom House, ain'd id?"
Mr. Latham snapped his fingers with a sudden realization of this possibility.
"Schultze, I believe that is our clew!" he exclaimed keenly. "Certainly they would have been listed by the customs department; and come to think of it, the tariff on them would have been enormous, so enormous that—that—" and he lost the hopeful tone—"so enormous that we must have heard of it when it became a matter of public record."
"Yah," Mr. Schultze agreed. "Diamonds like dose dupligates of der Koh-i-noor, der Orloff und der Regent could never haf passed through der Custom House, Laadham, mitoud attracting attention, so?"
Mr. Latham acquiesced by a nod of his head; Mr. Schultze sat regarding him through half-closed eyelids.
"Und if dey are nod on der Custom House records," he continued slowly, "und dey are nod smuggled in, den, Laadham, den—Mein Gott, man, don'd you see?"
"Den dey are produced in dis country!"
For a minute or two Mr. Latham sat perfectly still, gazing into the other's eyes. First he was startled, then this gave way to incredulity, and at last he shook his head.
"No," he said flatly. "No."
"Laadham, ve Amerigans produce anyding," the German went on patiently. "In eighdeen hundred und forty-eight ve didn't know California vas full of gold; und so late as eighdeen hundred und ninedy-four ve didn't know der Klondike vas full of gold. Der greadest diamond fields ve know now are in Africa, bud in eighdeen hundred und sixty-six ve didn't know id! Dere iss no reason ve should nod produce diamonds."
"But look here, Schultze," Mr. Latham expostulated, "it's—it's unheard of."
"So vas der Mizzizzippi River until id was discovered," the German argued complacently. "You are a diamond dealer, Laadham, bud you don'd know much aboud dem from whey dey come at. Iss Czenki here? Send for him. He knows more aboud diamonds as any man vat ever lived."
Mr. Latham sent an office boy for Czenki, who a few minutes later appeared with an inquiry in his beady black eyes and a nod of recognition for Mr. Schultze.
"Sid down, Mr. Czenki," the German invited. "Sid down und draw a long breath, und den dell Mr. Laadham here someding aboud diamonds."
"What is it, please?" Mr. Czenki asked of Mr. Latham.
"Mr. Czenki, have you any very definite idea as to where those diamonds came from?" asked Mr. Latham.
"No," was the unhesitating response.
"Is it possible that they might have been found in the—in the United States?" Mr. Latham went on.
"Certainly. They might have been found anywhere."
"As a matter of fact, were any diamonds ever found in the United States?"
"Yes, frequently. One very large diamond was found in 1855 at Manchester, across the James River from Richmond, Virginia. It weighed twenty-four carats when cut, and is the largest, I believe, ever found in this country."
Mr. Latham seemed surprised.
"Why, you astonish me," he remarked.
"Vait a minute und he'll astonish you some more," Mr. Schultze put in confidently. "Vere else in der United States haf diamonds been found, Czenki?"
"In California, in North Carolina, and in Hall County, Georgia," replied the expert readily. "There is good ground for the belief that the stone found at Richmond had been washed down from the mountains farther in the interior, and, if this is true, there is a substantial basis for the scientific hypothesis that diamond fields lie somewhere in the Appalachian Range, because the diamonds found in both North Carolina and Georgia were adjacent to these mountains." He paused a moment. "This is all a matter of record."
His employer was leaning forward in his chair, gripping the arms fiercely as he stared at him.
"Do you believe it possible, Mr. Czenki," he asked deliberately, "that Mr. Wynne has found these diamond fields?"
The expert shrugged his slender shoulders.
"It is possible, of course," he replied. "From time to time great sums of money have been spent in searching for them, so—" He waved his hand and was silent.
"Zo you see, Laadham," Mr. Schultze interpolated, "ve don'd know anyding much. Ve know der African fields, und der Australian fields, und der Brazilian fields, und der fields in India, bud ve don'd know if new fields haf been found. By der time you haf lived so long as me you won't know any more as I do."
There was silence for a long time. Mr. Czenki sat with impassive face, and his hands at rest on the arms of the chair. At last he spoke:
"If you'll pardon me, Mr. Latham, I may suggest another possibility."
"Vas iss?" demanded Mr. Schultze quickly.
"Did you ever hear of the French scientist, Charles Friedel?" Mr. Czenki asked, addressing Mr. Latham.
"Well, this idea has occurred to me. Some years ago he discovered two or three small diamonds in a meteor. We may safely assume, from the fact that there were diamonds in one meteor, that there may be diamonds in other meteors, therefore—"
The German importer anticipated his line of thought and arose with a guttural burst of Teutonic expletives.
"Therefore," the expert went on steadily, "is it not possible that Mr. Wynne has stumbled upon a huge deposit of diamonds in some meteoric substance some place in this country? A meteor may have fallen anywhere, of course, and it may have been only two months ago, or it may have been two thousand years ago. It may even be buried in his cellar."
The huge German nodded his head vigorously, with sparkling eyes.
"It seems extremely probable that if diamond fields had been discovered in the Appalachian Range," Mr. Czenki went on, "it would have become public in spite of every effort to prevent it; whereas, it is possible that a meteor containing diamonds might have been hidden away easily; and, also, the production of diamonds from such a source in this country would not make it necessary for the diamonds to pass through the Custom House. Is it clear, sir?"
"Why, it's absurd, fantastic, chimerical!" Mr. Latham burst out irritably. "It's ridiculous to consider such a thing."
"I beg your pardon," Mr. Czenki apologized. "It is only a conjecture, of course. I may add that I don't believe that three stones of the size of the replicas which Mr. Wynne produced here could have been found anywhere in the world and brought in here— smuggled in or in the usual way—and the secret held against the thousands of men who daily watch the diamond fields and market. It would not be difficult, however, if one man alone knew the source of the stones, to keep it from the world at large. I beg your pardon," he added.
He arose as if to go. Mr. Schultze brought a heavy hand down on the slim shoulder of the expert, and turned to Mr. Latham.
"Laadham, you are listening to der man who knows more as all of us pud in a crowd," he declared. "Mein Gott, I do believe he's right!"
Mr. Latham was a cold, unimaginative man of business; he hadn't even believed in fairies when he was a boy. This was child-talk; he permitted himself to express his opinion by a jerk of his head, and was silent. Diamonds like those out of meteors! Bosh!
AND MORE DIAMONDS!
There was a rap on the door, and a clerk thrust his head in.
"Mr. Birnes to see you, sir," he announced.
"Show him in," directed Mr. Latham. "Sit down, both of you, and let's see what he has to say."
There was an odd expression of hope deferred on the detective's face when he entered. He glanced inquiringly at Mr. Schultze and Mr. Czenki, whereupon Mr. Latham introduced them.
"You may talk freely," he added. "We are all interested alike."
The detective crossed his legs and balanced his hat carefully on a knee, the while he favored Mr. Czenki with a sharp scrutiny. There was that in the thin, scarred face and in the beady black eyes which inevitably drew the attention of a stranger, and half a dozen times as he talked Mr. Birnes glanced at the expert.
He retold the story of the cab ride up Fifth Avenue, and the car trip back downtown—omitting embarrassing details such as the finding of two notes addressed to himself—dwelt a moment upon the empty gripsack which Mr. Wynne carried on the car, and then:
"When you told me, Mr. Latham, that the gripsack had contained diamonds when Mr. Wynne left here I knew instantly how he got rid of them. He transferred them to some person in the cab, in accordance with a carefully prearranged plan. That person was a woman!"
"A woman!" Mr. Latham repeated, as if startled.
"Dere iss alvays wimmins in id," remarked Mr. Schultze philosophically. "Go on."
Mr. Birnes was not at all backward about detailing the persistence and skill it had required on his part to establish this fact; and he went on at length to acquaint them with the search that had been made by a dozen of his men to find a trace of the woman from the time she climbed the elevated stairs at Fifty-eighth Street. He admitted that the quest for her had thus far been fruitless, assuring them at the same time that it would go steadily on, for the present at least.
"And now, Mr. Latham," he went on, and inadvertently he glanced at Mr. Czenki, "I have been hampered, of course, by the fact that you have not taken me completely into your confidence in this matter. I mean," he added hastily, "that beyond a mere hint of their value I know nothing whatever about the diamonds which Mr. Wynne had in the gripsack. I gathered, however, that they were worth a large sum of money—perhaps, even a million dollars?"
"Yah, a million dollars ad leasd," remarked Mr. Schultze grimly.
"Thank you," and the detective smiled shrewdly. "Your instructions were to find where he got them. If there had been a theft of a million dollars' worth of diamonds anywhere in this world, I would have known it; so I took steps to examine the Custom House records of this and other cities to see if there had been an unusual shipment to Mr. Wynne, or to any one else outside of the diamond dealers, thinking this might give me a clew."
"And what was the result?" demanded Mr. Latham quickly.
"My agents have covered all the Atlantic ports and they did not come in through the Custom House," replied Mr. Birnes. "I have not heard from the western agents as yet, but my opinion is—is that they were perhaps smuggled in. Smuggling, after all, is simple with the thousands of miles of unguarded coasts of this country. I don't know this, of course; I advance it merely as a possibility."
Mr. Latham turned to Mr. Schultze and Mr. Czenki with a triumphant smile. Diamonds in meteors! Tommyrot!
"Of course," the detective resumed, "the whole investigation centers about this man Wynne. He has been under the eyes of my agents as no other man ever was, and in spite of this has been able to keep in correspondence with his accomplices. And, gentlemen, he has done it not through the mails, not over the telephone, not by telegraph, and yet he has done it."
"By wireless, perhaps?" suggested Mr. Czenki. It was the first time he had spoken, and the detective took occasion then and there to stare at him frankly.
"And not by wireless," he said at last. "He sends and receives messages from the roof of his house in Thirty-seventh Street by homing pigeons!"
"Some more fandastics, eh, Laadham?" Mr. Schultze taunted. "Some more chimericals?"
"I demonstrate this much by the close watch I have kept of Mr. Wynne," the detective went on, there being no response to his questioning look at Mr. Schultze. "One of my agents, stationed on the roof of the house adjoining Mr. Wynne's" (it was the maid-servant next door) "has, on at least one occasion, seen him remove a tissue-paper strip from a carrier pigeon's leg and read what was written on it, after which he kissed it, gentlemen, kissed it; then he destroyed it. What did it mean? It means that that particular message was from the girl to whom he transferred the diamonds in the cab, and that he is madly in love with her."
"Oh, dese wimmins! I dell you!" commented Mr. Schultze.
There was a little pause, then Mr. Birnes continued impressively:
"This correspondence is of no consequence in itself, of course. But it gives us this: Carrier pigeons will only fly home, so if Mr. Wynne received a message by pigeon it means that at some time, within a week say, he has shipped that pigeon and perhaps others from the house in Thirty-seventh Street to that person who sent him the message. If he sends messages to that person it means that he has received a pigeon or pigeons from that person within a week. And how were these pigeons shipped? In all probability, by express. So, gentlemen, you see there ought to be a record in the express offices, which would give us the home town, even the name and address, of the person who now has the diamonds in his or her keeping. Is that clear to all of you?"
"It is perfectly clear," commented Mr. Laadham admiringly, while the German nodded his head in approval.
"And that is the clew we are working on at the moment," the detective added. "Three of my men are now searching the records of all the express companies in the city—and there are a great many—for the pigeon shipments. If, as seems probable, this clew develops, it may be that we can place our hands on the diamonds within a few days."
"I don'd d'ink I vould yust blace my hands on dem," Mr. Schultze advised. "Dey are his diamonds, you know, und your hands might ged in drouble."
"I mean figuratively, of course," the detective amended.
He stopped and drummed on his stiff hat with his fingers. Again he glanced at the impassive face of Mr. Czenki with keen, questioning eyes; and for one bare instant it seemed as if he were trying to bring his memory to his aid.
"I've found out all about this man Wynne," he supplemented after a moment, "but nothing in his record seems to have any bearing on this case. He is an orphan. His mother was a Van Cortlandt of old Dutch stock, and his father was a merchant downtown. He left a few thousands to the son, and the son is now in business for himself with an office in lower Broad Street. He is an importer of brown sugar."
"Brown sugar?" queried Mr. Czenki quickly, and the thin, scarred face reflected for a second some subtle emotion within him. "Brown sugar!" he repeated.
"Yes," drawled the detective, with an unpleasant stare, "brown sugar. He imports it from Cuba and Porto Rico and Brazil by the shipload, I understand, and makes a good thing of it."
A quick pallor overspread Mr. Czenki's countenance, and he arose with his fingers working nervously. His beady eyes were glittering; his lips were pressed together until they were bloodless.
"Vas iss?" demanded Mr. Schultze curiously.
"My God, gentlemen, don't you see?" the expert burst out violently. "Don't you see what this man has done? He has—he has—"
Suddenly, by a supreme effort, he regained control of himself, and resumed his seat.
"He has—what?" asked Mr. Latham.
For half a minute Czenki stared at his employer; then his face grew impassive again.
"I beg your pardon," he said quietly. "Mr. Wynne is a heavy importer of sugar from Brazil. Isn't it possible that those are Brazilian diamonds? That new workings have been discovered somewhere in the interior? That he has smuggled them in concealed in the sugar-bags, right into New York, under the noses of the customs officials? I beg your pardon," he concluded.
Late in the afternoon of the following day a drunken man, unshaven, unkempt, unclean and clothed in rags, lurched into a small pawnshop in the lower Bowery and planked down on the dirty counter a handful of inert, colorless pebbles, ranging in size from a pea to a peanut.
"Say, Jew, is them real diamonds?" he demanded thickly.
The man in charge glanced at them and nearly fainted. Ten minutes later Red Haney, knight of the road, was placed under arrest as a suspicious character. Uncut diamonds, valued roughly at fifty thousand dollars, were found in his possession.
"Where did you get them?" demanded the amazed police.
"Where did you find them?"
"None o' your business."
And that was all they were able to get out of him at the moment.
THE BIG GAME
When the police of Mulberry Street find themselves face to face with some problem other than the trivial, every-day theft, burglary or murder, as the case may be, they are wont to rise up and run around in a circle. The case of Red Haney and the diamonds, blared to the world at large in the newspapers of Sunday morning, immediately precipitated a circular parade, while Haney, the objective center, snored along peacefully in a drunken stupor.
The statement of the case in the public press was altogether negative. There had been no report of the theft of fifty thousand dollars' worth of uncut diamonds in any city of the United States; in fact, diamonds, as a commodity in crime, had not figured in police records for several weeks—not even an actress had mislaid a priceless necklace. The newspapers were unanimously certain that stones of such value could not rightfully belong to a man of Haney's type, therefore, to whom did they belong?
Four men, at least, of the thousands who read the detailed account of the affair Sunday morning, immediately made it a matter of personal interest to themselves. One of these was Mr. Latham, another was Mr. Schultze, and a third was Mr. Birnes. The fourth was Mr. E. van Cortlandt Wynne. In the seclusion of his home in Thirty-seventh Street, Mr. Wynne read the story with puckered brows, then re-read it, after which he paced back and forth across his room in troubled thought for an hour or more. An oppressive sense of uneasiness was coming over him; and it was reflected in eyes grown somber.
After a time, with sudden determination, the young man dropped into a chair at his desk, and wrote in duplicate, on a narrow strip of tough tissue-paper, just one line:
Are you safe? Is all well? Answer quick. W.
Then he mounted to the roof. As he flung open the trap a man on the top of the house next door darted behind a chimney. Mr. Wynne saw him clearly—it was Frank Claflin—but he seemed to consider the matter of no consequence, for he paid not the slightest attention. Instead he went straight to a cage beside the pigeon-cote, wherein a dozen or more birds were imprisoned, removed one of them, attached a strip of the tissue-paper to its leg, and allowed it to rise from his out-stretched hand.
The pigeon darted away at an angle, up, up, until it grew indistinct against the void, then swung widely in a semicircle, hovered uncertainly for an instant, and flashed off to the west, straight as an arrow flies. Mr. Wynne watched it thoughtfully until it had disappeared; and Claflin's interest was so intense that he forgot the necessity of screening himself, the result being that when he turned again toward Mr. Wynne he found that young man gazing at him.
Mr. Wynne even nodded in a friendly sort of way as he attached the second strip of tissue to the leg of another bird. This rose, as the other had done, and sped away toward the west.
"It may be worth your while to know, Mr. Claflin," Mr. Wynne remarked easily to the detective on the other house, "that if you ever put your foot on this roof to intercept any message which may come to me I shall shoot you."
Then he turned and went down the stairs again, closing and locking the trap in the roof behind him. He should get an answer to those questions in two hours, three hours at the most. If there was no answer within that time he would despatch more birds, and then, if no answer came, then—then—Mr. Wynne sat down and carefully perused the newspaper story again.
At just about that moment the attention of one John Sutton, another of the watchful Mr. Birnes' men, on duty in Thirty-seventh Street, was attracted to a woman who had turned in from Park Avenue, and was coming rapidly toward him, on the opposite side of the street. She was young, with the elasticity of perfect health in her step; and closely veiled. She wore a blue tailor-made gown, with hat to match; and recalcitrant strands of hair gleamed a golden brown.
"By George!" exclaimed the detective. "It's her!"
By which he meant that the mysterious young woman of the cab, whose description had been drilled into him by Mr. Birnes, had at last reappeared. He lounged along the street, watching her with keen interest, fixing her every detail in his mind. She did not hesitate, she glanced neither to right nor left, but went straight to the house occupied by Mr. Wynne, and rang the bell. A moment later the door was opened, and she disappeared inside. The detective mopped his face with tremulous joy.
"Doris!" exclaimed Mr. Wynne, as the veiled girl entered the room where he sat. "Doris, my dear girl, what are you doing here?"
He arose and went toward her. She tore off the heavy veil impatiently, and lifted her moist eyes to his. There was suffering in them, uneasiness—and more than that.
"Have you heard from him—out there?" she demanded.
"Not to-day, no," he responded. "Why did you come here?"
"Gene, I can't stand it," she burst out passionately. "I'm worried to death. I can't hear a word, and—I'm worried to death."
Mr. Wynne wondered if she, too, had seen the morning papers. He stared at her gravely for an instant, then turned, crumpled up the section of newspaper with its glaring head-lines and dropped it into a waste-basket.
"I'm sorry," he said gently.
"I telephoned twice yesterday," she rushed on quickly, pleadingly, "and once last night and again this morning. There was no—no answer. Gene, I couldn't stand it. I had to come."
"It's only that he didn't happen to be within hearing of the telephone bell," he assured her. But her steadfast, accusing eyes read more than that in his face, and her hands trembled on his arm.
"I'm afraid, Gene, I'm afraid," she declared desperately. "Suppose— suppose something has happened?"
"It's absurd," and he attempted to laugh off her uneasiness. "Why, nothing could have happened."
"All those millions of dollars' worth of diamonds, Gene," she reminded him, "and he is—I shouldn't have left him alone."
"Why, my dear Doris," and Mr. Wynne gathered the slender, trembling figure in his arms protectingly, "not one living soul, except you and I, knows that they are there. There's no incentive to robbery, my dear—a poor, shabby little cottage like that. There is not the slightest danger."
"There is always danger, Gene," she contradicted. "It makes me shudder just to think of it. He is so old and so feeble, simple as a child, and utterly helpless if anything should happen. Then, when I didn't hear from him after trying so many times over the telephone —I'm afraid, Gene, I'm afraid," she concluded desperately.
The long-pent-up tears came, and she buried her face on his shoulder. He stood silent, with narrowed, thoughtful eyes.
This, and the thing in the newspaper there! And evidently she had not seen that! It was not wise that she should see it just yet.
"That day I took the horrid things from you in the cab I was awfully frightened," she continued sobbingly. "I felt that every one I passed knew I had them; and you can't imagine what a relief it was when I took them back out there and left them. And now when I think that something may have happened to him!" She paused, then raised her tear-dimmed eyes to his face. "He is all I have in the world now, Gene, except you. Already the hateful things have cost the lives of my father and my brother, and now if he—Or you—Oh, my God, it would kill me! I hate them, hate them!"
She was shaken by a paroxysm of sobs. Mr. Wynne led her to a chair, and she dropped into it wearily, with her face in her hands.
"Nothing can have happened, Doris," he repeated gently. "I sent a message out there in duplicate only a few minutes ago. In a couple of hours, now, we shall be getting an answer. Now, don't begin to cry," he added helplessly.
"And if you don't get an answer?" she insisted.
"I shall get an answer," he declared positively. There was a long pause. "And when I get that answer, Doris," he resumed, again becoming very grave, "you will see how unwise, how dangerous even, it was for you to come here this way. I know it's hard, dear," he supplemented apologetically, "but it was only for the week, you know; and now I don't see how you can go away from here again."
"Go away?" she repeated wonderingly. "Why shouldn't I go away? I was very careful to veil myself when I came—no one saw me enter, I am sure. Why can't I go away again?"
Mr. Wynne paced the length of the room twice, with troubled brow.
"You don't understand, dear," he said quietly, as he paused before her. "From the moment I left Mr. Latham's office last Thursday I have been under constant surveillance. I'm followed wherever I go— to my office, to luncheon, to the theater, everywhere; and day and night, day and night, there are two men watching this house, and two other men watching at my office. They tamper with my correspondence, trace my telephone calls, question my servants, quiz my clerks. You don't understand, dear," he said again.
"But why should they do all this?" she asked curiously. "Why should they—"
"I had expected it all, of course," he interrupted, "and it doesn't disturb me in the least. I planned for months to anticipate every emergency; I know every detective who is watching me by name and by sight; and all my plans have gone perfectly until now. This is why it was necessary for me to keep away from out there as it was for you to keep away from here; why we could not afford to take chances by an interchange of letters or by telephone calls. When I left you in the cab I knew you would get away safely, because they did not know you were there, in the first place; and then it was the beginning of the chase and I forced them to center their attention on me. But now it different. Come here to the window a minute."
He led her across the room unresistingly. On the opposite side of the street, staring at the house, was a man.
"That man is a private detective," Mr. Wynne informed her. "His name is Sutton, and he is only one of thirty or forty whose sole business in life, right now, is to watch me, to keep track of and follow any person who comes here. He saw you enter, and you couldn't escape him going out. There's another on the roof of the house next door. His name is Claflin. These men, or others from the same agency, are here all the time. There are two more at my office downtown; still others are searching customs records, examining the books of the express companies, probing into my private affairs. And they're all in the employ of the men with whom I am dealing. Do you understand now?"
"I didn't dream of such a thing," the girl faltered slowly. "I knew, of course, that—Gene, I shouldn't have come if—if only I could have heard from him."
"My dear girl, it's a big game we are playing—a hundred-million-dollar game! And we shall win it, unless—we shall win it, in spite of them. Naturally the diamond dealers don't want to be compelled to put up one hundred million dollars. They reason that if the stones I showed them came from new fields, and the supply is unlimited, as I told them, that the diamond market is on the verge of collapse, anyway; and as they look at it they are compelled to know where they came from. As a matter of fact, if they did know, or if the public got one inkling of the truth, the diamond market would be wrecked, and all the diamond dealers in the world working together couldn't prevent it. If they succeed in doing this thing they feel they must do, they will only bring disaster upon themselves. It would do no good to tell them so; I merely laid my plans and am letting them alone. So, you see, my dear, it is a big game—a big game!"
THE SILENT BELL
He stood looking at her with earnest thoughtful eyes. Suddenly the woman-soul within her awoke in a surging, inexplicable wave of emotion which almost overcame her; and after it came something of realization of the great fight he was making for her—for her, and the aged, feeble grandfather waiting patiently out there. He loved her, this master among men, and she sighed contentedly. For the moment the maddening anxiety that brought her here was forgotten; there was only the ineffable sweetness of seeing him again. She extended her hands to him impulsively, and he kissed them both.
"The difficulty of you leaving here," he went on after a little, "is that you would be followed, and within two hours these men would know all about you—where you are stopping, how long you have been there; they would know of your daily telephone messages to your grandfather, and then, inevitably, they would appear out there, and learn all the rest of it. It doesn't matter how closely they keep watch of me. My plans are all made, I know I am watched, and make no mistakes. But you!"
"So I should not have come?" she questioned. "I'm sorry."
"I understand your anxiety, of course," he assured her, and he was smiling a little, "but the worst never happens—so for the present we will not worry. In an hour or more, now, I imagine we shall receive a pigeon-o-gram which will show that all is well. And then I shall have to plan for you to get away somehow."
She leaned toward him a little and again he gathered her in his arms. The red lips were mutely raised, and he kissed her reverently.
"It's all for you and it will all be right," he assured her.
"Gene, dear Gene!"
He pressed a button on the wall and a maid appeared.
"You will have to wait for a couple of hours or so, at least, so if you would like to take off your things?" he suggested with grave courtesy. "I dare say the suite just above is habitable, and the maid is at your service."
The girl regarded him pensively for a moment, then turning ran swiftly up the stairs. The maid started to follow more staidly.
"Just a moment," said Mr. Wynne crisply, in an undertone. "Miss Kellner is not to be allowed to use the telephone under any circumstances. You understand?" She nodded silently and went up the stairs.
An hour passed. From the swivel chair at his desk Mr. Wynne had twice seen Sutton stroll past on the opposite side of the street; and then Claflin had lounged along. Suddenly he arose and went to the window, throwing back the curtains. Sutton was leaning against an electric-light pole, half a block away; Claflin was half a block off in the other direction, in casual conversation with a policeman. Mr. Wynne looked them over thoughtfully. Curiously enough he was wondering just how he would fare in a physical contest with either, or both.
He turned away from the window at last and glanced at his watch impatiently. One hour and forty minutes! In another half an hour the little bell over his desk should ring. That would mean that a pigeon had arrived from—from out there, and that the automatic door had closed upon it as it entered the cote. But if it didn't come— if it didn't come! Then what? There was only one conclusion to be drawn, and he shuddered a little when he thought of it. There could only remain this single possibility when he considered the sinister things that had happened—the failure of the girl to get an answer by telephone, and the unexpected appearance of Red Haney with the uncut diamonds. It might be necessary for him to go out there, and how could he do it? How, without leaving an open trail behind him? How, without inviting defeat in the fight he was making?
His meditations were interrupted by the appearance of Miss Kellner. She had crept down the stairs noiselessly, and stood beside him before he was aware of her presence. Her eyes sought his countenance questioningly, and the deadly pallor of her face frightened him. She crept into his arms and nestled there silently with dry, staring eyes. He stroked the golden-brown hair with an utter sense of helplessness.
"Nothing yet," he said finally, and there was a thin assumption of cheeriness in his tone. "It may be another hour, but it will come— it will come."
"But if it doesn't, Gene?" she queried insistently. Always her mind went back to that possibility.
"We shall cross no bridges until we reach them," he replied. "There is always a chance that the pigeons might have gone astray, for they have this single disadvantage against the incalculable advantage of offering no clew to any one as to where they go; and it is impossible to follow them. If nothing comes in half an hour now I shall send two more."