Henry Dunbar, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 28

Buying Diamonds.

Mr. Dunbar did not waste much time before he began the grand business which had brought him to London — that is to say, the purchase of such a collection of diamonds as compose a necklace second only to that which brought poor hoodwinked Cardinal de Rohan and the unlucky daughter of the Caesars into such a morass of trouble and slander.

Early upon the morning after his visit to the bank, Mr. Dunbar went out very plainly dressed, and hailed the first empty cab that he saw in Piccadilly.

He ordered the cabman to drive straight to a street leading out of Holborn, a very quiet-looking street, where you could buy diamonds enough to set up all the jewellers in the Palais Royale and the Rue de la Paix, and where, if you were so whimsical as to wish to transform a service of plate into “white soup” at a moment’s notice, you might indulge your fancy in establishments of unblemished respectability.

The gold and silver refiners, the diamond-merchants and wholesale jewellers, in this quiet street, were a very superior class of people, and you might dispose of a handful of gold chains and bangles without any fear that one or two of them would find their way into the operator’s sleeve during the process of weighing. The great Mr. Krusible, who thrust the last inch of an Eastern potentate’s sceptre into the melting-pot with the sole of his foot, as the detectives entered his establishment in search of the missing bauble, and walked lame for six months afterwards, lived somewhere in the depths of the city, and far away from this dull-looking Holborn street; and would have despised the even tenor of life, and the moderate profits of a business in this neighbourhood.

Mr. Dunbar left his cab at the Holborn end of the street, and walked slowly along the pavement till he came to a very dingy-looking parlour-window, which might have belonged to A lawyer’s office but for some gilded letters on the wire blind, which, in a very pale and faded inscription, gave notice that the parlour belonged to Mr. Isaac Hartgold, diamond-merchant. A grimy brass plate on the door of the house bore another inscription to the same effect; and it was at this door that Mr. Dunbar stopped.

He rang a bell, and was admitted immediately by a very sharp-looking boy, who ushered him into the parlour, where ha saw a mahogany counter, a pair of small brass scales, a horse-hair-cushioned office-stool considerably the worse for wear, and a couple of very formidable-looking iron safes deeply imbedded in the wall behind the counter. There was a desk near the window, at which a gentleman, with very black hair and whiskers was seated, busily engaged in some abstruse calculations between a pair of open ledgers.

He got off his high seat as Mr. Dunbar entered, and looked rather suspiciously at the banker. I suppose the habit of selling diamonds had made him rather suspicious of every one. Henry Dunbar wore a fashionable greatcoat with loose open cuffs, and it was towards these loose cuffs that Mr. Hartgold’s eyes wandered with rapid and rather uneasy glances. He was apt to look doubtfully at gentlemen with roomy coat-sleeves, or ladies with long-haired muffs or fringed parasols. Unset diamonds are an eminently portable species of property, and you might carry a tolerably valuable collection of them in the folds of the smallest parasol that ever faded under the summer sunshine in the Lady’s Mile.

“I want to buy a collection of diamonds for a necklace,” Mr. Dunbar said, as coolly as if he had been talking of a set of silver spoons; “and I want the necklace to be something out of the common. I should order it of Garrard or Emanuel; but I have a fancy for buying the diamonds upon paper, and having them made up after a design of my own. Can you supply me with what I want?”

“How much do you want? You may have what some people would call a necklace for a thousand pounds, or you may have one that’ll cost you twenty thousand. How far do you mean to go?”

“I am prepared to spend something between fifty and eighty thousand pounds.”

The diamond merchant pursed up his lips reflectively. “You are aware that in these sort of transactions ready money is indispensable?” he said.

“Oh, yes, I am quite aware of that,” Mr. Dunbar answered, coolly.

He took out his card-case as he spoke, and handed one of his cards to Mr. Isaac Hartgold. “Any cheques signed by that name,” he said, “will be duly honoured in St. Gundolph Lane.”

Mr. Hartgold bent his head reverentially to the representative of a million of money. He, in common with every business man in London, was thoroughly familiar with the names of Dunbar, Dunbar, and Balderby.

“I don’t know that I can supply you with fifty thousand pounds’ worth of such diamonds as you may require at a moment’s notice,” he said; “but I can procure them for you in a day or two, if that will do?”

“That will do very well. This is Tuesday; suppose I give you till Thursday?”

“The stones shall be ready for you by Thursday, sir.”

“Very good. I will call for them on Thursday morning. In the meantime, in order that you may understand that the transaction is a bonâ fide one, I’ll write a cheque for ten thousand, payable to your order, on account of diamonds to be purchased by me. I have my cheque-book in my pocket. Oblige me with pen and ink.”

Mr. Hartgold murmured something to the effect that such a proceeding was altogether unnecessary; but he brought Mr. Dunbar his office inkstand, and looked on with an approving twinkle of his eyes while the banker wrote the cheque, in that slow, formal hand peculiar to him. It made things very smooth and comfortable, Mr. Hartgold thought, to say the least of it.

“And now, sir, with regard to the design of the necklace,” said the merchant, when he had folded the cheque and put it into his waistcoat-pocket. “I suppose you’ve some idea that you’d like to carry out; and you’d wish, perhaps, to see a few specimens.”

He unlocked one of the iron safes as he spoke, and brought out a lot of little paper packets, which were folded in a peculiar fashion, and which he opened with very gingerly fingers.

“I suppose you’d like some tallow-drops, sir?” he said. “Tallow-drops work-in better than anything for a necklace.”

“What, in Heaven’s name, are tallow-drops?”

Mr. Hartgold took up a diamond with a pair of pincers, and exhibited it to the banker.

“That’s a tallow-drop, sir,” he said. “It’s something of a heart-shaped stone, you see; but we call it a tallow-drop, because it’s very much the shape of a drop of tallow. You’d like large stones, of course, though they eat into a great deal of money? There are diamonds that are known all over Europe; diamonds that have been in the possession of royalty, and are as well known as the family they’ve belonged to. The Duke of Brunswick has pretty well cleared the market of that sort of stuff; but still they are to be had, if you’ve a fancy for anything of that kind?”

Mr. Dunbar shook his head.

“I don’t want anything of that sort,” he said; “the day may come when my daughter, or my daughter’s descendants, may be obliged to realize the jewels. I’m a commercial man, and I want eighty thousand pounds’ worth of diamonds that shall be worth the money I give for them to break up and sell again. I should wish you to choose diamonds of moderate size, but not small; worth, on an average, forty or fifty pounds apiece, we’ll say.”

“I shall have to be very particular about matching them in colour,” said Mr. Hartgold, “as they’re for a necklace.” The banker shrugged his shoulders.

“Don’t trouble yourself about the necklace,” he said, rather impatiently. “I tell you again I’m a commercial man, and what I want is good value for my money.”

“And you shall have it, sir,” answered the diamond-merchant, briskly.

“Very well, then; in that case I think we understand each other, and there’s no occasion for me to stop here any longer. You’ll have eighty thousand pounds’ worth of diamonds, at thereabouts, ready for me when I call here on Thursday morning. You can cash that cheque in the meantime, and ascertain with whom you have to deal. Good morning.”

He left the diamond-merchant wondering at his sang froid, and returned to the cab, which had been waiting for him all this time.

He was just going to step into it, when a hand touched him lightly on the shoulder, and turning sharply and angrily round, he recognized the gentleman who called himself Major Vernon. But the Major was by no means the shabby stranger who had watched the marriage of Philip Jocelyn and Laura Dunbar in Lisford Church. Major Vernon had risen, resplendent as the phoenix, from the ashes of his old clothes.

The poodle collar was gone: the dilapidated boots had been exchanged for stout water-tight Wellingtons: the napless dirty white hat had given place to a magnificent beaver, with a broad trim curled at the sides. Major Vernon was positively splendid. He was as much wrapped up as ever; but his wrappings now were of a gorgeous, not to say gaudy, description. His thick greatcoat was of a dark olive-green, and the collar turned up over his ears was of a shiny-looking brown fur, which, to the confiding mind of the populace, is known as imitation sable. Inside this fur collar the Major wore a shawl-patterned scarf of all the colours in the prismatic scale, across which his nose lacked its usual brilliancy of hue by force of contrast. Major Vernon had a very big cigar in his mouth, and a very big cane in his hand, and the quiet City men turned to look at him as he stood upon the pavement talking to Henry Dunbar.

The banker writhed under the touch of his Indian acquaintance.

“What do you want with me?” he asked, in low angry tones; “why do you follow me about to play the spy upon me, and stop me in the public street? Haven’t I done enough for you? Ain’t you satisfied with what I have done?”

“Yes, dear boy,” answered the Major, “perfectly satisfied, more than satisfied — for the present. But your future favours — as those low fellows, the butchers and bakers, have it — are respectfully requested for yours truly. Let me get into the cab with you, Mr. H.D., and take me back to the casa, and give me a comfortable little bit of perrogg. I haven’t lost my aristocratic taste for seven courses, and an elegant succession of still fine sparkling wines, though during the last few years I’ve been rather frequently constrained to accept the shadowy hospitality of his grace of Humphrey. ‘Nante dinari, nante manjare,’ as we say in the Classics, which I translate, ‘No credit at the butcher’s or the baker’s.’”

“For Heaven’s sake, stop that abominable slang!” said Henry Dunbar, impatiently.

“It annoys you, dear friend, eh? Well, I’ve known the time when —— But no matter, ‘let what is broken, so remain,’ as the poet observes; which is only an elegant way of saying, ‘Let bygones be bygones.’ And so you’ve been buying diamonds, dear boy?”

“Who told you so?”

“You did, when you came out of Mr. Isaac Hartgold’s establishment. I happened to be passing the door as you went in, and I happened to be passing the door again as you came out.”

“And playing the spy upon me.”

“Not at all, dear boy. It was merely a coincidence, I assure you. I called at the bank yesterday, cashed my cheques, ascertained your address; called at the Clarendon this morning, was told you’d that minute gone out; looked down Albemarle Street; there you were, sure enough; saw you get into a cab; got into another — a Hansom, and faster than yours — came behind you to the corner of this street.”

“You followed me,” said Henry Dunbar, bitterly.

“Don’t call it following, dear friend, because that’s low. Accident brought me into this neighbourhood at the very hour you were coming into this neighbourhood. If you want to quarrel with anything, quarrel with the doctrine of chances, not with me.”

Henry Dunbar turned away with a sulky gesture. His friend watched him with very much the same malicious grin that had distorted his face under the lamp-lit porch at Maudesley. The Major looked like a vulgar-minded Mephistopheles: there was not even the “divinity of hell” about him.

“And so you’ve been buying diamonds?” he repeated presently, after a considerable pause.

“Yes, I have. I am buying them for a necklace for my daughter.”

“You are so dotingly fond of your daughter!” said the Major with a leer.

“It is necessary that I should give her a present.”

“Precisely, and you won’t even trust the business to a jeweller; you insist on doing it all yourself.”

“I shall do it for less money than a jeweller.”

“Oh, of course,” answered Major Vernon; “the motive’s as clear as daylight.”

He was silent for a few minutes, then he laid his hand heavily upon his companion’s shoulder, put his lips close to the banker’s ear, and said, in a loud voice, for it was not easy for him to make himself heard above the jolting of the cab —

“Henry Dunbar, you’re a very clever fellow, and I dare say you think yourself a great deal sharper than I am; but, by Heaven, if you try any tricks with me, you’ll find yourself mistaken! You must buy me an annuity. Do you understand? Before you move right or left, or say your soul’s your own, you must buy me an annuity!”

The banker shook off his companion’s hand, and turned round upon him, pale, stern, and defiant.

“Take care, Stephen Vallance,” he said; “take care how you threaten me. I should have thought you knew me of old, and would be wise enough to keep a civil tongue in your head, with me. As for what you ask, I shall do it, or I shall let it alone — as I think fit. If I do it, I shall take my own time about it, not yours.”

“You’re not afraid of me, then?” asked the other, recoiling a little, and much more subdued in his tone.

“No!”

“You are very bold.”

“Perhaps I am. Do you remember the old story of some people who had a goose that laid golden eggs? They were greedy, and, in their besotted avarice, they killed the goose. But they have not gone down to posterity as examples of wisdom. No, Vallance, I’m not afraid of you.”

Mr. Vallance leaned back in the cab, biting his nails savagely, and thinking. It seemed as if he was trying to find an answer for Mr. Dunbar’s speech: but, if so, he must have failed, for he was silent for the rest of the drive: and when he got out of the vehicle, by-and-by, before the door of the Clarendon, his manner bore an undignified resemblance to that of a half-bred cur who carries his tail between his legs.

“Good afternoon, Major Vernon,” the banker said, carelessly, as a liveried servant opened the door of the hotel: “I shall be very much engaged during the few days I am likely to remain in town, and shall be unable to afford myself the pleasure of your society.”

The Major stared aghast at this cool dismissal.

“Oh,” he murmured, vaguely, “that’s it, is it? Well, of course, you know what’s best for yourself — so, good afternoon!”

The door closed upon Major Vernon, alias Mr. Stephen Vallance, while he was still staring straight before him, in utter inability to realize his position. But he drew his cashmere shawl still higher up about his ears, took out a gaudy scarlet-morocco cigar-case, lighted another big cigar, and then strolled slowly down the quiet West-end street, with his bushy eyebrows contracted into a thoughtful frown.

“Cool,” he muttered between his closed lips; “very cool, to say the least of it. Some people would call it audacious. But the story of the goose with the golden eggs is one of childhood’s simple lessons that we’re obliged to remember in after-life. And to think that the Government of this country should have the audacity to offer a measly hundred pounds or so for the discovery of a great crime! The shabbiness of the legislature must answer for it, if criminals remain at large. My friend’s a deep one, a cursedly deep one; but I shall keep my eye upon him ‘My faith is strong in time,’ as the poet observes. My friend carries it with a high hand at present; but the day may come when he may want me; and if ever he does want me, egad, he shall pay me my own price, and it shall be rather a stiff one into the bargain.”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31