The Brown Man's Servant, by W. W. Jacobs

Chapter 2

At first the noise mingled with his dreams, and helped to form them. He was down a mine, and grimy workers with strong picks were knocking diamonds from the walls, diamonds so large that he became despondent at the comparative smallness of his own. Then he awoke suddenly and sat up with a start, rubbing his eyes. The din was infernal to a man who liked to do a quiet business in an unobtrusive way. It was a knocking which he usually associated with the police, and it came from his side door. With a sense of evil strong upon him, the Jew sprang from his bed, and, slipping the catch, noiselessly opened the window and thrust his head out. In the light of a lamp which projected from the brick wall at the other end of the alley he saw a figure below.

“Hulloa!” said the Jew harshly.

His voice was drowned in the noise.

“What do you want?” he yelled. “Hulloa, there! What do you want, I say?”

The knocking ceased, and the figure, stepping back a little, looked up at the window.

“Come down and open the door,” said a voice which the pawnbroker recognized as the sailor’s.

“Go away,” he said, in a low, stern voice. “Do you want to rouse the neighborhood?”

“Come down and let me in,” said the other. “It’s for your own good. You’re a dead man if you don’t.”

Impressed by his manner the Jew, after bidding him shortly not to make any more noise, lit his candle, and, dressing hurriedly, took the light in his hand and went grumbling downstairs into the shop.

“Now, what do you want?” he said through the door.

“Let me in and I’ll tell you,” said the other, “or I’ll bawl it through the keyhole, if you like.”

The Jew, placing the candle on the counter, drew back the heavy bolts and cautiously opened the door. The seaman stepped in, and, as the other closed the door, vaulted on to the counter and sat there with his legs dangling.

“That’s right,” he said, nodding approvingly in the direction of the Jew’s right hand. “I hope you know how to use it.”

“What do you want?” demanded the other irritably, putting his hand behind him. “What time o’ night do you call this for turning respectable men out of their beds?”

“I didn’t come for the pleasure o’ seeing your pretty face again, you can bet,” said the seaman carelessly. “It’s good nature what’s brought me here. What have you done with that diamond?”

“That’s my business,” said the other. “What do you want?”

“I told you I sailed in five days,” said the seaman. “Well, I got another ship this evening instead, and I sail at 6 a.m. Things are getting just a bit too thick for me, an’ I thought out o’ pure good nature I’d step round and put you on your guard.”

“Why didn’t you do so at first?” said the Jew, eyeing him suspiciously.

“Well, I didn’t want to spoil a bargain,” said the seaman carelessly. “Maybe, you wouldn’t have bought the stone if I had told you. Mind that thing don’t go off; I don’t want to rob you. Point it the other way.”

“There was four of us in that deal,” he continued, after the other had complied with his request. “Me an’ Jack Ball and Nosey Wheeler and a Burmese chap; the last I see o’ Jack Ball he was quiet and peaceful, with a knife sticking in his chest. If I hadn’t been a very careful man I’d have had one sticking in mine. If you ain’t a very careful man, and do what I tell you, you’ll have one sticking in yours.”

“Speak a little more plainly,” said the Jew. “Come into the parlor, I don’t want the police to see a light in the shop.”

“We stole it,” said the seaman, as he followed the other into the little back parlor, “the four of us, from —”

“I don’t want to know anything about that,” interrupted the other hastily.

The sailor grinned approvingly, and continued: “Then me an’ Jack being stronger than them, we took it from them two, but they got level with poor Jack. I shipped before the mast on a barque, and they came over by steamer an’ waited for me.”

“Well, you’re not afraid of them?” said the Jew interrogatively. “Besides, a word to the police —”

“Telling ’em all about the diamond,” said the seaman. “Oh, yes. Well, you can do that now if you feel so inclined. They know all about that, bless you, and, if they were had, they’d blab about the diamond.”

“Have they been dogging you?” inquired the pawnbroker.

“Dogging me!” said the seaman. “Dogging’s no word for it. Wherever I’ve been they’ve been my shadders. They want to hurt me, but they’re careful about being hurt themselves. That’s where I have the pull of them. They want the stone back first, and revenge afterwards, so I thought I’d put you on your guard, for they pretty well guess who’s got the thing now. You’ll know Wheeler by his nose, which is broken.”

“I’m not afraid of them,” said the Jew, “but thank you for telling me. Did they follow you here?”

“They’re outside, I’ve no doubt,” said the other; “but they come along like human cats — leastways, the Burmah chap does. You want eyes in the back of your head for them almost. The Burmese is an old man and soft as velvet, and Jack Ball just afore he died was going to tell me something about him. I don’t know what it was; but, pore Jack, he was a superstitious sort o’ chap, and I know it was something horrible. He was as brave as a lion, was Jack, but he was afraid o’ that little shrivelled-up Burmese. They’ll follow me to the ship to-night. If they’ll only come close enough, and there’s nobody nigh, I’ll do Jack a good turn.”

“Stay here till the morning,” said the Jew.

The seaman shook his head. “I don’t want to miss my ship,” said he; “but remember what I’ve told you, and mind, they’re villains, both of them, and if you are not very careful, they’ll have you, sooner or later. Good-night!”

He buttoned up his coat, and leading the way to the door, followed by the Jew with the candle, opened it noiselessly, and peered carefully out right and left. The alley was empty.

“Take this,” said the Jew, proffering his pistol.

“I’ve got one,” said the seaman. “Good-night!”

He strode boldly up the alley, his footsteps sounding loudly in the silence of the night. The Jew watched him to the corner, and then, closing the door, secured it with extra care, and went back to his bedroom, where he lay meditating upon the warning which had just been given to him until he fell asleep.

Before going downstairs next morning he placed the revolver in his pocket, not necessarily for use, but as a demonstration of the lengths to which he was prepared to go. His manner with two or three inoffensive gentlemen of color was also somewhat strained. Especially was this the case with a worthy Lascar, who, knowing no English, gesticulated cheer-fully in front of him with a long dagger which he wanted to pawn.

The morning passed without anything happening, and it was nearly dinner-time before anything occurred to justify the sailor’s warning. Then, happening to glance at the window, he saw between the articles which were hanging there a villainous face, the principal feature of which being strangely bent at once recalled the warning of the sailor. As he looked the face disappeared, and a moment later its owner, after furtively looking in at the side door, entered quietly.

“Morning, boss,” said he.

The pawnbroker nodded and waited.

“I want to have a little talk with you, boss,” said the man, after waiting for him to speak.

“All right, go on,” said the other.

“What about ’im?” said the man, indicating the assistant with a nod.

“Well, what about him?” inquired the Jew.

“What I’ve got to say is private,” said the man.

The Jew raised his eyebrows.

“You can go in and get your dinner, Bob,” he said. “Now, what do you want?” he continued. “Hurry up, because I’m busy.”

“I come from a pal o’ mine,” said the man, speaking in a low voice, “him what was ’ere last night. He couldn’t come himself, so he sent me. He wants it back.”

“Wants what back?” asked the Jew.

“The diamond,” said the other.

“Diamond? What on earth are you talking about?” demanded the pawnbroker.

“You needn’t try to come it on me,” said the other fiercely. “We want that diamond back, and, mind you, we’ll have it.”

“You clear out,” said the Jew. “I don’t allow people to come threatening me. Out you go.”

“We’ll do more than threaten you,” said the man, the veins in his forehead swelling with rage. “You’ve got that diamond. You got it for five ‘undred pound. We’ll give you that back for it, and you may think yourself lucky to get it.”

“You’ve been drinking,” said the Jew, “or somebody’s been fooling you.”

“Look here,” said the man with a snarl, “drop it. I’m dealing fair an’ square by you. I don’t want to hurt a hair of your head. I’m a peaceable man, but I want my own, and, what’s more, I can get it. I got the shell, and I can get the kernel. Do you know what I mean by that?”

“I don’t know, and I don’t care,” said the Jew. He moved off a little way, and, taking some tarnished spoons from a box, began to rub them with a piece of leather.

“I daresay you can take a hint as well as anybody else,” said the other. “Have you seen that before?”

He threw something on the counter, and the Jew started, despite himself, as he glanced up. It was the sailor’s belt.

“That’s a hint,” said the man with a leer, “and a very fair one.”

The Jew looked at him steadily, and saw that he was white and nervous; his whole aspect that of a man who was running a great risk for a great stake.

“I suppose,” he said at length, speaking very slowly, “that you want me to understand that you have murdered the owner of this.”

“Understand what you like,” said the other with sullen ferocity. “Will you let us have that back again?”

“No,” said the Jew explosively. “I have no fear of a dog like you; if it was worth the trouble I’d send for the police and hand you over to them.”

“Call them,” said the other; “do; I’ll wait. But mark my words, if you don’t give us the stone back you’re a dead man. I’ve got a pal what half that diamond belongs to. He’s from the East, and a bad man to cross. He has only got to wish it, and you’re a dead man without his raising a finger at you. I’ve come here to do you a good turn; if he comes here it’s all up with you.”

“Well, you go back to him,” jeered the Jew; “a clever man like that can get the diamond without going near it seemingly. You’re wasting your time here, and it’s a pity; you must have got a lot of friends.”

“Well, I’ve warned you,” said the other, “you’ll have one more warning. If you won’t be wise you must keep the diamond, but it won’t be much good to you. It’s a good stone, but, speaking for myself I’d sooner be alive without it than dead with it.”

He gave the Jew a menacing glance and departed, and the assistant having by this time finished his dinner, the pawnbroker went to his own with an appetite by no means improved by his late interview.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56