A Simpleton by Charles Reade
"Heaven forbid!" said Phoebe. "No, my dear, no more diamonds for us. We never had but one, and it brought us trouble."
"Nonsense, Phoebe," replied Falcon; "it was not the diamond's fault. You know I have often wanted to go there, but you objected. You said you were afraid some evil would befall me. But now Solomon himself is going to the mines, let us have no more of that nonsense. We will take our rifles and our pistols."
"There--there--rifles and pistols," cried Phoebe; "that shows."
"And we will be there in a week; stay a month, and home with our pockets full of diamonds."
"And find me dead of a broken heart."
"Broken fiddlestick! We have been parted longer than that, and yet here we are all right."
"Ay, but the pitcher that goes too often to the well gets broke at last. No, Reginald, now I have tasted three years' happiness and peace of mind, I cannot go through what I used in England. Oh, doctor! have you the heart to part man and wife, that have never been a day from each other all these years?"
"Mrs. Falcon, I would not do it for all the diamonds in Brazil. No, Mr. Falcon, I need hardly say how charmed I should be to have your company: but that is a pleasure I shall certainly deny myself, after what your good wife has said. I owe her too much to cause her a single pang."
"Doctor," said the charming Reginald, "you are a gentleman and side with the lady. Quite right. It adds to my esteem, if possible. Make your mind easy; I will go alone. I am not a farmer. I am dead sick of this monotonous life; and, since I am compelled to speak my mind, a little ashamed, as a gentleman, of living on my wife and her brother, and doing nothing for myself. So I shall go to the Vaal river, and see a little life; here there's nothing but vegetation--and not much of that. Not a word more, Phoebe, if you please. I am a good, easy, affectionate husband, but I am a man, and not a child to be tied to a woman's apron-strings, however much I may love and respect her."
Dick put in his word: "Since you are so independent, you can walk to the Vaal river. I can't spare a couple of horses."
This hit the sybarite hard, and he cast a bitter glance of hatred at his brother-in-law, and fell into a moody silence.
But when he got Phoebe to himself, he descanted on her selfishness, Dick's rudeness, and his own wounded dignity, till he made her quite anxious he should have his own way. She came to Staines, with red eyes, and said, "Tell me, doctor, will there be any women up there--to take care of you?"
"Not a petticoat in the place, I believe. It is a very rough life; and how Falcon could think of leaving you and sweet little Tommy, and this life of health, and peace, and comfort--"
"Yet you do leave us, sir."
"I am the most unfortunate man upon the earth; Falcon is one of the happiest. Would I leave wife and child to go there? Ah me! I am dead to those I love. This is my one chance of seeing my darling again for many a long year perhaps. Oh, I must not speak of her-- it unmans me. My good, kind friend, I'll tell you what to do. When we are all at supper, let a horse be saddled and left in the yard for me. I'll bid you all good-night, and I'll put fifty miles between us before morning. Even then he need not be told I am gone; he will not follow me."
"You are very good, sir," said Phoebe; "but no. Too much has been said. I can't have him humbled by my brother, nor any one. He says I am selfish. Perhaps I am; though I never was called so. I can't bear he should think me selfish. He will go, and so let us have no ill blood about it. Since he is to go, of course I'd much liever he should go with you than by himself. You are sure there are no women up there--to take care of--you--both? You must be purse-bearer, sir, and look to every penny. He is too generous when he has got money to spend."
In short, Reginald had played so upon her heart, that she now urged the joint expedition, only she asked a delay of a day or two to equip them, and steel herself to the separation.
Staines did not share those vague fears that overpowered the wife, whose bitter experiences were unknown to him; but he felt uncomfortable at her condition--for now she was often in tears--and he said all he could to comfort her; and he also advised her how to profit by these terrible diamonds, in her way. He pointed out to her that her farm lay right in the road to the diamonds, yet the traffic all shunned her, passing twenty miles to the westward. Said he, "You should profit by all your resources. You have wood, a great rarity in Africa; order a portable forge; run up a building where miners can sleep, another where they can feed; the grain you have so wisely refused to sell, grind it into flour."
"Dear heart! why, there's neither wind nor water to turn a mill."
"But there are oxen. I'll show you how to make an ox-mill. Send your Cape cart into Cape Town for iron lathes, for coffee and tea, and groceries by the hundredweight. The moment you are ready--for success depends on the order in which we act--then prepare great boards, and plant them twenty miles south. Write or paint on them, very large, 'The nearest way to the Diamond Mines, through Dale's Kloof, where is excellent accommodation for man and beast. Tea, coffee, home-made bread, fresh butter, etc., etc.' Do this, and you will soon leave off decrying diamonds. This is the sure way to coin them. I myself take the doubtful way; but I can't help it. I am a dead man, and swift good fortune will give me life. You can afford to go the slower road and the surer."
Then he drew her a model of an ox-mill, and of a miner's dormitory, the partitions six feet six apart, so that these very partitions formed the bedstead, the bed-sacking being hooked to the uprights. He drew his model for twenty bedrooms.
The portable forge and the ox-mill pleased Dick Dale most, but the partitioned bedsteads charmed Phoebe. She said," Oh, doctor, how can one man's head hold so many things? If there's a man on earth I can trust my husband with, 'tis you. But if things go cross up there, promise me you will come back at once and cast in your lot with us. We have got money and stock, and you have got headpiece; we might do very well together. Indeed, indeed we might. Promise me. Oh, do, please, promise me!"
"I promise you."
And on this understanding, Staines and Falcon were equipped with rifles, pickaxe, shovels, waterproofs, and full saddle-bags, and started, with many shakings of the hand, and many tears from Phoebe, for the diamond washings.