The Woman in the Alcove by Anna Katharine Green
XXIII. The Great Mogul
Later, it was all explained. Mr. Grey, looking like another man, came into the room where I was endeavoring to soothe his startled daughter and devour in secret my own joy. Taking the sweet girl in his arms, he said, with a calm ignoring of my presence, at which I secretly smiled:
"This is the happiest moment of my existence, Helen. I feel as if I had recovered you from the brink of the grave."
"Me? Why, I have never been so ill as that."
"I know; but I have felt as if you were doomed ever since I heard, or thought I heard, in this city, and under no ordinary circumstances, the peculiar cry which haunts our house on the eve of any great misfortune. I shall not apologize for my fears; you know that I have good cause for them, but to-day, only to-day, I have heard from the lips of the most arrant knave I have ever known, that this cry sprang from himself with intent to deceive me. He knew my weakness; knew the cry; he was in Darlington Manor when Cecilia died; and, wishing to startle me into dropping something which I held, made use of his ventriloquial powers (he had been a mountebank once, poor wretch!) and with such effect, that I have not been a happy man since, in spite of your daily improvement and continued promise of recovery. But I am happy now, relieved and joyful; and this miserable being,--would you like to hear his story? Are you strong enough for anything so tragic? He is a thief and a murderer, but he has feelings, and his life has been a curious one, and strangely interwoven with ours. Do you care to hear about it? He is the man who stole our diamond."
My patient uttered a little cry.
"Oh, tell me," she entreated, excited, but not unhealthfully; while I was in an anguish of curiosity I could with difficulty conceal.
Mr. Grey turned with courtesy toward me and asked if a few family details would bore me. I smiled and assured him to the contrary. At which he settled himself in the chair he liked best and began a tale which I will permit myself to present to you complete and from other points of view than his own.
Some five years before, one of the great diamonds of the world was offered for sale in an Eastern market. Mr. Grey, who stopped at no expense in the gratification of his taste in this direction, immediately sent his agent to Egypt to examine this stone. If the agent discovered it to be all that was claimed for it, and within the reach of a wealthy commoner's purse, he was to buy it. Upon inspection, it was found to be all that was claimed, with one exception. In the center of one of the facets was a flaw, but, as this was considered to mark the diamond, and rather add to than detract from its value as a traditional stone with many historical associations, it was finally purchased by Mr. Grey and placed among his treasures in his manor-house in Kent. Never a suspicious man, he took delight in exhibiting this acquisition to such of his friends and acquaintances as were likely to feel any interest in it, and it was not an uncommon thing for him to allow it to pass from hand to hand while he pottered over his other treasures and displayed this and that to such as had no eyes for the diamond.
It was after one such occasion that he found, on taking the stone in his hand to replace it in the safe he had had built for it in one of his cabinets, that it did not strike his eye with its usual force and brilliancy, and, on examining it closely, he discovered the absence of the telltale flaw. Struck with dismay, he submitted it to a still more rigid inspection, when he found that what he held was not even a diamond, but a worthless bit of glass, which had been substituted by some cunning knave for his invaluable gem.
For the moment his humiliation almost equaled his sense of loss; he had been so often warned of the danger he ran in letting so priceless an object pass around under all eyes but his own. His wife and friends had prophesied some such loss as this, not once, but many times, and he had always laughed at their fears, saying that he knew his friends, and there was not a scamp amongst them. But now he saw it proved that even the intuition of a man well-versed in human nature is not always infallible, and, ashamed of his past laxness and more ashamed yet of the doubts which this experience called up in regard to all his friends, he shut up the false stone with his usual care and buried his loss in his own bosom, till he could sift his impressions and recall with some degree of probability the circumstances under which this exchange could have been made.
It had not been made that evening. Of this he was positive. The only persons present on this occasion were friends of such standing and repute that suspicion in their regard was simply monstrous. when and to whom, then, had he shown the diamond last? Alas, it had been a long month since be had shown the jewel. Cecilia, his youngest daughter, had died in the interim; therefore his mind had not been on jewels. A month! time for his precious diamond to have been carried back to the East! Time for it to have been recut! Surely it was lost to him for ever, unless he could immediately locate the person who had robbed him of it.
But this promised difficulties. He could not remember just what persons he had entertained on that especial day in his little hall of cabinets, and, when he did succeed in getting a list of them from his butler, he was by no means sure that it included the full number of his guests. His own memory was execrable, and, in short, he had but few facts to offer to the discreet agent sent up from Scotland Yard one morning to hear his complaint and act secretly in his interests. He could give him carte blanche to carry on his inquiries in the diamond market, but little else. And while this seemed to satisfy the agent, it did not lead to any gratifying result to himself, and he had thoroughly made up his mind to swallow his loss and say nothing about it, when one day a young cousin of his, living in great style in an adjoining county, informed him that in some mysterious way he had lost from his collection of arms a unique and highly-prized stiletto of Italian workmanship.
Startled by this coincidence, Mr. Grey ventured upon a question or two, which led to his cousin's confiding to him the fact that this article had disappeared after a large supper given by him to a number of friends and gentlemen from London. This piece of knowledge, still further coinciding with his own experience, caused Mr. Grey to ask for a list of his guests, in the hope of finding among them one who had been in his own house.
His cousin, quite unsuspicious of the motives underlying this request, hastened to write out this list, and together they pored over the names, crossing out such as were absolutely above suspicion. When they had reached the end of the list, but two names remained uncrossed. One was that of a rattle-pated youth who had come in the wake of a highly reputed connection of theirs, and the other that of an American tourist who gave all the evidences of great wealth and had presented letters to leading men in London which had insured him attentions not usually accorded to foreigners. This man's name was Fairbrother, and, the moment Mr. Grey heard it, he recalled the fact that an American with a peculiar name, but with a reputation for wealth, had been among his guests on the suspected evening.
Hiding the effect produced upon him by this discovery, he placed his finger on this name and begged his cousin to look up its owner's antecedents and present reputation in America; but, not content with this, he sent his own agent over to New York-- whither, as he soon learned, this gentleman had returned. The result was an apparent vindication of the suspected American. He was found to be a well-known citizen of the great metropolis, moving in the highest circles and with a reputation for wealth won by an extraordinary business instinct.
To be sure, he had not always enjoyed these distinctions. Like many another self-made man, he had risen from a menial position in a Western mining camp, to be the owner of a mine himself, and so up through the various gradations of a successful life to a position among the foremost business men of New York. In all these changes he had maintained a name for honest, if not generous, dealing. He lived in great style, had married and was known to have but one extravagant fancy. This was for the unique and curious in art,--a taste which, if report spoke true, cost him many thousands each year.
This last was the only clause in the report which pointed in any way toward this man being the possible abstractor of the Great Mogul, as Mr. Grey's famous diamond was called, and the latter was too just a man and too much of a fancier in this line himself to let a fact of this kind weigh against the favorable nature of the rest. So he recalled his agent, double-locked his cabinets and continued to confine his display of valuables to articles which did not suggest jewels. Thus three years passed, when one day he heard mention made of a wonderful diamond which had been seen in New York. From its description he gathered that it must be the one surreptitiously abstracted from his cabinet, and when, after some careful inquiries, he learned that the name of its possessor was Fairbrother, he awoke to his old suspicions and determined to probe this matter to the bottom. But secretly. He still had too much consideration to attack a man in high position without full proof.
Knowing of no one he could trust with so delicate an inquiry as this had now become, he decided to undertake it himself, and for this purpose embraced the first opportunity to cross the water. He took his daughter with him because he had resolved never to let his one remaining child out of his sight. But she knew nothing of his plans or reason for travel. No one did. Indeed, only his lawyer and the police were aware of the loss of his diamond.
His first surprise on landing was to learn that Mr. Fairbrother, of whose marriage he had heard, had quarreled with his wife and that, in the separation which had occurred, the diamond had fallen to her share and was consequently in her possession at the present moment.
This changed matters, and Mr. Grey's only thought now was to surprise her with the diamond on her person and by one glance assure himself that it was indeed the Great Mogul. Since Mrs. Fairbrother was reported to be a beautiful woman and a great society belle, he saw no reason why he should not meet her publicly, and that very soon. He therefore accepted invitations and attended theaters and balls, though his daughter had suffered from her voyage and was not able to accompany him. But alas! he soon learned that Mrs. Fairbrother was never seen with her diamond and, one evening after an introduction at the opera, that she never talked about it. So there he was, balked on the very threshold of his enterprise, and, recognizing the fact, was preparing to take his now seriously ailing daughter south, when he received an invitation to a ball of such a select character that he decided to remain for it, in the hope that Mrs. Fairbrother would be tempted to put on all her splendor for so magnificent a function and thus gratify him with a sight of his own diamond. During the days that intervened he saw her several times and very soon decided that, in spite of her reticence in regard to this gem, she was not sufficiently in her husband's confidence to know the secret of its real ownership. This encouraged him to attempt piquing her into wearing the diamond on this occasion. He talked of precious stones and finally of his own, declaring that he had a connoisseur's eye for a fine diamond, but had seen none as yet in America to compete with a specimen or two he had in his own cabinets. Her eye flashed at this and, though she said nothing, he felt sure that her presence at Mr. Ramsdell's house would be enlivened by her great jewel.
So much for Mr. Grey's attitude in this matter up to the night of the ball. It is interesting enough, but that of Abner Fairbrother is more interesting still and much more serious.
His was indeed the hand which had abstracted the diamond from Mr. Grey's collection. Under ordinary conditions he was an honest man. He prized his good name and would not willingly risk it, but he had little real conscience, and once his passions were aroused nothing short of the object desired would content him. At once forceful and subtle, he had at his command infinite resources which his wandering and eventful life had heightened almost to the point of genius. He saw this stone, and at once felt an inordinate desire to possess it. He had coveted other men's treasures before, but not as he coveted this. What had been longing in other cases was mania in this. There was a woman in America whom he loved. She was beautiful and she was splendor-loving. To see her with this glory on her breast would be worth almost any risk which his imagination could picture at the moment. Before the diamond had left his hand he had made up his mind to have it for his own. He knew that it could not be bought, so he set about obtaining it by an act he did not hesitate to acknowledge to himself as criminal. But he did not act without precautions. Having a keen eye and a proper sense or size and color, he carried away from his first view of it a true image of the stone, and when he was next admitted to Mr. Grey's cabinet room he had provided the means for deceiving the owner whose character he had sounded.
He might have failed in his daring attempt if he had not been favored by a circumstance no one could have foreseen. A daughter of the house, Cecilia by name, lay critically ill at the time, and Mr. Grey's attention was more or less distracted. Still the probabilities are that he would have noticed something amiss with the stone when he came to restore it to its place, if, just as he took it in his hand, there had not risen in the air outside a weird and wailing cry which at once seized upon the imagination of the dozen gentlemen present, and so nearly prostrated their host that he thrust the box he held unopened into the safe and fell upon his knees, a totally unnerved man, crying:
"The banshee! the banshee! My daughter will die!"
Another hand than his locked the safe and dropped the key into the distracted father's pocket.
Thus a superhuman daring conjoined with a special intervention of fate had made the enterprise a successful one; and Fairbrother, believing more than ever in his star, carried this invaluable jewel back with him to New York. The stiletto--well, the taking of that was a folly, for which he had never ceased to blush. He had not stolen it; he would not steal so inconsiderable an object. He had merely put it in his pocket when he saw it forgotten, passed over, given to him, as it were. That the risk, contrary to that involved in the taking of the diamond, was far in excess of the gratification obtained, he realized almost immediately, but, having made the break, and acquired the curio, he spared himself all further thought or the consequences, and presently resumed his old life in New York, none the worse, to all appearances, for these escapades from virtue and his usual course of fair and open dealing.
But he was soon the worse from jealousy of the wife which his new possession had possibly won for him. She had answered all his expectations as mistress of his home and the exponent of his wealth; and for a year, nay, for two, he had been perfectly happy. Indeed, he had been more than that; he had been triumphant, especially on that memorable evening when, after a cautious delay of months, he had dared to pin that unapproachable sparkler to her breast and present her thus bedecked to the smart set--her whom his talents, and especially his far-reaching business talents, had made his own.
Recalling the old days of barter and sale across the pine counter in Colorado, he felt that his star rode high, and for a time was satisfied with his wife's magnificence and the prestige she gave his establishment. But pride is not all, even to a man of his daring ambition. Gradually he began to realize, first, that she was indifferent to him, next, that she despised him, and, lastly, that she hated him. She had dozens at her feet, any of whom was more agreeable to her than her own husband; and, though he could not put his finger on any definite fault, he soon wearied of a beauty that only glowed for others, and made up his mind to part with her rather than let his heart be eaten out by unappeasable longing for what his own good sense told him would never be his.
Yet, being naturally generous, he was satisfied with a separation, and, finding it impossible to think of her as other than extravagantly fed, waited on and clothed, he allowed her a good share of his fortune with the one proviso, that she should not disgrace him. But the diamond she stole, or rather carried off in her naturally high-handed manner with the rest of her jewels. He had never given it to hen She knew the value he set on it, but not how he came by it, and would have worn it quite freely if he had not very soon given her to understand that the pleasure of doing so ceased when she left his house. As she could not be seen with it without occasioning public remark, she was forced, though much against her will, to heed his wishes, and enjoy its brilliancy in private. But once, when he was out of town, she dared to appear with this fortune on her breast, and again while on a visit West,--and her husband heard of it.
Mr. Fairbrother had had the jewel set to suit him, not in Florence, as Sears had said, but by a skilful workman he had picked up in great poverty in a remote corner of Williamsburg. Always in dread of some complication, he had provided himself with a second facsimile in paste, this time of an astonishing brightness, and this facsimile he had had set precisely like the true stone. Then he gave the workman a thousand dollars and sent him back to Switzerland. This imitation in paste he showed nobody, but he kept it always in his pocket; why, he hardly knew. Meantime, he had one confidant, not of his crime, but of his sentiments toward his wife, and the determination he had secretly made to proceed to extremities if she continued to disobey him.
This was a man of his own age or older, who had known him in his early days, and had followed all his fortunes. He had been the master of Fairbrother then, but he was his servant now, and as devoted to his interests as if they were his own,--which, in a way, they were. For eighteen years he had stood at the latter's right hand, satisfied to look no further, but, for the last three, his glances had strayed a foot or two beyond his master, and taken in his master's wife.
The feelings which this man had for Mrs. Fairbrother were peculiar. She was a mere adjunct to her great lord, but she was a very gorgeous one, and, while he could not imagine himself doing anything to thwart him whose bread he ate, and to whose rise he had himself contributed, yet if he could remain true to him without injuring he; he would account himself happy. The day came when he had to decide between them, and, against all chances, against his own preconceived notion of what he would do under these circumstances, he chose to consider her.
This day came when, in the midst of growing complacency and an intense interest in some new scheme which demanded all his powers, Abner Fairbrother learned from the papers that Mr. Grey, of English Parliamentary fame, had arrived in New York on an indefinite visit. As no cause was assigned for the visit beyond a natural desire on the part of this eminent statesman to see this great country, Mr. Fairbrother's fears reached a sudden climax, and he saw himself ruined and for ever disgraced if the diamond now so unhappily out of his hands should fall under the eyes of its owner, whose seeming quiet under its loss had not for a moment deceived him. Waiting only long enough to make sure that the distinguished foreigner was likely to accept social attentions, and so in all probability would be brought in contact with Mrs. Fairbrother, he sent her by his devoted servant a peremptory message, in which he demanded back his diamond; and, upon her refusing to heed this, followed it up by another, in which he expressly stated that if she took it out of the safe deposit in which he had been told she was wise enough to keep it, or wore it so much as once during the next three months, she would pay for her presumption with her life.
This was no idle threat, though she chose to regard it as such, laughing in the old servant's face and declaring that she would run the risk if the notion seized her. But the notion did not seem to seize her at once, and her husband was beginning to take heart, when he heard of the great ball about to be given by the Ramsdells and realized that if she were going to be tempted to wear the diamond at all, it would be at this brilliant function given in honor of the one man he had most cause to fear in the whole world.
Sears, seeing the emotion he was under, watched him closely. They had both been on the point of starting for New Mexico to visit a mine in which Mr. Fairbrother was interested, and he waited with inconceivable anxiety to see if his master would change his plans. It was while he was in this condition of mind that he was seen to shake his fist at Mrs. Fairbrother's passing figure; a menace naturally interpreted as directed against her, but which, if we know the man, was rather the expression of his anger against the husband who could rebuke and threaten so beautiful a creature. Meanwhile, Mr. Fairbrother's preparations went on and, three weeks before the ball, they started. Mr. Fairbrother had business in Chicago and business in Denver. It was two weeks and more before he reached La Junta. Sears counted the days. At La Junta they had a long conversation; or rather Mr. Fairbrother talked and Sears listened. The sum of what he said was this: He had made up his mind to have back his diamond. He was going to New York to get it. He was going alone, and as he wished no one to know that he had gone or that his plans had been in any way interrupted, the other was to continue on to El Moro, and, passing himself off as Fairbrother, hire a room at the hotel and shut himself up in it for ten days on any plea his ingenuity might suggest. If at the end of that time Fairbrother should rejoin him, well and good. They would go on together to Santa Fe. But if for any reason the former should delay his return, then Sears was to exercise his own judgment as to the length of time he should retain his borrowed personality; also as to the advisability of pushing on to the mine and entering on the work there, as had been planned between them.
Sears knew what all this meant. He understood what was in his master's mind, as well as if he had been taken into his full confidence, and openly accepted his part of the business with seeming alacrity, even to the point of supplying Fairbrother with suitable references as to the ability of one James Wellgood to fill a waiter's place at fashionable functions. It was not the first he had given him. Seventeen years before he had written the same, minus the last phrase. That was when he was the master and Fairbrother the man. But he did not mean to play the part laid out for him, for all his apparent acquiescence. He began by following the other's instructions. He exchanged clothes with him and other necessaries, and took the train for La Junta at or near the time that Fairbrother started east. But once at El Moro--once registered there as Abner Fairbrother from New York--he took a different course from the one laid out for him,--a course which finally brought him into his master's wake and landed him at the same hour in New York.
This is what he did. Instead of shutting himself up in his room he expressed an immediate desire to visit some neighboring mines, and, procuring a good horse, started off at the first available moment. He rode north, lost himself in the mountains, and wandered till he found a guide intelligent enough to lend himself to his plans. To this guide he confided his horse for the few days he intended to be gone, paying him well and promising him additional money if, during his absence, he succeeded in circulating the report that he, Abner Fairbrother, had gone deep into the mountains, bound for such and such a camp.
Having thus provided an alibi, not only for himself, but for his master, too, in case he should need it, he took the direct road to the nearest railway station, and started on his long ride east. He did not expect to overtake the man he had been personating, but fortune was kinder than is usual in such cases, and, owing to a delay caused by some accident to a freight train, he arrived in Chicago within a couple of hours of Mr. Fairbrother, and started out of that city on the same train. But not on the same car. Sears had caught a glimpse of Fairbrother on the platform, and was careful to keep out of his sight. This was easy enough. He bought a compartment in the sleeper and stayed in it till they arrived at the Grand Central Station. Then he hastened out and, fortune favoring him with another glimpse of the man in whose movements he was so interested, followed him into the streets.
Fairbrother had shaved off his beard before leaving El Moro. Sears had shaved his off on the train. Both were changed, the former the more, owing to a peculiarity of his mouth which up till now he had always thought best to cover. Sears, therefore, walked behind him without fear, and was almost at his heels when this owner of one of New York's most notable mansions, entered, with a spruce air, the doors of a prominent caterer.
Understanding the plot now, and having everything to fear for his mistress, he walked the streets for some hours in a state of great indecision. Then he went up to her apartment. But he had no sooner come within sight of it than a sense of disloyalty struck him and he slunk away, only to come sidling back when it was too late and she had started for the ball.
Trembling with apprehension, but still strangely divided in his impulses, wishing to serve master and mistress both, without disloyalty to the one or injury to the other, he hesitated and argued with himself, till his fears for the latter drove him to Mr. Ramsdell's house.
The night was a stormy one. The heaviest snow of the season was falling with a high gale blowing down the Sound. As he approached the house, which, as we know, is one of the modern ones in the Riverside district, he felt his heart fail him. But as he came nearer and got the full effect of glancing lights, seductive music, and the cheery bustle of crowding carriages, he saw in his mind's eye such a picture of his beautiful mistress, threatened, unknown to herself, in a quarter she little realized, that he lost all sense of what had hitherto deterred him. Making then and there his great choice, he looked about for the entrance, with the full intention of seeing and warning her.
But this, he presently perceived, was totally impracticable. He could neither go to her nor expect her to come to him; meanwhile, time was passing, and if his master was there-- The thought made his head dizzy, and, situated as he was, among the carriages, he might have been run over in his confusion if his eyes had not suddenly fallen on a lighted window, the shade of which had been inadvertently left up.
Within this window, which was only a few feet above his head, stood the glowing image of a woman clad in pink and sparkling with jewels. Her face was turned from him, but he recognized her splendor as that of the one woman who could never be too gorgeous for his taste; and, alive to this unexpected opportunity, he made for this window with the intention of shouting up to her and so attracting her attention.
But this proved futile, and, driven at last to the end of his resources, he tore out a slip of paper from his note-book and, in the dark and with the blinding snow in his eyes, wrote the few broken sentences which he thought would best warn her, without compromising his master. The means he took to reach her with this note I have already related. As soon as he saw it in her hands he fled the place and took the first train west. He was in a pitiable condition, when, three days later, he reached the small station from which he had originally set out. The haste, the exposure, the horror of the crime he had failed to avert, had undermined his hitherto excellent constitution, and the symptoms of a serious illness were beginning to make themselves manifest. But he, like his indomitable master, possessed a great fund of energy and willpower. He saw that if he was to save Abner Fairbrother (and now that Mrs. Fairbrother was dead, his old master was all the world to him) he must make Fairbrother's alibi good by carrying on the deception as planned by the latter, and getting as soon as possible to his camp in the New Mexico mountains. He knew that he would have strength to do this and he went about it without sparing himself.
Making his way into the mountains, he found the guide and his horse at the place agreed upon and, paying the guide enough for his services to insure a quiet tongue, rode back toward El Moro where he was met and sent on to Santa Fe as already related.
Such is the real explanation of the well-nigh unintelligible scrawl found in Mrs. Fairbrother's hand after her death. As to the one which left Miss Grey's bedside for this same house, it was, alike in the writing and sending, the loving freak of a very sick but tender-hearted girl. She had noted the look with which Mr. Grey had left her, and, in her delirious state, thought that a line in her own hand would convince him of her good condition and make it possible for him to enjoy the evening. She was, however, too much afraid of her nurse to write it openly, and though we never found that scrawl, it was doubtless not very different in appearance from the one with which I had confounded it. The man to whom it was intrusted stopped for too many warming drinks on his way for it ever to reach Mr. Ramsdell's house. He did not even return home that night, and when he did put in an appearance the next morning, he was dismissed.
This takes me back to the ball and Mrs. Fairbrother. She had never had much fear of her husband till she received his old servant's note in the peculiar manner already mentioned. This, coming through the night and the wet and with all the marks of hurry upon it, did impress her greatly and led her to take the first means which offered of ridding herself of her dangerous ornament. The story of this we know.
Meanwhile, a burning heart and a scheming brain were keeping up their deadly work a few paces off under the impassive aspect and active movements of the caterer's newly-hired waiter. Abner Fairbrother, whose real character no one had ever been able to sound, unless it was the man who had known him in his days of struggle, was one of those dangerous men who can conceal under a still brow and a noiseless manner the most violent passions and the most desperate resolves. He was angry with his wife, who was deliberately jeopardizing his good name, and he had come there to kill her if he found her flaunting the diamond in Mr. Grey's eyes; and though no one could have detected any change in his look and manner as he passed through the room where these two were standing, the doom of that fair woman was struck when he saw the eager scrutiny and indescribable air of recognition with which this long-defrauded gentleman eyed his own diamond.
He had meant to attack her openly, seize the diamond, fling it at Mr. Grey's feet, and then kill himself. That had been his plan. But when he found, after a round or two among the guests, that nobody looked at him, and nobody recognized the well-known millionaire in the automaton-like figure with the formally-arranged whiskers and sleekly-combed hair, colder purposes intervened, and he asked himself if it would not be possible to come upon her alone, strike his blow, possess himself of the diamond, and make for parts unknown before his identity could be discovered. He loved life even without the charm cast over it by this woman. Its struggles and its hard-bought luxuries fascinated him. If Mr. Grey suspected him, why, Mr. Grey was English, and he a resourceful American. If it came to an issue, the subtle American would win if Mr. Grey were not able to point to the flaw which marked this diamond as his own. And this, Fairbrother had provided against, and would succeed in if he could hold his passions in check and be ready with all his wit when matters reached a climax.
Such were the thoughts and such the plans of the quiet, attentive man who, with his tray laden with coffee and ices, came and went an unnoticed unit among twenty other units similarly quiet and similarly attentive. He waited on lady after lady, and when, on the reissuing of Mr. Durand from the alcove, he passed in there with his tray and his two cups of coffee, nobody heeded and nobody remembered.
It was all over in a minute, and he came out, still unnoted, and went to the supper-room for more cups of coffee. But that minute had set its seal on his heart for ever. She was sitting there alone with her side to the entrance, so that he had to pass around in order to face her. Her elegance and a certain air she had of remoteness from the scene of which she was the glowing center when she smiled, awed him and made his hand loosen a little on the slender stiletto he held close against the bottom of the tray. But such resolution does not easily yield, and his fingers soon tightened again, this time with a deadly grip.
He had expected to meet the flash of the diamond as he bent over her, and dreaded doing so for fear it would attract his eye from her face and so cost him the sight of that startled recognition which would give the desired point to his revenge. But the tray, as he held it, shielded her breast from view, and when he lowered it to strike his blow, he thought of nothing but aiming so truly as to need no second blow. He had had his experience in those old years in a mining camp, and he did not fear failure in this. What he did fear was her utterance of some cry,--possibly his name. But she was stunned with horror, and did not shriek,--horror of him whose eyes she met with her glassy and staring ones as he slowly drew forth the weapon.
Why he drew it forth instead of leaving it in her breast he could not say. Possibly because it gave him his moment of gloating revenge. When in another instant, her hands flew up, and the tray tipped, and the china fell, the revulsion came, and his eyes opened to two facts: the instrument of death was still in his grasp, and the diamond, on whose possession he counted, was gone from his wife's breast.
It was a horrible moment. Voices could be heard approaching the alcove,--laughing voices that in an instant would take on the note of horror. And the music,--ah! how low it had sunk, as if to give place to the dying murmur he now heard issuing from her lips. But he was a man of iron. Thrusting the stiletto into the first place that offered, he drew the curtains over the staring windows, then slid out with his tray, calm, speckless and attentive as ever, dead to thought, dead to feeling, but aware, quite aware in the secret depths of his being that something besides his wife had been killed that night, and that sleep and peace of mind and all pleasure in the past were gone for ever.
It was not he I saw enter the alcove and come out with news of the crime. He left this role to one whose antecedents could better bear investigation. His part was to play, with just the proper display of horror and curiosity, the ordinary menial brought face to face with a crime in high life. He could do this. He could even sustain his share in the gossip, and for this purpose kept near the other waiters. The absence of the diamond was all that troubled him. That brought him at times to the point of vertigo. Had Mr. Grey recognized and claimed it? If so, he, Abner Fairbrother, must remain James Wellgood, the waiter, indefinitely. This would require more belief in his star than ever he had had yet. But as the moments passed, and no contradiction was given to the universally-received impression that the same hand which had struck the blow had taken the diamond, even this cause of anxiety left his breast and he faced people with more and more courage till the moment when he suddenly heard that the diamond had been found in the possession of a man perfectly strange to him, and saw the inspector pass it over into the hands of Mr. Grey.
Instantly he realized that the crisis of his fate was on him. If Mr. Grey were given time to identify this stone, he, Abner Fairbrother, was lost and the diamond as well. Could he prevent this? There was but one way, and that way he took. Making use of his ventriloquial powers--he had spent a year on the public stage in those early days, playing just such tricks as these--he raised the one cry which he knew would startle Mr. Grey more than any other in the world, and when the diamond fell from his hand, as he knew it would, he rushed forward and, in the act of picking it up, made that exchange which not only baffled the suspicions of the statesman, but restored to him the diamond, for whose possession he was now ready to barter half his remaining days.
Meanwhile Mr. Grey had had his own anxieties. During this whole long evening, he had been sustained by the conviction that the diamond of which he had caught but one passing glimpse was the Great Mogul of his once famous collection. So sure was he of this, that at one moment he found himself tempted to enter the alcove, demand a closer sight of the diamond and settle the question then and there. He even went so far as to take in his hands the two cups of coffee which should serve as his excuse for this intrusion, but his naturally chivalrous instincts again intervened, and he set the cups down again--this I did not see-- and turned his steps toward the library with the intention of writing her a note instead. But though he found paper and pen to hand, he could find no words for so daring a request, and he came back into the hall, only to hear that the woman he had contemplated addressing had just been murdered and her great jewel stolen.
The shock was too much, and as there was no leaving the house then, he retreated again to the library where he devoured his anxieties in silence till hope revived again at sight of the diamond in the inspector's hand, only to vanish under the machinations of one he did not even recognize when he took the false jewel from his hand.
The American had outwitted the Englishman and the triumph of evil was complete.
Or so it seemed. But if the Englishman is slow, he is sure. Thrown off the track for the time being, Mr. Grey had only to see a picture of the stiletto in the papers, to feel again that, despite all appearances, Fairbrother was really not only at the bottom of the thefts from which his cousin and himself had suffered, but of this frightful murder as well. He made no open move--he was a stranger in a strange land and much disturbed, besides, by his fears for his daughter--but he started a secret inquiry through his old valet, whom he ran across in the street, and whose peculiar adaptability for this kind of work he well knew.
The aim of these inquiries was to determine if the person, whom two physicians and three assistants were endeavoring to nurse back to health on the top of a wild plateau in a remote district of New Mexico, was the man he had once entertained at his own board in England, and the adventures thus incurred would make a story in itself. But the result seemed to justify them. Word came after innumerable delays, very trying to Mr. Grey, that be was not the same, though he bore the name of Fairbrother, and was considered by every one around there to be Fairbrother. Mr. Grey, ignorant of the relations between the millionaire master and his man which sometimes led to the latter's personifying the former, was confident of his own mistake and bitterly ashamed of his own suspicions.
But a second message set him right. A deception was being practised down in New Mexico, and this was how his spy had found it out. Certain letters which went into the sick tent were sent away again, and always to one address. He had learned the address. It was that of James Wellgood, C--, Maine. If Mr. Grey would look up this Wellgood he would doubtless learn something of the man he was so interested in.
This gave Mr. Grey personally something to do, for he would trust no second party with a message involving the honor of a possibly innocent man. As the place was accessible by railroad and his duty clear, he took the journey involved and succeeded in getting a glimpse in the manner we know of the man James Wellgood. This time he recognized Fairbrother and, satisfied from the circumstances of the moment that he would be making no mistake in accusing him of having taken the Great Mogul, he intercepted him in his flight, as you have already read, and demanded the immediate return of his great diamond.
And Fairbrother? We shall have to go back a little to bring his history up to this critical instant.
When he realized the trend of public opinion; when he saw a perfectly innocent man committed to the Tombs for his crime, he was first astonished and then amused at what he continued to regard as the triumph of his star. But he did not start for El Moro, wise as he felt it would be to do so. Something of the fascination usual with criminals kept him near the scene of his crime,--that, and an anxiety to see how Sears would conduct himself in the Southwest. That Sears had followed him to New York, knew his crime, and was the strongest witness against him, was as far from his thoughts as that he owed him the warning which had all but balked him of his revenge. When therefore he read in the papers that "Abner Fairbrother" had been found sick in his camp at Santa Fe, he felt that nothing now stood in the way of his entering on the plans he had framed for ultimate escape. On his departure from El Moro he had taken the precaution of giving Sears the name of a certain small town on the coast of Maine where his mail was to be sent in case of a great emergency. He had chosen this town for two reasons. First, because he knew all about it, having had a young man from there in his employ; secondly, because of its neighborhood to the inlet where an old launch of his had been docked for the winter. Always astute, always precautionary, he had given orders to have this launch floated and provisioned, so that now he had only to send word to the captain, to have at his command the best possible means of escape.
Meanwhile, he must make good his position in C--. He did it in the way we know. Satisfied that the only danger he need fear was the discovery of the fraud practised in New Mexico, he had confidence enough in Sears, even in his present disabled state, to take his time and make himself solid with the people of C--while waiting for the ice to disappear from the harbor. This accomplished and cruising made possible, he took a flying trip to New York to secure such papers and valuables as he wished to carry out of the country with him. They were in safe deposit, but that safe deposit was in his strong room in the center of his house in Eighty-sixth Street (a room which you will remember in connection with Sweetwater's adventure). To enter his own door with his own latch-key, in the security and darkness of a stormy night, seemed to this self-confident man a matter of no great risk. Nor did he find it so. He reached his strong room, procured his securities and was leaving the house, without having suffered an alarm, when some instinct of self-preservation suggested to him the advisability of arming himself with a pistol. His own was in Maine, but he remembered where Sears kept his; he had seen it often enough in that old trunk he had brought with him from the Sierras. He accordingly went up stairs to the steward's room, found the pistol and became from that instant invincible. But in restoring the articles he had pulled out he came across a photograph of his wife and lost himself over it and went mad, as we have heard the detective tell. That later, he should succeed in trapping this detective and should leave the house without a qualm as to his fate shows what sort of man he was in moments of extreme danger. I doubt, from what I have heard of him since, if he ever gave two thoughts to the man after he had sprung the double lock on him; which, considering his extreme ignorance of who his victim was or what relation he bore to his own fate, was certainly remarkable.
Back again in C--, he made his final preparations for departure. He had already communicated with the captain of the launch, who may or may not have known his passenger's real name. He says that he supposed him to be some agent of Mr. Fairbrother's; that among the first orders he received from that gentleman was one to the effect that he was to follow the instructions of one Wellgood as if they came from himself; that he had done so, and not till he had Mr. Fairbrother on board had he known whom he was expected to carry into other waters. However, there are many who do not believe the captain. Fairbrother had a genius for rousing devotion in the men who worked for him, and probably this man was another Sears.
To leave speculation, all was in train, then, and freedom but a quarter of a mile away, when the boat he was in was stopped by another and he heard Mr. Grey's voice demanding the jewel.
The shock was severe and he had need of all the nerve which had hitherto made his career so prosperous, to sustain the encounter with the calmness which alone could carry off the situation. Declaring that the diamond was in New York, he promised to restore it if the other would make the sacrifice worth while by continuing to preserve his hitherto admirable silence concerning him: Mr. Grey responded by granting him just twenty-four hours; and when Fairbrother said the time was not long enough and allowed his hand to steal ominously to his breast, he repeated still more decisively, "Twenty-four hours."
The ex-miner honored bravery. Withdrawing his hand from his breast, he brought out a note-book instead of a pistol and, in a tone fully as determined, replied: "The diamond is in a place inaccessible to any one but myself. If you will put your name to a promise not to betray me for the thirty-six hours I ask, I will sign one to restore you the diamond before one-thirty o'clock on Friday."
"I will," said Mr. Grey.
So the promises were written and duly exchanged. Mr. Grey returned to New York and Fairbrother boarded his launch.
The diamond really was in New York, and to him it seemed more politic to use it as a means of securing Mr. Grey's permanent silence than to fly the country, leaving a man behind him who knew his secret and could precipitate his doom with a word. He would, therefore, go to New York, play his last great card and, if he lost, be no worse off than he was now. He did not mean to lose.
But he had not calculated on any inherent weakness in himself,-- had not calculated on Providence. A dish tumbled and with it fell into chaos the fair structure of his dreams. With the cry of "Grizel! Grizel!" he gave up his secret, his hopes and his life. There was no retrieval possible after that. The star of Abner Fairbrother had set.
Mr. Grey and his daughter learned very soon of my relations to Mr. Durand, but through the precautions of the inspector and my own powers of self-control, no suspicion has ever crossed their minds of the part I once played in the matter of the stiletto.
This was amply proved by the invitation Mr. Durand and I have just received to spend our honeymoon at Darlington Manor.