Tit-Bits, August 27, 1910
A DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE.
If Jimmy had entertained any doubts concerning the effectiveness of this disclosure they would have vanished at the sight of the other’s face. Just as the rich hues of a sunset pale slowly into an almost imperceptible green, so did the purple of Sir Thomas’s cheeks become, in stages, first a dull red, then pink, and finally take on a uniform pallor. His mouth hung open. His attitude of righteous defiance had crumpled. Unsuspected creases appeared in his clothes. He had the appearance of one who has been caught in the machinery.
Jimmy was a little puzzled. He had expected to check the enemy, to bring him to reason, but not to demolish him in this way. There was something in this which he did not understand. When Spike had handed him the stones, and his trained eye, after a moment’s searching examination, had made him suspicious, and when, finally, a simple test had proved his suspicions correct, he was comfortably aware that, though found with the necklace on his person, he had knowledge which, communicated to Sir Thomas, would serve him well. He knew that Lady Julia was not the sort of lady who would bear calmly the announcement that her treasured rope of diamonds was a fraud. He knew enough of her to know that she would demand another necklace, and see that she got it, and that Sir Thomas was not one of those generous and expansive natures which think nothing of an expenditure of twenty thousand pounds.
This was the line of thought which had kept him cheerful during what might otherwise have been a trying interview. He was aware from the first that Sir Thomas would not believe in the purity of his motives; but he was convinced that the knight would be satisfied to secure his silence on the subject of the paste necklace on any terms. He had looked forward to baffled rage, furious denunciation, and a dozen other expressions of emotion, but certainly not to collapse of this kind.
The other had begun to make strange, gurgling noises.
“Mind you,” said Jimmy, “it’s a very good imitation. I’ll say that for it. I didn’t suspect it till I had the thing in my hands. Looking at it—even quite close—I was taken in for a moment.”
Sir Thomas swallowed nervously.
“How did you know?” he muttered.
Again Jimmy was surprised. He had expected indignant denials and demands for proof, excited reiteration of the statement that the stones had cost twenty thousand pounds.
“How did I know?” he repeated. “If you mean what first made me suspect, I couldn’t tell you. It might have been one of a score of things. A jeweller can’t say exactly how he gets on the track of faked stones. He can feel them. He can almost smell them. I worked with a jeweller once. That’s how I got my knowledge of jewels. But if you mean, can I prove what I say about this necklace, that’s easy. There’s no deception. It’s simple. See here. These stones are supposed to be diamonds. Well, the diamond is the hardest stone in existence. Nothing will scratch it. Now, I’ve got a little ruby out of a pin which I know is genuine. By rights, then, that ruby ought not to have scratched these stones. You follow that? But it did. It scratched two of them, the only two I tried. If you like, I can continue the experiment. But there’s no need. I can tell you straight away what these stones are. I said they were paste, but that wasn’t quite accurate. They’re a stuff called white jargoon. It’s a stuff that’s very easily faked. You work it with the flame of a blow-pipe. You don’t want a full description, I suppose? Anyway, what happens is that the blow-pipe sets it up like a tonic. Gives it increased specific gravity and a healthy complexion and all sorts of great things of that kind. Two minutes in the flame of a blow-pipe is like a week at the seaside to a bit of white jargoon. Are you satisfied? If it comes to that, I suppose you can hardly be expected to be. Convinced is a better word. Are you convinced, or do you hanker after tests like polarized light and refracting liquids?”
Sir Thomas had staggered to a chair.
“So that was how you knew!” he said.
“That was——” began Jimmy, when a sudden suspicion flashed across his mind. He scrutinized Sir Thomas’s pallid face keenly.
“Did you know?” he asked.
He wondered that the possibility had not occurred to him earlier. This would account for much that had puzzled him in the other’s reception of the news. He had supposed, vaguely, without troubling to go far into the probabilities of such a thing, that the necklace which Spike had brought to him had been substituted for the genuine diamonds by a thief. Such things happened frequently, he knew. But, remembering what Molly had told him of the care which Sir Thomas took of this particular necklace, and the frequency with which Lady Julia wore it, he did not see how such a substitution could have been effected. There had been no chance of anybody obtaining access to these stones for the necessary length of time.
“By George, I believe you did!” he cried. “You must have done. So that’s how it happened, is it? I don’t wonder it was a shock when I said I knew about the necklace.”
“I have something to say to you.”
Sir Thomas tried to rally. There was a touch of the old pomposity in his manner when he spoke.
“Mr. Pitt, I find you in an unpleasant position——”
“Don’t you worry about my unpleasant position,” he said. “Fix your attention exclusively upon your own. Let us be frank with one another. You’re in the cart. What do you propose to do about it?”
Sir Thomas rallied again, with the desperation of one fighting a lost cause.
“I do not understand you,” he began.
“No?” said Jimmy. “I’ll try and make my meaning clear. Correct me from time to time if I am wrong. The way I size the thing up is as follows: When you married Lady Julia I gather that it was, so to speak, up to you to some extent. People knew you were a millionaire, and they expected something special in the way of gifts from the bridegroom to the bride. Now you, being of a prudent and economical nature, began to wonder if there wasn’t some way of getting a reputation for lavishness without actually cashing up to any great extent. Am I right?”
Sir Thomas did not answer.
“I am,” said Jimmy. “Well, it occurred to you, naturally enough, that a properly-selected gift of jewellery might work the trick. It only needed a little nerve. When you give a present of diamonds to a lady she is not likely to call for polarized light and refracting liquids and the rest of the circus. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred she will take the things on trust. Very well. You trotted off to a jeweller and put the thing to him confidentially. I expect you suggested paste; but, being a wily person, he pointed out that paste has a habit of not wearing well. It is pretty enough when it’s new, but quite a small amount of ordinary wear and tear destroys the polish of the surface and the sharpness of the cutting. It gets scratched easily. Having heard this, and reflecting that Lady Julia was not likely to keep the necklace under a glass case, you rejected paste as too risky. The genial jeweller then suggested white jargoon, mentioning, as I have done, that after an application or so of the blow-pipe its own mother wouldn’t know it. If he was a bit of an antiquary, he probably added that in the eighteenth century jargoon stones were supposed to be actually an inferior sort of diamond. What could be more suitable? ‘Make it jargoon, dear heart,’ you cried joyfully, and all was well. Am I right? I notice that you have not corrected me so far.”
Whether Sir Thomas would have replied in the affirmative is uncertain. He was opening his mouth to speak, when the curtain at the end of the room heaved and Lord Dreever burst out like a cannon-ball in tweeds.
The apparition effectually checked any speech that Sir Thomas might have been intending to make. Lying back in his chair, he goggled silently at the new arrival. Even Jimmy, though knowing that his lordship was in hiding, was taken aback. His attention had become so concentrated on his duel with the knight that he had almost forgotten that they had an audience.
His lordship broke the silence.
“Great Scot!” he cried.
Neither Jimmy nor Sir Thomas seemed to consider the observation unsound or inadequate. They permitted it to pass without comment.
“You old scoundrel!” added his lordship, addressing Sir Thomas; “and you’re the man who called me a welsher!” There were signs of a flicker of spirit in the knight’s prominent eyes, but they died away. He made no reply.
“Great Scot!” moaned his lordship, in a fervour of self-pity, “here have I been all these years letting you give me Hades in every shape and form, when all the while—— My goodness, if I’d only known earlier!”
He turned to Jimmy.
“Pitt, old man,” he said, warmly, “I—dash it—I don’t know what to say. If it hadn’t been for you—I always did like Americans.”
“I’m not one,” said Jimmy; but his lordship went on, unchecked.
“I always thought it bally rot that that fuss happened in—in—whenever it was. If it hadn’t been for fellows like you,” he continued, addressing Sir Thomas once more, “there wouldn’t have been any of that frightful Declaration of Independence business. Would there, Pitt, old man?”
These were deep problems too spacious for casual examination. Jimmy shrugged his shoulders.
“Well, I should say Sir Thomas might not have got along with George Washington, anyhow,” he said.
“Of course not. Well”—his lordship moved towards the door—“I’m off downstairs to see what Aunt Julia has to say about it all.”
A shudder, as if from some electric shock, shook Sir Thomas. He leaped to his feet.
“Spencer,” he cried, “I forbid you to say a word to your aunt.”
“Oh!” said his lordship. “You do, do you?”
Sir Thomas shivered.
“She would never let me hear the last of it.”
“I bet she wouldn’t. I’ll go and see.”
Sir Thomas dabbed at his forehead with his handkerchief. He dared not face the vision of Lady Julia in possession of the truth. At one time the fear lest she might discover the harmless little deception he had practised had kept him awake at night, but gradually, as the days went by and the excellence of the imitation stones had continued to impose upon her and upon everyone else who saw them, the fear had diminished. But it had always been at the back of his mind. Even in her calmer moments his wife was a source of mild terror to him. His imagination reeled at the thought of what depths of aristocratic scorn and indignation she would plumb in a case like this.
“Spencer,” he said, “I insist that you shall not inform your aunt of this!”
“What? You want me to keep my mouth shut? You want me to become an accomplice in this beastly low-down deception? I like that!”
“The point,” said Jimmy, “is well taken. Noblesse oblige, and all that sort of thing. The blood of the Dreevers boils furiously at the idea. Listen! You can hear it sizzling.”
Lord Dreever moved a step nearer the door.
“Stop!” cried Sir Thomas again. “Spencer!”
“Spencer, my boy, it occurs to me that perhaps I have not always treated you very well.”
“ ‘Perhaps!’ ‘Not always!’ Great Scot! I’ll have a fiver each way on both those. Considering you’ve treated me like a frightful kid practically ever since you’ve known me, I call that pretty rich. Why, what about this very night when I asked you for a few pounds?”
“It was only the thought that you had been gambling——”
“Gambling! How about palming off faked diamonds on Aunt Julia for a gamble?”
“A game of skill, surely,” murmured Jimmy.
“I have been thinking the matter over,” said Sir Thomas, “and if you really need the—— Was it not fifty pounds?”
“It was twenty,” said his lordship, “and I don’t need it. Keep it. You’ll want all you can save for a new necklace.”
His fingers closed on the door-handle.
“We must talk this over. We must not be hasty.”
He passed the handkerchief over his forehead.
“In the past, perhaps,” he resumed, “our relations have not been quite—the fault was mine. I have always endeavoured to do my duty. It is a difficult task to look after a young man of your age——”
His lordship’s sense of his grievances made him eloquent.
“Dash it all!” he cried. “That’s just what I jolly well complain of. Who the dickens wanted you to look after me? Hang it, you’ve kept your eye on me all these years like a frightful policeman! You cut off my allowance right in the middle of my time at the ’Varsity, just when I needed it most, and I had to come and beg for money whenever I wanted to buy a cigarette. I looked a fearful ass, I can tell you! Men who knew me used to be dashed funny about it. I’m sick of the whole bally business. You’ve given me a jolly thin time all this while, and now I’m going to get a bit of my own back. Wouldn’t you, Pitt, old man?”
Jimmy, thus suddenly appealed to, admitted that, in his lordship’s place, he might have experienced a momentary temptation to do something of the kind.
“Of course,” said his lordship. “Any fellow would.”
“But, Spencer, let me——”
“You’ve soured my life,” said his lordship, frowning a tense, Byronic frown. “That’s what you’ve done. Soured my whole bally life. I’ve had a rotten time. I’ve had to go about touching my friends for money to keep me going. Why, I owe you a fiver, don’t I, Pitt, old man?”
It was a tenner, to be finickingly accurate about details, but Jimmy did not say so. He concluded, rightly, that the memory of the original five pounds which he had lent Lord Dreever at the Savoy Hotel had faded from the other’s mind.
“Don’t mention it,” he said.
“But I do mention it,” protested his lordship, shrilly. “It just proves what I say. If I had had a decent allowance it wouldn’t have happened. And you wouldn’t give me enough to set me going in the Diplomatic Service. That’s another thing. Why wouldn’t you do that?”
Sir Thomas pulled himself together.
“I hardly thought you qualified, my dear boy.”
His lordship did not actually foam at the mouth, but he looked as if he might do so at any moment. Excitement and the memory of his wrongs, lubricated, as it were, by the champagne he had consumed both at and after dinner, had produced in him a frame of mind far removed from the normal. His manners no longer had that repose which stamps the caste of Vere de Vere. He waved his hands.
“I know, I know!” he shouted. “I know you didn’t. You thought me a fearful fool. I tell you I’m sick of it. And always trying to make me marry money! Dashed humiliating! If she hadn’t been a jolly sensible girl you’d have spoiled Miss McEachern’s life as well as mine. You came very near it. I tell you I’ve had enough of it. I’m in love. I’m in love with the rippingest girl in England. You’ve seen her, Pitt, old top. Isn’t she a ripper?”
Jimmy stamped the absent lady with the seal of his approval.
“I tell you, if she’ll have me, I’m going to marry her.”
The dismay written on every inch of Sir Thomas’s countenance became intensified at these terrific words. Great as had been his contempt for the actual holder of the title, considered simply as a young man, he had always been filled with a supreme respect for the Dreever name.
“But, Spencer!” he almost howled. “Consider your position! You cannot——”
“Can’t I, by Jove! If she’ll have me. And dash my position! What’s my position got to do with it? Katie’s the daughter of a general, if it comes to that. Her brother was at the House with me. If I had a penny to call my own I’d have asked her to marry me ages ago. Don’t you worry about my position!”
Sir Thomas croaked feebly.
“Now, look here,” said his lordship, with determination. “Here’s the whole thing in a jolly old nutshell. If you want me to forget about this little flutter in fake diamonds of yours, you’ve got to pull up your socks and start in to do things. You’ve got to get me attached to some Embassy for a beginning. It won’t be difficult. There’s dozens of old boys in London who knew the governor when he was alive who will jump at the chance of doing me a good turn. I know I’m a bit of an ass in some ways, but that’s expected of you in the Diplomatic Service. They only want you to wear evening clothes as if you were used to them and be a bit of a flier at dancing, and I can fill the bill all right as far as that goes. And you’ve got to give your jolly old blessing to Katie and me. If she’ll have me. That’s about all I can think of for the moment. How do we go? Are you on?”
“It’s preposterous,” began Sir Thomas.
Lord Dreever gave the door-handle a rattle. He stopped.
“It’s a hold-up all right,” said Jimmy, soothingly. “I don’t want to butt in on a family conclave, but my advice, if asked, would be to unbelt before the shooting begins. You’ve got something worse than a pipe pointing at you now. As regards my position in the business, don’t worry. My silence is thrown in gratis. Give me one loving smile and my lips are sealed.”
Sir Thomas turned on him.
“As for you——” he cried.
“Never mind about Pitt,” said his lordship. “He’s a dashed good fellow, Pitt. I wish there were more like him. And he wasn’t pinching the stuff, either. If you had only listened when he tried to tell you, you mightn’t be in such a frightful hole. He was putting the things back, as he said. I know all about it. Well, what’s the answer?”
For a moment Sir Thomas seemed on the point of refusal. But just as he was about to speak his lordship opened the door, and at the movement he collapsed again.
“I will!” he cried. “I will!”
“Good,” said his lordship, with satisfaction. “That’s a bargain. Coming downstairs, Pitt, old man? We shall be wanted on the stage in about half a minute.”
“As an antidote to stage-fright,” said Jimmy, as they went along the corridor, “little discussions of that kind may be highly recommended. I shouldn’t mind betting that you feel fit for anything.”
“I feel like a two-year-old,” assented his lordship, enthusiastically. “I’ve forgotten all my part, but I don’t care. I’ll just go on and talk to them.”
“That,” said Jimmy, “is the right spirit. Charteris will get heart disease, but it’s the right spirit. A little more of that sort of thing and amateur theatricals would be worth listening to. Step lively, Roscius; the stage waits.”
jargoon: a variety of zircon (in fact both words derive from the same Persian original term), a crystalline form of zirconium silicate which in its highest quality is a semiprecious gemstone. See Wikipedia’s article based on the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica. Heating jargoon makes it clearer and denser, just as Jimmy explains; these were sometimes labeled as Matura diamonds from their source in present-day Matara, Sri Lanka. Zircon/jargoon is not to be confused with the modern diamond substitute cubic zirconia, a synthetic crystal grown from zirconium dioxide rather than the silicate.
repose: Tennyson and “Lady Clara Vere de Vere” again:
Her manners had not that repose
Which stamps the caste of Vere de Vere.
at the House with me: that is, a fellow student at Christ Church college at Oxford. Thanks to Norman Murphy for this identification.
the governor: Spennie’s late father, the previous Earl of Dreever
Roscius: Quintus Roscius Gallus (ca. 126 BC– 62 BC), the most highly acclaimed actor in ancient Rome, and proverbially the standard for excellence in drama
—Notes by Neil Midkiff