Chapter XXI: An Unexpected Blow

He was becoming somewhat uneasy in his mind as to how long the delusion would be kept up, or how soon news might come from the Cape that the Ural find had been examined into and had proved to be a myth. In any case, he thought that he would be free from suspicion. Still, it might be as well for him by that time to be upon his homeward journey, for he knew that if by any chance the true facts leaked out there would be no hope of mercy from the furious diggers. Hence he incited Farintosh to greater speed, and that worthy divine with his two agents worked so energetically that in less than a week there was little left of five and thirty thousand pounds.

Ezra Girdlestone had shown his power of reading character when he chose the ex-clergyman as his subordinate. It is possible, however, that the young man’s judgment had been inferior to his powers of observation. A clever man as a trusty ally is a valuable article, but when the said cleverness may be turned against his employer the advantage becomes a questionable one.

It was perfectly evident to Farintosh that though a stray capitalist might risk a thousand pounds or so on a speculation of this sort, Rothschild himself would hardly care to invest such a sum as had passed through his hands without having some ground on which to go. Having formed this conclusion, and having also turned over in his mind the remarkable coincidence that the news of this discovery in Russia should follow so very rapidly upon the visit of the junior partner of the House of Girdlestone, the astute clergyman began to have some dim perception of the truth. Hence he brooded a good deal as he went about his work, and cogitated deeply in a manner which was once again distinctly undesirable in so very intelligent a subordinate.

These broodings and cogitations culminated in a meeting, which was held by him with his two sub-agents in the private parlour of the Digger’s Retreat. It was a low-roofed, smoke-stained room, with a profusion of spittoons scattered over it, which, to judge by the condition of the floor, the patrons of the establishment had taken some pains to avoid. Round a solid, old-fashioned table in the centre of this apartment sat Ezra’s staff of assistants, the parson thoughtful but self-satisfied, the others sullen and inquisitive. Farintosh had convened the meeting, and his comrades had an idea that there was something in the wind. They applied themselves steadily, therefore, to the bottle of Hollands upon the table, and waited for him to speak.

“Well,” the ex-clergyman said at last, “the game is nearly over, and we’ll not be wanted any more. Girdlestone’s off to England in a day or two.”

Burt and Williams groaned sympathetically. Work was scarce in the diggings during the crisis, and their agencies had been paying them well.

“Yes, he’s off,” Farintosh went on, glancing keenly at his companions, “and he takes with him five and thirty thousand pounds worth of diamonds that we bought for him. Poor devils like us, Burt, have to do the work, and then are thrown aside as you would throw your pick aside when you are done with it. When he sells out in London and makes his pile, it won’t much matter to him that the three men who helped him are starving in Griqualand.”

“Won’t he give us somethin’ at partin’?” asked Burt, the navvy. He was a savage-looking, hairy man, with a brick-coloured face and over-hanging eyebrows. “Won’t he give us nothing to remembrance him by?”

“Give you something!” Farintosh said with a sneer. “Why, man, he says you are too well paid already.”

“Does he, though?” cried the navvy, flushing even redder than nature had made him. “Is that the way he speaks after we makes him? It ain’t on the square. I likes to see things honest an’ above board betwixt man an’ man, and this pitchin’ of them as has helped ye over ain’t that.”

Farintosh lowered his voice and bent further over the table. His companions involuntarily imitated his movement, until the three cunning, cruel faces were looking closely into one another’s eyes.

“Nobody knows that he holds those stones,” said Farintosh. “He’s too smart to let it out to any one but ourselves.”

“Where does he keep ’em?” asked the Welshman.

“In a safe in his room.”

“Where is the key?”

“On his watch-chain.”

“Could we get an impression?”

“I have one.”

“Then I can make one,” cried Williams triumphantly.

“It’s done,” said Farintosh, taking a small key from his pocket. “This is a duplicate, and will open the safe. I took the moulding from his key while I was speaking to him.”

The navvy laughed hoarsely. “If that don’t lick creation for smartness!” he cried. “And how are we to get to this safe? It would serve him right if we collar the lot. It’ll teach him that if he ain’t honest by nature he’s got to be when he deals with the like of us. I like straightness, and by the Lord I’ll have it!” He brought his great fist down upon the table to emphasize this commendable sentiment.

“It’s not an easy matter,” Farintosh said thoughtfully. “When he goes out he locks his door, and there’s no getting in at the window. There’s only one chance for us that I can see. His room is a bit cut off from the rest of the hotel. There’s a gallery of twenty feet or more that leads to it. Now, I was thinking that if the three of us were to visit him some evening, just to wish him luck on his journey, as it were, and if, while we were in the room something sudden was to happen which would knock him silly for a minute or two, we might walk off with the stones and be clean gone before he could raise an alarm.”

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