The Diamond Coterie

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ISBN: N/A
Language: English
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CHAPTER I.

TWO SHOCKS FOR W——.

On a certain Saturday in June, year of our Lord 1880, between the hours of sunrise and sunset, the town of W——, in a State which shall be nameless, received two shocks.

Small affairs, concerning small people, could never have thrown W—— into such a state of excitement, for she was a large and wealthy town, and understood what was due to herself.

She possessed many factories, and sometimes a man came to his death among the ponderous machinery. Not long since one "hand" had stabbed another, fatally; and, still later, a factory girl had committed suicide.

These things created a ripple, nothing more. It would ill become a town, boasting its aristocracy and "style," to grow frenzied over the woes of such common people. But W—— possessed a goodly number of wealthy families, and some blue blood. These were worthy of consideration, and upon these calamity had fallen. Let us read an extract or two from the W—— Argus, a newspaper of much enterprise and exceeding veracity:

MONSTROUS DIAMOND ROBBERY—BOLD BURGLARY.

This day we are startled by the news of a robbery in our midst, the like of which it has never been our fate to chronicle.

When the servants at Wardour Place arose this morning, they found confusion reigning in the library, desks forced open, papers strewn about, and furniture disarranged. One of the long windows had been opened by forcing the shutters, and then cutting out a pane of glass, after which the bolts were easily drawn.

Miss Wardour was at once aroused, and further examination disclosed the fact that her dressing room had been invaded, and every box, trunk and drawer searched. The beautiful little affair, which has the appearance of a miniature combined desk and bookcase, but which contains a small safe, that Miss Wardour believed burglar proof, had been forced, and the jewels so widely known as the "Wardour diamonds," stolen. Quite a large sum of money, and some papers of value, were also taken.

Most of our readers are familiar with the history of the Wardour diamonds, and know that they represented a fortune.

The burglary was effected without noise, not a sound disturbing Miss Wardour, or any of her servants, some of whom are light sleepers, and they have not a single clue by which to trace the robbers.

Miss Wardour bears the loss with great calmness. Of course every effort will be made to recover the jewels, and capture the thieves. It is rumored that Mr. Jasper Lamotte, in behalf of Miss Wardour, will visit the city at once and set the detectives at work.

This was shock number one for the public of W——.

Miss Constance Wardour, of Wardour Place, was a lady of distinction. She possessed the oldest name, the bluest blood, the fairest face, and the longest purse, to be found in W——; and, the Argus had said truly, the Wardour diamonds represented a fortune, and not a small one.

Emmeline Wardour, the great grandmother of Miss Constance, was a belle and heiress. Her fondness for rare jewels amounted to a mania, and she spent enormous sums in collecting rare gems. At her death she bequeathed to her daughter a collection such as is owned by few ladies in private life. She also bequeathed to her daughter her mania. This daughter, after whom Constance was named, added to her mother's store of precious stones, from time to time, and when, one fine day, a bank, in which she had deposited some thousands of her dollars, failed, and she found herself a loser, she brought her craze to a climax, by converting all her money into diamonds, set and unset.

At her death, her granddaughter, Constance, inherited these treasures, in addition to a handsome fortune from her mother; and, although the original collection made by Emmeline Wardour contained a variety of rare stones, opals, amethysts, pearls, cameos, etc., besides the many fine diamonds, they all came to be classed under the head of the "Wardour diamonds."

It is small wonder that W—— stood aghast at the thought of such a robbery, and it is impossible to say when the talk, the wonderment, the conjectures, suggestions, theories, and general indignation would have ended, had not the second shock overborne the first. Once more let the Argus speak:

A STARTLING DISCOVERY.

Yesterday afternoon, while the town was filled with the excitement caused by the Wardour robbery, Miss Sybil Lamotte, the beautiful daughter of our wealthy and highly respected citizen, Jasper Lamotte, Esq., eloped with John Burrill, who was, for a time, foreman in one of her father's mills. Burrill is known to be a divorced man, having a former wife and a child, living in W——; and his elopement with one of the aristocracy has filled the town with consternation.

Mr. Lamotte, the father of the young lady, had not been from home two hours, in company with his wife, when his daughter fled. He was en route for the city, to procure the services of detectives, in the hope of recovering the Wardour diamonds; both his sons were absent from home as well. Mr. Lamotte has not yet returned, and is still ignorant of his daughter's flight.

Thus abruptly and reluctantly ends the second Argus bombshell, and this same last bombshell had been a very different thing to handle. It might have been made far more sensational, and the editor had sighed as he penned the cautiously worded lines: "It was a monstrous mesalliance, and a great deal could be said in disparagement of Mr. John Burrill;" but Mr. Lamotte was absent; the brothers Lamotte were absent; and until he was certain what steps they would take in this matter, it were wise to err on the safe side. Sybil was an only daughter. Parents are sometimes prone to forgive much; it might be best to "let Mr. Burrill off easy."

Thus to himself reasoned the editor, and, having bridled his pen, much against his will, he set free his tongue, and in the bosom of his family discoursed very freely of Mr. John Burrill.

"My dear, it's unendurable," he announced to the little woman opposite, with the nod of a Solomon. "It's perfectly incomprehensible, how such a girl could do it. Why, he's a braggart and a bully. He drinks in our public saloons, and handles a woman's name as he does his beer glass. The factory men say that he has boasted openly that he meant to marry Miss Lamotte, or Miss Wardour, he couldn't decide which. By the by, it's rather odd that those two young ladies should meet with such dissimilar misfortunes on the same day."

Mrs. Editor, a small woman, who, from constantly hearing and absorbing into the vacuum of her own mind, the words of wisdom falling from the mouth of her husband, had acquired an expression of being always ready and willing to be convinced, looked up from her teapot and propounded the following:

"W-what do you s'pose she eloped with him for?"

"Maria, I believe I have told you frequently that there is no such word as 's'pose.' I don't suppose anything about it. It's enough to make one believe in witchcraft. Miss Sybil Lamotte held her head above us; above plenty more, who were the peers of Mr. John Burrill. Last year, as everybody knows, she refused Robert Crofton, who is handsome, rich, and upright in character. This Spring, they say, she jilted Raymond Vandyck, and people who ought to know, say that they were engaged. Why, Ray Vandyck comes of the best old Dutch stock, and his fortune is something worth while. I wonder what young Vandyck will say to this, and how that high-stepping old lady, his mother, will fancy having her son thrown over for John Burrill. I wish I knew how Jasper Lamotte would take it."

So, in many a household, tongues wagged fast and furious; misfortune had smitten the mighty ones of W——, and brought them within range of the gossiping tongues of their social inferiors; and, while the village oracles improve their opportunities, and old women hatch theories, the like of which was never heard on earth, let us make the acquaintance of some of the "mighty ones."

Wardour Place, the home of Miss Constance Wardour, and the scene of the "great Diamond robbery," lies a little east from the town, away from the clamor of its mills, and the contamination of its canaille.

It is a beautiful old place, built upon a slight elevation, surrounded by stately old trees, with a wide sweep of well-kept lawn, bordered with rose thickets, and dotted here and there with great clumps of tall syringas, white lilacs, acacias, and a variety of ornamental trees and flowering shrubs.

The mansion stands some distance from the road, and is reached by a broad, sweeping drive and two footpaths that approach from opposite directions.

In the rear are orchard and gardens, and beyond these a grassy slope that curves down to meet the river, that is ever hurrying townward to seize the great mill wheels and set them sweeping round and round.

The mansion itself is a large, roomy edifice, built by a master architect. It at once impresses one with a sense of its true purpose: a home, stately, but not stiff, abounding in comfort and aristocratic ease; a place of serene repose and inborn refinement. Such, Wardour Place was intended to be; such, it has been and is.

Miss Constance Wardour, mistress of the domain and last of the race, is alone in her own favorite morning room. It is two hours since the discovery of the robbery, and during those two hours confusion has reigned supreme. Everybody, except Miss Wardour, has seemingly run wild. But Miss Wardour has kept her head, and has prevented the servants from giving the alarm upon the highway, and thus filling her house with a promiscuous mob. She has compelled them to comport themselves like rational beings; has ordered the library and dressing room to be closed, and left untouched until the proper officer shall have made proper investigations; and then she has ordered her maid to serve her with a cup of strong coffee in the morning room; and, considering the glittering wealth she has just been bereaved of, Miss Wardour looks very calm and unruffled, and sips her coffee with a relish.

Presently the door opens and a lady enters: a very fat lady, with florid complexion, restless, inquisitive, but good-humored gray eyes, and plenty of dark crinkly hair, combed low about her ears.

This is Mrs. Honor Aliston, a distant relative of Miss Wardour's, who has found a most delightful home with that young lady, ever since the death of Grandmamma Wardour, for Constance Wardour has been an orphan since her childhood.

Mrs. Aliston comes forward, rather rolls forward, and sinking, with a grunt of satisfaction, into the largest chair at hand, fixes two gray eyes upon the heiress, which that young lady, perceiving, says: "Well?"

"Don't say 'well' to me. I've just come down from the mansard," gasped the widow Aliston.

"From the mansard?"

"Yes," fanning herself briskly with the pages of an uncut magazine.

Constance laughs musically. "Why, Aunt Honor, you didn't expect to see the robbers running across the country, did you?"

"Not I," disdainfully....