The Firm of Girdlestone

Chapter XIX.

News from the Urals.

Arthur Conan Doyle

MAJOR TOBIAS CLUTTERBUCK had naturally reckoned that the longer he withheld this trump card of his the greater would be its effect when played. An obstacle appearing at the last moment produces more consternation than when a scheme is still in its infancy. It proved, however, that he had only just levied his blackmail in time, for within a couple of days of his interview with the head of the firm news arrived of the great discovery of diamonds among the Ural Mountains. The first intimation was received through the Central News Agency in the form of the following telegram:—

“Moscow, August 22.—It is reported from Tobolsk that an important discovery of diamond fields has been made amongst the spurs of the Ural Mountains, at a point not very far from that city. They are said to have been found by an English geologist, who has exhibited many magnificent gems in proof of his assertion. These stones have been examined at Tobolsk, and are pronounced to be equal, if not superior, in quality to any found elsewhere. A company has been already formed for the purpose of purchasing the land and working the mines.”

Some days afterwards there came a Reuter’s telegram giving fuller details. “With regard to the diamond fields near Tobolsk,” it said, “there is every reason to believe that they are of great, and possibly unsurpassed, wealth. There is no question now as to their authenticity, since their discoverer proves to be an English gentleman of high character, and his story is corroborated by villagers from this district who have dug up stones for themselves. The Government contemplate buying out the company and taking over the mines, which might be profitably worked by the forced labour of political prisoners on a system similar to that adopted in the salt mines of Siberia. The discovery is universally regarded as one which has materially increased the internal resources of the country, and there is some talk of the presentation of a substantial testimonial to the energetic and scientific traveller to whom it is due.”

Within a week or ten days of the receipt of these telegrams in London there came letters from the Russian correspondents of the various journals giving fuller details upon a subject of so much general interest. The Times directed attention to the matter in a leader.

“It appears,” remarked the great paper, “that a most important addition has been made to the mineral wealth of the Russian Empire. The silver mines of Siberia and the petroleum wells of the Caucasus are to be outrivalled by the new diamond fields of the Ural Mountains. For untold thousands of years these precious fragments of crystallized carbon have been lying unheeded among the gloomy gorges waiting for the hand of man to pick them out. It has fallen to the lot of one of our countrymen to point out to the Russian nation the great wealth which lay untouched and unsuspected in the heart of their realm. The story is a romantic one. It appears that a Mr. Langworthy, a wealthy English gentleman of good extraction, had, in the course of his travels in Russia, continued his journey as far as the great mountain barrier which separates Europe from Asia. Being fond of sport, he was wandering in search of game down one of the Ural valleys, when his attention was attracted by the thick gravel, which was piled up along the track of a dried-up water-course. The appearance and situation of this gravel reminded him forcibly of the South African diamond fields, and so strong was the impression that he at once laid down his gun and proceeded to rake the gravel over and to examine it. His search was rewarded by the discovery of several stones, which he conveyed home with him, and which proved, after being cleaned, to be gems of the first water. Elated at this success, he returned to the spot next day with a spade, and succeeded in obtaining many other specimens, and in convincing himself that the deposit stretched up and down for a long distance on both sides of the torrent. Having satisfied himself upon this point, our compatriot made his way to Tobolsk, where he exhibited his prizes to several of the richest merchants, and proceeded to form a company for the working of the new fields. He was so successful in this that the shares are already far above par, and our correspondent writes that there has been a rush of capitalists, all eager to invest their money in so promising a venture. It is expected that within a few months the necessary plant will have been erected and the concern be in working order.”

The Daily Telegraph treated the matter from a jocose and historical point of view.

“It has long been a puzzle to antiquaries and geologists,” it remarked, “as to where those jewels which Solomon brought from the East were originally obtained. There has been much speculation, too, regarding the source of those less apocryphal gems which sparkled in the regalia of the Indian monarchs and adorned the palaces of Delhi and Benares. As a nation we have a personal interest in the question, since the largest and most magnificent of these stones is now in the possession of our most gracious Queen. Mr. Langworthy has thrown a light upon this obscure subject. According to this gentleman’s researches these treasures were unearthed amidst that dark and gloomy range of mountains which Providence has interposed between a nascent civilization and a continent of barbarians. Nor is Mr. Langworthy’s opinion founded upon theory alone. He lends point to his arguments by presenting to the greedy eyes of the merchants of Tobolsk a bag filled with valuable diamonds, each and every one of which he professes to have discovered in these barren inhospitable valleys. This tweed-suited English tourist, descending like some good spirit among these dreamy Muscovites, points out to them the untold wealth which has lain for so many centuries at their feet, and with the characteristic energy of his race shows them at the same time how to turn the discovery to commercial advantage. If the deposit prove to be as extensive as is supposed, it is possible that our descendants may wear cut diamonds in their eye-glasses, should such accessories be necessary, and marvel at the ignorance of those primitive days when a metamorphosed piece of coal was regarded as the most valuable product of nature.”

The ordinary British paterfamilias, glancing over his morning paper, bestowed probably but few passing thoughts on the incident, but among business men and in the City its significance was at once understood. Not only did it create the deepest consternation amongst all who were connected with the diamond industry, but it reacted upon every other branch of South African commerce. It was the chief subject of conversation upon the Stock Exchange, and many were the surmises as to what the effect of the news would be at the fields. Fugger, the father of the diamond industry, was standing discussing the question, when a little rosy-faced Jew, named Goldschmidt, came bustling up to him. He was much excited, for he speculated in stones, and had just been buying in for a rise.

“Misther Fugger,” he cried, “you’re shust the man I want to see. My Gott, vot is to become of us all? Vot is to become of de diamond trade ven one can pick them up like cockles on the sea shore?”

“We must wait for details,” the great financier said phlegmatically. His fortune was so enormous that it mattered little to him whether the report was true or false.

“Details! It is nothing but details,” cried the little Jew. “The papers is full of them. I vish to the Lord that that Langworthy had proke his neck in the Ural Mountains before he got up to any such games. Vat business had he to go examining gravel and peeping about in such places as them. Nobody that’s any good would ever go to the Ural Mountains at all.”

“It won’t hurt you,” Fugger said; “you’ll simply have to pay less for your stones and sell them cheaper after they are cut. It won’t make much difference in the long run.”

“Von’t it, by Joves! Why, man, I’ve got over a hundred shtones on my hands now. Vat am I going to do vid ’em.”

“Ah, that’s a bad job. You must make up your mind to lose on them.”

“Von’t you buy them yourself, Mr. Fugger?” asked the Hebrew, in an insinuating voice. “Maybe this here story will all turn out wrong. S’elp me bob I gave three thousand for the lot, and you shall have them for two. Let’s have a deal, my tear Mr. Fugger, do?”

“No more for me, thank you,” Fugger said with decision. “As to the story being wrong, I have telegraphed to Rotterdam, and they have sent on a trusty man. He’ll be weeks, however, before we hear from him.”

“Here’s Mr. Girdlestone, the great Mr. Girdlestone,” cried Goldschmidt, perceiving our worthy merchant of Fenchurch Street among the crowd. “Oh, Misther Girdlestone, I’ve got diamonds here what is worth three thousand pounds, and you shall have them for two—you shall, by chingo, and we’ll go together now and get them?”

“Don’t pester me!” said Girdlestone, brushing the little Jew aside with his long, bony arm. “Can I have a word with you, Fugger?”

“Certainly,” replied the diamond dealer. Girdlestone was a very well-known man upon ’Change, and one who was universally respected and looked up to.

“What do you think about this report?” he asked, in a confidential voice. “Do you imagine that it will affect prices in Africa?”

“Affect prices! My dear sir, if it proves true it will ruin the African fields. The mere report coming in a circumstantial fashion will send prices down fifty per cent.”

“As much as that!” said the merchant, with an excellent affectation of surprise. “I am anxious about it, for my boy is out there. It was a hobby of his, and I let him go. I trust he will not be bitten.”

“He is much more likely to do the biting,” remarked Fugger bluntly. He had met Ezra Girdlestone in business more than once, and had been disagreeably impressed by the young gentleman’s sharpness.

“Poor lad!” said his father. “He is young, and has had little experience as yet. I hope all is well with him!” He shook his head despondently, and walked slowly homewards, but his heart beat triumphantly within him, for he was assured now that the report would influence prices as he had foreseen, and the African firm reap the benefit of their daring speculation.

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