A Dash from Diamond CityGeorge Manville Fenn
Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England
A Dash from Diamond City, by George Manville Fenn.
The setting is South Africa, during the Boer war. Two young men aresent from Mafeking with important despatches which they have to get backto the General at Kimberley, travelling through Boer-occupied country,and meeting with many mishaps. Just before they finally arrive they areboth severely wounded, and are unconscious for a fortnight. Luckily thedespatches, which had been sewn into a jacket, now filthy andblood-stained, are still to be found, though there had been the ideathat the jacket would most probably have been thrown away, as it wasn'tat first anywhere to be found.
There are other threads in the story, for instance there's one aboutillicit-diamond-dealing, and of course we meet Boers and Kaffirs, aswell as English people.
There is the usual well-written sequence of tense moments we get fromthis author. A good read, and a nice audiobook if you prefer that.NH________________________________________________________________________
A DASH FROM DIAMOND CITY, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
THREE WHITE ONES.
Tick, _tap, tap_--_tap, ticker_--_ticker--tapper_--_tapper_;_tick_--_teck, tacker--tap_ went a typewriting machine, and_scratch_--_scratch_ went two pens, in one of the minor officesconnected with that vast wealth-producing industry known as the De BeersDiamond-Mines, where, seated at desk and table, three young men werehard at work, one manipulating the typewriter, one writing a letter, andthe third making entries in a fat leather-covered book with broad bandsand a big letter distinguishing it upon the back.
The words: "minor office in a diamond-mine," naturally suggest wealth,Turkey carpets, french-polished furniture, and plate-glass; but theoffice in question was an example of simplicity, for its walls were mudand its roof corrugated-iron, while the roughness of the interior wasonly slightly softened down by a lining of what a carpenter callsmatchboarding. In spite of its vast wealth, Kimberley is still littlebetter than a moving camp, and holds out few prospects of ever becominga magnificent town.
The interior of that newly-created office, allowing for the tapping ofthe typewriter and the scratching of the pens, was very quiet; butoutside there was the strange sound produced by the mingling of voiceswith trampling feet and the distant whirr and rattle of machinery, tilla clock began striking, followed by the clangour of a bell, and then allwas changed.
"Time!" shouted the manipulator of the typewriter, springing from hisstool to stretch his wiry six feet of length, at the same time spoilinga keen, manly face by distorting it with a yawn. The clerk who had beenbending over the thick account-book ceased making entries, applied theblotting-paper, and closed the book with a bang, to turn round anddisplay a pink-and-white, fat, smooth face, disfigured by nearly whiteeyebrows and lashes and curly whitey-brown hair. As he stood up heyawned and wrinkled his fat face a good deal; but the wrinkles died downinto a smile which gave him a meek and mild appearance, the said smilebeing doubled directly after by his taking a little round shaving-glassout of his desk, propping it up by means of a contrivance behind, andthen, by the help of a pocket-comb, proceeding to rearrange his hair,which, from the resistance offered, appeared to be full of knots andkinks.
The last to leave his desk was a manly-looking young fellow who appearedto be twenty, but who possessed documentary evidence that he was onlyeighteen. He neither stretched nor yawned, but drew himself up with asigh of relief, and, after carefully locking up the letters he hadwritten, he turned to the typist.
"Going out, Ingleborough?" he said.
"Yes; I shan't be long. I must go on to the compound. Back in--"
"Five minutes?" dashed in his questioner.
"No; that I shan't," said the young man smartly; "but I will not exceedfifteen. Get out my rifle and belts, West."
"All right," was the reply, and as the door closed the young clerkcrossed to a plain deal cupboard in the corner of the office, threw openthe broad door, and revealed an arms-rack with some twenty of thenewest-pattern rifles standing ready for use, and bayonets andbandoliers to match each breech-loading piece.
A peculiarly innocent baby-like look came over his companion's face ashe opened his desk and took out a little flat oblong mahogany case andsaid softly:
"Going to play at soldiers again? Only to think of Oliver West,Esquire, learning to shoulder arms and right-about face when adrill-sergeant barks at him."
"Look here, Anson," cried the young fellow warmly; "is that meant for asneer?"
"Me sneer?" protested the plump-looking cherubic clerk. "Oh dear, no!I never indulge in sneers, and I never quarrel, and I never fight."
"Humph!" ejaculated the rifle-bearer.
"I only think it's all braggadocio nonsense for a lot of fellows to gowasting time drilling and volunteering when they might acquire such anaccomplishment as this."
As the speaker addressed his warlike companion he tapped the lid of hiscase, opened it, and revealed three joints of a flute lying snugly inpurple-velvet fittings, and, taking them out, he proceeded to lick theends all round in a tomcat sort of way, and screwed them together,evidently with a great deal of satisfaction to himself, for he smiledsoftly.
"Bah! It's a deal more creditable to be prepared to defend the placeagainst the Boers. Better join us, Anson."
"Me? No, thank you, unless you start a band and make me bandmaster."
"We shall want no music," said West, laughing. "The Boers will give usplenty of that with their guns."
"Nonsense! It's all fudge," said the flautist, smiling. "There'll beno fighting, and even if there were I'm not going to shoulder a rifle.I should be afraid to let it off."
"You?" cried West, staring into the smooth, plump face. "Why, you oncetold me you were a first-rate shot."
"Did I? Well, it was only my fun," said the clerk, placing his flute tohis lips and beginning to run dumb scales up and down, skilfully enoughas to the fingering, but he did not produce a sound.
"I say, don't you begin to blow!" cried West, looking rathercontemptuously at the musician and forcing himself to restrain a laughat the grotesque round face with the eyes screwed-up into narrow slits.
"Oh, no one will come here now," was the reply. "I get so littlepractice. I shall blow gently." Directly afterwards he began to run upand down, playing through some exercise with which he was familiarextremely softly; and then by way of a change he began what istechnically known as "double-tonguing."
This was too much for Oliver West. He had stood rubbing first one rifleand then the other with a slightly-oiled rag to get rid of specks ofrust or dust, every now and then stealing a glance at the absurdlyscrewed-up face, feeling the while that a good hearty laugh would do himgood, but determined to maintain his composure so as not to hurt theperformer's feelings. But the double-tonguing was too much.
_Tootle-too, tootle-too, tootle, tootle-too_ went the performer, runningup the gamut till he reached the octave and was about to run down again,but he stopped short, lowered his instrument, and turned from a warmpink to a deep purply crimson, for West suddenly burst out into ahalf-hysterical roar of laughter, one which he vainly strove to check.
"I--I--I--I beg your pardon," he cried at last.
"Thank you," snorted out Anson; "but I don't see anything to laugh at."
"I couldn't help it, Anson. You did look so--so comic. Such a face!"
"Did I?" cried the musician angrily. "Such a face, indeed! You shouldsee your own. Your grin looked idiotic: half-way between a bushman anda baboon."
"Thank you," said West, calming down at once, and feeling nettled inturn.
p; "Oh, you're quite welcome," said Anson sarcastically. "I have heardabout casting pearls before swine; but I never saw the truth of thesaying before."
"Thank you again," said West, frowning. "But if I were you I would notwaste any more of my pearls in such company."
"I do not mean to," said Anson, with his eyes glittering.
He got no farther, though he was prepared to say something crushing, forthe door was flung open and their fellow-clerk came back quickly.
"Hullo!" he cried, "flute and hautboy. I say, Sim, put that thing awayand don't bring it here, or I shall have an accident with it some day.You ought to have stopped him, Noll. But come out, both of you.There's some fun in the compound. They're going to thoroughly searchhalf-a-dozen Kaffirs, and I thought you'd like to see."
"Been stealing diamonds?" cried Anson excitedly.
"Suspected," replied Ingleborough.
"I'll come too," said Anson, and he began to rapidly unscrew his flute,but so hurriedly that in place of separating the top joint from the nexthe pulled it open at the tuning-slide, changed colour, and swung himselfround so as to turn his back to his companions, keeping in that positiontill his instrument was properly separated and replaced in its case,whose lid he closed, and then turned the key.
"I'm ready," he cried, facing round and buttoning his jacket over thelittle mahogany case.
"Do you take that shepherd's pipe to bed with you?" said Ingleboroughscornfully.
"Generally," replied the fat-looking clerk innocently. "You see, it'sso nice when one wakes early, and I have learned to blow so softly nowthat I can often get an hour's practice before I have my morning'sbath."
"How delightful for the other boarders! You're at Dick Tomlin's house,aren't you?"
"Yes," said Anson.
"Have they any room for another boarder, Sim?"
"I--I really don't know, but I'll ask, if you like, this evening."
"No, no; don't, please," cried Ingleborough. "Perhaps it might be toostrong for me. I ought to go through a course of bagpipes first."
Anson had fastened two buttons of his jacket so as to hold theflute-case from slipping, and now he fastened another button, smilingpleasantly the while.
"That's meant for a joke," he said.
"Quite right," cried Ingleborough abruptly. "Come along."
He stepped out, closely followed by West, and Anson called after them:"With you directly," as the door swung to.
"Don't do that again," whispered West.
"Say anything to chaff old Anson. Did you see how he behaved?"
"I saw him smile like a Chinese mandarin ornament. That's all."
"I saw him smile and look smooth; but he can't bear a joke. His handswere all of a tremble as he buttoned up his jacket, and there was apeculiar look in his eye. It's not good policy to make enemies."
"Nonsense! He's a poor slack-baked animal. I wonder they ever had himhere."
West glanced back; but Anson had not yet left the office.
"Relative of one of the directors," said West quickly; "and I've noticedseveral things lately to make me think he does not like us."
"Oh, if you come to that," said Ingleborough, "so have I. That's quitenatural, for we don't like him. One can't; he's so smooth and soft.But why doesn't he come? I'll just give him a minute after we get up tothe compound gate, and if he is not there then he'll have to stayoutside."
"Here he comes," cried West, and the next minute their fellow-clerkjoined them, just as they got up to a gate in the high fence of theenclosure where the Kaffir workers about the diamond-mines were kept toall intents prisoners till they had served the time for which they hadengaged.
"Haven't kept you two waiting, have I?" said Anson, with a pleasantsmile directed at both.
"No, no, all right," replied West, and directly after they were admittedto the compound, just in time to find that half-a-dozen of the stalwartKaffir workers were standing perfectly nude awaiting the examinationabout to be made by some of the officers--an examination which theyseemed to look upon as a joke, for they laughed and chatted together.
"Looking as innocent as old Anson, only not so white," whisperedIngleborough. "But we shall see."