A Dash from Diamond City, Page 2George Manville Fenn
The examination of the men was not a pleasant duty, but it was carriedout in the most matter-of-fact way by a couple of experienced white men,who began at once.
"Now, you," cried the one who seemed to be the head; "this way."
The big black spoken to stepped forward at once, smilinggood-temperedly, and stopped by a heavy wooden stool, upon which heplanted a foot, and in obedience to orders separated his toes in turn toshow that he had no diamonds hidden between them. Then he was seized bythe searchers, the first holding the black's head on one side while hiscompanion took hold of the lobe of the right ear and twisted it about,ending by thrusting in a small wooden scoop and afterwards turning it toact as a sound.
"Don't seem to have a diamond in there," said Anson, smiling and lookingvery innocent, but deeply interested. "Turn him over."
But the searchers had not waited for Anson's words, and were alreadyturning the black's head over, the man yielding himself to every pushand thrust, smiling good-humouredly the while, though the treatment wasdecidedly rough.
"Nothing in the other ear," said Anson, smiling at West. "Shouldn'twonder if he's got ever so many tucked in his cheeks, like a monkeypouches nuts."
This time it seemed as if the same idea had struck the searchers, forthe black was ordered to open his mouth, and a big coarse finger wasthrust in, and the interior of the mouth was carefully explored, withoutresult.
"Here, I know," whispered Anson, rubbing his hands together. "Oh, theartfulness of the beggar!"
"Where are they, then, old Double-cunning?" cried Ingleboroughcontemptuously.
"Stuck with gum in amongst his woolly hair--I say, isn't it fun?"
"Rather disgusting," replied West. "I shouldn't like the job."
"Oh, I don't know," said Anson; "it sets me thinking, and it'sinteresting. Hah! I was right."
He stood rubbing his hands together in his childish enjoyment, while oneof the searchers carefully passed his hands all over the black's head,but found no small diamonds tangled up amongst the curly little knots ofhair.
"Well, I did think he'd got some there," continued Anson.--"Oh, ofcourse! One might have guessed it before."
This was upon the black's head being forced back a trifle, while a pinchof snuff was blown through a pea-shooter right into the prisoner's nose,making him sneeze violently.
But still no diamonds made their appearance, and after a little furthersearch the man was set at liberty, giving place to another supposedculprit.
This man came up smiling and confident, opening his mouth wide, todisplay its state of innocency and a magnificent set of teeth at thesame time.
"Take care! he bites," said Ingleborough banteringly; and Anson, who hadpressed to the front, started back in horror, to be greeted with a burstof laughter.
"How fond you are of a joke!" he cried, smoothing his face.
At the same moment one of the searchers sent a puff of snuff in theblack's face, with the result that he was seized with a violent burst ofcoughing and sneezing.
"Two--three--four!" cried Anson excitedly, and, springing forward, hepicked up three of the diamonds ejected by the black, who, after alittle further search, yielded up a couple of very small stones from oneear, and was marched off for punishment.
"I do like this!" said Anson, rubbing his hands together. "What brutesof thieves they are!"
"Yes, you ought to take to searching," said West, smiling. "You'd makea capital detective."
"Think so?" said the young man, growing serious directly. "You're notchaffing me, are you?"
"Chaffing? Not at all! I mean it," replied West.
"Well, do you know," said Anson, in a confidential way, "I don't think Ishould make a bad one. I know I should like it better than the work Ido now. But look what a big strong fellow this one is. I wonderwhether he has any."
"Half-a-dozen, I daresay," said West, looking curiously at anotherstalwart black, who came forward slowly and unwillingly to take theplace of the second man, set aside for punishment.
"N-n-no," said Anson thoughtfully. "I don't think this one has any."
"Why?" asked West.
"I can't say," replied Anson dreamily. "I only know that I don't thinkhe has any." And, as it happened, the most rigid examination failed todiscover any of the gems. But, all the same, the culprit was set asidefor punishment, two of the watchers present at the examination declaringthat they had seen him put his hand to his mouth and swallow something.
The next man, upon being summoned to the stool, came up boldly anddisplayed a child-like eagerness to prove his innocence, opening hismouth widely and passing his fore-fingers round between gums and cheeks,thrusting his little fingers into his ears, and then bending down andgoing through the motion of one washing his head.
But he did not wash any gems out of his shock of little nubbly curls.
"No got no dymons, boss," he cried. "Me go now, boss?"
"No," said the chief searcher sharply. "Clap that foot of yours uponthe stool."
The black stared at him hard and shook his head.
"Do you hear?" cried the searcher. "Clap that right foot upon thestool."
The black stared at him vacantly, shook his head again, and turned tothe second searcher, who translated the order into the man's own tongue.
At this the black smiled and nodded. Then, turning to the chiefsearcher, he placed his bare left foot upon the stool.
"No, no: the other," cried the stern official, pointing to the rightfoot, and the order was emphasised by his assistant.
Once more the black looked intelligent, placed both his feet upon theground, changed them several times by shuffling them about, and oncemore placed his left foot upon the stool.
Anson chuckled with delight, and turned to West.
But this act on the part of the black was too much for the chiefsearcher's composure.
"Up with the black scoundrel's foot!" he roared, and his assistantseized the black's ankle, and gave it such a vigorous hoist that theman's equilibrium was upset, so that, though the foot was planted firmlyon the stool, he fell over backwards, leaving his support upon thestool, where it was probed by the searchers, who were not at allsurprised to find a large stone hidden between the little and the nexttoe.
"There's a blackguard!" cried Anson excitedly, turning to hiscompanions. "He ought to be well flogged, and no mistake. Well, Inever!"
The last words were uttered in disgust at the man's behaviour, for heburst into a hearty laugh as if thoroughly enjoying the discovery,professing at the same time to be utterly astonished.
"How come there?" he cried. "'Tick 'tween um toe--so."
He illustrated "so" by stamping his foot down over and over again andraising it up, the last time cleverly picking an ordinary pebble fromthe ground with his toes, and holding it out as easily as if he had usedhis fingers and thumb.
But his action had no effect upon those around, who were well used tothe Kaffirs' tricks, and received everything with the grimmest of looksas they passed their prisoner along for punishment, and finally orderedforward the last man. This prisoner took West's attention from thefirst, for he was a well-built, keenly intelligent-looking fellow, whoseemed quite awake to his position and behaved throughout with a calmair of conscious innocence.
It struck West, too, that the Kaffir kept on gazing very hard at Anson,as if attracted by his gently-smiling, innocent-looking face, and as ifhe were silently pleading to the most amiable-looking personage of theparty to intercede for him and save him from punishment.
Anson, however, did not appear to notice the man's eager looks, beingtoo much interested in the search for illicitly-acquired stones, andeagerly watching every phase of the proceedings, his eyes sparkling andcheeks flushed with pink at every fresh discovery, while he rubbed hishands and looked from one to the other with all the pleasure of somebig, fat, stupid child.
"Now then," cried the chief searcher roughly; "co
The Kaffir quietly submitted to the rough handling he experienced inbeing forced up to the stool, and, anticipating the order, he opened hismouth; but the under-searcher roughly told him to "shut up," and heclosed his fine white teeth with an audible snap, while the search wascommenced at his feet, the toes being carefully examined without result.
Then his closely-knotted hair, which looked as if it would have made, ifhe were scalped, good trimmings of astrachan wool for the collar andcuffs of an English gentleman's overcoat, was carefully searched bywell-trained fingers; the ears were probed and inspected; nostrilssearched and given a final wring between thumb and finger as if he werebeing insulted in old-fashioned style by pulling his nose; and lastly,his cheeks were felt outside and in, and the searchers, who lookedpuzzled, made the black kneel down and remain for some time in thatposition, with his mouth wide open and head thrown back so that the sunshone right into his great mouth.
"He's all right!" said Anson enthusiastically. "You've got the wrongpig by the ear this time. I thought this fellow looked honest."
The Kaffir darted a grateful look at the speaker, which told plainlyenough that he comprehended the words, and Anson replied with a smile.
"Ah, you ought to be on this job, Mr Anson," said the chief searchersarcastically. "You'd be invaluable here."
Anson laughed good-humouredly.
"You're bantering," he said; "I know. But I should like it, and I fancyI could find the diamonds quickly enough if a man had hidden any."
"Find them then now," said the man who had spoken. "Come on."
There was a general laugh here, in which Anson joined.
"Nay," he said good-humouredly; "get another subject who has somehidden. That chap has none, unless he has swallowed some."
"What would you do then, squire?" said the man. "Shoot him, and make a_post-mortem_ exam?"
"Ugh! horrid!" cried Anson, with a look of the most intense disgust."But I say, I mean it. Fetch another chap, and let me examine him. Ishould like to, really."
"Why don't you search this one?" said Ingleborough contemptuously, andWest laughed.
Anson winced and turned upon them half-angrily. But he changed hismanner before he had finished speaking, and his face broke up into abroad smile.
"Because I don't want to be laughed at by you chaps and called a fool,"he said. "I'm not stupid enough as it is to believe he has any diamondshidden."
"Well, I am," said Ingleborough coolly.
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed Anson mockingly. "You go on with the search then,and find them."
"There is no need," said Ingleborough coldly; "those two know whatthey're about."
He was wrong in saying "two," for the under-searcher now continued theexamination, and Anson's eyes were screwed-up and twinkled again uponseeing the man give up at the end of another two minutes and shrug hisshoulders.
"No go," he said, turning to his companion. "Someone has been tooclever here."
"Look again," said his chief.
"No: I shan't look any more. I've done."
West's eyes were resting upon the Kaffir, and he saw the man draw in adeep slow breath which made his broad chest expand, retaining the airfor a minute and then slowly ejecting it.
"Ah! you'll never make a first-class searcher, Jem," said the head man.
"I never did profess to be so smart as you are," retorted the othersharply.
"No, Jemmy, you never did," said his chief; "but you ought to have foundsomething here."
"Why, you don't think he has any about him, do you?" cried the man, whowas staggered by his chief's cool, confident way of speaking.
"Yes, I do," said the chief, "and so does Mr Ingleborough there. Don'tyou, sir?"
Ingleborough nodded shortly, and West saw the Kaffir's eyes flash, whilewhen he turned to Anson he saw that his fellow-clerk's face looked coldand hard.
But Anson's aspect changed the next moment, as soon as he saw he wasobserved, and he said, with a broad grin: "Wish I was a betting man: Icould easily win half-a-crown or two over this."
But it struck West that there was a ring of insincerity in the tone ofhis voice, and the hard look began to come like a grey shadow over hisfat pink cheeks as he saw the chief searcher go closer up to the Kaffir,bring his hands down heavily upon the man's shoulders, and stand facinghim and looking him full in the eyes.
There was utter silence now. The Kaffir stood for a moment firmlygazing back into his white holder's eyes; but it manifestly required astrong effort, and West felt sure that he saw a quiver like a shadow ofdread run down the black, making his knees slightly shake.
The whole thing was momentary, and the looker-on could not feel sure.Then the searcher spoke.
"You're a clever one," he said, with a harsh laugh, "and you don't mindhurting yourself to do a bit of the illicit. Turn round."
He gave the Kaffir a sharp thrust with one hand, a pull with the other,and the man stood with his back to the lookers-on.