The Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime: Con Artists, Burglars, Rogues, and Scoundrels from the Time of Sherlock Holmes (Penguin Classics)

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9780143105664: The Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime: Con Artists, Burglars, Rogues, and Scoundrels from the Time of Sherlock Holmes (Penguin Classics)

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An exclusive collection-the first- ever gathering of rogues from the gaslight era

collected here for the first time: the best crime fiction from the gaslight era. All the legendary thieves are present-Arsène Lupin and A. J. Raffles, Colonel Clay and Simon Carne, Romney Pringle, Get Rich Quick Wallingford, and the Infallible Godahl-burgling London and Paris, conning New York and Ostend, laughing all the way to the bank. Also featured are stories by distinguished writers from outside the mystery and detective genres, including Sinclair Lewis, Arnold Bennett, H. G. Wells, and William Hope Hodgson.

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About the Author:

Michael Sims has edited two other collections for Penguin Classics: The Annotated Archy and Mehitable and Arsene Lupin, Gentleman-Thief. His research for the latter inspired The Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime. His most recent non-fiction book is Apollo's Fire: A Journey through the Extraordinary Wonders of an Ordinary Day, which National Public Radio chose as one of the Best Science Books of 2007. He is also the author of Adam's Navel: A Natural and Cultural History of the Human Form, which was a New York Times Notable Book and a Library Journal Best Science Book; and Darwin's Orchestra: An Almanac of Nature in History and the Arts. His writing has appeared in New Statesman, Gourmet, Orion, the Washington Post, and many other periodicals in the United States and abroad. Learn more at www.michaelsimsbooks.com.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

THE EPISODE OF THE DIAMOND LINKS

“Let us take a trip to Switzerland,” said Lady Vandrift. And any one who knows Amelia will not be surprised to learn that we did take a trip to Switzerland accordingly. Nobody can drive Sir Charles, except his wife. And nobody at all can drive Amelia.

There were difficulties at the outset, because we had not ordered rooms at the hotels beforehand, and it was well on in the season; but they were overcome at last by the usual application of a golden key; and we found ourselves in due time pleasantly quartered in Lucerne, at the most comfortable of European hostelries, the Schweitzerhof.

We were a square party of four—Sir Charles and Amelia, myself and Isabel. We had nice big rooms, on the first floor, overlooking the lake; and as none of us was possessed with the faintest symptom of that incipient mania which shows itself in the form of an insane desire to climb mountain heights of disagreeable steepness and unnecessary snowiness, I will venture to assert we all enjoyed ourselves. We spent most of our time sensibly in lounging about the lake on the jolly little steamers; and when we did a mountain climb, it was on the Rigi or Pilatus— where an engine undertook all the muscular work for us.

As usual, at the hotel, a great many miscellaneous people showed a burning desire to be specially nice to us. If you wish to see how friendly and charming humanity is, just try being a well-known millionaire for a week, and you’ll learn a thing or two. Wherever Sir Charles goes he is surrounded by charming and disinterested people, all eager to make his distinguished acquaintance, and all familiar with several excellent investments, or several deserving objects of Christian charity. It is my business in life, as his brother-in-law and secretary, to decline with thanks the excellent investments, and to throw judicious cold water on the objects of charity. Even I myself, as the great man’s almoner, am very much sought after. People casually allude before me to artless stories of “poor curates in Cumberland, you know, Mr. Wentworth,” or widows in Cornwall, penniless poets with epics in their desks, and young painters who need but the breath of a patron to open to them the doors of an admiring Academy. I smile and look wise, while I administer cold water in minute doses; but I never report one of these cases to Sir Charles, except in the rare or almost unheard-of event where I think there is really something in them.

Ever since our little adventure with the Seer at Nice, Sir Charles, who is constitutionally cautious, has been even more careful than usual about possible sharpers. And, as chance would have it, there sat just opposite us at table d’hôte at the Schweitzerhof—’tis a fad of Amelia’s to dine at table d’hôte; she says she can’t bear to be boxed up all day in private rooms with “too much family”—a sinister-looking man with dark hair and eyes, conspicuous by his bushy overhanging eyebrows. My attention was first called to the eyebrows in question by a nice little parson who sat at our side, and who observed that they were made up of certain large and bristly hairs, which (he told us) had been traced by Darwin to our monkey ancestors. Very pleasant little fellow, this fresh-faced young parson, on his honeymoon tour with a nice wee wife, a bonnie Scotch lassie with a charming accent.

I looked at the eyebrows close. Then a sudden thought struck me. “Do you believe they’re his own?” I asked of the curate; “or are they only stuck on—a make-up disguise? They really almost look like it.” “You don’t suppose——” Charles began, and checked himself suddenly.

“Yes, I do,” I answered; “the Seer!” Then I recollected my blunder, and looked down sheepishly. For, to say the truth, Vandrift had straightly enjoined on me long before to say nothing of our painful little episode at Nice to Amelia; he was afraid if she once heard of it, he would hear of it for ever after.

 “What Seer?” the little parson inquired, with parsonical curiosity.

I noticed the man with the overhanging eyebrows give a queer sort of start. Charles’s glance was fixed upon me. I hardly knew what to answer.

“Oh, a man who was at Nice with us last year,” I stammered out, trying hard to look unconcerned. “A fellow they talked about, that’s all.” And I turned the subject.

But the curate, like a donkey, wouldn’t let me turn it.

“Had he eyebrows like that?” he inquired, in an undertone. I was really angry. If this was Colonel Clay, the curate was obviously giving him the cue, and making it much more difficult for us to catch him, now we might possibly have lighted on the chance of doing so.

“No, he hadn’t,” I answered testily; “it was a passing expression. But this is not the man. I was mistaken, no doubt.” And I nudged him gently.

The little curate was too innocent for anything. “Oh, I see,” he replied, nodding hard and looking wise. Then he turned to his wife and made an obvious face, which the man with the eyebrows couldn’t fail to notice.

Fortunately, a political discussion going on a few places farther down the table spread up to us and diverted attention for a moment. The magical name of Gladstone saved us. Sir Charles flared up. I was truly pleased, for I could see Amelia was boiling over with curiosity by this time.

After dinner, in the billiard-room, however, the man with the big eyebrows sidled up and began to talk to me. If he was Colonel Clay, it was evident he bore us no grudge at all for the five thousand pounds he had done us out of. On the contrary, he seemed quite prepared to do us out of five thousand more when opportunity offered; for he introduced himself at once as Dr. Hector Macpherson, the exclusive grantee of extensive concessions from the Brazilian Government on the Upper Amazons. He dived into conversation with me at once as to the splendid mineral resources of his Brazilian estate—the silver, the platinum, the actual rubies, the possible diamonds. I listened and smiled; I knew what was coming. All he needed to develop this magnificent concession was a little more capital. It was sad to see thousands of pounds’ worth of platinum and car-loads of rubies just crumbling in the soil or carried away by the river, for want of a few hundreds to work them with properly. If he knew of anybody, now, with money to invest, he could recommend him—nay, offer him—a unique opportunity of earning, say, 40 per cent on his capital, on unimpeachable security.

“I wouldn’t do it for every man,” Dr. Hector Macpherson remarked, drawing himself up; “but if I took a fancy to a fellow who had command of ready cash, I might choose to put him in the way of feathering his nest with unexampled rapidity.”

“Exceedingly disinterested of you,” I answered drily, fixing my eyes on his eyebrows.

The little curate, meanwhile, was playing billiards with Sir Charles. His glance followed mine as it rested for a moment on the monkey-like hairs.

“False, obviously false,” he remarked with his lips; and I’m bound to confess I never saw any man speak so well by movement alone; you could follow every word though not a sound escaped him.

During the rest of that evening Dr. Hector Macpherson stuck to me as close as a mustard-plaster. And he was almost as irritating. I got heartily sick of the Upper Amazons. I have positively waded in my time through ruby mines (in prospectuses, I mean) till the mere sight of a ruby absolutely sickens me. When Charles, in an unwonted fit of generosity, once gave his sister Isabel (whom I had the honour to marry) a ruby necklet (inferior stones), I made Isabel change it for sapphires and amethysts, on the judicious plea that they suited her complexion better. (I scored one, incidentally, for having considered Isabel’s complexion.) By the time I went to bed I was prepared to sink the Upper Amazons in the sea, and to stab, shoot, poison, or otherwise seriously damage the man with the concession and the false eyebrows.

For the next three days, at intervals, he returned to the charge. He bored me to death with his platinum and his rubies. He didn’t want a capitalist who would personally exploit the thing; he would prefer to do it all on his own account, giving the capitalist preference debentures of his bogus company, and a lien on the concession. I listened and smiled; I listened and yawned; I listened and was rude; I ceased to listen at all; but still he droned on with it. I fell asleep on the steamer one day, and woke up in ten minutes to hear him droning yet, “And the yield of platinum per ton was certified to be——” I forget how many pounds, or ounces, or penny-weights. These details of assays have ceased to interest me: like the man who “didn’t believe in ghosts,” I have seen too many of them.

The fresh-faced little curate and his wife, however, were quite different people. He was a cricketing Oxford man; she was a breezy Scotch lass, with a wholesome breath of the Highlands about her. I called her “White Heather.” Their name was Brabazon. Millionaires are so accustomed to being beset by harpies of every description, that when they come across a young couple who are simple and natural, they delight in the purely human relation. We picnicked and went on excursions a great deal with the honeymooners. They were so frank in their young love, and so proof against chaff, that we all really liked them. But whenever I called the pretty girl “White Heather,” she looked so shocked, and cried: “Oh, Mr. Wentworth!” Still, we were the best of friends. The curate offered to row us in a boat on the lake one day, while the Scotch lassie assured us she could take an oar almost as well as he did. However, we did not accept their offer, as row-boats exert an unfavourable influence upon Amelia’s digestive organs.

“Nice young fellow, that man Brabazon,” Sir Charles said to me one day, as we lounged together along the quay; “never talks about advowsons or next presentations. Doesn’t seem to me to care two pins about promotion. Says he’s quite content in his country curacy; enough to live upon, and needs no more; and his wife has a little, a very little, money. I asked him about his poor to-day, on purpose to test him: these parsons are always trying to screw something out of one for their poor; men in my position know the truth of the saying that we have that class of the population always with us. Would you believe it, he says he hasn’t any poor at all in his parish! They’re all well-to-do farmers or else able-bodied labourers, and his one terror is that somebody will come and try to pauperise them. ‘If a philanthropist were to give me fifty pounds to-day for use at Empingham,’ he said, ‘I assure you, Sir Charles, I shouldn’t know what to do with it. I think I should buy new dresses for Jessie, who wants them about as much as anybody else in the village—that is to say, not at all.’ There’s a parson for you, Sey, my boy. Only wish we had one of his sort at Seldon.”

“He certainly doesn’t want to get anything out of you,” I answered.

That evening at dinner a queer little episode happened. The man with the eyebrows began talking to me across the table in his usual fashion, full of his wearisome concession on the Upper Amazons. I was trying to squash him as politely as possible, when I caught Amelia’s eye. Her look amused me. She was engaged in making signals to Charles at her side to observe the little curate’s curious sleeve-links. I glanced at them, and saw at once they were a singular possession for so unobtrusive a person. They consisted each of a short gold bar for one arm of the link, fastened by a tiny chain of the same material to what seemed to my tolerably experienced eye—a first-rate diamond. Pretty big diamonds, too, and of remarkable shape, brilliancy, and cutting. In a moment I knew what Amelia meant. She owned a diamond rivière, said to be of Indian origin, but short by two stones for the circumference of her tolerably ample neck. Now, she had long been wanting two diamonds like these to match her set; but owing to the unusual shape and antiquated cutting of her own gems, she had never been able to complete the necklet, at least without removing an extravagant amount from a much larger stone of the first water.

The Scotch lassie’s eyes caught Amelia’s at the same time, and she broke into a pretty smile of good-humoured amusement. “Taken in another person, Dick, dear!” she exclaimed, in her breezy way, turning to her husband. “Lady Vandrift is observing your diamond sleeve-links.”

“They’re very fine gems,” Amelia observed incautiously. (A most unwise admission if she desired to buy them.) But the pleasant little curate was too transparently simple a soul to take advantage of her slip of judgment. “They are good stones,” he replied; “very good stones—considering. They’re not diamonds at all, to tell you the truth. They’re best oldfashioned Oriental paste. My great-grandfather bought them, after the siege of Seringapatam, for a few rupees, from a Sepoy who had looted them from Tippoo Sultan’s palace. He thought, like you, he had got a good thing. But it turned out, when they came to be examined by experts, they were only paste—very wonderful paste; it is supposed they had even imposed upon Tippoo himself, so fine is the imitation. But they are worth— well, say, fifty shillings at the utmost.”

While he spoke Charles looked at Amelia, and Amelia looked at Charles. Their eyes spoke volumes. The rivière was also supposed to have come from Tippoo’s collection. Both drew at once an identical conclusion. These were two of the same stones, very likely torn apart and disengaged from the rest in the mêlée at the capture of the Indian palace.

“Can you take them off?” Sir Charles asked blandly. He spoke in the tone that indicates business.

“Certainly,” the little curate answered, smiling. “I’m accustomed to taking them off. They’re always noticed. They’ve been kept in the family ever since the siege, as a sort of valueless heirloom, for the sake of the picturesqueness of the story, you know; and nobody ever sees them without asking, as you do, to examine them closely. They deceive even experts at first. But they’re paste, all the same; unmitigated Oriental paste, for all that.”

He took them both off, and handed them to Charles. No man in England is a finer judge of gems than my brother-in-law. I watched him narrowly. He examined them close, first with the naked eye, then with the little pocket-lens which he always carries.

“Admirable imitation,” he muttered, passing them on to Amelia. “I’m not surprised they should impose upon inexperienced observers.”

But from the tone in which he said it, I could see at once he had satisfied himself they were real gems of unusual value. I know Charles’s way of doing business so well. His glance to Amelia meant, “These are the very stones you have so long been in search of.”

The Scotch lassie laughed a merry laugh. “He sees through them now, Dick,” she cried. “I felt sure Sir Charles would be a judge of diamonds.”

Amelia turned them over. I know Amelia, too; and I knew from the way Amelia looked at them that she meant to have them. And when Amelia means to have anything, people who stand in the way may just as well spare themselves the trouble of opposing her.

They were beautiful diamonds. We found out afterwards the little curate’s account was quite correct: these stones had come from the same necklet as Amelia’s rivière, made for a favourite wife of Tippoo’s, who had presumably as expansive personal charms as our beloved sister-in-law’s. More perfect diamonds have seldom been seen. They have excited the unive...

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