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It was rather annoying, that mention of a week's delay. My holiday was over, and I should have to ask for a prolongation of the holiday, which, for very satisfactory reasons to my own mind, I was unwilling to do. But still there seemed no alternative. I may mention that in a few days' time I had a singularly disagreeable letter from my office-people, saying that as I had not come back at the time arranged I need not trouble myself to come back at all. I had expected an official wigging, but not to get discharged in this way, and it made me mad.
In a week's time I went back to the banker. I was shown into the bank-parlour, an innermost shrine, which I had hitherto only contemplated from afar with feelings of the deepest reverence.
Well, Mr. Leslie,' exclaimed the banker, with his cheery voice, 'I am quite ready for you. Our Mr. Watkins has spent most of three days in going through the books. There certainly were transactions between the firm of the Godsons and Mr. Delorme. But ages ago-literally speaking, ages ago-the business was concluded.'
I muttered the old saying, but hardly so old as the casket: 'Blessed is he who expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed.' But Swift's apothegm did not really apply to me, for I had taught myself to expect something; and under the circumstances of my recent misfortune the hope had been vivified.
'Here is the final entry: "Account closed. All papers destroyed." However, by other books, I find that there really was a trifling balance due to Mr. Henry Delorme, some fifteen pounds; and if the family think it worth their while to claim it, on their giving the proper proofs, we shall be happy to pay it over to them.'
I was very much struck with the old banker's way of looking at things. If I may be excused something that sounds philosophical, I would say that he brought very vividly before me the continuity of the ages. He looked at his business in its historic unity. Anything that affected the credit of his house was as dear to him if it happened two hundred years ago as if it had happened only two days ago. Then his statement afforded a remarkable corroboration to Henry Delorme's letter. It will be remembered that his letter inferred that his balance was very low, and that he was going to put money in and not draw any out.
Mr. Stukeley showed me a very old, very worn volume where the words he had quoted were still legible in faded red letters.
And so I am afraid there is no hope for you,' said the banker. 'You see there is no mention of any such casket as that to which you refer.'
'You mean to say that in your opinion no such casket was ever deposited at Godsons' bank.'
There is no trace of such a circumstance having ever happened. Of course it is hard to prove a negative, but we could not give any other reply.'
And yet I felt as certain as that I was standing there that such was the case. I was perfectly satisfied both of the authenticity of the letter and also of the wonderful fairness and honesty of this ancient firm.
One thing is just possible," continued the banker. 'Delorme might have left it here as a parcel, and may simply have taken a receipt for it. It is just possible that there may have been an entry of such a transaction in some book which in the course of years may have been lost. But we have no
such entry, and no knowledge of any such casket.'
But a ray of hope was breaking upon me, and, like a drowning man, I was clinging to this new straw that was thrown in my way.
I suppose that you have cellars where you stow away things that are left here by your customers?' Would
'Certainly we have. you like to take a look at them? They are really curious. And it singularly happens that we have a regular turn out to-day. The Board of Works require a portion of our present premises, and we have nearly finished constructing new ones.'
He called a clerk and a servant, and proceeded to descend a dark narrow staircase into the bank-cellar. The cellar lay under the main street. A subdued murmur of the heavier traffic overhead came to us. So in the Botallack mine, where the ramifications of the mine extend beyond the shore, beneath the sea, you hear the plunge of the surge upon the shore just over your Kead. So the human tide came and went incessantly above the dark quiet cellar, so completely cut off from all communication with London town.
In part the cellar was like a lawyer's office. It had boxes of deeds with names on them. In this kind of matter lawyers and bankers have frequently to go shares. Then there were various heavy cases of plate, Some chests had been left because lawsuits were pending respecting the ownership; in other instances families had broken up their home and had gone abroad; in some cases property had been taken to the bank for fear of burglars. There were various other articles which I thought would more fitly have found their place in some repository, objects of art and vertù. The banker told me that one poor man
had left a manuscript poem there, which the author firmly believed to be the greatest treasure in all the edifice. Altogether there appeared to be a considerable amount of valuables stored away, although my eye detected nothing of that imaginary picture which I had so often depicted in it. Neither were there any of those bars and ingots of the precious metals which I imagined would be found in a banker's cellar.
'I had intended to make a clearance to-day,' said the banker.
The clerk remained, but the man went for another, as further help would be necessary.
Then the different articles were overhauled and checked off. Some were as fresh as paint, but others had any amount of rust and antiquity upon them. For about a couple of hours the process of sorting and registering still went on. Mr. Stukeley left us to attend to the work of the day, saying that he would return before lunch. I obtained permission to remain whilst the three bank servants continued their work. By and by, as a corner became slightly exposed, I noticed at the end of the cellar a kind of depression, which might have been a broad gutter or channel to remove any waste from casks, the original occupants of the cellar. This contained various empties,' and was covered up to the level of the cellar by sand. At my request these cases were removed, as, indeed, would have to be done sooner or later in the course of the necessary alterations. We all eagerly scrutinised the spot. Several cases had been removed, and there now appeared to be only a deposit of sand below. I poked the bottom very deliberately with my stick, going over every three inches. Then the stick struck against a hard substance. In a moment I swooped down on the prey, and with infinite astonish
'Diamonds!' he exclaimed, and a peculiar light shone in the banker's eye. I do not say that a thought of repentance passed through the mind of this upright man, but bankers know full well the value of diamonds. They may be described as the essence of ready money. And though there appears to be something of a glut of them in these days from South Africa, gold has increased much more than diamonds, and the price of them has risen very greatly in the market.
The kind-hearted banker only insisted on such proofs as would be fully satisfactory to his own mind. We showed him the repentant pirate's letter, which he read with the deepest interest, and showed him-which was easy enough to do the direct line of descent in the Delorme family. Then the casket was handed over.
My dear reader, you all remember the jewel scene in Gounod's Faust. You possibly have seen many a prima donna thereinMiolan Carvalho, for whom the part was originally designed; and Patti and Albani and Nilsson in these present days. How delicious and delirious is Margherita's happiness as she bursts into lyric raptures, as she fastens on the neck
lace and earrings and bracelets, and her diamonds and her beauty alike flash back in the glass. Not otherwise was the innocent excited happiness of Flora and Fanny over their casket of jewels. They were not so handsome, indeed, as a Mephistopheles might have devised; but we considered that the Mephistopheles element had been exorcised, the evil spirit laid, what time the honest pirate had buried the witch's pearl necklace in the earth.
'O you dearest clever boy!' said Fanny, flinging her arms round me, and giving me the sweetest kisses which I had ever had in my life.
You have come among us like a fairy prince, and have made us poor people so rich and happy, and I am ready to marry you any day that you like.'
The diamonds were converted into all good things, and although the girls declare that it was a horrid shame to part with such beautiful treasures, I have reason to believe that they were not averse to the advantages of exchange and barter. There were enough diamonds for all of us. On the strength of her share, my Fannythat is to say, Mrs. James Leslie -drives a pair of the most beautiful ponies in the world. She still retains a few diamonds that suit her matchless hair and eyes, and I tell her that she is to her husband a treasure beyond rubies, and that she herself has the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit,' which is better than diamonds. A monument rises to the memory of our far-off benefactor by that broad water of the West,' and the residue of our family fortunes is under the care of Mr. Stukeley, that best of bankers.