The Diamond as Big as the Ritz
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
JOHN T. UNGER came from a family that had been well known in Hades—a
small town on the Mississippi River—for several generations.
John's father had held the amateur golf championship through many
a heated contest; Mrs. Unger was known "from hot-box to hot-bed," as
the local phrase went, for her political addresses; and young John T.
Unger, who had just turned sixteen, had danced all the latest dances
from New York before he put on long trousers. And now, for a certain
time, he was to be away from home. That respect for a New England
education which is the bane of all provincial places, which drains
them yearly of their most promising young men, had seized upon his
parents. Nothing would suit them but that he should go to St. Midas'
School near Boston— Hades was too small to hold their darling and
Now in Hades—as you know if you ever have been there—the names
of the more fashionable preparatory schools and colleges mean very
little. The inhabitants have been so long out of the world that,
though they make a show of keeping up to date in dress and manners and
literature, they depend to a great extent on hearsay, and a function
that in Hades would be considered elaborate would doubtless be hailed
by a Chicago beef-princess as "perhaps a little tacky."
John T. Unger was on the eve of departure. Mrs. Unger, with
maternal fatuity, packed his trunks full of linen suits and electric
fans, and Mr. Unger presented his son with an asbestos pocket-book
stuffed with money.
"Remember, you are always welcome here," he said. "You can be
sure boy, that we'll keep the home fires burning."
"I know," answered John huskily.
"Don't forget who you are and where you come from," continued his
father proudly, "and you can do nothing to harm you. You are an
So the old man and the young shook hands and John walked away with
tears streaming from his eyes. Ten minutes later he had passed
outside the city limits, and he stopped to glance back for the last
time. Over the gates the old-fashioned Victorian motto seemed
strangely attractive to him. His father had tried time and time again
to have it changed to something with a little more push and verve
about it, such as "Hades—Your Opportunity," or else a plain "Welcome"
sign set over a hearty handshake pricked out in electric lights. The
old motto was a little depressing, Mr. Unger had thought—but now....
So John took his look and then set his face resolutely toward his
destination. And, as he turned away, the lights of Hades against the
sky seemed full of a warm and passionate beauty.
St. Midas' School is half an hour from Boston in a Rolls-Pierce
motorcar. The actual distance will never be known, for no one, except
John T. Unger, had ever arrived there save in a Rolls-Pierce and
probably no one ever will again. St. Midas' is the most expensive and
the most exclusive boys' preparatory school in the world.
John's first two years there passed pleasantly. The fathers of
all the boys were money-kings and John spent his summers visiting at
fashionable resorts. While he was very fond of all the boys he
visited, their fathers struck him as being much of a piece, and in his
boyish way he often wondered at their exceeding sameness. When he
told them where his home was they would ask jovially, "Pretty hot down
there?" and John would muster a faint smile and answer, "It certainly
is." His response would have been heartier had they not all made this
joke—at best varying it with, "Is it hot enough for you down there?"
which he hated just as much.
In the middle of his second year at school, a quiet, handsome boy
named Percy Washington had been put in John's form. The newcomer was
pleasant in his manner and exceedingly well dressed even for St.
Midas', but for some reason he kept aloof from the other boys. The
only person with whom he was intimate was John T. Unger, but even to
John he was entirely uncommunicative concerning his home or his
family. That he was wealthy went without saying, but beyond a few
such deductions John knew little of his friend, so it promised rich
confectionery for his curiosity when Percy invited him to spend the
summer at his home "in the West." He accepted, without hesitation.
It was only when they were in the train that Percy became, for the
first time, rather communicative. One day while they were eating
lunch in the dining-car and discussing the imperfect characters of
several of the boys at school, Percy suddenly changed his tone and
made an abrupt remark.
"My father," he said, "is by far the richest man in the world."
"Oh," said John, politely. He could think of no answer to make to
this confidence. He considered "That's very nice," but it sounded
hollow and was on the point of saying, "Really?" but refrained since
it would seem to question Percy's statement. And such an astounding
statement could scarcely be questioned.
"By far the richest," repeated Percy.
"I was reading in the
World Almanac," began John, "that
there was one man in America with an income of over five million a
year and four men with incomes of over three million a year, and—"
"Oh, they're nothing." Percy's mouth was a half-moon of scorn.
"Catchpenny capitalists, financial small-fry, petty merchants and
money-lenders. My father could buy them out and not know he'd done
"But how does he—"
"Why haven't they put down
his income tax? Because he
doesn't pay any. At least he pays a little one—but he doesn't pay
any on his real income."
"He must be very rich," said John simply. "I'm glad. I like very
"The richer a fella is, the better I like him." There was a look
of passionate frankness upon his dark face. "I visited the
Schnlitzer-Murphys last Easter. Vivian Schnlitzer-Murphy had rubies
as big as hen's eggs, and sapphires that were like globes with lights
"I love jewels," agreed Percy enthusiastically. "Of course I
wouldn't want any one at school to know about it, but I've got quite a
collection myself I used to collect them instead of stamps."
"And diamonds," continued John eagerly. "The Schnlitzer-Murphys
had diamonds as big as walnuts—"
"That's nothing." Percy had leaned forward and dropped his voice
to a low whisper. "That's nothing at all. My father has a diamond
bigger than the Ritz-Carlton Hotel."
THE MONTANA sunset lay between two mountains like a gigantic bruise
from which dark arteries spread themselves over a poisoned sky. An
immense distance under the sky crouched the village of Fish, minute,
dismal, and forgotten. There were twelve men, so it was said, in the
village of Fish, twelve somber and inexplicable souls who sucked a
lean milk from the almost literally bare rock upon which a mysterious
populatory force had begotten them. They had become a race apart,
these twelve men of Fish, like some species developed by an early whim
of nature, which on second thought had abandoned them to struggle and
Out of the blue-black bruise in the distance crept a long line of
moving lights upon the desolation of the land, and the twelve men of
Fish gathered like ghosts at the shanty depot to watch the passing of
the seven o'clock train, the Transcontinental Express from Chicago.
Six times or so a year the Transcontinental Express, through some
inconceivable jurisdiction, stopped at the village of Fish, and when
this occurred a figure or so would disembark, mount into a buggy that
always appeared from out of the dusk, and drive off toward the
bruised sunset. The observation of this pointless and preposterous
phenomenon had become a sort of cult among the men of Fish. To
observe, that was all; there remained in them none of the vital
quality of illusion which would make them wonder or speculate, else a
religion might have grown up around these mysterious visitations. But
the men of Fish were beyond all religion—the barest and most savage
tenets of even Christianity could gain no foothold on that barren
rock—so there was no altar, no priest, no sacrifice; only each night
at seven the silent concourse by the shanty depot, a congregation who
lifted up a prayer of dim, anaemic wonder.
On this June night, the Great Brakeman, whom, had they deified any
one, they might well have chosen as their celestial protagonist, had
ordained that the seven o'clock train should leave its human (or
inhuman) deposit at Fish. At two minutes after seven Percy Washington
and John T. Unger disembarked, hurried past the spellbound, the agape,
the fearsome eyes of the twelve men of Fish, mounted into a buggy
which had obviously appeared from nowhere, and drove away.
After half an hour, when the twilight had coagulated into dark,
the silent negro who was driving the buggy hailed an opaque body
somewhere ahead of them in the gloom. In response to his cry, it
turned upon them a luminous disk which regarded them like a malignant
eye out of the unfathomable night. As they came closer, John saw that
it was the tail-light of an immense automobile, larger and more
magnificent than any he had ever seen. Its body was of gleaming metal
richer than nickel and lighter than silver, and the hubs of the wheels
were studded with iridescent geometric figures of green and
yellow—John did not dare to guess whether they were glass or jewel.
Two negroes, dressed in glittering livery such as one sees in
pictures of royal processions in London, were standing at attention
beside the car and as the two young men dismounted from the buggy they
were greeted in some language which the guest could not understand,
but which seemed to be an extreme form of the Southern negro's
"Get in," said Percy to his friend, as their trunks were tossed to
the ebony roof of the limousine. "Sorry we had to bring you this far
in that buggy, but of course it wouldn't do for the people on the
train or those Godforsaken fellas in Fish to see this automobile."
"Gosh! What a car!" This ejaculation was provoked by its interior.
John saw that the upholstery consisted of a thousand minute and
exquisite tapestries of silk, woven with jewels and embroideries, and
set upon a background of cloth of gold. The two armchair seats in
which the boys luxuriated were covered with stuff that resembled
duvetyn, but seemed woven in numberless colors of the ends of ostrich
"What a car!" cried John again, in amazement.
"This thing?" Percy laughed. "Why, it's just an old junk we use
for a station wagon."
By this time they were gliding along through the darkness toward
the break between the two mountains.
"We'll be there in an hour and a half," said Percy, looking at the
clock. "I may as well tell you it's not going to be like anything you
ever saw before."
If the car was any indication of what John would see, he was
prepared to be astonished indeed. The simple piety prevalent in
Hades has the earnest worship of and respect for riches as the first
article of its creed—had John felt otherwise than radiantly humble
before them, his parents would have turned away in horror at the
They had now reached and were entering the break between the two
mountains and almost immediately the way became much rougher.
"If the moon shone down here, you'd see that we're in a big
gulch," said Percy, trying to peer out of the window. He spoke a few
words into the mouthpiece and immediately the footman turned on a
search-light and swept the hillsides with an immense beam.
"Rocky, you see. An ordinary car would be knocked to pieces in
half an hour. In fact, it'd take a tank to navigate it unless you knew
the way. You notice we're going uphill now."
They were obviously ascending, and within a few minutes the car
was crossing a high rise, where they caught a glimpse of a pale moon
newly risen in the distance. The car stopped suddenly and several
figures took shape out of the dark beside it—these were negroes also.
Again the two young men were saluted in the same dimly recognizable
dialect; then the negroes set to work and four immense cables dangling
from overhead were attached with hooks to the hubs of the great
jeweled wheels. At a resounding "Hey-yah!" John felt the car being
lifted slowly from the ground— up and up—clear of the tallest rocks
on both sides—then higher, until he could see a wavy, moonlit valley
stretched out before him in sharp contrast to the quagmire of rocks
that they had just left. Only on one side was there still rock—and
then suddenly there was no rock beside them or anywhere around.
It was apparent that they had surmounted some immense knife-blade
of stone, projecting perpendicularly into the air. In a moment they
were going down again, and finally with a soft bump they were landed
upon the smooth earth.
"The worst is over," said Percy, squinting out the window. "It's
only five miles from here, and our own road—tapestry brick—all the
way. This belongs to us. This is where the United States ends,
"Are we in Canada?"
"We are not. We're in the middle of the Montana Rockies. But you
are now on the only five square miles of land in the country that's
never been surveyed."
"Why hasn't it? Did they forget it?"
"No," said Percy, grinning, "they tried to do it three times. The
first time my grandfather corrupted a whole department of the State
survey; the second time he had the official maps of the United States
tinkered with—that held them for fifteen years. The last time was
harder. My father fixed it so that their compasses were in the
strongest magnetic field ever artificially set up. He had a whole set
of surveying instruments made with a slight defection that would allow
for this territory not to appear, and he substituted them for the ones
that were to be used. Then he had a river deflected and he had what
looked like a village built up on its banks—so that they'd see it,
and think it was a town ten miles farther up the valley. There's
only one thing my father's afraid of," he concluded, "only one thing
in the world that could be used to find us out."
Percy sank his voice to a whisper.
"Aeroplanes," he breathed. "We've got half a dozen anti-aircraft
guns and we've arranged it so far—but there've been a few deaths and
a great many prisoners. Not that we mind that, you know,
father and I, but it upsets mother and the girls, and there's always
the chance that some time we won't be able to arrange it."
Shreds and tatters of chinchilla, courtesy clouds in the green
moon's heaven, were passing the green moon like precious Eastern
stuffs paraded for the inspection of some Tartar Khan. It seemed to
John that it was day, and that he was looking at some lads sailing
above him in the air, showering down tracts and patent medicine
circulars, with their messages of hope for despairing, rockbound
hamlets. It seemed to him that he could see them look down out of the
clouds and stare—and stare at whatever there was to stare at in this
place whither he was bound—What then? Were they induced to land by
some insidious device there to be immured far from patent medicines
and from tracts until the judgment day—or, should they fail to fall
into the trap, did a quick puff of smoke and the sharp round of a
splitting shell bring them drooping to earth—and "upset" Percy's
mother and sisters. John shook his head and the wraith of a hollow
laugh issued silently from his parted lips. What desperate
transaction lay hidden here? What a moral expedient of a bizarre
Croesus? What terrible and golden mystery? . . .
The chinchilla clouds had drifted past now and outside the Montana
night was bright as day. The tapestry brick of the road was smooth to
the tread of the great tires as they rounded a still, moonlit lake;
they passed into darkness for a moment, a pine grove, pungent and
cool, then they came out into a broad avenue of lawn and John's
exclamation of pleasure was simultaneous with Percy's taciturn "We're
Full in the light of the stars, an exquisite ch_teau rose from the
borders of the lake, climbed in marble radiance half the height of an
adjoining mountain, then melted in grace, in perfect symmetry, in
translucent feminine languor, into the massed darkness of a forest of
pine. The many towers, the slender tracery of the sloping parapets,
the chiselled wonder of a thousand yellow windows with their oblongs
and hectagons and triangles of golden light, the shattered softness of
the intersecting planes of star-shine and blue shade, all trembled on
John's spirit like a chord of music. On one of the towers, the
tallest, the blackest at its base, an arrangement of exterior lights
at the top made a sort of floating fairyland—and as John gazed up in
warm enchantment the faint acciaccare sound of violins drifted down in
a rococo harmony that was like nothing he had ever heard before. Then
in a moment the car stopped before wide, high marble steps around
which the night air was fragrant with a host of flowers. At the top
of the steps two great doors swung silently open and amber light
flooded out upon the darkness, silhouetting the figure of an exquisite
lady with black, high-piled hair, who held out her arms toward them.
"Mother," Percy was saying, "this is my friend, John Unger, from
Afterward John remembered that first night as a daze of many
colors, of quick sensory impressions, of music soft as a voice in
love, and of the beauty of things, lights and shadows, and motions
and faces. There was a whitehaired man who stood drinking a many-hued
cordial from a crystal thimble set on a golden stem. There was a girl
with a flowery face, dressed like Titania with braided sapphires in
her hair. There was a room where the solid, soft gold of the walls
yielded to the pressure of his hand, and a room that was like a
platonic conception of the ultimate prism—ceiling, floor, and all, it
was lined with an unbroken mass of diamonds, diamonds of every size
and shape, until, lit with tall violet lamps in the corners, it
dazzled the eyes with a whiteness that could be compared only with
itself, beyond human wish or dream.
Through a maze of these rooms the two boys wandered. Sometimes the
floor under their feet would flame in brilliant patterns from lighting
below, patterns of barbaric clashing colors, of pastel delicacy, of
sheer whiteness, or of subtle and intricate mosaic, surely from some
mosque on the Adriatic Sea. Sometimes beneath layers of thick crystal
he would see blue or green water swirling, inhabited by vivid fish and
growths of rainbow foliage. Then they would be treading on furs of
every texture and color or along corridors of palest ivory, unbroken
as though carved complete from the gigantic tusks of dinosaurs
extinct before the age of man. . . .
Then a hazily remembered transition, and they were at
dinner—where each plate was of two almost imperceptible layers of
solid diamond between which was curiously worked a filigree of emerald
design, a shaving sliced from green air. Music, plangent and
unobtrusive, drifted down through far corridors—his chair, feathered
and curved insidiously to his back, seemed to engulf and overpower him
as he drank his first glass of port. He tried drowsily to answer a
question that had been asked him, but the honeyed luxury that clasped
his body added to the illusion of sleep—jewels, fabrics, wines, and
metals blurred before his eyes into a sweet mist. . . .
"Yes," he replied with a polite effort, "it certainly is hot
enough for me down there."
He managed to add a ghostly laugh; then, without movement, without
resistance, he seemed to float off and away, leaving an iced dessert
that was pink as a dream. . . . He fell asleep.
When he awoke he knew that several hours had passed. He was in a
great quiet room with ebony walls and a dull illumination that was too
faint, too subtle, to be called a light. His young host was standing
"You fell asleep at dinner," Percy was saying. "I nearly did,
too—it was such a treat to be comfortable again after this year of
school. Servants undressed and bathed you while you were sleeping."
"Is this a bed or a cloud?" sighed John. "Percy, Percy—before
you go, I want to apologize."
"For doubting you when you said you had a diamond as big as the
"I thought you didn't believe me. It's that mountain, you know."
"The mountain the ch_teau rests on. It's not very big, for a
mountain. But except about fifty feet of sod and gravel on top it's
solid diamond.One diamond, one cubic mile without a flaw.
Aren't you listening? Say——"
But John T. Unger had again fallen asleep.
MORNING. As he awoke he perceived drowsily that the room had at the
same moment become dense with sunlight. The ebony panels of one wall
had slid aside on a sort of track, leaving his chamber half open to
the day. A large negro in a white uniform stood beside his bed.
"Good-evening," muttered John, summoning his brains from the wild
"Good-morning, sir. Are you ready for your bath, sir? Oh, don't
get up—I'll put you in, if you'll just unbutton your pajamas—there.
Thank you, sir."
John lay quietly as his pajamas were removed—he was amused and
delighted; he expected to be lifted like a child by this black
Gargantua who was tending him, but nothing of the sort happened;
instead he felt the bed tilt up slowly on its side—he began to roll,
startled at first, in the direction of the wall, but when he reached
the wall its drapery gave way, and sliding two yards farther down a
fleecy incline he plumped gently into water the same temperature as
He looked about him. The runway or rollway on which he had
arrived had folded gently back into place. He had been projected
into another chamber and was sitting in a sunken bath with his head
just above the level of the floor. All about him, lining the walls of
the room and the sides and bottom of the bath itself, was a blue
aquarium, and gazing through the crystal surface on which he sat, he
could see fish swimming among amber lights and even gliding without
curiosity past his outstretched toes, which were separated from them
only by the thickness of the crystal. From overhead, sunlight came
down through sea-green glass.
I suppose, sir, that you'd like hot rosewater and soapsuds this
morning sir—and perhaps cold salt water to finish."
The negro was standing beside him.
"Yes," agreed John, smiling inanely, "as you please." Any idea of
ordering this bath according to his own meager standards of living
would have been priggish and not a little wicked.
The negro pressed a button and a warm rain began to fall,
apparently from overhead, but really, so John discovered after a
moment, from a fountain arrangement near by. The water turned to a
pale rose color and jets of liquid soap spurted into it from four
miniature walrus heads at the corners of the bath. In a moment a
dozen little paddle-wheels, fixed to the sides, had churned the
mixture into a radiant rainbow of pink foam which enveloped him softly
with its delicious lightness, and burst in shining, rosy bubbles here
and there about him.
"Shall I turn on the moving-picture machine, sir?" suggested the
negro deferentially. "There's a good one-reel comedy in this machine
to-day, or can put in a serious piece in a moment, if you prefer it."
"No, thanks," answered John, politely but firmly. He was enjoying
his at too much to desire any distraction. But distraction came. In
a moment he was listening intently to the sound of flutes from just
outside, flutes ripping a melody that was like a waterfall, cool and
green as the room itself, accompanying a frothy piccolo, in play more
fragile than the lace of u s that covered and charmed him.
After a cold salt-water bracer and a cold fresh finish, he stepped
out and into a fleecy robe, and upon a couch covered with the same
material he was rubbed with oil, alcohol, and spice. Later he sat in a
voluptuous chair while he was shaved and his hair was trimmed.
"Mr. Percy is waiting in your sitting-room," said the negro, when
these operations were finished. "My name is Gygsum, Mr. Unger, sir.
I am to see to Mr. Unger every morning."
John walked out into the brisk sunshine of his living-room, where
he found breakfast waiting for him and Percy, gorgeous in white kid
knickerbockers, smoking in an easy chair.
THIS IS A STORY of the Washington family as Percy sketched it for
John during breakfast.
The father of the present Mr. Washington had been a Virginian, a
direct descendant of George Washington, and Lord Baltimore. At the
close of the Civil War he was a twenty-five-year-old Colonel with a
played-out plantation and about a thousand dollars in gold.
Fitz-Norman Culpepper Washington, for that was the young Colonel's
name, decided to present the Virginia estate to his younger brother
and go West. He selected two dozen of the most faithful blacks, who,
of course, worshipped him, and bought twenty-five tickets to the West,
where he intended to take out land in their names and start a sheep
and cattle ranch.
When he had been in Montana for less than a month and things were
going very poorly indeed, he stumbled on his great discovery. He had
lost his way when riding in the hills, and after a day without food he
began to grow hungry. As he was without his rifle, he was forced to
pursue a squirrel, and in the course of the pursuit he noticed that it
was carrying something shiny in its mouth. Just before it vanished
into its hole—for Providence did not intend that this squirrel should
alleviate his hunger—it dropped its burden. Sitting down to consider
the situation Fitz-Norman's eye was caught by a gleam in the grass
beside him. In ten seconds he had completely lost his appetite and
gained one hundred thousand dollars. The squirrel, which had refused
with annoying persistence to become food, had made him a present of a
large and perfect diamond.
Late that night he found his way to camp and twelve hours later
all the males among his darkies were back by the squirrel hole digging
furiously at the side of the mountain. He told them he had discovered
a rhinestone mine, and, as only one or two of them had ever seen even
a small diamond before, they believed him, without question. When the
magnitude of his discovery became apparent to him, he found himself in
a quandary. The mountain was a diamond—it was literally
nothing else but solid diamond. He filled four saddle bags full of
glittering samples and started on horseback for St. Paul. There he
managed to dispose of half a dozen small stones—when he tried a
larger one a storekeeper fainted and Fitz-Norman was arrested as a
public disturber. He escaped from jail and caught the train for New
York, where he sold a few medium-sized diamonds and received in
exchange about two hundred thousand dollars in gold. But he did not
dare to produce any exceptional gems—in fact, he left New York just
in time. Tremendous excitement had been created in jewelry circles,
not so much by the size of his diamonds as by their appearance in the
city from mysterious sources. Wild rumors became current that a
diamond mine had been discovered in the Catskills, on the Jersey
coast, on Long Island, beneath Washington Square. Excursion trains,
packed with men carrying picks and shovels, began to leave New York
hourly, bound for various neighboring El Dorados. But by that time
young Fitz-Norman was on his way back to Montana.
By the end of a fortnight he had estimated that the diamond in the
mountain was approximately equal in quantity to all the rest of the
diamonds known to exist in the world. There was no valuing it by any
regular computation, however, for it was one solid diamond—and
if it were offered for sale not only would the bottom fall out of the
market, but also, if the value should vary with its size in the usual
arithmetical progression, there would not be enough gold in the world
to buy a tenth part of it. And what could any one do with a diamond
It was an amazing predicament. He was, in one sense, the richest
man that ever lived—and yet was he worth anything at all? If his
secret should transpire there was no telling to what measures the
Government might resort in order to prevent a panic, in gold as well
as in jewels. They might take over the claim immediately and
institute a monopoly.
There was no alternative—he must market his mountain in secret.
He sent South for his younger brother and put him in charge of his
colored following—darkies who had never realized that slavery was
abolished. To make sure of this, he read them a proclamation that he
had composed, which announced that General Forrest had reorganized the
shattered Southern armies and defeated the North in one pitched
battle. The negroes believed him implicitly. They passed a vote
declaring it a good thing and held revival services immediately.
Fitz-Norman himself set out for foreign parts with one hundred
thousand dollars and two trunks filled with rough diamonds of all
sizes. He sailed for Russia in a Chinese junk and six months after
his departure from Montana he was in St. Petersburg. He took obscure
lodgings and called immediately upon the court jeweller, announcing
that he had a diamond for the Czar. He remained in St. Petersburg for
two weeks, in constant danger of being murdered, living from lodging
to lodging, and afraid to visit his trunks more than three or four
times during the whole fortnight.
On his promise to return in a year with larger and finer stones,
he was allowed to leave for India. Before he left, however, the Court
Treasurers had deposited to his credit, in American banks, the sum of
fifteen million dollars—under four different aliases.
He returned to America in 1868, having been gone a little over two
years. He had visited the capitals of twenty-two countries and talked
with five emperors, eleven kings, three princes, a shah, a khan, and a
sultan. At that time Fitz-Norman estimated his own wealth at one
billion dollars. One fact worked consistently against the disclosure
of his secret. No one of his larger diamonds remained in the public
eye for a week before being invested with a history of enough
fatalities, amours, revolutions, and wars to have occupied it from the
days of the first Babylonian Empire.
From 1870 until his death in 1900, the history of Fitz-Norman
Washington was a long epic in gold. There were side issues, of
course—he evaded the surveys, he married a Virginia lady, by whom he
had a single son, and he was compelled, due to a series of unfortunate
complications, to murder his brother, whose unfortunate habit of
drinking himself into an indiscreet stupor had several times
endangered their safety. But very few other murders stained these
happy years of progress and expansion.
Just before he died he changed his policy, and with all but a few
million dollars of his outside wealth bought up rare minerals in bulk,
which he deposited in the safety vaults of banks all over the world,
marked as bric-_-brac. His son, Braddock Tarleton Washington,
followed this policy on an even more tensive scale. The minerals were
converted into the rarest of all elements—radium—so that the
equivalent of a billion dollars in gold could be placed in a
receptacle no bigger than a cigar box.
When Fitz-Norman had been dead three years his son, Braddock,
decided that the business had gone far enough. The amount of wealth
that he and his father had taken out of the mountain was beyond all
exact computation. He kept a note-book in cipher in which he set down
the approximate quantity of radium in each of the thousand banks he
patronized, and recorded the alias under which it was held. Then he
did a very simple thing—he sealed up the mine.
He sealed up the mine. What had been taken out of it would
support all the Washingtons yet to be born in unparalleled luxury for
generations. His one care must be the protection of his secret, lest
in the possible panic attendant on its discovery he should be reduced
with all the property-holders in the world to utter poverty.
This was the family among whom John T. Unger was staying. This was
the story he heard in his silver-walled living-room the morning after
AFTER BREAKFAST, John found his way out the great marble entrance and
looked curiously at the scene before him. The whole valley, from the
diamond mountain to the steep granite cliff five miles away, still
gave off a breath of golden haze which hovered idly above the fine
sweep of lawns and lakes and gardens. Here and there clusters of elms
made delicate groves of shade, contrasting strangely with the tough
masses of pine forest that held the hills in a grip of dark-blue
green. Even as John looked he saw three fawns in single file patter
out from one clump about a half mile away and disappear with awkward
gayety into the black-ribbed half-light of another. John would not
have been surprised to see a goat-foot piping his way among the trees
or to catch a glimpse of pink nymph-skin and flying yellow hair
between the greenest of the green leaves.
In some such cool hope he descended the marble steps, disturbing
faintly the sleep of two silky Russian wolfhounds at the bottom, and
set off along a walk of white and blue brick that seemed to lead in no
He was enjoying himself as much as he was able. It is youth's
felicity as well as its insufficiency that it can never live in the
present, but must always be measuring up the day against its own
radiantly imagined future—flowers and gold, girls and stars, they are
only prefigurations and prophecies of that incomparable, unattainable
John rounded a soft corner where the massed rose-bushes filled the
air with heavy scent, and struck off across a park toward a patch of
moss under some trees. He had never lain upon moss, and he wanted to
see whether it was really soft enough to justify the use of its name
as an adjective. Then he saw a girl coming toward him over the grass.
She was the most beautiful person he had ever seen
She was dressed in a white little gown that came just below her
knees, and a wreath of mignonettes clasped with blue slices of
sapphire bound up her hair. Her pink bare feet scattered the dew
before them as she came. She was younger than John—not more than
"Hello," she cried softly, "I'm Kismine."
She was much more than that to John already. He advanced toward
her, scarcely moving as he drew near lest he should tread on her bare
"You haven't met me," said her soft voice. Her blue eyes added,
"Oh, but you've missed a great deal!" . . . "You met my sister,
Jasmine, last night. I was sick with lettuce poisoning," went on her
soft voice, and her eyes continued, "and when I'm sick I'm sweet—and
when I'm well."
"You have made an enormous impression on me," said John's eyes,
"and I'm not so slow myself"—"How do you do?" said his voice. "I
hope you're better this morning."—"You darling," added his eyes
John observed that they had been walking along the path. On her
suggestion they sat down together upon the moss, the softness of which
he failed to determine.
He was critical about women. A single defect—a thick ankle, a
hoarse voice, a glass eye—was enough to make him utterly indifferent.
And here for the first time in his life he was beside a girl who
seemed to him the incarnation of physical perfection.
"Are you from the East?" asked Kismine with charming interest.
"No," answered John simply. "I'm from Hades."
Either she had never heard of Hades, or she could think of no
pleasant comment to make upon it, for she did not discuss it further.
"I'm going East to school this fall," she said. "D'you think I'll
like it? I'm going to New York to Miss Bulge's. It's very strict, but
you see over the weekends I'm going to live at home with the family in
our New York house, because father heard that the girls had to go
walking two by two."
"Your father wants you to be proud," observed John.
"We are," she answered, her eyes shining with dignity."None of us
has ever been punished. Father said we never should be. Once when
my sister Jasmine was a little girl she pushed him down-stairs and he
just got up and limped away.
"Mother was—well, a little startled," continued Kismine, "when
she heard that you were from—from where you are from, you know. She
said that when she was a young girl—but then, you see, she's a
Spaniard and old-fashioned."
"Do you spend much time out here?" asked John, to conceal the fact
that he was somewhat hurt by this remark. It seemed an unkind
allusion to his provincialism.
"Percy and Jasmine and I are here every summer, but next summer
Jasmine is going to Newport. She's coming out in London a year from
this fall. She'll be presented at court."
"Do you know, " began John hesitantly, "you're much more
sophisticated than I thought you were when I first saw you?"
"Oh, no, I'm not," she exclaimed hurriedly. "Oh, I wouldn't think
of being. I think that sophisticated young people are terribly
common, don't you? I'm not at all, really. If you say I am, I'm
going to cry."
She was so distressed that her lip was trembling. John was
impelled to protest:
I didn't mean that; I only said it to tease you."
"Because I wouldn't mind if I
were," she persisted. "but
I'm not. I'm very innocent and girlish. I never smoke, or
drink, or read anything except poetry. I know scarcely any
mathematics or chemistry. I dress very simply—in fact, I
scarcely dress at all. I think sophisticated is the last thing you
can say about me. I believe that girls ought to enjoy their youths in
a wholesome way."
"I do, too," said John heartily.
Kismine was cheerful again. She smiled at him, and a still-born
tear dripped from the corner of one blue eye.
"I like you," she whispered, intimately. "Are you going to spend
all your time with Percy while you're here, or will you be nice to me.
Just think—I'm absolutely fresh ground. I've never had a boy in
love with me in all my life. I've never been allowed even to see
boys alone—except Percy. I came all the way out here into this
grove hoping to run into you, where the family wouldn't be around.
Deeply flattered, John bowed from the hips as he had been taught
at dancing school in Hades.
"We'd better go now," said Kismine sweetly. "I have to be with
mother at eleven. You haven't asked me to kiss you once. I thought
boys always did that nowadays."
John drew himself up proudly.
"Some of them do," he answered, "but not me. Girls don't do that
sort of thing—in Hades."
Side by side they walked back toward the house.
JOHN STOOD facing Mr. Braddock Washington in the full sunlight. The
elder man was about forty with a proud, vacuous face, intelligent
eyes, and a robust figure. In the mornings he smelt of horses—the
best horses. He carried a plain walking-stick of gray birch with a
single large opal for a grip. He and Percy were showing John around.
"The slaves' quarters are there." His walking-stick indicated a
cloister of marble on their left that ran in graceful Gothic along the
side of the mountain. "In my youth I was distracted for a while from
the business of life by a period of absurd idealism. During that time
they lived in luxury. For instance, I equipped every one of their
rooms with a tile bath."
"I suppose," ventured John, with an ingratiating laugh, "that they
used the bathtubs to keep coal in. Mr. Schnlitzer-Murphy told me that
"The opinions of Mr. Schnlitzer-Murphy are of little importance, I
should imagine," interrupted Braddock Washington, coldly. "My slaves
did not keep coal in their bathtubs. They had orders to bathe every
day, and they did. If they hadn't I might have ordered a sulphuric
acid shampoo. I discontinued the baths for quite another reason.
Several of them caught cold and died. Water is not good for certain
races—except as a beverage."
John laughed, and then decided to nod his head in sober agreement.
Braddock Washington made him uncomfortable.
"All these negroes are descendants of the ones my father brought
North with him. There are about two hundred and fifty now. You
notice that they've lived so long apart from the world that their
original dialect has become an almost indistinguishable patois. We
bring a few of them up to speak English—my secretary and two or three
of the house servants.
"This is the golf course," he continued, as they strolled along
the velvet winter grass. "It's all a green, you see—no fairway, no
rough, no hazards."
He smiled pleasantly at John.
"Many men in the cage, father?" asked Percy suddenly.
Braddock Washington stumbled, and let forth an involuntary curse.
"One less than there should be," he ejaculated darkly—and then
added after a moment, "We've had difficulties."
"Mother was telling me," exclaimed Percy, "that Italian
"A ghastly error," said Braddock Washington angrily. "But of
course there's a good chance that we may have got him. Perhaps he fell
somewhere in the woods or stumbled over a cliff. And then there's
always the probability that if he did get away his story wouldn't be
believed. Nevertheless, I've had two dozen men looking for him in
different towns around here."
"And no luck?"
"Some. Fourteen of them reported to my agent that they'd each
killed a man answering to that description, but of course it was
probably only the reward they were after——"
He broke off. They had come to a large cavity in the earth about
the circumference of a merry-go-round and covered by a strong iron
grating. Braddock Washington beckoned to John, and pointed his cane
down through the grating. John stepped to the edge and gazed.
Immediately his ears were assailed by a wild clamor from below.
"Come on down to Hell!"
"Hello, kiddo, how's the air up there?"
"Hey! Throw us a rope!"
"Got an old doughnut, Buddy, or a couple of second-hand
"Say, fella, if you'll push down that guy you're with, we'll show
you a quick disappearance scene."
"Paste him one for me, will you?"
It was too dark to see clearly into the pit below, but John could
tell from the coarse optimism and rugged vitality of the remarks and
voices that they proceeded from middle-class Americans of the more
spirited type. Then Mr. Washington put out his cane and touched a
button in the grass, and the scene below sprang into light.
"These are some adventurous mariners who had the misfortune to
discover El Dorado," he remarked.
Below them there had appeared a large hollow in the earth shaped
like the interior of a bowl. The sides were steep and apparently of
polished glass, and on its slightly concave surface stood about two
dozen men clad in the half costume, half uniform, of aviators. Their
upturned faces, lit with wrath with malice, with despair, with cynical
humor, were covered by long growths of beard, but with the exception
of a few who had pined perceptibly away, they seemed to be a well-fed,
Braddock Washington drew a garden chair to the edge of the pit and
"Well, how are you, boys?" he inquired genially.
A chorus of execration in which all joined except a few too
dispirited to cry out, rose up into the sunny air, but Braddock
Washington heard it with unruffled composure. When its last echo had
died away he spoke again.
"Have you thought up a way out of your difficulty?"
From here and there among them a remark floated up.
"We decided to stay here for love!"
"Bring us up there and we'll find us a way!"
Braddock Washington waited until they were again quiet. Then he
"I've told you the situation. I don't want you here. I wish to
heaven I'd never seen you. Your own curiosity got you here, and any
time that you can think of a way out which protects me and my
interests I'll be glad to consider it. But so long as you confine
your efforts to digging tunnels—yes, I know about the new one you've
started—you won't get very far. This isn't as hard on you as you
make it out, with all your howling for the loved ones at home. If you
were the type who worried much about the loved ones at home, you'd
never have taken up aviation."
A tall man moved apart from the others, and held up his hand to
call his captor's attention to what he was about to say.
"Let me ask you a few questions!" he cried. "You pretend to be a
"How absurd. How could a man of
my position be fair-minded
toward you? You might as well speak of a Spaniard being
fair-minded toward a piece of steak."
At this harsh observation the faces of the two dozen steaks fell,
but the tall man continued:
"All right!" he cried. "We've argued this out before. You're not
a humanitarian and you're not fair-minded, but you're human—at least
you say you are—and you ought to be able to put yourself in our place
for long enough to think how—how—how——
"How what?" demanded Washington, coldly.
"Not to me."
"We've covered that. Cruelty doesn't exist where self-preservation
is involved. You've been soldiers; you know that. Try another."
"Well, then, how stupid." "There," admitted Washington, "I grant
you that. But try to think of an alternative. I've offered to have
all or any of you painlessly executed if you wish. I've offered to
have your wives, sweethearts, children, and mothers kidnapped and
brought out here. I'll enlarge your place down there and feed and
clothe you the rest of your lives. If there was some method of
producing permanent amnesia I'd have all of you operated on and
released immediately, somewhere outside of my preserves. But that's
as far as my ideas go."
"How about trusting us not to peach on you?" cried some one.
"You don't proffer that suggestion seriously," said Washington,
with an expression of scorn. "I did take out one man to teach my
daughter Italian. Last week he got away."
A wild yell of jubilation went up suddenly from two dozen throats
and a pandemonium of joy ensued. The prisoners clog-danced and
cheered and yodled and wrestled with one another in a sudden uprush of
animal spirits. They even ran up the glass sides of the bowl as far
as they could, and slid back to the bottom upon the natural cushions
of their bodies. The tall man started a song in which they all
"oh, we'll hang the kaiser
on a sour apple tree——"
Braddock Washington sat
in inscrutable silence until the song was over. "You see," he
remarked, when he could gain a modicum of attention. "I bear you no
ill-will. I like to see you enjoying yourselves. That's why I didn't
tell you the whole story at once. The man—what was his name?
Critchtichiello? —was shot by some of my agents in fourteen different
Not guessing that the places referred to were cities, the tumult
of rejoicing subsided immediately.
"Nevertheless," cried Washington with a touch of anger, "he tried
to run away. Do you expect me to take chances with any of you after
an experience like that?"
Again a series of ejaculations went up.
"Would your daughter like to learn Chinese?"
"Hey, I can speak Italian! My mother was a wop."
"Maybe she'd like t'learna speak N'Yawk!"
"If she's the little one with the big blue eyes I can teach her a
lot of things better than Italian."
"I know some Irish songs—and I could hammer brass once't.
Mr. Washington reached forward suddenly with his cane and pushed
the button in the grass so that the picture below went out instantly,
and there remained only that great dark mouth covered dismally with
the black teeth of the grating.
"Hey!" called a single voice from below, "you ain't goin' away
without givin' us your blessing?"
But Mr. Washington, followed by the two boys, was already
strolling on toward the ninth hole of the golf course, as though the
pit and its contents were no more than a hazard over which his facile
iron had triumphed with ease.
JULY UNDER the lee of the diamond mountain was a month of blanket
nights and of warm, glowing days. John and Kismine were in love. He
did not know that the little gold football (inscribed with the
legend Pro deo et patria et St. Midas) which he had given her
rested on a platinum chain next to her bosom. But it did. And she for
her part was not aware that a large sapphire which had dropped one day
from her simple coiffure was stowed away tenderly in John's jewel box.
Late one afternoon when the ruby and ermine music room was quiet,
they spent an hour there together. He held her hand and she gave him
such a look that he whispered her name aloud. She bent toward
"Did you say 'Kismine'?" she asked softly, "or——"
She had wanted to be sure. She thought she might have
Neither of them had ever kissed before, but in the course of an
hour it seemed to make little difference.
The afternoon drifted away. That night when a last breath of
music drifted down from the highest tower, they each lay awake,
happily dreaming over the separate minutes of the day. They had
decided to be married as soon as possible.
EVERY DAY Mr. Washington and the two young men went hunting or
fishing in the deep forests or played golf around the somnolent
course—games which John diplomatically allowed his host to win—or
swam in the mountain coolness of the lake. John found Mr. Washington
a somewhat exacting personality—utterly uninterested in any ideas or
opinions except his own. Mrs. Washington was aloof and reserved at
all times. She was apparently indifferent to her two daughters, and
entirely absorbed in her son Percy, with whom she held interminable
conversations in rapid Spanish at dinner.
Jasmine, the elder daughter, resembled Kismine in
appearance—except that she was somewhat bow-legged, and terminated
in large hands and feet—but was utterly unlike her in temperament.
Her favorite books had to do with poor girls who kept house for
widowed fathers. John learned from Kismine that Jasmine had never
recovered from the shock and disappointment caused her by the
termination of the World War, just as she was about to start for
Europe as a canteen expert. She had even pined away for a time, and
Braddock Washington had taken steps to promote a new war in the
Balkans—but she had seen a photograph of some wounded Serbian
soldiers and lost interest in the whole proceedings. But Percy and
Kismine seemed to have inherited the arrogant attitude in all its
harsh magnificence from their father. A chaste and consistent
selfishness ran like a pattern through their every idea.
John was enchanted by the wonders of the ch_teau and the valley.
Braddock Washington, so Percy told him, had caused to be kidnapped a
landscape gardener, an architect, a designer of state settings, and a
French decadent poet left over from the last century. He had put his
entire force of negroes at their disposal, guaranteed to supply them
with any materials that the world could offer, and left them to work
out some ideas of their own. But one by one they had shown their
uselessness. The decadent poet had at once begun bewailing his
separation from the boulevards in spring—he made some vague remarks
about spices, apes, and ivories, but said nothing that was of any
practical value. The stage designer on his part wanted to make the
whole valley a series of tricks and sensational effects—a state of
things that the Washingtons would soon have grown tired of. And as
for the architect and the landscape gardener, they thought only in
terms of convention. They must make this like this and that like
But they had, at least, solved the problem of what was to be done
with them—they all went mad early one morning after spending the
night in a single room trying to agree upon the location of a
fountain, and were now confined comfortably in an insane asylum at
"But," inquired John curiously, "who did plan all your wonderful
reception rooms and halls, and approaches and bathrooms——?"
"Well," answered Percy, "I blush to tell you, but it was a
moving-picture fella. He was the only man we found who was used to
playing with an unlimited amount of money, though he did tuck his
napkin in his collar and couldn't read or write."
As August drew to a close John began to regret that he must soon
go back to school. He and Kismine had decided to elope the following
"It would be nicer to be married here," Kismine confessed, "but of
course I could never get father's permission to marry you at all.
Next to that I'd rather elope. It's terrible for wealthy people to
be married in America at present—they always have to send out
bulletins to the press saying that they're going to be married in
remnants, when what they mean is just a peck of old second-hand pearls
and some used lace worn once by the Empress Eug_nie."
"I know," agreed John fervently. "When I was visiting the
Schnlitzer-Murphys, the eldest daughter, Gwendolyn, married a man
whose father owns half of West Virginia. She wrote home saying what
a tough struggle she was carrying on on his salary as a bank
clerk—and then she ended up by saying that 'Thank God, I have four
good maids anyhow, and that helps a little.'"
"It's absurd," commented Kismine. "Think of the millions and
millions of people in the world, laborers and all, who get along with
only two maids."
One afternoon late in August a chance remark of Kismine's changed
the face of the entire situation, and threw John into a state of
They were in their favorite grove, and between kisses John was
indulging in some romantic forebodings which he fancied added
poignancy to their relations.
"Sometimes I think we'll never marry," he said sadly.
"You're too wealthy, too magnificent. No one as rich as you are
can be like other girls. I should marry the daughter of some
well-to-do wholesale hardware man from Omaha or Sioux City, and be
content with her half-million."
"I knew the daughter of a wholesale hardware man once," remarked
Kismine. "I don't think you'd have been contented with her. She was
a friend of my sister's. She visited here."
"Oh, then you've had other guests?" exclaimed John in surprise.
Kismine seemed to regret her words.
"Oh, yes," she said hurriedly, "we've had a few."
"But aren't you—wasn't your father afraid they'd talk outside?"
"Oh, to some extent, to some extent," she answered. "Let's talk
about something pleasanter."
But John's curiosity was aroused.
"Something pleasanter!" he demanded. "What's unpleasant about
that? Weren't they nice girls?"
To his great surprise Kismine began to weep.
"Yes—th—that's the—the whole t-trouble. I grew qu-quite
attached to some of them. So did Jasmine, but she kept inv-viting
them anyway. I couldn't understand it."
A dark suspicion was born in John's heart.
"Do you mean that they
told, and your father had
"Worse than that," she muttered brokenly. "Father took no
chances—and Jasmine kept writing them to come, and they had such
a good time!"
She was overcome by a paroxysm of grief.
Stunned with the horror of this revelation, John sat there
open-mouthed, feeling the nerves of his body twitter like so many
sparrows perched upon his spinal column.
"Now, I've told you, and I shouldn't have," she said, calming
suddenly and drying her dark blue eyes.
"Do you mean to say that your father had them
before they left?"
"In August usually—or early in September. It's only natural for
us to get all the pleasure out of them that we can first."
"How abdominable! How—why, I must be going crazy! Did you really
"I did," interrupted Kismine, shrugging her shoulders. "We can't
very well imprison them like those aviators, where they'd be a
continual reproach to us every day. And it's always been made easier
for Jasmine and me because father had it done sooner than we expected.
In that way we avoided any farewell scene——"
"So you murdered them! Uh!" cried John.
"It was done very nicely. They were drugged while they were
asleep—and their families were always told that they died of scarlet
fever in Butte."
"But—I fail to understand why you kept on inviting them!"
"I didn't," burst out Kismine. "I never invited one. Jasmine did.
And they always had a very good time. She'd give them the nicest
presents toward the last. I shall probably have visitors too—I'll
harden up to it. We can't let such an inevitable thing as death stand
in the way of enjoying life while we have it. Think how lonesome it'd
be out here if we never had any one. Why, father and mother
have sacrificed some of their best friends just as we have."
"And so," cried John accusingly, "and so you were letting me make
love to you and pretending to return it, and talking about marriage,
all the time knowing perfectly well that I'd never get out of here
"No," she protested passionately. "Not any more. I did at first.
You were here. I couldn't help that, and I thought your last days
might as well be pleasant for both of us. But then I fell in love
with you, and—and I'm honestly sorry you're going to—going to be put
away—though I'd rather you'd be put away than ever kiss another
"Oh, you would, would you?" cried John ferociously.
"Much rather. Besides, I've always heard that a girl can have
more fun with a man whom she knows she can never marry. Oh, why did I
tell you? I've probably spoiled your whole good time now, and we were
really enjoying things when you didn't know it. I knew it would make
things sort of depressing for you."
"Oh, you did, did you?" John's voice trembled with anger. "I've
heard about enough of this. If you haven't any more pride and decency
than to have an affair with a fellow that you know isn't much better
than a corpse, I don't want to have any more to do with you!"
"You're not a corpse!" she protested in horror. "You're not a
corpse! I won't have you saying that I kissed a corpse!"
"I said nothing of the sort!"
"You did! You said I kissed a corpse!"
"I didn't ! "
Their voices had risen, but upon a sudden interruption they both
subsided into immediate silence. Footsteps were coming along the path
in their direction, and a moment later the rose bushes were parted
displaying Braddock Washington, whose intelligent eyes set in his
good-looking vacuous face were peering in at them.
"Who kissed a corpse?" he demanded in obvious disapproval.
"Nobody," answered Kismine quickly. "We were just joking."
"What are you two doing here, anyhow?" he demanded gruffly.
"Kismine, you ought to be—to be reading or playing golf with your
sister. Go read! Go play golf! Don't let me find you here when I come
Then he bowed at John and went up the path.
"See?" said Kismine crossly, when he was out of hearing. "You've
spoiled it all. We can never meet any more. He won't let me meet
you. He'd have you poisoned if he thought we were in love."
"We're not, any more!" cried John fiercely, "so he can set his
mind at rest upon that. Moreover, don't fool yourself that I'm going
to stay around here. Inside of six hours I'll be over those
mountains, if I have to gnaw a passage through them, and on my way
They had both got to their feet, and at this remark Kismine came
close and put her arm through his.
"I'm going, too."
"You must be crazy——"
"Of course I'm going," she interrupted impatiently.
"You most certainly are not. You——"
"Very well," she said quietly, "we'll catch up with father now and
talk it over with him."
Defeated, John mustered a sickly smile.
"Very well, dearest," he agreed, with pale and unconvincing
affection, "we'll go together."
His love for her returned and settled placidly on his heart. She
was his—she would go with him to share his dangers. He put his arms
about her and kissed her fervently. After all she loved him; she had
saved him, in fact.
Discussing the matter, they walked slowly back toward the ch_teau.
They decided that since Braddock Washington had seen them together
they had best depart the next night. Nevertheless, John's lips were
unusually dry at dinner, and he nervously emptied a great spoonful of
peacock soup into his left lung. He had to be carried into the
turquoise and sable card-room and pounded on the back by one of the
under-butlers, which Percy considered a great joke.
LONG AFTER midnight John's body gave a nervous jerk, and he sat
suddenly upright, staring into the veils of somnolence that draped the
room. Through the squares of blue darkness that were his open
windows, he had heard a faint far-away sound that died upon a bed of
wind before identifying itself on his memory, clouded with uneasy
dreams. But the sharp noise that had succeeded it was nearer, was
just outside the room—the click of a turned knob, a footstep, a
whisper, he could not tell; a hard lump gathered in the pit of his
stomach, and his whole body ached in the moment that he strained
agonizingly to hear. Then one of the veils seemed to dissolve, and he
saw a vague figure standing by the door, a figure only faintly limned
and blocked in upon the darkness, mingled so with the folds of the
drapery as to seem distorted, like a reflection seen in a dirty pane
With a sudden movement of fright or resolution John pressed the
button by his bedside, and the next moment he was sitting in the green
sunken bath of the adjoining room, waked into alertness by the shock
of the cold water which half filled it.
He sprang out, and, his wet pajamas scattering a heavy trickle of
water behind him, ran for the aquamarine door which he knew led out
onto the ivory landing of the second floor. The door opened
noiselessly. A single crimson lamp burning in a great dome above lit
the magnificent sweep of the carved stairways with a poignant beauty.
For a moment John hesitated, appalled by the silent splendor massed
about him, seeming to envelop in its gigantic folds and contours the
solitary drenched little figure shivering upon the ivory landing.
Then simultaneously two things happened. The door of his own
sitting-room swung open, precipitating three naked negroes into the
hall—and, as John swayed in wild terror toward the stairway, another
door slid back in the wall on the other side of the corridor, and John
saw Braddock Washington standing in the lighted lift, wearing a fur
coat and a pair of riding boots which reached to his knees and
displayed, above, the glow of his rose-colored pajamas.
On the instant the three negroes—John had never seen any of them
before, and it flashed through his mind that they must be the
professional executioners—paused in their movement toward John, and
turned expectantly to the man in the lift, who burst out with an
"Get in here! All three of you! Quick as hell!"
Then, within the instant, the three negroes darted into the cage,
the oblong of light was blotted out as the lift door slid shut, and
John was again alone in the hall. He slumped weakly down against an
It was apparent that something portentous had occurred, something
which, for the moment at least, had postponed his own petty disaster.
What was it? Had the negroes risen in revolt? Had the aviators forced
aside the iron bars of the grating? Or had the men of Fish stumbled
blindly through the hills and gazed with bleak, joyless eyes upon the
gaudy valley? John did not know. He heard a faint whir of air as the
lift whizzed up again, and then, a moment later, as it descended. It
was probable that Percy was hurrying to his father's assistance, and
it occurred to John that this was his opportunity to join Kismine and
plan an immediate escape. He waited until the lift had been silent
for several minutes; shivering a little with the night cool that
whipped in through his wet pajamas, he returned to his room and
dressed himself quickly. Then he mounted a long flight of stairs and
turned down the corridor carpeted with Russian sable which led to
The door of her sitting-room was open and the lamps were lighted.
Kismine, in an angora kimono, stood near the window of the room in a
listening attitude, and as John entered noiselessly she turned toward
"Oh, it's you!" she whispered, crossing the room to him. "Did you
"I heard your father's slaves in my——"
"No," she interrupted excitedly. "Aeroplanes!"
"Aeroplanes? Perhaps that was the sound that woke me."
"There're at least a dozen. I saw one a few moments ago dead
against the moon. The guard back by the cliff fired his rifle and
that's what roused father. We're going to open on them right away."
"Are they here on purpose?"
"Yes—it's that Italian who got away——"
Simultaneously with her last word, a succession of sharp cracks
tumbled in through the open window. Kismine uttered a little cry,
took a penny with fumbling fingers from a box on her dresser, and ran
to one of the electric lights. In an instant the entire ch_teau was
in darkness—she had blown out the fuse.
"Come on!" she cried to him. "We'll go up to the roof garden, and
watch it from there!"
Drawing a cape about her, she took his hand, and they found their
way out the door. It was only a step to the tower lift, and as she
pressed the button that shot them upward he put his arms around her in
the darkness and kissed her mouth. Romance had come to John Unger at
last. A minute later they had stepped out upon the star-white
platform. Above, under the misty moon, sliding in and out of the
patches of cloud that eddied below it, floated a dozen dark-winged
bodies in a constant circling course. From here and there in the
valley flashes of fire leaped toward them, followed by sharp
detonations. Kismine clapped her hands with pleasure, which, a moment
later, turned to dismay as the aeroplanes at some prearranged signal,
began to release their bombs and the whole of the valley became a
panorama of deep reverberate sound and lurid light.
Before long the aim of the attackers became concentrated upon the
points where the anti-aircraft guns were situated, and one of them was
almost immediately reduced to a giant cinder to lie smouldering in a
park of rose bushes.
"Kismine," begged John, "you'll be glad when I tell you that this
attack came on the eve of my murder. If I hadn't heard that guard
shoot off his gun back by the pass I should now be stone dead——"
"I can't hear you!" cried Kismine, intent on the scene before her.
"You'll have to talk louder!"
"I simply said, " shouted John, "that we'd better get out before
they begin to shell the ch_teau!"
Suddenly the whole portico of the negro quarters cracked asunder,
a geyser of flame shot up from under the colonnades, and great
fragments of jagged marble were hurled as far as the borders of the
"There go fifty thousand dollars' worth of slaves," cried Kismine,
"at prewar prices. So few Americans have any respect for property."
John renewed his efforts to compel her to leave. The aim of the
aeroplanes was becoming more precise minute by minute, and only two of
the antiaircraft guns were still retaliating. It was obvious that the
garrison, encircled with fire, could not hold out much longer.
"Come on!" cried John, pulling Kismine's arm, "we've got to go.
Do you realize that those aviators will kill you without question if
they find you ?"
She consented reluctantly.
"We'll have to wake Jasmine!" she said, as they hurried toward the
lift. Then she added in a sort of childish delight: "We'll be poor,
won't we? Like people in books. And I'll be an orphan and utterly
free. Free and poor! What fun!" She stopped and raised her lips to
him in a delighted kiss.
"It's impossible to be both together," said John grimly. "People
have found that out. And I should choose to be free as preferable of
the two. As an extra caution you'd better dump the contents of your
jewel box into your pockets."
Ten minutes later the two girls met John in the dark corridor and
they descended to the main floor of the ch_teau. Passing for the last
time through the magnificence of the splendid halls, they stood for a
moment out on the terrace, watching the burning negro quarters and the
flaming embers of two planes which had fallen on the other side of the
lake. A solitary gun was still keeping up a sturdy popping, and the
attackers seemed timorous about descending lower, but sent their
thunderous fireworks in a circle around it, until any chance shot
might annihilate its Ethiopian crew.
John and the two sisters passed down the marble steps, turned
sharply to the left, and began to ascend a narrow path that wound like
a garter about the diamond mountain. Kismine knew a heavily wooded
spot half-way up where they could lie concealed and yet be able to
observe the wild night in the valley—finally to make an escape, when
it should be necessary, along a secret path laid in a rocky gully.
IT WAS THREE O'CLOCK when they attained their destination. The
obliging and phlegmatic Jasmine fell off to sleep immediately,
leaning against the trunk of a large tree, while John and Kismine
sat, his arm around her, and watched the desperate ebb and flow of
the dying battle among the ruins of a vista that had been a garden
spot that morning. Shortly after four o'clock the last remaining gun
gave out a clanging sound and went out of action in a swift tongue of
red smoke. Though the moon was down, they saw that the flying bodies
were circling closer to the earth. When the planes had made certain
that the beleaguered possessed no further resources, they would land
and the dark and glittering reign of the Washingtons would be over.
With the cessation of the firing the valley grew quiet. The
embers of the two aeroplanes glowed like the eyes of some monster
crouching in the grass. The ch_teau stood dark and silent, beautiful
without light as it had been beautiful in the sun, while the woody
rattles of Nemesis filled the air above with a growing and receding
complaint. Then John perceived that Kismine, like her sister, had
fallen sound asleep.
It was long after four when he became aware of footsteps along the
path they had lately followed, and he waited in breathless silence
until the persons to whom they belonged had passed the vantage-point
he occupied. There was a faint stir in the air now that was not of
human origin, and the dew was cold; he knew that the dawn would break
soon. John waited until the steps had gone a safe distance up the
mountain and were inaudible. Then he followed. About half-way to the
steep summit the trees fell away and a hard saddle of rock spread
itself over the diamond beneath. Just before he reached this point he
slowed down his pace, warned by an animal sense that there was life
just ahead of him. Coming to a high boulder, he lifted his head
gradually above its edge. His curiosity was rewarded; this is what
Braddock Washington was standing there motionless, silhouetted
against the gray sky without sound or sign of life. As the dawn came
up out of the east, lending a cold green color to the earth, it
brought the solitary figure into insignificant contrast with the new
While John watched, his host remained for a few moments absorbed
in some inscrutable contemplation; then he signalled to the two
negroes who crouched at his feet to lift the burden which lay between
them. As they struggled upright, the first yellow beam of the sun
struck through the innumerable prisms of an immense and exquisitely
chiselled diamond—and a white radiance was kindled that glowed upon
the air like a fragment of the morning star. The bearers staggered
beneath its weight for a moment—then their rippling muscles caught
and hardened under the wet shine of the skins and the three figures
were again motionless in their defiant impotency before the heavens.
After a while the white man lifted his head and slowly raised his
arms in a gesture of attention, as one who would call a great crowd to
hear—but there was no crowd, only the vast silence of the mountain
and the sky, broken by faint bird voices down among the trees. The
figure on the saddle of rock began to speak ponderously and with an
"You out there—" he cried in a trembling voice. "You— there—!"
He paused, his arms still uplifted, his head held attentively as
though he were expecting an answer. John strained his eyes to see
whether there might be men coming down the mountain, but the mountain
was bare of human life. There was only sky and a mocking flute of
wind along the tree-tops. Could Washington be praying? For a moment
John wondered. Then the illusion passed—there was something in the
man's whole attitude antithetical to prayer.
"Oh, you above there!"
The voice was become strong and confident. This was no forlorn
supplication. If anything, there was in it a quality of monstrous
Words, too quickly uttered to be understood, flowing one into the
other. . . . John listened breathlessly, catching a phrase here and
there, while the voice broke off, resumed, broke off again—now strong
and argumentative, now colored with a slow, puzzled impatience. Then
a conviction commenced to dawn on the single listener, and as
realization crept over him a spray of quick blood rushed through his
arteries. Braddock Washington was offering a bribe to God!
That was it—there was no doubt. The diamond in the arms of his
slaves was some advance sample, a promise of more to follow.
That, John perceived after a time, was the thread running through
his sentences. Prometheus Enriched was calling to witness forgotten
sacrifices, forgotten rituals, prayers obsolete before the birth of
Christ. For a while his discourse took the form of reminding God of
this gift or that which Divinity had deigned to accept from men—great
churches if he would rescue cities from the plague, gifts of myrrh and
gold, of human lives and beautiful women and captive armies, of
children and queens, of beasts of the forest and field, sheep and
goats, harvests and cities, whole conquered lands that had been
offered up in lust or blood for His appeasal, buying a meed's worth of
alleviation from the Divine wrath—and now he, Braddock Washington,
Emperor of Diamonds, king and priest of the age of gold, arbiter of
splendor and luxury, would offer up a treasure such as princes before
him had never dreamed of, offer it up not in suppliance, but in
He would give to God, he continued, getting down to
specifications, the greatest diamond in the world. This diamond
would be cut with many more thousand facets than there were leaves on
a tree, and yet the whole diamond would be shaped with the perfection
of a stone no bigger than a fly. Many men would work upon it for many
years. It would be set in a great dome of beaten gold, wonderfully
carved and equipped with gates of opal and crusted sapphire. In the
middle would be hollowed out a chapel presided over by an altar of
iridescent, decomposing, ever-changing radium which would burn out the
eyes of any worshipper who lifted up his head from prayer—and on this
altar there would be slain for the amusement of the Divine Benefactor
any victim He should choose, even though it should be the greatest
and most powerful man alive.
In return he asked only a simple thing, a thing that for God would
be absurdly easy—only that matters should be as they were yesterday
at this hour and that they should so remain. So very simple! Let but
the heavens open, swallowing these men and their aeroplanes—and then
close again. Let him have his slaves once more, restored to life and
There was no one else with whom he had ever needed to treat or
He doubted only whether he had made his bribe big enough. God had
His price, of course. God was made in man's image, so it had been
said: He must have His price. And the price would be rare—no
cathedral whose building consumed many years, no pyramid constructed
by ten thousand workmen, would be like this cathedral, this pyramid.
He paused here. That was his proposition. Everything would be up
to specifications and there was nothing vulgar in his assertion that
it would be cheap at the price. He implied that Providence could take
it or leave it.
As he approached the end his sentences became broken, became short
and uncertain, and his body seemed tense, seemed strained to catch the
slightest pressure or whisper of life in the spaces around him. His
hair had turned gradually white as he talked, and now he lifted his
head high to the heavens like a prophet of old—magnificently mad.
Then, as John stared in giddy fascination, it seemed to him that a
curious phenomenon took place somewhere around him. It was as though
the sky had darkened for an instant, as though there had been a sudden
murmur in a gust of wind, a sound of far-away trumpets, a sighing like
the rustle of a great silken robe—for a time the whole of nature
round about partook of this darkness; the birds' song ceased; the
trees were still, and far over the mountain there was a mutter of
dull, menacing thunder.
That was all. The wind died along the tall grasses of the valley.
The dawn and the day resumed their place in a time, and the risen sun
sent hot waves of yellow mist that made its path bright before it.
The leaves laughed in the sun, and their laughter shook the trees
until each bough was like a girl's school in fairyland. God had
refused to accept the bribe.
For another moment John watched the triumph of the day. Then,
turning he saw a flutter of brown down by the lake, then another
flutter, then another, like the dance of golden angels alighting from
the clouds. The aeroplanes had come to earth.
John slid off the boulder and ran down the side of the mountain to
the clump of trees, where the two girls were awake and waiting for
him. Kismine sprang to her feet, the jewels in her pockets jingling,
a question on her parted lips, but instinct told John that there was
no time for words. They must get off the mountain without losing a
moment. He seized a hand of each and in silence they threaded the
tree-trunks, washed with light now and with the rising mist. Behind
them from the valley came no sound at all, except the complaint of the
peacocks far away and the pleasant undertone of morning.
When they had gone about half a mile, they avoided the park land
and entered a narrow path that led over the next rise of ground. At
the highest point of this they paused and turned around. Their eyes
rested upon the mountainside they had just left—oppressed by some
dark sense of tragic impendency.
Clear against the sky a broken, white-haired man was slowly
descending the steep slope, followed by two gigantic and emotionless
negroes, who carried a burden between them which still flashed and
glittered in the sun. Half-way down two other figures joined
them—John could see that they were Mrs. Washington and her son, upon
whose arm she leaned. The aviators had clambered from their machines
to the sweeping lawn in front of the ch_teau, and with rifles in hand
were starting up the diamond mountain in skirmishing formation.
But the little group of five which had formed farther up and was
engrossing all the watchers' attention had stopped upon a ledge of
rock. The negroes stooped and pulled up what appeared to be a
trap-door in the side of the mountain. Into this they all
disappeared, the white-haired man first, then his wife and son,
finally the two negroes, the glittering tips of whose jeweled
head-dresses caught the sun for a moment before the trap-door
descended and engulfed them all.
Kismine clutched John's arm.
"Oh," she cried wildly, "where are they going? What are they going
"It must be some underground way of escape "
A little scream from the two girls interrupted his sentence.
"Don't you see?" sobbed Kismine hysterically. "The mountain is
Even as she spoke John put up his hands to shield his sight.
Before their eyes the whole surface of the mountain had changed
suddenly to a dazzling burning yellow, which showed up through the
jacket of turf as light shows through a human hand. For a moment the
intolerable glow continued, and then like an extinguished filament it
disappeared, revealing a black waste from which blue smoke arose
slowly, carrying off with it what remained of vegetation and of human
flesh. Of the aviators there was left neither blood, nor bone—they
were consumed as completely as the five souls who had gone inside.
Simultaneously, and with an immense concussion, the ch_teau
literally threw itself into the air, bursting into flaming fragments
as it rose, and then tumbling back upon itself in a smoking pile that
lay projecting half into the water of the lake. There was no
fire—what smoke there was drifted off mingling with the sunshine, and
for a few minutes longer a powdery dust of marble drifted from the
great featureless pile that had once been the house of jewels. There
was no more sound and the three people were alone in the valley.
AT SUNSET John and his two companions reached the high cliff which
had marked the boundaries of the Washingtons' dominion, and looking
back found the valley tranquil and lovely in the dusk. They sat down
to finish the food which Jasmine had brought with her in a basket.
"There!" she said, as she spread the table-cloth and put the
sandwiches in a neat pile upon it. "Don't they look tempting? I
always think that food tastes better outdoors."
"With that remark," remarked Kismine, "Jasmine enters the middle
"Now," said John eagerly, "turn out your pocket and let's see what
jewels you brought along. If you made a good selection we three ought
to live comfortably all the rest of our lives."
Obediently Kismine put her hand in her pocket and tossed two
handfuls of glittering stones before him.
"Not so bad," cried John, enthusiastically. "They aren't very
big, but— Hello!" His expression changed as he held one of them up to
the declining sun. "Why, these aren't diamonds! There's something the
"By golly!" exclaimed Kismine, with a startled look. "What an
idiot I am!"
"Why, these are rhinestones!" cried John.
"I know." She broke into a laugh. "I opened the wrong drawer.
They belonged on the dress of a girl who visited Jasmine. I got her
to give them to me in exchange for diamonds. I'd never seen anything
but precious stones before."
"And this is what you brought?"
"I'm afraid so." She fingered the brilliants wistfully. "I think
I like these better. I'm a little tired of diamonds."
"Very well," said John gloomily. "We'll have to live in Hades.
And you will grow old telling incredulous women that you got the
wrong drawer. Unfortunately your father's bank-books were consumed
"Well, what's the matter with Hades?"
"If I come home with a wife at my age my father is just as liable
as not to cut me off with a hot coal, as they say down there."
Jasmine spoke up.
"I love washing," she said quietly. "I have always washed my own
handkerchiefs. I'll take in laundry and support you both."
"Do they have washwomen in Hades?" asked Kismine innocently.
"Of course," answered John. "It's just like anywhere else."
"I thought—perhaps it was too hot to wear any clothes."
"Just try it!" he suggested. "They'll run you out before you're
"Will father be there?" she asked.
John turned to her in astonishment.
"Your father is dead," he replied somberly. "Why should he go to
Hades? You have it confused with another place that was abolished
After supper they folded up the table-cloth and spread their
blankets for the night.
"What a dream it was," Kismine sighed, gazing up at the stars.
"How strange it seems to be here with one dress and a penniless
"Under the stars," she repeated. "I never noticed the stars
before. I always thought of them as great big diamonds that belonged
to some one. Now they frighten me. They make me feel that it was all
a dream, all my youth."
"It was a dream," said John quietly. "Everybody's youth is
a dream, a form of chemical madness."
"How pleasant then to be insane!"
"So I'm told," said John gloomily. "I don't know any longer. At
any rate, let us love for a while, for a year or so, you and me.
That's a form of divine drunkenness that we can all try. There are
only diamonds in the whole world, diamonds and perhaps the shabby gift
of disillusion. Well, I have that last and I will make the usual
nothing of it." He shivered. "Turn up your coat collar, little girl,
the night's full of chill and you'll get pneumonia. His was a great
sin who first invented consciousness. Let us lose it for a few
So wrapping himself in his blanket he fell off to sleep.