- “The Criminal”
WHEN I SAW in a corner of my morning paper that my friend, Jimmie Loder, was about to marry, I cursed my luck, because I should have to give him a wedding present. One by one my acquaintances enter upon the state called blessed, and levy upon me the unwelcome toll; nor serves it to form amicable relations with the elderly, for no one nowadays is so antique as to be quite safe; and my small income is yearly diminished by the gifts which are thought necessary to gild the pill in matrimonial felicity. But, making the best of a bad job, I went that evening to offer in person my congratulations. Jimmie Loder was devising to dine with the object of his affections, and I admired the care with which this man, ordinarily so little vain, attended to his toilette; he combed his hair three times before he was satisfied with the parting, and took an immense deal of trouble with his moustache. One thing had always somewhat mystified me in my friend: though he was careless with his dress, and would wear quite happily an old coat year after year, he had the most astonishing collection of jewellery that I had ever seen; and no fashion in stones was ever devised by the Bond-street tradesmen but he appeared forthwith in a complete set. Jimmie Loder was a barrister, and his practice, though not bad considering the hard times, certainly did not justify this extravagance; I could never imagine why he spent yearly a small fortune in precious stones to which, after all, he appeared extremely indifferent. Now he unlocked a safe which was in his bedroom to take out the links, studs, and buttons which he proposed to wear that evening: and pulling out a drawer my eyes fell upon the whole collection.
“By Jove!” I cried. “You’ve got enough stuff there to stock a jeweller’s shop!”
There were about a dozen complete sets for the shirt and waistcoat in every costly stone—sapphires, emeralds, rubies; there were diamond pins, pearl pins; there were rings of every variety, precious intaglios, [End Page 31] Greek gems whose value to my inexperienced eye seemed fabulous, Renaissance jewels of the greatest beauty. I had seen Jimmie Loder wear a good many of these things, but till now had not the vaguest idea that he had so much. I could not venture to say what was the complete worth of all this; but realised it would certainly have brought a nice little income. The absurd and incongruous part of it was that Jimmie Loder was not at all the sort of man whom you would expect to have a passion for jewellery: when he was not working like a dog in Lincoln’s Inn (he was on the Chancery side) he spent his time in shooting, hunting, and golfing; and it would be safe to bet that he would sooner do a record drive in the Bar tournament than own the loveliest opal in Christendom. He looked at these priceless gewgaws with quite obvious distaste, chose for that evening a set of pearls, links, and studs for his shirt, buttons for his waistcoat, and proceeded to put them in.
“Did you ever see a sane man with such a pile of jewellery?” he asked, with a grim smile.
“And the worst of it is that I’ve got it all under false pretences. It’s not mine, really, at all. When I look at it I feel utterly dishonest.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, you don’t suppose I’m such an ass as to buy this rubbish. For one thing I’ve got the whole lot in the last eight years, and the value of it is a good deal more than all the money I’ve earned since I was called to the Bar. The entire collection has been given me by someone I don’t know, and the worst of it is it’s not meant for me at all, but for somebody else.”
“I wish to goodness you’d explain,” I answered. “It sounds very mysterious.”