Chapter 11 | Mr Poynter Polishes His Hat | The Bag of Diamonds

James Poynter rang four times at Dr Chartley’s door-bell, and rapped as many at the great grinning knocker tied in flannel, before he heard the chain put up and the lock shot back, to display the smudgy unwholesome countenance of Elizabeth Gundry, who always blinked like a night-bird when forced to leave her dark kitchen.

“There, hang it, woman, open the door!” cried Poynter. “Do you take me for a thief?”

“No, sir, I didn’t know it was you; but I am so scared, sir, and they ain’t found Bob yet.”

Elizabeth did not hear what James Poynter said about Bob, for she closed the door, took down the chain, opened slowly and grudgingly, and the visitor entered.

“How’s the doctor?”

“Awful, please, sir, just; he’s there with his eyes shut, as if he was going to die, and Miss Rich and Miss Janet taking it in turns to sit up night and day.”

“Ask Miss Chartley to come down and see me.”

“Which, please, sir, she said as she couldn’t see nobody now.”

“You go and do as I tell you.”

“Which it ain’t my place, sir, to answer the front-door-bell at all. Poor Bob!”

She ended with a sob, and put her apron to her eyes.

“I say,” said Poynter, giving her apron a twitch and dragging it down, “look here.”

“Well, I’m sure!” began Elizabeth indignantly.

“Look here; have your wages been paid?”

“Lor’, no, sir, not for ever so long,” said Elizabeth, with an air of surprise at the absurdity of the question.

“Then look here, Elizabeth: you know what I come here for, don’t you?”

“I think I can guess, sir,” said the woman, suddenly becoming interested and smiling weakly.

“Of course you can. You’re a sharp ’un, that’s what you are. So look here: the day I’m married I’ll pay your wages, and I’ll give you a fi’-pun note to buy yourself a new bonnet and gown. Now go up and say I’m waiting to see Miss Richmond on particular business.”

Elizabeth’s eyes opened widely, and there was a peculiar look of satisfaction therein, as she closed the door, led the way into the dining-room, and then, after giving the visitor a nod of intelligence, she left him to go up-stairs and deliver her message.

“Pah! how the place smells!” muttered Poynter. “Any one would think that chap was here now. A nasty, damp, fusty hole!”

He listened eagerly, but the step he hoped to hear was not coming, and he began to walk up and down, twisting his silk handkerchief round, and polishing his glossy hat the while.

“I’m screwed up now,” he muttered. “I’m not afraid of her. She can’t say no, but if she does, she’s got to learn something. Perhaps she don’t know what putting on the screw means, and I shall have to teach her. All for her good. Hah!”

There was no mistake now; a step was descending the stairs, and James Poynter once more looked round for a mirror for a final glance; but there was nothing of the kind on the blank walls, and he had to face Richmond unfurbished.

She entered the room, looking quite calm, but very pale, and the blue rings about her eyes told of her sufferings and anxiety. There was a slight heightening of her colour, though, for a few moments, as the visitor advanced with extended hand, in which she placed hers for a few moments before motioning him to a seat.

“How’s the doctor?” he said huskily, and then coughed to clear his throat.

“Very, very ill, Mr Poynter,” was the reply. “I am sorry, but I must ask you to please see Doctor Maurice, who has promised to attend any of my father’s patients if they called.”

“Oh! bother Doctor Maurice! I’m better now. Quite well.”

James Poynter had partaken of the greater portion of a bottle of champagne before he came, so as to screw himself up, as he termed it; and there was plenty of decision of a rude and vulgar type as he spoke.

“I beg your pardon; I thought you had come to consult my father. You have come to see how he was?”

“No, I didn’t? You know what I’ve come for.”

Richmond did know, and perfectly well; but as she scorned to make use of farther subterfuge, she remained silent.

“I’m a plain fellow, Miss Rich, and I know what’s what,” he said, “Hendon and I’ve had lots of chats together about money matters, and you want money now.”

“Mr Poynter!”

“Now, now, now! sit down, and don’t get in a wax, my dear, with a man who has come as a friend. I’m well enough off now, but I know the time when a half-crown seemed riches, and if a friend had come to me, I’d ha’ said ‘Bless yer!’”

“If you have come as a friend of my brother, Mr Poynter, I am grateful.”

“Now, don’t put me on one side like that, Miss Rich—don’t. I have come as a friend—the best of friends. I know what things are, and that you’re pushed for money.”

“Mr Poynter!” indignantly.

“Yes, I know what you are going to say. ’Tain’t put delicate. Can’t help that. I’m a City man of business; but if it ain’t put delicately it’s put honest. We don’t put things delicately in the City.”

“I have no doubt of your intentions, Mr Poynter, and I am grateful.”

“Thank you, and that’s right. Now, don’t kick at what I’m going to say, and let it hurt your pride, because it is only between you and your best friend—the man as loves you. There, I came to say that, and I’m glad it’s out.”

“Mr Poynter,” said Rich hastily, “I am worn out. I am ill. I have that terrible trouble in the house. It is not the time to speak to me like this.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, my dear; for when should your best friend come if it isn’t when you’re sick, and so pushed for money that you don’t know where to turn?”

“Oh, the shame of it!” moaned Rich to herself, as her eyes flashed with mortification, while Poynter went on polishing his hat.

“You see I know all about it, and I want to show you that I’m no fine-weather friend.”

“Mr Poynter I have told you that I am ill; will you please to bring this visit to an end? I—I cannot bear it.”

“Yes, you can,” he said, in what was meant to be a soothing tone; “let’s have it over at once, and have done with it. I won’t hurry you. I only want to feel that it will be some day before long; and till then here’s my hand, and it don’t come to you empty. Say what’s troubling you, and what you want to pay, and there’s my cheque for it. I don’t care how much it is.”

“Mr Poynter,” cried Rich, “you force me to speak out. I cannot take your help, and what you wish is impossible.”

“Oh, no, it isn’t!” he said, smiling, and leaving his handkerchief hanging on his hat as he tried to take her hand, which she withdrew; “I saw the doctor the other day, before this upset. We had a long chat over it, and he was willing.”

“What! my father willing?”

“To give his consent? Yes.”

“It is impossible!” cried Rich.

“Oh, no, it isn’t, and what’s more, Hendon and I have often chatted this over together, and he’s willing, too. Now, I say, what is the use of making a fuss over it? There, we understand one another, and I want to help you at once.”

“Mr Poynter,” cried Rich, “I now calmly and firmly tell you that what you wish can never take place. Will you allow me to pass?”

“No,” said Poynter, flushing angrily, “I won’t. Now, don’t put me in a temper over this by being foolish. What’s the good of it? You know it’s for the best, and that as my wife you can help the old man, and get your brother on. See what a practise you could buy Hendon by and by.”

“Mr Poynter, I have already told you, I can say no more.”

“Don’t say any more, then,” he cried, barring her way of exit, as he gave his hat a final polish, and pocketed his handkerchief. “I respect you—no, I love you all the more for holding out; but there’s been enough of it now, so let’s talk sensibly. Come, I say. Why, after this upset some men would have fought shy of the place, even if you’d had a fortune. I don’t: I come to you quite humble, and say what shall I do for you first?”

Rich stood before him pale, and with her eyes flashing in a way that penetrated even the thick hide of his vanity, and was unmistakable.

“Look here,” he said angrily, “don’t go on like that. It makes a fellow feel put out.”

Richmond once more essayed to leave the room, but Poynter stayed her.

“Look here,” he said, “I’m a City man, I am. I began life with nothing, but I said to myself I’d make my fortune, and I’ve made it. While other fellows were fooling about, I worked till I could afford to do as they did, and then, perhaps, I had my turn. Then I saw you, and when I had seen you I said to myself that’s the woman for my wife.”

“Mr Poynter!”

“Yes, and some day it shall be Mrs Poynter. I said it should, and so it shall!”

“Mr Poynter, will you leave this house?”

“No, I won’t,” he replied bitterly, “not till you’ve thrown all this nonsense aside, and made friends. What a temper! Now, look here, Rich, I’ve been afraid of you. I’ve come here to see the doctor, and I’ve shivered when I’ve seen you. I’ve wanted to speak to you, but my tongue has seemed to stick to the roof of my mouth; but that’s all over now, and we’re going to understand one another before I go.”

“Sir, this is insolence!”

“Insolence!” he said, with the champagne effervescing as it were, in his veins. “No, it’s love.”

Richmond rang the bell.

“Bah!” he said, “what of that? When the girl comes—if she does—I shall tell her to go, for I mean to be master here now.”


“No, not a coward now,” he replied, laughing. “Rich, do you know what I can do if I like? I can come down on brother Hendon for all he owes me, and how would it be then?”

Richmond winced, and the flush in her cheeks paled away, while Poynter saw it, and went on:

“What should you say if I was to act like a business man would, and come down on your father!”

“What? My father! He does not owe you money?”

“Doesn’t he!” said Poynter, with a mocking laugh. “You see you don’t know everything, my dear. Come, what’s it going to be—peace or war?”

“War!” said Richmond firmly. “My father cannot owe you money, and as to my brother, he would sooner die than see his sister sold as a slave to pay his debts.”

“Would he?” snarled Poynter. “Why he’s as weak as water; I can turn him around my thumb. You tried to keep him away. He wouldn’t own it; but I know. He came, though, all the same, when I asked him; and he will come, too, as often as I like, and he’ll help me to make you— Bah! nonsense! Come, don’t let’s talk like this: you’re out of sorts, and no wonder, and I’ve come at a bad time. To-morrow you’ll be cool, and you’ll put that little hand in mine, and say, ‘James Poynter, you’ve acted like a man and my best friend, and I won’t say no.’”

He tried to take her hand, but she shrank from him.

“Sir, I beg that you will not come here again,” she said, drawing herself up. “I am not blind to your position with my brother, but—”

“Your brother’s a weak-minded young fool!” cried Poynter, who had now thoroughly become roused, so withering was the contempt written in Rich’s eyes; “and—”

He stopped short, for in the heat of the encounter neither had heard the latch-key in the front-door, nor the opening of that of the room, to admit Hendon Chartley, who stood still for a few moments, and then strode to his sister’s side and put his arm round her.

“Yes,” he said hoarsely, “I have been a weak young fool, James Poynter, to let you play with me as you pleased; but please God, with my sister’s help, I’m going to be strong now, and if you don’t leave this house I’ll kick you out.”

“You kick me out!” snarled Poynter, snatching his handkerchief from his pocket and polishing his hat savagely; “not you! So it’s going to be war, is it? Why, if I liked— There, you needn’t threaten. I’m not going to quarrel with you, my lad, because we’re going to be brothers.”

“Brothers!” cried Hendon, in tones of contempt.

“Yes, my lad, brothers. I’ve gone the right way to work, and you know it, too. There, we’re all peppery now. Rich, my dear, you know what I’ve said. I’m not angry. It was only a flash, and you won’t make me any the worse for speaking out like a man. Next time I come we shall be better friends.”

He gave his hat a final polish, flourished his handkerchief, and left the room.

“Hendon, Hendon, what have you done?” cried Richmond, as soon as they were alone. “Had we not trouble enough without this?”

“The cad!” cried Hendon angrily.

“And after what had passed you went to him again!”

“How could I help it?” said the young man, with a groan. “I owe him money, and it’s like a chain about my neck. He tugs it, and I’m obliged to go.”

“And he hinted that our poor father was in his debt.”

“The governor? Oh, Rich!”

Richmond said nothing, but returned to her watching by her father’s pillow, asking herself whether the chain was being fitted to her own limbs, and whether, to save those she loved, she was to become this man’s slave.