THE DIAMOND PICKERS
AN UNFAMILIAR name showed black and distinct on the card that Helen Dupont held in her hand.
HUGH BRAILSFORD “Do I know the gentleman, Morris?” she asked puckering her brows. “I don’t think so, miss,” answered the maid, “w'ich is by no means ’is fault, miss -’e ’avin’ been 'ere h-every day for a week, w’ile you was away. I should say, miss, that ’e’s a much worrited young man.” Helen Dupont sighed. She had hardly been in the house an hour. The long trip from Arizona and the strain caused by her work at the Manzanita mine had exhausted her. At the moment she felt that the least tempting proposition in all the world was another case. But Morris’ assertion that “ ’e was a much worrited young man” touched her in a weak spot. Removing people’s worries had become a habit too firmly fixed to be suddenly broken. “Show him into the laboratory,” said Helen, “and even if it is a case, I don’t have to take it.” Brailsford bore out the accuracy of Morris’ observation. Seldom had Helen seen a more tormented expression on anyone’s face—an expression in which grief had no part, she was quick to recognize, but one from which he could not keep desperation, exasperation, bafflement. He introduced himself and stated his mission without preamble. “I am a member,” he said, “ of the Jewellers’ Protective Association which, as you doubtless know, is an organization combining detective service and insurance for all the leading jewellers of the country.” Helen made a little grimace and interrupted him. “Robberies?” she asked.
“Exactly. Half a dozen of them, and we have been unable to make a single capture, recovery, or obtain a single clue. You can understand how serious a thing this is for us, not only because of the financial loss but the loss of confidence among our clientèle.” Helen nodded. “Are the robberies recent?” “They extend over a period of three years and over a territory stretching frcm here to Vancouver. And before you remind me, Miss Dupont, that handling the ordinary case is quite out of your line, let me state that these robberies are by no means ordinary—there is something—er— queer about them.” He leaned forward and spoke with peculiar emphasis, “Don't you think it queer that a stone should disappear right under the eye of the salesman— that it should be just spirited away?” “They always seem to be just spirited away,” the girl told him. “That is the business of the first-class ‘picker,’ who usually palms them.” O RAILSFORD shook his head. “These stones were not •*-> palmed,” he said with decision. “But don’t take my word for it. Will you not come to our office and meet the jewellers who are here to discuss the situation? They have waited day by day for your return to the city. What about three this afternoon?” Helen was not enthusiastic. She was too tired; and yet her curiosity and interest were aroused. How could a diamond disappear under the very eye of a salesman, unless some clever ‘picker’ palmed it? Could it sink into the counter as a drop of water sinks into a bit of blotting
paper, or could it disappear as a sugar crystal dissolves in a cup of tea? Preposterous! One mightexpect anything of acids or of gases, but diamonds—
must get some sleep, now,” she said abruptly, “and mind—I promise nothing, but if you like, I will come to your office about four.” At headquarters of the Jewellers’ Protective Association, beside Latimer, the president, and Brailsford, several solemn-faced men were assembled. There was a raucous scraping of chairs as Helen entered and every eye was fixed upon her with an appeal so eager that under less serious conditions it would have been funny. It was as though she was expected to produce the stolen diamonds, or the criminals, magician-wise, out of her sleeve. Latimer introduced her with a few well-chosen and flattering words, and then plunged right into the business at hand. “As the oldest and, perhaps, the heaviest loser, I will ask. Mr. Markensen, of Winnipeg, to make his report first,” he said. Carl Markensen’s face proclaimed him a tradesman. It also proclaimed him the type of man who is as hard in his business dealings as the diamonds he sold. He dealt in gems rather than in hides, timber or drugs, not particularly because he loved them, but because he saw in them a more rapid attainment of wealth—his desired goal. But few men could boast of having got the better of Car) Markensen. “I was robbed,” he began, in a tone Helen described a» ‘acetic,’ “in November, 1917, by a girl who came to the shop looking for a yellow diamond. She had a pendant design with her, and also some small white stones, probably a third of those required for the setting. “I got out some diamonds and together we made a rough
model, matching the gems as to size and color and that sort of thing. While we were thus engaged a chauffeur came to the door and asked the young woman to hurry right out to the motor. He seemed anxious. “At first I thought she was going to faint, but she recovered herself and got to the door where she put some rapid questions to the man. From these, I gathered, that her mother, an invalid, had been waiting outside in the car, and that she had been taken suddenly very ill. “It all happened in much less time than I am taking to tell it—the girl coughing and choking and trying to com-
pose herself, and the man answering her questions and urging her by his manner to lose no time. “She didn’t. Quick1 y, but without the appearance of haste, she left the office saying that her diamonds would be safe with me and that she would come back in a few days. She even flung a name and address over her shoulder as she went. “Of course she was gone for good—and so was one of my big yellow stones,” he added in a tone which suggested three years of accumulated bitter“We went right to work on the case,” Latimer broke in hastily, “but our most conscientious efforts have failed to obtain the slightest clue to the young woman or the gem. This, I might say,” he stated with noticeablepride, “may be called our first failure. It is very humili“And expensive,” snarled the jeweller, under his breath. HELEN was a little bored. She saw nothing, as yet, which would warrant her absence from the laboratory and from the investigation of cases upon which her
knowledge of chemistry was required. Still, she asked a perfunctory question. “The general make-up of the girl suggested prosperity, I suppose?” “Oh, yes. Nothing distinctive about her or the chauffeur. Well-dressed and prosperous-looking; just the sort of persons one would expect to steal,” Markensen observed wfth fine cynicism. Helen laughed and asked him to describe his office. “A tiny place—about the size of a hall bedroom, containing a desk which is opposite the door, two chairs, a safe and a filing cabinet. When sitting at my desk, my back is to the door, but a customer faces it. I took my stones frcm the safe, at the girl’s right, and laid them in their tissue wrappings on the desk between us. Her diamonds were also there.” “And when,” asked Helen, slowly, “do you think she picked that yellow diamond?” Markensen’s eyes narrowed until they looked like black slits in his hard little face, as he answered, “I'H take my oath that she never touched ill” Again Helen smiled. “You pay her a high compliment,” she said. “Not at all. I simply recognize the difference between possibility and its opposite. The girl did not sit close enough to the desk to reach the stones—either hers or mine;” the man asserted positively. “And when she left the office?” suggested Helen. Carl Markensen shook his head. “She went from her chair to the door where she talked to the chauffeur. She reached across me to the desk for her muff. The muff lay between her and the diamonds, especially mine which were well toward the back of the lot.” He hurried on as though anticipating an interruption: “Neither could the chauffeur have picked it, nor could anyone have slippedinto the office while I followed her to the door. I know, and I don’t know how I know, that that yellow diamond disappeared right under my very
eyes while the girl was in the room even though she did not touch it!” Markensen threw out this assertion like a challenge, and Helen realized that it had been unsympathetically received by Latimer and Brailsford. She well knew the limitations of the ordinary detective, and a faint interest replaced her previous boredom. Although she made no ecmrrent in reply to Markensen, she sat straighter as she prepared to listen to the report of John I. Henderson, of Calgary. This was in many points similar to thatof the Winnipeg
merchant, the chief difference being in the fact that Mr. Henderson had been robbed by an elderly woman. She had been just on the point of choosing a stone when a commotion in the store distracted her attention and upon going to see what the trouble was, she had discovered that a girl had fainted. All thought of her purchase was forgotten; she would consider nothing but taking the invalid home in her motor. The two of them disappeared and accompanying them, presumably, was one of John Henderson’s fine diamonds. “How does the arrangement of your office compare with that of Mr. Markensen?” asked “In essentials it is the same. During the confusion in the store, the lady went out to investigate it before I did. Indeed, she never returned to the office, I think. She sent me back for her fur scarf. The diamond must have been picked before the girl fainted.” “But you were both absent from the office," protested Helen sceptically. “Yes,” agreed Henderson, “but the door was open and the interior was in plain view. I know that it sounds silly,” he spoke with hesitation, “but I can’t help feeling somehow, that the stone disappeared while the room was empty! I am positive I laid it on the desk before I followed the woman into the store.”
Again'Helen expected a proies; f-om the group, . again she was disappointed. They seemed entirely -sympathy with Henderson’s strange coin i, fions. Catterby and Oglethorpe, Montreal, liad been warned, and were on the lookout for a woman, either • mg or old. and they had been robbed by a man: a rather young man of the prosperous broker type. “Why broker?” Helen cut in. Catterby seemed to remember some stock quotations he had laid'on the desk, and in a vague way, he had hinted that his purchase would be determined by the turn of the No invalid mother nor necessity to render first aid had called him suddenly from the office, lie just went, “and when I put away the stones,” the narrator complained, “four o? them were missing—four!”
were missing—four!” Helen Dupont’s minute questioning brought out the fact that the diamonds might, possibly have been palmed, for the broker had handled most of them. But both of the Montreal jewellers were obviously convinced that such was not the case. “They were on the desk when he stood up to leave,” insisted Oglethorpe, “and when I turned around a moment later, they were gone Three, in my case, and beauties.” The report of Burgess, the most recent victim, furnished a slight variation. He made it plain to the group that not only watchfulness but suspicion attached itself to each and every customer. When prospective buyers were shown into his office, he saw in them a potential thief, and in spite of this he had been cleverly robbed by a young woman with a child. “A child?” exclaimed Helen. “Did she do the picking?” “No,” replied Burgess, “but I suspected that she would; that she would be a female Oliver Twist, and it is probable that in my effort to keep her under my eye, I missed seeing the actual thief at work.” Helen asked him to relate in detail just what occurred, and after describing an office practically like those of the other jewellers, Burgess “In a casual sort of way, the young woman explained that her little sister had been to dancing school—she had a slipper bag and all the fixings, you know—and later, some weight was given to the story when the child developed a fit of coughing. The i., exertion or the heated room always had this distressing effect, she i 8aid-n ’j i “I suppose you left the office to get a glass of water?” suggested Helen. But Burgess made an emphatic denial. “Harsh as it may sound,” he said, “I would have allowed
her to choke to death before I would have left the two of them alone with the stones. No, the child recovered made a dignified exit, leaving an order with me for a ring. As soon as I could decently do so, I turned back to my desk, only to find three diamonds gone!’ t He paused for a moment and then announced : “I tell you, Miss Dupont, considering the way I watched those two people, magic must have been employed in the picking of those gems. No human agent could have escaped my vigilance!" There was silence in the room and all eyes turned to the only woman present, with the mute appeal which utter helplessness produces. “I can say nothing, now, of course, gentlemen,” she answered their unspoken question, “and I beg you not to depend upon me. The most I can
say is that I will make a study of this case, which certainly does present some unusual features, and let you Know the result. Mr. Brailsford, if you will call at my laboratory day after to-morrow I may have something more encouraging to say to you, then.” IT WAS a curious thing that although Helen Dupont left those men with a most indefinite promise of assistance, she also left a feeling of confidence amongst them. Markensen essayed a feeble joke from which bitterness was almost lacking; Henderson observed that Helen was at least a sympathetic listener; Burgess voiced the opinion that if anyone could bring the case to a successful issue, Miss Dupont could, and Latimer saw, already, the stolen gems restored to their rightful owners. Brailsford’s faith was put to the test however when, upon keeping his appointment, he found Helen idling away her morning in the pursuit of teaching tricks to various animals and reptiles. He was amazed to see the laboratory alive with monkeys, rabbits, lizards, toads, and several other varieties of the lower kingdom. He had expected that she would be surrounded by tomes on gems, or in studying the psychology of crime. She burst out laughing at his expression and said: “Come in and join the menagerie. Do you know that Hank, the animal trainer, is as great a hero to me as Buffalo Bill to any boy? It’s wonderful recreation, Mr. Brailsford, to forget once in a while that one is a human being, to play at being a monkey, now—but there,” she broke off abruptly, “you want to hear about diamonds, don’t you?” “In the very worst way. Do you think—”
“I never think,” she answered quickly. “It is not my business to think. I have to prove. In the present instance that is going to be exceedingly difficult.” “Why more so than in other cases?” “Because even though I might have a theory, there seems so little chance to put it into practice. In other words, Mr. Brailsford, because clairvoyance is not one of my gifts, I cannot possibly foresee the place where your ‘pickers’ are likely to operate next, and until we can manage to do that, I don’t see how much progress is going to be made in the matter.” Brailsford asked just what she would like arranged in the way of a lure or a trap. Sometimes, he suggested, the most impossible things could be brought about. Helen outlined what she considered the ideal method of focusing the crooks’ attention on one glittering spot, and Brailsford promised to carry it out without arousing their suspicions. Thus it happened that about a month after this conversation took place, an announcement had been “quietly noised” abroad that Gilroy and Smart, finding themselves in a state of temporary embarrassment, would have to sacrifice about fifty thousand dollars’ worth of gems.
AS HAD been anticipated, buyers came from far and Al near, and many a bona fide transaction took place under Helen’s watchful eye, although Harrison, an old employee of the firm, did the actual selling. He and the girl-detective shared the office of the attractive King street shop, for the partners absented themselves and allowed it to be understood that they were influenza victims. Every precaution was taken that Helen’s true position there might not become known, and Harrison was the only person other than the city detectives and the association’s members who knew it.
A month had passed since Gilroy and Smart had commenced their confidential “sale” and nothing had been seen of the diamond pickers. In the private office behind the store Helen sighed as she thought of-the work which her laboratory offered and she resolved that another week of this imprisonment would see the end of her endurance.
“A lady to see Mr. Gilroy—or Mr. Smart,” announced a clerk from the door.
“Show her in,” replied Helen, without much interest. “The lady” was a tall, graceful girl dressed in expensive second mourning and giving the impression of being both embarrassed and ill at ease. As she seated herself at Helen’s right, she laid a handsome mauve Chinese bag, a perfect blending with her costume, on the desk. She took off her gloves and twisted them round in her hands while she talked. “I have come,” she began almost breathlessly, “to ask you to buy some diamonds. Of course, you will want to know something about me, and I am quite willing to answer any sort of questions—only please make haste and ask them—for I want the money to pay some urgent debts.” She fished in the beautiful bag and spread several diamonds out upon the desk within reach of Helen’s hand, i “We are not buying anything at all just now,” Harrison said. “In fact we have been getting rid of our own surplus. Perhaps a private sale—” b HE GIRL turned impatiently to Helen. “I can’t do that,” she protested and her voice trembled. "Let me tell you about them—I am Althea Ogilvy, you may have heard of me?” She hurried on as 'though apologizing for being a social celebrity. ^ “These diamonds were given me by my fiancé, Captain
Nylan Herrick, who—who died a few months ago as the result of injuries received just before the Armistice.” Helen bowed her head in sympathy and the girl continued: “It just comes to this—I haven’t a cent of my own, and my mother won’t give me much of an allowance—-I’ll be a considerable expense to her, you see, left on her hands thus way”— the explanation was made with a frankness which suggested cruelty—“so the only means I have of paying my debts is by selling thase diamonds.” “Your mother doesn’t know you intend to sell them?” asked Helen. Althea Ogilvy lowered her eyes and shook her head. “But they are mine,” she cried defiantly, “and I am twenty-two.” “And would you take a thousand dollars for them? Y ou know they are worth rather more than that.” “If I can have it right now, in cash!” Harrison coughed a warning. He had no intention of allowing Helen Dupont to spend a thousand dollars of his firm’s money if he could prevent it, but evidently she was deaf to his meaning for she said: “I am not quite sure about the cash—but you don’t need money to pay your debts to-day. You can deposit our cheque in your bank and at once issue cheques against your account.” A tinge of wistfulness crept into the girl’s manner as she haltingly explained her desire to get the money in cash— for private, sufficient reasons. “In my humble opinion—” began Harrison, but Helen interrupted him. She had not made a study of gems, it was true, but the stones Miss Ogilvy offered must have been worth at least five thousand dollars, and in her opinion Gilroy and Smart could not object to so advantageous a transaction. “Arrange with the cashier, please, Mr. Harrison,” she said, “to let us have the money. And will you verify Miss Ogilvy’s house and telephone number? And also—” she walked to the door with the reluctant clerk and murmured something to him in a tone that the girl could not catch. For a second her back was turned toward the desk and its glittering contents.
' I 'HE sound of cheering was heard from across the street, A where some returned soldiers had gathered. Althea Ogilvy got quickly to her feet. “Oh, do you think he will be long?” she asked, indicating Harrison.
“No,” answered Helen, facing the desk once more and fumbling with the row of electric buttons until she discovered one which flooded the small office with light. Her glance flashed just as quickly to the diamonds. She made a rapid mental count. They were all there.
Harrison returned and counted the bills into Miss Ogilvy’s eager hands. She repeated the count in a sharp tone throbbing with excitement. Then catching up her bag, she stuffed the money into it, and thanking Helen impulsively, went quickly out of the shop.
She crossed the street and pushed her way into the dense crowd which surrounded a near-by cinema, listening and responding to Col. Hampton’s appeal for employment for all returned soldiers. On the platform with him and rendering him some assistance un distinguishable to Helen who watched the affair from a window, was an elderly woman, and in the crowd a score of soldiers moved, distributing the cards which when signed constituted a pledge to the relief organization.
Althea Ogilvy caught the speaker’s attention, just as he came to the conclusion of his forceful appeal.
Col. Hampton pushed his way, quickly but without due ostentation, to the girl’s side, and they stepped into a waiting car. The car started down town at a good speed and the crowd began to disperse, finding the next speaker not so much of an attraction as the famous colonel.
Helen turned around to see Harrison, white and wildeyed, at her elbow. “Miss Dupont,” he gasped, “four of the diamonds are “Indeed,” said Helen, coolly, “I thought she would have taken more.” Harrison reeled. “But she has our money, too,” he cried, “and you let her escape.” “She won’t escape very far,” Helen'soothed. “But here, if I am not mistaken, is Mr. Brailsford,” she broke off to announce, as a man in the uniform of a cyclist policeman came into the store. “Perhaps he can put your mind at “We’ve got ’em,” whispered the latter excitedly, “caught ’em on Broad street. Never had I a more enjoyable chase. They ought to be here in a moment.” A LMOST as he spoke, several persons made a comparatively inconspicuous entry, Miss Ogilvy, Col. Hampton, his elderly companion, and Inspector Harkness with two members of the city force. They all adjourned to a cloak-room at the back of the store, where Mr. Gilroy, his partner and Mr. Latimer were waiting. “I congratulate you, Miss Dupont,” said Edward Smart, looking with interest at the prisoners. “Are they all— ahem—involved?” “Equally,” the girl-detective told him. “They are not
the actual criminals, perhaps, but they are accessories to the crime.” “Just so, just so,” agreed Mr. Gilroy, in some embarrassment. “I did not think that Miss—er—” Helen laughed with a certain grimness. “Don’t hesitate to speak frankly,” she said, “for this girl is no more Althea Ogilvy than I am, and the person, there, is only a remarkable likeness of Col. Hampton, V.C.” “Don’t tell it to us piece-meal, Miss Dupont,” begged Harkness. “We want the whole story from the beginning.” "The beginning, then,” Helen said in reply to her old colleague, “dates from the moment I became convinced that some agency other than human was immediately responsible for the ‘picking’ of the gems. I soon saw a peculiar significance in the fact that each of the persons suspected carried a bag, a fur, a muff, papers—or something in which the actual thief could be secreted. “As Mr. Brailsford will tell you, I converted my laboratory into a miniature zoo, and for many days conducted a series of interesting experiments, eliminating one by one the animals and reptiles I had collected until but one remained. “Look—” she cried and with a sudden movement, she snatched the bag from the girl’s arms and laid it open upon the desk. From its mouth, there emerged a large green toad! “There is the actual thief, gentlemen,” said Helen. “Has he not fine discrimination and taste?” An exclamation of amazement followed this revelation, and on the faces of the prisoners appeared the resigned expression peculiar to the trapped criminal. “Well, how in the name of the Great Horn Spoon, did you—” Harkness found further utterance impossible.
“My biology helped me,” said Helen. “The toad is an easily trained little creature, in fact there are scientists who believe that it will be the next animal to be domesticated. It is four hundred years since we took the turkey into our civilized fold and we are just about due another applicant for admission. However that may be, the toad can be taught in a few weeks to answer to its name and such simple things, and it stands to reason that it could be taught to pick up gems at a given signal. I suppose in Mr. Markensen’s case, the girl’s crying did the trick . . I am convinced that the child’s coughing was pre-arranged and this afternoon I suppose Miss Ogilvy’s counting put the little fellow wise. Am I right?” she turned sharply to the girl, who muttered a sullen affirmative.
“I’d like to see the thing rehearsed,” said Harkness, still skeptical.
PLACING the bag so that the open end could not be seen by a person sitting at the desk, the girl took from it four diamonds and spread them comparatively near. Then she said, “Three hundred. . .Five hundred. . . Eight hundred. . . nine hundred. . . ” and each time she spoke a little red dart flashed out and a diamond disappeared. The toad made no effort to move from under cover of the bag.
“By Jove,” cried Brailsford, “he’s gobbled up all in sight. And at what a distance!”
“Yes,” returned Helen, “the number, of course, must be determined by the brain behind the crime. This time four were available. Sometimes, there was only one. As to the distance—perhaps you don’t know that a toad’s tongue is different from ours. Its root is at the front of the mouth; its tip hangs down the throat. For that reason it can reach objects—flies or diamonds—at quite an amazing distance.” Harrison then voiced a very natural question. “What made you suspect the—er—young woman so soon?” he asked. “Many things. In the first place I happen to know Althea Ogilvy quite well. Again, I knew also that Col. Hampton—the real Colonel—left for Montreal last night. As soon as I was reasonably sure that we had got one of the gang, I notified Inspector Harkness and Mr. Brailsford by means of an electric signal, pre-arranged, and they left their office around the corner to trail our customer. Ypu know the result, a satisfactory apprehension of the trio, for which they are to be heartily congratulated. “The Hampton trick was a masterpiece,” Helen continued. “It furnished an excellent cover for a get-away, and an easy method for the transference of the money and stolen goods.” There followed several minutes of confused talking, of congratulations and leave-taking. Then presently, Helen found herself alone with Brailsford whose mute admiration brought a vivid blush to her cheek. “Miss Dupont,” he began, “I have something to say ” but she would not listen and addressed her remarks to the “Come, Oliver Twist—or should I say ‘Artful Dodger?’ I suppose I shall have to spend the next few years in an effort to make you forget your hideous past, and turn you from the path of sin into the way of righteousness.” She pushed the solemn-eyed little creature into the handsome bag. “I cannot feed you diamonds,” she rattled on to hide her confusion, “you must learn to catch flies!”