The Diamond Cross Mystery by Chester K. Steele


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Page 1





CHAPTER I

THE TICKING WATCH

There was only one sound which broke the intense stillness of the
jewelry shop on that fateful April morning. That sound was the ticking
of the watch in the hand of the dead woman.

Outside, the rain was falling. Not a heavy downpour which splashed
cheerfully on umbrellas and formed swollen streams in the gutters,
whence they rushed toward the sewer basins, carrying with them an
accumulation of sticks, leaves and dirt. Not a windy, gusty rain, that
made a man glad to get indoors near a genial fire, with his pipe and a
book.

It was a drizzle; a steady, persistent drizzle, which a half-hearted
wind blew this way and that, as though neither element cared much for
the task in hand--that of thoroughly soaking the particular part of the
universe in the neighborhood of Colchester and taking its own time in
which to do it.

Early in the unequal contest the sun had given up its effort to pierce
through the leaden clouds, and had taken its beams to other places--to
busy cities, to smiling country villages and farms. Above, around,
below, on all sides, soaking through and through, drizzling it, soaking
it, sprinkling it, half-hiding it in fog and mist, the rain enveloped
Colchester--a sodden, damp garment.

Early paper boys slunk along the slippery streets, trying to protect
their limp wares from becoming mere blotters. The gongs of the few
trolley cars that were sent out to take the early toilers to their
tasks rang as though covered with a blanket of fog. The thud of the
feet of the milkmen's horses was muffled, and the rattle of bottles
seemed to come from afar off, as though over some misty lake.

James Darcy, shivering as he arose, silently protesting, from his warm
bed, pulled on his garments audibly grumbling, the grumble becoming a
voiced protest as he shuffled in his slippers along the corridor above
the jewelry shop and went down the private stairs into the main
sales-room.

The electric light in front of the massive safe seemed to lear at him
with a bleared eye like that of a toper, who, having spent the night in
convivial company, found himself, most unaccountably, on his own
doorstep in the gray dawn.

"Raining!" murmured James Darcy, as he reached over to switch on the
light above the little table where he set precious stones into gold and
platinum of rare and beautiful designs. "Raining and cold! I wish the
steam was on."

The fog from outside seemed to have penetrated into the jewelry shop.
It swirled about the gleaming showcases, reflected from the cut glass,
danced away from the silver cups, broke into points of light from the
times of forks, became broad splotches on the blades of knives, and,
perchance, made its way through the cracks into the safe, where it
bathed the diamonds, the rubies, the sapphires, the aqua marines, the
pearls, the jades, and the bloodstones in a white mist. The
bloodstones--

Strange that James Darcy should have thought of them as he looked at
the rain outside, heard its drip, drip, drip on the windows, and saw
the fog and swirls of mist inside and without the store. Strange
and--

First, as he gazed at the prostrate body--the horrid red blotch like a
gay ribbon in the white hair--he thought the small, insistent sound
which seemed to fill the room was the beating of her heart. Then, as
he listened, his ears attuned with fear, he knew it was the ticking of
the watch in the hand of the dead woman.

James Darcy rubbed his eyes, as though to clear them from the fog. He
rubbed them again--he passed his hand before his face as if cobwebs had
drifted there--he touched his ears, which seemed not a part of himself.

"Tick-tick! Tick-tick! Tick-tick!"

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Sun 15th Sep 2019, 16:35