The Door in the Wall and Other Stories HTML version
The Diamond Maker
Some business had detained me in Chancery Lane nine in the evening, and thereafter,
having some inkling of a headache, I was disinclined either for entertainment or further
work. So much of the sky as the high cliffs of that narrow canon of traffic left visible
spoke of a serene night, and I determined to make my way down to the Embankment, and
rest my eyes and cool my head by watching the variegated lights upon the river. Beyond
comparison the night is the best time for this place; a merciful darkness hides the dirt of
the waters, and the lights of this transitional age, red glaring orange, gas-yellow, and
electric white, are set in shadowy outlines of every possible shade between grey and deep
purple. Through the arches of Waterloo Bridge a hundred points of light mark the sweep
of the Embankment, and above its parapet rise the towers of Westminster,warm grey
against the starlight. The black river goes by with only a rare ripple breaking its silence,
and disturbing the reflections of the lights that swim upon its surface.
"A warm night," said a voice at my side.
I turned my head, and saw the profile of a man who was leaning over the parapet beside
me. It was a refined face, not unhandsome, though pinched and pale enough, and the coat
collar turned up and pinned round the throat marked his status in life as sharply as a
uniform. I felt I was committed to the price of a bed and breakfast if I answered him.
I looked at him curiously. Would he have anything to tell me worth the money, or was he
the common incapable--incapable even of telling his own story? There was a quality of
intelligence in his forehead and eyes, and a certain tremulousness in his nether lip that
"Very warm," said I; "but not too warm for us here."
"No," he said, still looking across the water, "it is pleasant enough here . . . . just now."
"It is good," he continued after a pause, "to find anything so restful as this in London.
After one has been fretting about business all day, about getting on, meeting obligations,
and parrying dangers, I do not know what one would do if it were not for such pacific
corners." He spoke with long pauses between the sentences. "You must know a little of
the irksome labour of the world, or you would not be here. But I doubt if you can be so
brain-weary and footsore as I am . . . . Bah! Sometimes I doubt if the game is worth the
candle. I feel inclined to throw the whole thing over--name, wealth and position--and take
to some modest trade. But I know if I abandoned my ambition--hardly as she uses me--I
should have nothing but remorse left for the rest of my days."
He became silent. I looked at him in astonishment. If ever I saw a man hopelessly hard-
up it was the man in front of me. He was ragged and he was dirty, unshaven and
unkempt; he looked as though he had been left in a dust-bin for a week. And he was