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95

Ted’s eyes gleamed. “You must be angry about this, Pa. I’ve known decades to pass without you ever mentioning the Joppa trove. Now your mind seems to run only on this subject. You’ve been fuming about it all the way back from Edinburgh, haven’t you?”

Andrew smiled good-humouredly but he was currently sitting as motionless as though he had been hit by an icy draught. Ted could see it plainly, from this and from some very fine imbalance in Andrew’s cheerfulness, either an extra brilliance or distance, that his father was incandescent.

The Joppa trove was worthless: a collection of flints and sticks which had been hoarded in a pocket in the earth by the prehistoric warriors who had populated these lands when there was no one else around. It comprised a heap of half-bleached, half-blackened odds and ends, which looked to all appearances like they had been swept out of the doorway of a ruined, roofless building. The trove had been discovered by one of Joppa Grange’s energetic Victorian owners, who had carted it away to the house’s library. Here, however, an accident had befallen it.

Somebody connected with the house had slipped a large uncut Indian diamond in amongst the muck. The reason was this: unlike the safe, which the sons of the house were constantly rummaging for cash, the trove was known to be rubbish and the chest of drawers which contained it was rarely, if ever, disturbed.

The post-war authorities had agreed to guarantee the family’s rights as custodians of the trove, but they had also imposed various conditions. The trove must be catalogued and properly preserved. Experts must have access to the trove (there were only four relevant experts and three of them lived in California). And the trove must never be broken up. In a submission to Notes and Queries, a professor at Dundee University had discounted the Indian diamond as an imposter. But his article was not read by more than half a dozen people, none of them in the Worthington family, and so it was not enough to bounce the diamond out of the trove.

We will have to again depart from Andrew’s side for a second, because he does not possess the knowledge or imagination needed to come to any worthwhile theory about the diamond’s inclusion in the trove. He suspects that somebody had been acting the goat, but the story is in fact rather more rounded than that.

In 1887, a young Asian prince and bachelor, the heir to a mountain kingdom, had visited Great Britain. To a catastrophic extent, he had fallen – hook, line, and sinker – for the propaganda of the day. He had believed the UK to represent the most supreme achievement in human politeness. His education had led him to picture a utopia of good manners, a nation in which the entire population would raise their bowler hats to each other in peaceful suburban streets and issue good-natured remarks about the weather. Whereas other peoples who the prince knew disembowelled their enemies on ancient stones and feasted on the slime ripped from their bodies, the British had teatime: a massively ceremonial event which was devoted to stoically eating flavourless, inconsequential foodstuffs.

Although no ideal can travel through this world without sustaining some damage, the prince’s beliefs were never going to get it easy. On his tour around Britain, in every town and village which he stopped at, the prince encountered the most gratuitous rudeness. The people were devious and insolent; their coarseness was apparently without limit. On reaching Newcastle railway station, the prince felt so dejected that suicide was all at once walking up to him like an old, dependable manservant, smiling familiarly, reassuringly, and with a twinkle of roguish suggestiveness.

The prince turned from this figure and fled in a dash. He boarded a train, any train.

In this way, he was randomly transported into rural Scotland. Regimented farmland thinned and then vanished, to be replaced with an endless medley of ashen-coloured hillsides. Here and there, the hills became densely forested and, with the fleeting appearance of a small splashing river, even pretty.

At one point the train slid unexpectedly into a bustling town and the prince dithered. The train paused enticingly, for a clear ringing minute, whilst the prince sat frozen in his seat. Next it was on its way again and the opportunity had passed.

All of a sudden, the train was pulling into a country station and the prince was instinctively scrambling for the open air. It was one of those stations which does not seem to be connected to any evidence of a settlement. The prince was met by bare fields in one direction and thick woods in the other. He plunged into the woods, like a threatened animal which automatically seeks the gloom. He did not know where he was going and he did not care where he arrived.

His trousers were plucked at by briars and his umbrella mangled by branches. He did not care – he was beyond caring what these hypocrites thought of him!

In this state, he staggered out on to one of the lawns of Joppa Grange, where the lady of the house and a small gang of distracted-looking children were floating a model galleon on the estate’s ornamental lake. In its own way, the galleon was a replica of Sir Francis Drake’s ship, the Golden Hind.

The lady was startled. “My goodness, can we assist you?”

Could they assist him? The prince was stopped in his tracks, as if thunder had pealed over the country house.

Joppa Grange was visible over the lady’s shoulder, hunched forward like a barn owl but with its great bland face peering away across other, no doubt more magnificent lawns.

“I expect that you’ve come to see our galleon,” the lady continued uncertainly. “It’s probably achieved some fame by now down in the village. Say “how do you do?” to the gentleman, children.”

“How do you do?” the children chorused dutifully.

The prince beamed, with an almost demonic lustre, and then he immediately knew what action was required. “Madam,” he proclaimed. “I have searched your entire nation for something which I had never found until now. I am delighted and very relieved to be able to extend my congratulations to you. And as a token of my gratitude, I would like you to accept this, a gift to you and your family from my own kingdom.”

And with this he brandished a handkerchief from his left breast pocket, extracted the Indian diamond from the right, dumped it into her helpless hands and paraded back into the foliage, trailing his battered umbrella.

The lady gazed after him in puzzlement. She then looked down at the diamond. It looked like all diamonds of immeasurable worth do: a chunk of cloudy plastic, which sparkled cheaply.

Throats had been cut for this diamond. Armies of shrieking men had sprung triumphantly out of ditches, whipping at bare arms and legs with their cutlasses. Men had been hanged from city walls, kicking with sad thuds against the earthwork until their kicks had subsided. Princesses had married shrivelled elderly kings who had stunk of urine, knowing that the diamond ranked amongst the spoils. It had doubled the weight of whole kingdoms.

“My word, what am I to do with this?” the lady said to her children.

Later, she said to her sisters: “This is quite inappropriate. What will my husband think when he sees it? He’ll be hopping about like a monkey.”

“Bung it in with the trove,” her sisters replied wisely. “No one will find it and it will be quite safe if it turns out to be worth anything.”

And so all three hundred carats of the Indian diamond were tucked in amongst the clods and bones. A government auditor later categorised it as a pre-Iron Age artefact.

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