Thursday 14 December 2017

Diamond Tales: The Empress Emerald by J.G. Harlond

London. 1918...

Excerpt from
The Empress Emerald 
J.G. Harlond
Leo Kazan from Bombay is working as an ‘intelligencer’ for the British; he also deals secretly in precious gems. In this scene, he has escorted Davina Dymond back to his rented mews flat after a shooting incident in the West End, where she was badly shocked.

Chapter 15

“ . . . I’m a Dymond, you know. A white Dymond. My brother is a black Dymond. Celtic dark. Old Spanish blood they say.”
“What?” Leo looked at Davina huddled round her cup, mumbling.
“Nothing. Just that I’m a Dymond – with a ‘y’.”
“Is that your family name?”
“I told you at my brother’s party.”
“Oh, yes. Sorry.”
“Davina Dymond. It’s ridiculous. I’m a white Dymond. From my mother’s side. They aren’t Dymonds, of course, they’re Fulfords. They’re all very fair.”
“Diamonds aren’t white.”
“Aren’t they? What colour are they then?”
Leo looked at her: she was bunched up on the sofa, her knees tucked underneath her like a beaten animal. She was harmless, and very pretty. He liked the way her wavy gold hair seemed to move as she spoke. “What did you say?”
“Diamonds. What colour are they?”
Leo got to his feet. “Stay there a minute and I’ll show you.” He went into the kitchen.
Among the food Mrs Smithers assumed Leo needed, among the packets of biscuits and pots of potted meat, behind a tin of Oxo cubes and a packet of custard powder were two shabby old biscuit tins and three new Indian brass containers. One container contained rice; one contained marine salt crystals; the third contained brightly coloured boiled sweets. Leo had brought them all the way from Bombay in his trunk. He pushed the biscuit tins to the very back of the cupboard, took out the brass containers and unscrewed them. The one containing sweets he returned to the musty cupboard. He took the other two into the sitting room and put them on the small dining table.
Davina looked up, sleepily. “Are you going to do a conjuring trick to make me happy again?”
“Yes. Come and sit here.” Leo indicated a chair.
“Can’t move. Too sleepy.”
“Oh, no,” he pulled her up off the sofa, “you mustn’t go to sleep. Do you feel sick?”
“No, just sleepy. Why?”
“Basic first aid.”
Davina let herself be moved to the table. “You know the strangest things, Leo.”
“Yes, I do. Watch.” He took a small key from a jacket pocket and opened a nondescript bureau standing against a wall. From its inside shelves he pulled some sheets of heavy vellum writing paper and a small set of scales. He put them on the table in front of the girl. Then he put on the table a bedside lamp with no shade, three glass plates and a pair of tweezers. After that, he closed the sitting-room curtains, switched on the electric light and plugged in the shadeless lamp.
Davina shrugged off her coat and sat down. “All right, I’m ready for the show,” she said.
Opening the two brass containers, Leo said, “What do you see?”
“Don’t know.”
“Lick a finger and taste.” He demonstrated, licking a finger and putting it into the pot of rough, unrefined rice. A few grains stuck to his finger.
“Is it rice?” she said.
“Well done. Do you have rice in England?”
“Of course we do. Rice pudding. Children have to eat gallons of it. Didn’t your nanny or your mother ever make you eat rice pudding?”
“Yes. Now, what’s in this pot?”
“Correct and incorrect.” Leo shook a small measure of rough salt onto a plate. With the tweezers he selected a large crystal. “Not salt, Davina, not salt.”
“Is that a diamond?”

“This is a polished diamond. Big enough for a solitaire ring or it could be cut into smaller stones.”
“Gosh. So what’s in the rice?”
“Diamonds as well. Look.” He sprinkled some of the rice he had brought from Bombay onto the second plate and selected a tiny pebble. “This is a stone from the ground. Rice has to be washed, there’s always grit and stones in it. But this,” he held a fragment of what looked like dusty quartz up to the light, “this is a very precious bit of grit.”
Davina squinted at the object in the lamplight.
“You see,” Leo said, “true diamonds do not start life as white. Let me show you. First you have to find them, and they are dirty and dusty, then, before you clean them or cut them, you have to see if they are flawed and how much they weigh.”
He selected one tiny stone with his tweezers and weighed it. “Diamonds are measured in carats, which I am sure you know. A carat is one-fifth of a gram.” He held the stone up to the light again. “This is one is octahedral.” He placed it on the third glass plate and held the plate over the lamp. “This helps to judge the clarity, even the tiny ones have to be examined for impurities. As with all things of value: purity is the essence.”
Leo selected another stone and held it over a sheet of white paper. “This is what is called glace. You see the colour almost matches the paper. But it’s only white because it’s on white, if I move it next to your eyes it will become blue.” He held the gem up to her eyes then put it back on the paper and picked out a much bigger stone. It was an irregular lump of dirty grey. He weighed it.
“Thirty grams: quite a whopper – but inferior. In Africa this is called mackbar. I like the name, mackbar – it sounds like what it is – inferior. Now, come round here and look at these three stones. They are quite different in size and value and yet all three are magic. They can only be damaged by each other; it takes a diamond to scratch a diamond. Did you know that? These are the truest elements of our Earth. They were formed below the deepest layers of the Earth’s crust, maybe a hundred million years ago. It has taken volcanic eruptions to bring them to the surface and perhaps millions of years of rain to wash them out into the common dirt. And now here they are in London, ready and waiting to be shaped and polished to make women prettier and men richer – or poorer, of course.”
Leo smiled at the lovely blonde girl at his side and slowly put an arm round her waist. “Can you see their beauty? I think they are truly marvellous, even in their natural state.” He watched the girl closely. The stones had no effect on her. 
“Davina, Davina,” he whispered into her hair, “look at them. This is as close as you may ever come to the stars.”

© J.G. Harlond

about the author

Originally from the south west of England, J.G Harlond (Jane) studied and worked in various different countries before finally settling down with her husband, a retired Spanish naval captain, in rural AndalucĂ­a, Spain. Despite being ‘rubbish’ at history at school because she wanted to turn everything into a story, she survived the History element of her B.A. and went on to get an M.A. in Social and Political Thought. Her historical fiction, set in the 17th century and the first half of the 20th century, features many of the places Jane has visited – along with flawed rogues, wicked crimes, and the more serious issues of being an outsider. Apart from fiction, Jane also writes school text books under her married name. Her favourite reading is along the Dorothy Dunnett lines: well-researched stories with compelling plots and complex characters.

Jane is currently writing about the theft and fate of the Crown Jewels during the English Civil War for the third in her Ludo da Portovenere trilogy.

Find J.G. Harlond on:
The Empress Emerald,
Buy the book

Other books by J.G. Harlond 

The Chosen Man, 
Local Resistance,
read our Review
Dark Night, Black Horse
The Doomsong Sword

Follow the Tales…and Discover some Diamonds

3rd December     Richard Tearle Diamonds

4th December     Helen Hollick  When ex-lovers have their uses

5th December    Antoine Vanner  Britannia’s Diamonds

6th December    Nicky Galliers  Diamond Windows

7th December    Denise Barnes  The Lost Diamond

8th December    Elizabeth Jane Corbett A Soul Above Diamonds

9th December    Lucienne Boyce Murder In Silks

10th December    Julia Brannan The Curious Case of the Disappearing Diamond

11th December    Pauline Barclay Sometimes It Happens

12th December    Annie Whitehead Hearts, Home and a Precious Stone

13th December    Inge H. Borg  Edward, Con Extraordinaire

14th December    J.G. Harlond The Empress Emerald

15th December    Charlene Newcomb Diamonds in the Desert

16th December     Susan Grossey A Suitable Gift

17th December     Alison  Morton Three Thousand Years to Saturnalia

18th December      Nancy Jardine   Illicit Familial Diamonds

19th December      Elizabeth St John The Stolen Diamonds

20th December      Barbara Gaskell Denvil Discovering the Diamond

21st December       Anna Belfrage   Diamonds in the Mud

22nd December       Cryssa Bazos    The Diamonds of Sint-Nicholaas

23rd December        Diamonds … In Sound & Song 

A thank you to Dorothy Dunnett by J.G. Harlond


  1. Fascinating, you had me right there opening those tins.

    1. Thanks, Elizabeth. Always good to know what I can see in my head as I write is what a reader can see when s/he reads.

  2. Replies
    1. I love the details in your stories too, Annie. Little things that create the epoch or the scene without too much telling.

  3. More in this one short story about diamonds than I ever learned before. And I love the last line!

    1. Pleased to hear that, Richard, an awful lot of background reading went into this scene I can tell you!

  4. That was a great choice of excerpt! And Richard's correct that there's loads of learning about diamonds in that short piece of writing.

  5. I just hope Mrs. Smithers doesn't decide to make Leo some rice pudding one day.
    Another interesting story. Enjoyed it greatly.

    1. Leo is not quite such a rogue as your Mr Guernsey-Crock (love the surname), but the two of them could hatch up a wicked scam together.

  6. As we were warned: Sometimes Google goofs. Hence, this is the second time I am leaving a comment for Ms. Harlond's intersting piece: Great choice! Enjoyed it very much.

  7. I recall reading this book some years ago and this excerpt just made me want to re-read it :)

    1. Thanks, Anna, and your previous comments helped me in this new version a lot.

  8. An intriguing excerpt! I wasn't quite sure when this was set, so I looked on Amazon. Nothing like an adventure story, especially one containing Dymonds, or do I mean diamonds?

    1. Thanks, Alison. The story is based on real events 1900-1940, I just had to add the characters, although Leo's diamond deals are fictitious of course.

  9. It's great when fiction also teaches you something! Loved all the detail about diamonds.


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