Excerpt for The Cursed Diamond by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Copyright © 2018 by Pieter Eduard Haumann

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the publisher
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

Printed in South Africa

First Printing, 2018

ISBN 978-0-620-81866-7

Feisty Goat Publishing


Chapter 1 – The long road to boredom

Chapter 2 – Something gloomy, something sweet

Chapter 3 – A legend in a ledger

Chapter 4 – A visit to an oasis

Chapter 5 – A big day out

Chapter 6 – Another secret meeting

Chapter 7 – Secrets from the Darvil Family ledger

Chapter 8 – An unsettling visit

Chapter 9 – An old man’s tale

Chapter 10 – The letters

Chapter 11 – A cat’s secret

Chapter 12 – An unexpected result

Chapter 13 – Lost and found

Chapter 14 – Done and dustless

Chapter 1

The long road to boredom

“Are we there yet? It feels like we’ve been driving for hours,” moaned Annie from the backseat of her father’s brand new luxury sedan. She breathed a heavy sigh, sending the curly blonde locks over her eyes flopping upwards before settling down and obstructing her view. Through the mesh of blonde hair she peered over her mother’s shoulder into, what seemed like, a desolate wasteland in front of them. They had indeed been driving for what seemed like an eternity and finally they had reached the first town after leaving the city. Not much to see, thought Annie despairingly. The tarred road had begun to disintegrate into a rather spotty collection of clumps of tar and unskilfully fixed potholes and judging by the look of the place and the rather vague explanation of where they were going; someplace with no streetlights, tarred roads or cell phone reception, her mother had said, Annie had come to the conclusion that this town had to be their destination.

“I told you, sweetheart, we’ll be there by half past three. It’s still a while’s drive,” replied Mother. She was paging through one of her homemakers’ magazines and earmarked a page on bathroom furnishings. Annie, of course, thought the bathrooms back home were fine as they were, but Mother had other ideas.

“Well then, what time is it now?” asked Annie, refusing to accept such a generic answer. She could easily have looked at the clock on the front panel of the vehicle’s dashboard but it was one of those clocks with the hands and she still had some difficulty reading them.

“Two,” Mother replied bluntly.

“Two?” Annie knew full well what her mother meant but the silence in the car was torture and any form of conversation would suffice.

“Yes, two.” That should put an end to it, thought Mother. “Why don’t you see if you can spot anything interesting outside?” There was nothing of the sorts to be seen, save for a few pigeons, who leapt expertly out of the way as the car slowly crawled past them.

Annie collapsed back onto the seat, distraught at the prospect of spending another hour and a half in the confines of that fine-leather-cladded prison cell. Finally her eyes rolled towards the other end of the seat. Robert, Annie’s brother, was staring intently out the window. It must have been a far-off something he was looking at, thought Annie as she turned her energy towards her unsuspecting brother. His head was firmly rested against the glass and his perfectly manicured black hair, just like Father’s, when there was still some to speak of, parted where it touched the window. He had always been more of the silent type - a deep thinker, Mother once said. Annie was yet to be impressed by any of her brother’s thoughts, since these were normally concerning matters in which she had little interest, such as comic books and computer games, which paled in comparison to playing in mud and climbing trees, at which she was a self-confessed expert.

“Wham!” shouted Annie as she launched a tiny, yet securely positioned fist towards her brother’s shoulder. Proudly beaming from the impressive impact she had made Annie awaited retaliation from the older child. Older only by three years, mind you. Alas, he merely grimaced in her direction, as if the full force of Annie’s eight-year-old fist had barely scratched the surface of his resolve - and a stern resolve at that. Robert had always been a very prim and proper young man. Never did Mother have to tell him to comb his hair or clean his room, he was always neat and tidy - much like Father. Annie had, however, over the past few days noticed her brother become tardier in keeping up his pristine appearance. An irresponsibly missed button, an untied shoelace and even an embarrassing incident involving an inside-out belt a few days ago.

“Brother,” begged Annie, as she once again trespassed into the personal space of her beloved victim. Silence. “Brother…” she begged again, this time pressing her outstretched index-finger firmly against his temple.

“What is it?” he murmured, barely turning his head but expertly, yet sloth-like, swatting away the mosquito-like finger buzzing around his head.

“What are you looking at?” she enquired. After all, in her opinion, there was nothing noteworthy to be seen outside. Surely he needed to be entertained as much as she was.

“Nothing. Mind your business,” he snorted in her direction before returning his head to the window. There was a good reason why Robert was so grumpy. He had been staying up late for the past three days researching Devil’s Leap, the farm where they were to spend the next two weeks of their summer holiday, and the lack of sleep was taking its toll on his mood.

It began when Mother told the children that they were all going to visit an old school friend of hers, Archie Darvil, and his family on their farm, Devil’s Leap. Robert immediately jumped at the opportunity to learn more about what plants and animals they would encounter in the area but during his research he stumbled across something much more compelling. While studying the wildlife in the surrounding area, he came across an old article, with a bone-chilling subject – the so-called cursed diamond of Devil’s Leap. He was mesmerised at the prospect of such a thing and spent the previous two nights amassing as much information as he could about the Darvil family and this supposed cursed diamond. To his dismay, there was nothing more than folklore and superstitious mumbo-jumbo available. The result of these late nights, however, was a very tired young man and his eyes were just about to shut when he suddenly, and violently, got interrupted once more by Annie. She threw herself across him, kneeing and crawling like a deranged animal towards the window.

“Girls!” screamed Annie, at the top of her voice, to the utter dismay of her brother, whose cheeks suddenly turned a bright shade of red when he frantically looked around him and saw the cohort of schoolgirls standing by the side of the road.

“Shut-up, I’m not looking at them,” whispered Robert, feeling the inquisitive stare of his mother burning at him via the rear-view mirror.

“Robert.” hissed Mother. “Language!” She fleetingly glanced at the herd of schoolgirls waiting at the rundown old bus-stop, then her gaze shifted towards her son, whose cheeks were glowing bright red. Had she looked closer, she would have seen the redness in his eyes, betraying his tiredness.

“Are we there yet?” Annie asked again, having given up hope of getting her brother to entertain her. Mother gave her a stern look before easing it off with a smile.

It didn’t take long for them to pass through the small town and turn off at a large sign which read ‘Devil’s Leap’ in bold letters. The road leading to the farm soon turned into something resembling the inside layer of corrugated cardboard and Annie, who was enjoying the bumpy ride more than any of the other passengers, was jumping from joy and cheered every time the car skidded slightly on the fine dust covering the road surface. Meanwhile Father, according to Mother’s analysis, was trying his utmost to hit every single rock within his path. Suddenly, and without warning, the large vehicle began to skid again and with a gentle thud, came to rest to the side of the dirt path. There was silence as Father tried several times to get the car to move but his attempts would only be met with the whining sound of wheels spinning and pebbles shooting up against the undercarriage before the car would cough and die. Robert sighed, before returning his forehead to its rested position against the window. He had just fallen asleep moments earlier and was trying his hardest to return to the comforting slumber he so desperately needed.

What’s the matter?” asked Mother calmly before shooting Father an “I told you so” look. He, on the other hand, was trying his best to remain calm. Slowly he opened the door, assured Mother that everything was going to be fine and proceeded to investigate the extent of damage to his brand new car. “Don’t worry, kids,” stated Mother bluntly, as if, as an afterthought, she finally remembered the safety of her children. Annie didn’t waste a second and as soon as Father got out she flung the door open and leapt to freedom. Robert could not be minded either, as he was once again happily snoring away.

It had been an hour and a half since the car got stuck by the side of the road. Father spent a good forty minutes trying to free his beloved vehicle but to no avail and tensions were rising as the afternoon heat began to take its toll. Mother accused Father of only buying the new car to try and impress Archie Darvil, a man with whom he had invented a lifelong rivalry because of the friendship between Mother and Mr Darvil. This, especially after Mother had told Father, in confidence, that it was not going all too well with the family farm and that Archie had confided in her that he was being pressured by corporations, who have bought up almost all the surrounding land, to sell the family property. Robert awoke from his slumber just in time to hear the discussion between his parents and remained dead still in case they caught him eavesdropping.

“I see something coming!” exclaimed Annie, standing on top of the car’s roof and stomping loudly with her feet. In the far-off distance a plume of dust could be seen rising upwards. Annie began jumping up and down excitedly, sending loud metallic thuds echoing into the air.

“Annie! Get down from there. You are going to dent it,” ordered Father, but Annie’s excitement was too much to be contained. After all, she hadn’t seen another person in quite a few hours and was beginning to get quite bored with the lack of conversation available to her.

The plume of dust grew ever closer and soon a loud, rumbling noise could be heard coming up the road. A large, rusty truck came charging straight at them and when it stopped it was enveloped in a cloud of dust and pebbles.

“Well then,” said Father, unimpressed by the show, “let’s see who this is.” Father’s voice was stern and strong as ever, but hinted slightly that he was quite relieved that help had arrived. The mangy old truck’s door swung open, barely holding onto its hinges, and out popped a boy, no older than Robert. The boy was sturdier though and had on his head a brown leather hat, which he immediately removed to reveal a head of dark-brown hair to match his piercing brown eyes.

“Hello, I’m Anton,” said the boy politely and put out a hand in Father’s direction. “You must be Mr Harper.”

“I am indeed,” said Father and met the boy’s firm grip.

“Oh,” exclaimed Mother, “you look just like your father did at your age!” Anton held his hand outstretched towards Mother, who moved past the hand and gave the boy an enormous hug. Father’s eyebrow lifted as if to show his discomfort with this familiarity.

Annie came closer. She had never before seen another child drive a vehicle on their own, let alone something as big as that truck and someone as young as him. She walked right up to Anton and boldly stuck out her hand in his direction.

“I’m Annabelle,” she stated, “but my friends and family call me Annie.” She stared sternly into his eyes so as to show that even though he may drive trucks and wear hats, she was still just as strong as he was. If there was a tree around, she would show him in a second that she could climb it faster than he could.

“It’s nice to meet you, Annabelle,” he said. “Or is it Annie? I guess that depends on whether we are friends yet.”

“We’ll see,” replied Annie. “Do you see that boy?” she added, pointing to her brother, who was sleeping peacefully with his head against the car window. “That’s my brother, Robert. He doesn’t like to be called Rob or Robbie, just Robert. He doesn’t always sleep as much either.”

“Very well then,” said Anton, rather confused as to what exactly was going on and struggling to consume all the information presented to him in such a short amount of time. “Robert it is.” He raised an eyebrow and stared at the tuft of hair, pressed against the window.

“How did you know to come and look for us? We must have been stuck out here for more than an hour and there’s no cell phone reception,” said Mother.

Anton had already begun to investigate the cause of the car being stuck and was halfway under the vehicle while he replied. His voice was somewhat muffled from under the car. It was a rather funny sight, thought Annie, the boy’s feet sticking out and kicking to steady himself.

“We were expecting you to arrive an hour ago. When half an hour had passed, we knew that something must have gone wrong. Many normal cars struggle on these roads, especially with the drought, due to the fine dust covering the surface. My father sent me out here to see if I could find you, and here we are.”

Father smirked at the notion that his car should be categorised with just any old normal car. He had spent a good deal on this new car and was damned if anybody would put it down.

“Uh oh,” said Anton. He had crawled so far underneath the car that only his feet were visible. “I think I can see what’s wrong.”

What is it? What can you see?” asked Father, rather distressed at the thought that anything to do with his new vehicle would involve the phrase ‘uh oh’.

“There’s a clump of grass wrapped around the front axle,” explained Anton. “You see, the tall, dry grass can be very tough and when a large clump of it gets rolled up around the axle such as this, it can be quite difficult to get it off.” He pulled a pocket knife from the back pocket of his khaki shorts and proceeded to carefully cut away the rolled up grass. With a few heaves and pulls he finally crawled back from under the car holding a large clump of grass and dirt and held it out towards Father. “There we go, it should be free now”.

Father rushed to the driver side door, jumped in and started the engine. With a loud roar the car readied itself and shot up onto the road, leaving deep grooves within the film of dust.

“Oh, finally!” exclaimed Mother, clapping her hands together. The noise and sudden movement had woken Robert and he was confusedly looking around him to make sense of his surroundings.

“Robert!” said Mother loudly. “Come meet Anton, Mr and Mrs Darvil’s son. He’s come to save us.” Father looked somewhat gloomy at the thought of having been saved by a Darvil but nonetheless seemed happy at his beloved car being freed from where it was stuck. “Come on, Robert, wake up.”

A reluctant Robert slowly oozed out of the vehicle and made his dreary way towards the merry party. He wiped the sleep from his eyes and suddenly found himself standing in front of the new boy.

“Hi, I’m Robert,” he said sleepily with his hands firmly in his pockets.

“Anton,” said the other boy and nodded. Annie’s eyes leapt from the one to the other. Robert was a shy bit taller than Anton but very much lacking in stature and posture. There also seemed to be a certain air of confidence around the tanned boy with the messy hair. Robert, on the other hand was slender and almost sickly looking. Not that he was at all unwell, he just looked like it most of the time.

“Very well then, shall we get going?” asked Father whilst giving his spectacles a thorough cleaning. He looked rather out of place, what with his round eyeglasses, office trousers and stiff manner.

“Indeed,” said Anton. “You can follow me, there are a few patches of road that might be troubling, it would be better if I drove up ahead.” Anton rushed towards his beloved old truck and just as he steadied to clamber up the side of it, Annie called after him.

“Can I ride in that thing with you?” she asked, pointing an excited finger to the metal monstrosity. It was all terribly exciting and besides, the last thing she wanted was to be cooped up in that car for another minute. “It rather looks like fun.”

“Of course,” replied Anton, “I don’t mind if you ride along with me. That is, if your parents are fine with it.” He looked towards Mother for confirmation.

“Oh, they won’t mind,” said Annie quickly. She thought it better to interrupt this asking-the-parents nonsense, before things got out of hand, and leapt onto the rear wheel of the truck before expertly slipping onto the back.

“Just be careful, all right?” urged Mother, laughing as she stared after Annie who was already securely holding onto the large metal bar that spread across the back of the truck. “Robert, don’t you also want to ride with them?”

The boy looked up at his mother and tilted his head, as if to gauge her sanity.

Why would I… Must I?” he stammered. Robert certainly was not in the mood to ride on the back of any old truck, let alone that rusty old death-trap. He could barely keep his head upright, so tired was he that a bumpy ride in a rumbling old machine would certainly be the end of him.

Oh, come on, Robbie,” urged Mother, knowing full well that he detested being called that. “Maybe you’ll enjoy it. Besides, it can’t be too far to the house, the fresh air will be good for you,” she added, before giving Robert a playful, yet powerful push towards the old truck.

“Don’t you worry about him,” Annie whispered to Anton. “He really is a pleasant chap, he just hasn’t been sleeping well lately. He spends all his time reading books and learning the proper names for things. Rather silly if you ask me.”

Anton smiled at Annie and nodded before placing the leather hat on his head and after waiting for Robert to reluctantly clamber onto the back with his sister, he brought the old beast to life and gave it a heavy thrust to get moving.

Chapter 2

Something gloomy, something sweet

Mother was indeed correct. When the rusty old truck finally came to a halt, followed in tow by Father’s dusty sedan, Robert was beaming with excitement. His shirt was untucked and his hair stood straight up, making his head look like a disoriented hedgehog. Anton had led them to the old stables, which was converted into parking garages. The old woodwork had been pristinely restored and the floor was polished to a shine. Father pulled right into the stables and when he hopped out, he was immediately greeted by two large dogs, wagging their tails and jumping up and down in front of him.

“Butter! Peanut!” called Anton and let out a loud whistle. The two dogs stopped jumping up and down in front of Father and ran towards the boy. They sat down in front of him and each waited for a head-patting and ear scratching.

“How adorable!” exclaimed Mother as she dropped down on one knee and hailed the dogs closer towards her. After they had sufficiently introduced themselves to Mother, the dogs trotted over towards Robert. He stood stoically, letting them lap and pant at him but didn’t move so much as a finger in their direction. “Did you enjoy the ride, Robert?” asked Mother when the dogs had finally retreated from the stiff boy.

Oh yes, we saw all sorts of animals on the way here. Did you see the giraffes?” Robert babbled, barely able to contain his excitement. “And the birds, so many of them.” He began rambling off the scientific names for some of the bird species they had passed on the way there. This was exactly the sort of thing that bored Annie so tremendously about her brother and his beginning to speak about the proper names of things drove her to seek better entertainment.

“Oh yes, we did. Marvellous weren’t they?” replied Mother. She always enjoyed seeing Robert as excited as he was in that state and always pushed him to try new things ever since he was little. Being rewarded for this brought a smile to her face.

“Very much. I’d so love to see more of the farm while we’re here. Maybe we could go bird watching?” His question was more for the sake of Anton’s ears than his mother’s. Mother shot a rather excited glance over towards Anton, who nodded in gleeful agreement. She had hoped that this trip would bring Robert out of his shell, and who knows, maybe even a friend or two.

“Now, where’s Annie?” asked Mother. Robert last saw her jumping from the truck before he was overwhelmed by the dogs but hadn’t seen her since.

“I think she went around the stables,” he said as he patted the dusty paw prints off his trousers. He pulled his shirt down, trying to straighten it and proceeded to tuck it in. After all, one needn’t neglect one’s appearance for too long.

Annie always had a tendency to drift off on her own. This was all right when they were in familiar places but seeing as this was unfamiliar territory, Mother was feeling extra vigilant. Her anxiety was however quickly alleviated when Annie appeared from behind the stables with a large and furry grey cat clutched in her arms. The feline’s body drooped lazily over Annie’s arms and its snow white whiskers seemed almost as long as the girl’s forearms.

“And who do we have here?” asked Mother as she walked over towards Annie and extended a hand towards the cat’s head. The cat was fast asleep when Annie had stumbled upon him basking in the late afternoon sun. Slowly but surely he was gathering his power until finally he leapt from Annie’s arms and with two expertly timed jumps he landed on the roof of the stables from which he continued to groom himself, as if to wash off the little girl’s touch.

“Don’t you worry about Rufus, he is a rather miserable old grunt at times. Everybody that’s come to visit have had a run-in or two with him,” laughed Anton. “Oh I see he got you with his claws a little bit.” Anton’s eyes grew with concern as he took Annie’s hand in his. She felt the urge to pluck her hand away from him but then she saw the trickle of blood running down her finger.

“Oh no! My darling, what happened?” exclaimed Mother, grasping the finger and bringing it closer for inspection. “Let me see. Oh look, it’s bleeding.”

“It’s only a scratch. It doesn’t even hurt.” urged Annie. She hated when there was a fuss about her and Mother had the most embarrassing way of making mountains out of mole hills.

“We need a bandage!” shouted Mother, completely oblivious to the fact that she was making Annie even more uncomfortable and creating a rather awkward scene. She then turned to Father and shouted at him to retrieve the first-aid kit from the car.

“It’s all fine! See?” said Annie and promptly stuck the bleeding finger in her mouth. “All better, I can hardly feel it anymore” she muttered, finger still firmly placed on her tongue.

Mother nearly fainted at this sight and Father had to step in to hold her steady. The brazenness of Annie was something that her parents both cherished and were shocked by all the same. This was, of course, one of the more shocking instances.

“There are bandages at the main house, we can have a look there.” said Anton. These city-folk were indeed strange, he thought, with their flat cars and overreaction to the smallest of things. The boy pressed past Father, who was still trying to hold Mother upright, and swiftly picked up all of their luggage and continued to carry it around the stables. He looked like a Sherpa carrying climbing equipment up a mountain, thought Robert – remembering the research he had done on endemic bird species of the Himalayas, about two months earlier. Small framed but immensely powerful. Annie skipped after Anton, still happily sucking away at her finger and Robert followed soon after making sure that Mother was indeed all right.

Anton moved at a surprising rate, considering the weight he was carrying. Annie was barely able to keep up with him and when Robert finally caught up to his little sister he found her standing, her jaw wide open, at the beginning of a winding cobblestone path.

“Wow,” she exclaimed. Before them, at the end of the path, stood the most majestic of houses they had ever seen in their lives. Robert, of course, had learnt everything about the house during his research but he had not expected it to be as impressive in real life. The marvellous sandstone brickwork was taken from the hills on the farm itself and masterfully worked by masons more than a hundred years ago. It was the patriarch of the family, Archibald Darvil, himself that commissioned the building of this wondrous structure. Half the walls were covered in lush ivies, which made Annie immediately want to climb, even if only for a meter or so. Judging from the ample plumage, the boreholes serving the house were still sufficiently full, which made the house seem even more impressive, amid the arid and dry surroundings.

“Archie!” exclaimed Mother gleefully as the master of the house, Archibald Darvil the fifth, appeared from the front door of the fantastic house. He was standing at the end of the cobblestone path, indicating to Anton that he should take the visitors’ luggage up to their rooms. Mother and Archibald, or Archie as she called him, were at boarding school together for most of their formative years. They were the best of friends, sometimes to the spite of Father, whom Annie had heard on several occasions refer to Mr Darvil as a bloat-headed tool. Judging by the appearance of the tall, burly man, Annie was yet to see where his head could be used in any kind of do-it-yourself project. It was a rather large head in any case, she thought. He had a stern demeanour and eyes as dark as the hair on his head. His skin was burnt brown, much like Anton’s and he had a thick brow, which made him look rather imposing.

“I am so glad you and your family could join us,” said Mr Darvil as he greeted his old school friend. “Welcome to Darvil Manor.”

He was enormous, thought Robert. Compared to Father, this man seemed like Goliath, towering over David. The old Sunday school lesson suddenly became much more impressive. Mr Darvil extended his hand towards Robert, nearly engulfing his entire forearm and gave him a study shake. He gave him another, which nearly crushed the bones in the boy’s hand, before releasing.

Annie, meanwhile had taken it upon herself to go about exploring the grounds around the manor. She was admiring the manner in which the ivies crept all the way up to the roof at some parts when she caught the scent of something utterly delicious, coming from around the house. Images of cakes and sweet pastries ran through her mind. She slipped around the wooden fence at the side of the house, to where the delicious smells seemed to originate. Suddenly she stopped. The dusky sunlight was casting long shadows across the back lawn and within the darkest of shadows she saw a rather ominous-looking building, standing alone in a patch of dry earth. It wasn’t built with the same stone as the house. No it was a greyer, miserable looking material and on the heavy steel doors there were enormous chains and locks, which in itself were rather frightening. The building seemed to draw Annie in, wanting her to go towards it. She was beginning to feel hypnotised by the eerie sight.

“Hello there,” came a voice, suddenly. Annie shrieked and swung around to see an older girl standing in a doorway behind her. The girl was around thirteen years old and had long brown hair, made up in a ponytail which draped over her left shoulder. Her emerald eyes smiled down at Annie before she waved her inside. “I’m Eleanor, but you can call me Ellie,” she said as Annie walked past her into the kitchen.

“I’m… Annie,” said the little girl, and gave the old building a final glance before turning around. Her voice suddenly faded as she was faced with the most wonderful sight. Before her stood an enormous table, filled from edge to edge with cupcakes and tartlets and roasted meat and potatoes and all manner of delicious food and snacks.

Did you bake those?” she asked, pointing towards the impressive collection of cupcakes on the table. “They look delicious.”

“I did,” laughed the older girl, her eyes sparkling. She leaned down to Annie and asked, “Do you want one?”

Annie nodded excitedly and immediately jumped onto the chair by the enormous table. She placed her hands on the side of the table and closed her eyes, inhaling the delicious smell.

You’re only allowed to have some after dinner,” came a voice from the inside the kitchen doorway. It was Mrs Darvil. Her long blonde hair was tied up in a bun and she had the same piercing eyes as Ellie, which were staring at Annie intently. She was an older version of Ellie, thought Annie. Maybe she also coloured her hair, as Mother did. “Come, Eleanor,” she continued, “let’s go and meet our guests. Be sure to cover those sixteen cupcakes.”

Mrs Darvil winked at Annie, gave a sly smile and disappeared from view. As soon as she was out of sight, Annie quickly counted the cupcakes. There were eighteen. She looked at Ellie, as if to ask whether her mother miscounted on purpose. The other girl smiled back at her, giving away the game.

“Which one do you want?” Ellie whispered as she held her arm outstretched over the collection of cupcakes.

Can I have that one?” Annie had been eyeing a particularly well prepared cupcake and could already taste the sweet buttercream icing. The older girl nodded excitedly and handed Annie the one she had pointed out. Gleefully she continued to gobble down the sweet, creamy delight.

“Now, let’s wash up for dinner,” said Ellie, before placing a large net over the remaining treats.

Chapter 3

A legend in a ledger

Dinner was delicious. This was certainly the general consensus around the table and even Father had agreed and sounded somewhat sincere as he did so. Annie was in seventh heaven after the cupcakes came about, this was to be her second for the evening but she was not about let that secret slip. Robert gave everybody a lecture on interesting facts regarding antelope when the venison pie was served, which made Annie roll her eyes. All in all, the guests and hosts alike were satisfied.

After they had all left the table and helped with the cleaning up, the adults retreated to the sitting room to have tea and coffee and the Darvil children showed Robert and Annie around the house. The tour started in the children’s bedrooms, of which they were each to have their own, something which pleased Robert immensely. Annie had never slept in a room with a fireplace before and was extremely excited about that, even though it was the middle of summer and there was no need for such a thing at that time. Anton did say that it got very cold during winter, which made Annie wish that they could come back when winter came along. After the bedrooms they took a tour of the upstairs lounge, where they could play games and build puzzles whenever they were bored, before heading downstairs to the rest of the house.

“Why is the farm named Devil’s Leap?” asked Annie as they made their way down the stairs. They had just taken the first step from the top when Mrs Darvil came around the corner from the sitting room. She stood at the bottom of the stairs with her hand on the rail and looked up at them.

Oh, it’s quite an interesting story,” she said, in answer to Annie’s question. “Eleanor, darling, would you mind fetching the tea tray from the lounge and placing in on the kitchen table before meeting us in the family library.” She held out her arm towards the back of the stairs and waited for the children to make their way to the library, which was situated opposite the kitchen doorway. Robert enquired as to whether there was another library in the house, since this one was called the ‘family’ library. His question, which he by no means asked in jest, was met with entertained laughter. He decided to rather let them think he was intentionally joking - no sense in getting people annoyed at him. As it turned out, as explained by Mrs Darvil, this was called the family library because there used to be a museum on the premises, which was named the library at some point. This museum showcased the history of the farm and the diamond mining activities related to it, explained Mrs Darvil.

“Is that the old building at the back?” asked Annie, referring to the museum. A cold shiver ran up her spine as she thought about the scary old structure again.

“Indeed,” explained Mrs Darvil, “but that hasn’t been used for anything, other than storage, in years. Not since they ceased mining diamonds on the farm.” She cleared her throat and continued, “Never mind that, let me show you something quite special.”

Mrs Darvil walked past the children and opened a large wooden door. Robert immediately noticed the inlay work on the door – an enormous crest with two stags on either end, their horns locked in battle and the words ‘honoris fortitudo’ engraved masterfully below.

“What is this?” asked Robert. “This isn’t the Darvil family coat of arms, that has a single rampant lion in the middle,” he remarked to the surprise of his host. He had seen the family crest several times during his research and it was engrained in his memory.

“Indeed it isn’t,” replied Mrs Darvil. She studied the boy up and down with a look of surprised curiosity in her eye. “This is the crest of Archibald Darvil. Lord Archibald Darvil to be correct.” She pointed to the motto beneath the crest, a word on each door. “Honoris… Fortitudo,” she said slowly. “The strength of honour.” Her words drifted slowly as if to let the meaning sink in before she walked over towards the middle of the room.

“Eleanor, dear,” Mrs Darvil said. “Would you please switch on the light so we can see a little better?” Ellie reached over to her side and flicked the old, copper switch, which let out a loud click.

Suddenly the library was lit up in an almost hypnotic illumination. Not too bright so as to take away from the splendour of the view and also not so dim so as to force you to strain your eyes to read. The room seemed larger than it should, with leather-clad books stretching from floor to ceiling. A large, wooden desk stood in the back corner and atop its smooth surface stood an ornament resembling the crest on the door. In the middle of the room was a coffee table, fashioned to look like the horns of an antelope, morphing into the shape of a camel thorn tree, which flattened at the top to provide the table surface.

“This is amazing,” said Robert as he slowly turned his head around and around to take in the masses of books around him. He was in heaven. All the information that these books must contain. Even Annie had to admit that, even though she hated reading during her lessons, this was a truly breath-taking sight.

“This is the family ledger,” stated Mrs Darvil as she sat down by the impressive coffee table and took a large, leather-bound book from the table surface. She opened the large book onto her lap and the children gathered around her, peeking over her shoulder. She turned to the first page. “Here we have Archibald Darvil,” she said, pointing to the bold signature in the middle of the page. “He was born to Baron Horace von Darvil but did not believe in the philosophies of his father, who was a stern and difficult man who wanted his son to take over and manage the family assets. When Archibald refused his father’s request, instead stating that he wanted to experience the world outside of the confines of his family’s estate, his father disowned him and vowed to ruin his chances of earning a living in an attempt to force his son’s hand. Archibald was not to be manipulated and left the country. It was then that he came to South Africa in an attempt to make a name for himself, free from his father’s grasp. It was in the diamond trade that he achieved notoriety and he used the riches he achieved to build this house and the farm surrounding it.

“But why did he name it Devil’s Leap?” asked Robert. “It would seem an awfully strange name for a diamond mine.”

Ah,” replied Mrs Darvil. Her eyes drooped slightly as she continued to speak, “That is the sad part of Archibald’s story. You see, he had originally named the farm Renaissance, symbolising the rebirth of the Darvil name, also dropping the von from his surname. Renaissance was later also the name given to the largest diamond ever found on this farm, which Archibald exhibited in reinforced glass display case in the museum at the back.” Robert was indeed familiar with the Renaissance Diamond, the supposedly cursed diamond of the doomed Darvils of Devil’s Leap. “It wasn’t long after he established this farm, that he married the daughter of a local physician. Her name was Magdalene and she gave him a son, Archibald, named after his father and heir to the newly amassed fortune. Theirs was not to be a happy story, however. Soon after the eleventh birthday of Archibald II, Magdalene fell ill with a mysterious disease. Since healthcare back then was not of the standard we have today and after three months of horrible suffering, she passed away. Lord Darvil was never the same after that. Distraught at the passing of his beloved wife he retired to the master bedroom, only ever seen by the housekeeper, who would bring him his meals twice a day, leaving his lawyers to look after the family business until Archibald II came of age. For nearly a year Archibald barricaded himself in the room, until one morning when the housekeeper, bringing Lord Darvil his breakfast, discovered the main bedroom empty. After searching the entire premises the housekeeper sent a message to the local authorities that Lord Darvil had disappeared but he was never seen again.”

“What happened to him?” Annie asked, mesmerised by the tale. “How could he have just disappeared?”

“Nobody knows,” replied Mrs Darvil. “A local boy claimed to have seen Archibald standing on the cliff overlooking Drifter’s Pond, others claimed to have seen him leave the country by ship. It is all speculation, however, one thing is certain. He took the diamond with him, wherever he may have gone.”

“So the diamond is indeed gone?” asked Robert. He had so hoped that they would be able to see the legendary gemstone. “Where is this pond?” he added. What if they could retrace Lord Darvil’s tracks? What would they find? The hairs on the back of his neck stood up from excitement and his hands shook in anticipation of an adventure.

Mrs Darvil leaned backwards in the chair and exhaled, thinking for a moment.

“It’s quite close to where the old farmhouse used to stand, just north from here,” she said.

“I’ll take you there during your visit,” said Anton, sharing in the excitement of the story. He had heard this tale a thousand times, yet hearing it fall on fresh ears breathed new life into the words. “We go there often, it’s a great place to swim and you can meet Jonathan, his house is nearby.”

“Who is Jonathan?” asked Annie, excited at the prospect of making new friends.

“Jonathan is our partner in the farm. His family have lived on these lands long before Lord Darvil ever settled here,” began Ellie. “Lord Darvil signed an agreement with Jonathan’s family to show him where he could find the diamonds, in exchange for a share of the profits and an assurance that his descendants would be allowed equal share in the farm.”

“I can’t wait to see the pond,” replied Robert, he loved history and to be able to visit a place mentioned in this old tale would be wondrous. “But still, this hasn’t answered the question as to why this farm is called Devil’s Leap.”

“Well,” began Mrs Darvil, “after the disappearance of Lord Darvil, rumours began to spread among the community. Some seemed to think that Archibald was so heartbroken over losing his beloved wife that he couldn’t stand being on the farm any longer. They seemed to think he ran away, either back to his homeland or to some other far off destination to make a new life for himself. Others, meanwhile, were a bit more creative in their approach to the story. You see, this was a time when people believed all sorts of things, most of all that the land itself was the cause of all the misery that befell Archibald. You see, Magdalene fell ill a year after the discovery of the Renaissance Diamond. Remember, the largest diamond ever found on this farm. The exhibition in the museum drew massive crowds from all over and inspired many fortune-seekers to come and try their luck at finding their own Renaissance Diamond. The more superstitious of those in the area believed that the diamond itself was cursed by the ancient spirits of the people that lived on these lands, who were driven from their homes by Western settlers. These stories claimed that the diamond drove Lord Archibald insane. That he poisoned Madgalene and was so distraught when he realised what he had done that he threw himself off the cliff at Drifter’s Pond, taking the diamond with him to the bottom of that old sinkhole.”

Mrs Darvil’s eyes grew large as she told the tale and then paused, waiting for the story to take full effect before continuing: “It was from then on that locals began referring to the area as Devil’s Leap, implying that something supernatural was behind Lord Darvil’s disappearance and that of the Renaissance Diamond.” She sat back on the chair, the ledger still wide open on her lap, and snorted derisively at the story. “It is of course much more likely that the locals struggled to pronounce the name Darvil and simply turned to the closest word they could pronounce. The name had become so popular that when Archibald II took over, he formally changed the name of the farm, for nobody was able to find it without this ominous title. To this day, some have claimed to have seen the ghost of Lord Darvil wandering around that pond, seeking the forgiveness of the spirits that cursed him.” Mrs Darvil’s words sent a chill running up Robert’s spine. In all fairness, she had told the last part in a rather foreboding tone. Robert, however, quickly shook off this feeling. After all, he was a man of logic and scientific principle. Stories of ghosts and possessions should not bother him.

“What’s that?” asked Robert, breaking the ghostly silence and pointing to a faint inscription in the bottom right hand corner of Lord Darvil’s last entry in the ledger. Mrs Darvil brought it closer to her eyes, trying to discern what was written there. The light was fairly low but Robert could make out that it was a collection of rectangles, three columns and three rows, with markings inside each of the rectangles.

“I don’t know,” said Mrs Darvil. “It might be some sort of stamp, or a stain from something that rested on the paper. In any case, it’s probably nothing.”

That inscription was not there by accident, thought Robert, as each of the children took their turn in analysing the strange figures. The lines and structure of the image were much too deliberate to be coincidence.

“Well then,” said Mrs Darvil after they each had a go at deciphering the page. “It’s quite late and we’ll be up early tomorrow morning.”

The children sighed in unison but then Annie let out a loud yawn. As soon as that happened they all began to yawn. It had been quite an eventful day and the thought of getting a good night’s sleep was sounding ever more enticing.

“Now, get upstairs and get ready for bed,” said Mrs Darvil and shooed them out of the library. She closed the enormous door behind them and turned the old copper key, locking it. The children made their way upstairs, save for Robert, who had taken a second to see Mrs Darvil place the key in her handbag, which was resting on the small table in the foyer, before returning to the sitting room where the rest of the adults were still happily chatting away.

Mother had already come by to check in on Robert but he could not sleep. He closed his eyes several times, trying his utmost to get some rest but the image of that inscription in the bottom corner of that page in the ledger was etched into his mind. He got up out of bed and retrieved a notepad and pencil, which he always travelled with, from his suitcase, rushed back to bed and continued to trace the inscription on the blank page in front of him. He closed his eyes and imagined the figure, making a few alterations to the image he had drawn until he was satisfied. He could remember the outlines of the inscription all right but the markings inside the rectangles were too vague to remember.

“There we go,” he said as he held up the piece of paper, staring at the riddle before him and finally drifted off to sleep.

Chapter 4

A visit to an oasis

It was half past five and Devil’s Leap was already bustling in the early morning light. Mr Darvil and Anton had already gone out to oversee the arrival of new equipment and Annie could hear Father whistling down the corridor. How adults could be so productive, so early in the morning she could never understand. She stretched out her arms and opened her mouth widely to let out a satisfying yawn when something began shaking next to her, right there on the bed. She gasped and slowly peered over towards her feet when she saw a furry thing slowly rolling around on the duvet. Annie was just about to scream when Rufus threw his head back and stared her dead in the eye.

Now, how did you get in?” asked Annie, stretching out her hand and giving the old cat a scratch behind the ear. Rufus began to purr before placing his head back onto his front paws.

It wasn’t until Annie heard Robert’s voice, coming from downstairs, that she leapt out of bed and ran down towards the foyer. Rufus gave her no mind and continued sleeping. Annie’s sleeping gown was flapping around her as she ran down the corridor to see Robert standing at the bottom of the stairs, waiting for her.

“Are you ready for today?” he asked, resting his hand nonchalantly on the railing.

“What do you mean? What are we doing?” Annie skewed her left brow and stared inquisitively down at her brother. She had hoped that they wouldn’t be cooped up all day and she could sense excitement in her brother’s voice.

“Anton is taking us out to the pond today,” replied Robert excitedly. “He and Mr Darvil will be back in an hour or so for breakfast and then we’ll head out. Mrs Darvil is going to pack us snacks and ginger beer to take along on the trip.”

“Oh, how exciting,” exclaimed Annie. “I was so afraid that we might have to keep ourselves busy in this place all day. Are we going swimming? I do so hope that we go swimming. I wonder how deep the pond is and if we can dive into it.”

“Of course we’re going swimming. I don’t know about the diving, but Anton did say that the cliff overlooking the pond was quite high up, so you might be able to.” replied Robert. He was also excited, more about the prospect of seeing the place which was shrouded in such a legend than diving into some unknown abyss. The day before had been so tiring, with him having not slept properly for nights prior to their visit, but now he was feeling rested and ready to enjoy the holidays. Then, of course, there was also the matter of the inscription in the ledger. He could not shake the feeling that there was something exciting around that marking.

“Where’s Ellie?” asked Annie, jumping from the third stair up and landing flat on her feet. She performed a little bow to her brother, like a gymnast successfully pulling off a perfect routine. Robert laughed heartily at her antics and gave her a playful punch on the shoulder. He felt slightly embarrassed about his grumpy behaviour the previous day and was happy to see her enjoying his company again.

“She’s in the kitchen, but I don’t think there are any cupcakes left,” replied Robert. He could see his little sister trying to hide the fact that this was indeed the motivation behind her question.

“I don’t care about cupcakes,” snorted Annie and trotted past her brother towards the kitchen. Robert followed and stared after her as she began to skip happily. “Besides,” she added right before slipping through the doorway, “morning is no time for cupcakes.”

Robert smiled and stared after his sister, who was bouncing up and down, trying to see all the activities taking place on the kitchen table. He then decided to take a walk outside and take in the fresh morning air. He turned away from the kitchen doorway to make his way to the front door when a framed picture against the wall, next to the library, caught his attention. It was an old map of Devil’s Leap, when it was still named Renaissance and before it had become a sheep farm. Robert stared at the old lines drawn on the crinkly paper. Something seemed oddly familiar in the layout of the farm. Then he gasped. The layout of the farm was identical to the inscription in the ledger. He rushed upstairs to his notebook and ripped out the page on which he had traced the inscription from memory the previous night.

“What are you still doing here?” asked Annie, seeing her brother standing where she had left him and staring at the picture against the wall. “What’s that in your hand?” She walked closer to Robert, who was holding a piece of paper in his hands and periodically comparing it to the framed picture.

Look at this,” Robert said, before turning towards his little sister. He paused after he raised his eyes and then burst out laughing. “Maybe you should first wipe the frosting from your cheek before asking me what I’m doing,” he added.

Annie had indeed found a stray cupcake and had gobbled it down before anybody could notice. In her haste, however, she had forgotten to wipe away the frosting, which was now covering the larger part of her left cheek. She quickly wiped it away, smiling slyly.

“Show me what you have there,” she added, looking over her shoulder to see if she might have been caught out sneaking snacks from the kitchen.

“Look, I drew this last night,” he said, as he pointed to the paper and then held it up against the picture. “This is the inscription that we saw in the ledger, remember? It’s the same as this map. Isn’t this just fantastic?”

“What do you think it means?” Annie asked, sharing in her brother’s excitement.

“I have no idea,” said Robert. “It must be a map of sorts. Do you remember? There were markings within the squares but they weren’t clear enough to make out properly.”

“What are you two doing?” came a voice from behind them. Robert and Annie swung around to see Ellie standing in the kitchen door. “Let me see,” she added and walked up to them.

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