A Plane Flight

If owning the Hope Diamond, with its supposed tradition of disaster for everyone connected with it, isn’t always fun, it is also not always entirely without fun, as Mr. Harry Winston, its latest owner, continues to discover. Strictly speaking, Mr. Winston, who bought the diamond in 1949, isn’t its latest owner, since he presented it in 1958 to the Smithsonian Institution. But as a legend of the Hope Diamond type attaches itself more readily to an individual than to an institution, Mr. Winston remains the owner for the purpose of popular mythology, as a recent incident seems to indicate.

Everything about Mr. Winston is, of course, legendary, including a visit he made with his wife some time ago to Portugal for talks with President Salazar about concessions for the flow of diamonds from the Portuguese colony of Angola in West Africa. One would like to know how discussions of this kind are conducted. One has perhaps read authentic accounts in Ian Fleming or E. Phillips Oppenheim; but there are subtleties that one would like documented. Are talks about concessions of this magnitude held in great state, with the principals flanked by diplomats and gunmen, and agreements embodied in ancient massive parchment; or do the two men perhaps meet privately for a walk in a walled garden where a word, or a nod, is exchanged, and the course of diamond history flows in a new direction? One would like to have been there. One would like to know. One never will.

What one is permitted to know is that the day came when Mr. and Mrs. Winston set out to return to New York. For reasons that will be readily understood by many thousands of parents who have never owned the Hope Diamond, Mr. and Mrs. Winston always fly in separate planes. On this occasion Mrs. Winston was to leave Lisbon on a morning plane, and Mr. Winston in the evening. Mrs. Winston duly left, and as has happened to some people on other occasions, the plane ran into trouble. Smoke was seen coming from one of the engines. The stewardess doubtless told passengers that there was no cause for alarm, and passengers doubtless froze in their seats while a quiet voice from the cockpit told them that they would be making an unscheduled stop in the Azores. As the plane landed and all proved to be well, the passengers doubtless unfroze with slightly overdone bravado. By the time, an hour later, the airport loudspeaker told them that all was now in order and that they would be taking off in fifteen minutes, the passengers were looking back with a certain pride to their little adventure and were ready to go on, except for one, a well-set-up businessman who had happened to overhear the stewardess address Mrs. Winston by name. In the airport he sought out the stewardess to ask if this was the Mrs. Winston, owner of the youknow-what Diamond. Having got his information, he made a rapid decision — to wait for the evening plane, which made a scheduled stop in the Azores.

Fate, as is well known, has a sense of humor; and when the plane from Lisbon that evening, carrying Mr. Winston, landed in the Azores, a well-set-up businessman came aboard and took the vacant seat next to him. Ignoring the fact that Mr. Winston had a novel open on his lap and was clearly trying to read it, the man began, with little delay and enormous self-satisfaction, to tell Mr. Winston about his adventure and its obvious connection with the Hope Diamond. Mr. Winston felt the delicacy of his situation. No one knew better than he the mysterious history of the Hope Diamond. If this man had chosen to embroil himself without need, providence would no doubt see to it that such presumption brought a response; and providence promptly did. As the man droned on, congratulating himself on having outwitted the fates, the stewardess came up to them. “Oh, Mr. Winston,” she said, “the captain has had a message for you from Mrs. Winston. The plane got in, in good time. She had a nice journey.” Mr. Winston thanked her and turned back to his book. Out of the corner of his eye he saw that the man next to him had frozen into absolute rigidity. His hands gripped the arms of the seat and he stared fixedly ahead, his mouth open in terror. He stayed that way until the plane landed in New York; and Mr. Winston greatly enjoyed his novel.