Chapter Fifteen. Conference

Purdie was already sufficiently acquainted with the geography of the Paddington district to be aware of the significance of Grayson's remark. The Spring Street Post Office, at which Levendale's wire had been handed in, was only a few minutes' walk from the house. It stood, in fact, between Purdie's hotel and Sussex Square, and he had passed it on his way to Levendale's. It was certainly odd that a man who was within five minutes' walk of his own house should send a telegram there, when he had nothing to do but walk down one street and turn the corner of another to give his message in person.

"Sent off, do you see, sir, twenty minutes ago," observed the butler, pointing to some figures in the telegram form. "So--Mr. Levendale must have been close by--then!"

"Not necessarily," remarked Purdie. "He may have sent a messenger with that wire--perhaps he himself was catching a train at Paddington."

Grayson shook his head knowingly.

"There's a telegraph office on the platform there, sir," he answered. "However--there it is, and I suppose there's no more to be done."

He left the room again, and Purdie looked at the governess. She, too, looked at him: there was a question in the eyes of both.

"What do you make of that?" asked Purdie after a pause.

"What do you make of it?" she asked in her turn.

"It looks odd--but there may be a reason for it," he answered. "Look here!--I'm going to ask you a question. What do you know of Mr. Levendale? You've been governess to his children for some time, haven't you?"

"For six months before he left Cape Town, and ever since we all came to England, three years ago," she answered. "I know that he's very rich, and a very busy man, and a member of Parliament, and that he goes to the City a great deal--and that's all! He's a very reserved man, too--of course, he never tells me anything. I've never had any conversation with him excepting about the children."

"You're upset about this book affair?" suggested Purdie.

"Why should Mr. Levendale say that he left that book in the omnibus, when I myself saw him leave the 'bus with it in his hand, and go down Praed Street with it?" she asked. "Doesn't it look as if he were the person who left it in that room--where the old man was found lying dead?"

"That, perhaps, is the very reason why he doesn't want people to know that he did leave it there," remarked Purdie, quietly. "There's more in all this than lies on the surface. You wanted my advice? Very well don't say anything to anybody till you see me again. I must go now--there's a man waiting for me at my hotel. I may call again, mayn't I?"

"Do!" she said, giving him her hand. "I am bothered about this--it's useless to deny it--and I've no one to talk to about it. Come--any time."

Purdie repressed a strong desire to stay longer, and to turn the conversation to more personal matters. But he was essentially a business man, and the matters of the moment seemed to be critical. So he promised to return, and then hurried back to his hotel--to find Melky Rubinstein pacing up and down outside the entrance.

Purdie tapped Melky's shoulder and motioned him to walk along Praed Street.

"Look here!" he said. "I want you to take me to see your cousin--and the pawnshop. We must have a talk--you said your cousin's a good business woman. She's the sort we can discuss business with, eh?"

"My cousin Zillah Wildrose, mister," answered Melky, solemnly, "is one of the best! She's a better headpiece on her than what I have--and that's saying a good deal. I was going to suggest you should come there. Talk!-- s'elp me, Mr. Purdie, it strikes me there'll be a lot of that before we've done. What about this here affair of last night?--I've just seen Mr. Ayscough, passing along--he's told me all about it. Do you think it's anything to do with our business?"

"Can't say," answered Purdie. "Wait till we can discuss matters with your cousin."

Melky led the way to the side-door of the pawnshop. Since the old man's death, the whole establishment had been closed--Zillah had refused to do any business until her grandfather's funeral was over. She received her visitors in the parlour where old Daniel had been found dead: after a moment's inspection of her, and the exchange of a few remarks about Lauriston, Purdie suggested that they should all sit down and talk matters over.

"Half-a-mo!" said Melky. "If we're going to have a cabinet council, mister, there's a lady that I want to bring into it--Mrs. Goldmark. I know something that Mrs. Goldmark can speak to--I've just been considering matters while I was waiting for you, Mr. Purdie, and I'm going to tell you and Zillah, and Mrs. Goldmark, of a curious fact that I know of. I'll fetch her--and while I'm away Zillah'll show you that there book what was found there."

Purdie looked with interest at the Spanish manuscript which seemed to be a factor of such importance.

"I suppose you never saw this before?" he asked, as Zillah laid it on the table before him. "And you're certain it wasn't in the place when you went out that afternoon, leaving your grandfather alone?"

"That I'm positive of," answered Zillah. "I never saw it in my life until my attention was drawn to it after he was dead. That book was brought in here during my absence, and it was neither bought nor pawned--that's absolutely certain! Of course, you know whose book it is?"

"Mr. Spencer Levendale's," answered Purdie. "Yes I know all those particulars--and about his advertisements for it, and a little more. And I want to discuss all that with you and your cousin. This Mrs. Goldmark--she's to be fully trusted?"

Zillah replied that Mrs. Goldmark was worthy of entire confidence, and an old friend, and Melky presently returning with her, Purdie suggested they should all sit down and talk--informally and in strict privacy.

"You know why I'm concerning myself in this?" he said, looking round at his three companions. "I'm anxious that Andie Lauriston should be fully and entirely cleared! I've great faith in him--he's beginning what I believe will be a successful career, and it would be a terrible thing if any suspicion rested on him. So I want, for his sake, to thoroughly clear up this mystery about your relative's death."

"Mister!" said Melky, in his most solemn tones. "Speaking for my cousin there, and myself, there ain't nothing what we wouldn't do to clear Mr. Lauriston! We ain't never had one moment's suspicion of him from the first, knowing the young fellow as we do. So we're with you in that matter, ain't we, Zillah?"

"Mr. Purdie feels sure of that," agreed Zillah, with a glance at Lauriston's old schoolmate. "There's no need to answer him, Melky."

"I am sure!" said Purdie. "So--let's put our wits together--we'll consider the question of approaching the police when we've talked amongst ourselves. Now--I want to ask you some very private questions. They spring out of that rare book there. There's no doubt that book belongs to Mr. Levendale. Do either of you know if Mr. Levendale had any business relations with the late Mr. Rubinstein?"

Zillah shook her head.

"None!--that I know of," she answered. "I've helped my grandfather in this business for some time. I never heard him mention Mr. Levendale. Mr. Levendale never came here, certainly."

Melky shook his head, too.

"When Mr. Ayscough, and Mr. Lauriston, and me went round to Sussex Square, to see Mr. Levendale about that advertisement for his book," he remarked, "he said he'd never heard of Daniel Multenius. That's a fact, mister!"

"Had Mr. Multenius any private business relations of which he didn't tell you?" asked Purdie, turning to Zillah.

"He might have had," admitted Zillah. "He was out a good deal. I don't know what he might do when he went out. He was--close. We--it's no use denying it--we don't know all about it. His solicitor's making some enquiries--I expect him here, any time, today."

"It comes to this," observed Purdie. "Your grandfather met his death by violence, the man who attacked him came in here during your absence. The question I want to get solved is--was the man who undoubtedly left that book here the guilty man? If so--who is he?"

Melky suddenly broke the silence which followed upon this question.

"I'm going to tell something that I ain't told to nobody as yet!" he said. "Not even to Zillah. After this here parlour had been cleared, I took a look round. I've very sharp eyes, Mr. Purdie. I found this here--half- hidden under the rug there, where the poor old man had been lying." He pulled out the platinum solitaire, laid it on the palm of one hand, and extended the hand to Mrs. Goldmark. "You've seen the like of that before, ain't you?" asked Melky.

"Mercy be upon us!" gasped Mrs. Goldmark, starting in her seat. "I've the fellow to it lying in my desk!"

"And it was left on a table in your restaurant," continued Melky, "by a man what looked like a Colonial party--I know!--I saw it by accident in your place the other night, and one o' your girls told me. Now then, Mr. Purdie, here's a bit more of puzzlement--and perhaps a clue. These here platinum solitaire cuff-links are valuable--they're worth--well, I'd give a good few pounds for the pair. Now who's the man who lost one in this here parlour--right there!--and the other in Mrs. Goldmark's restaurant? For--it's a pair! There's no doubt about that, mister!--there's that same curious and unusual device on each. Mister!--them studs has at some time or other been made to special order!"

Purdie turned the solitaire over, and looked at Zillah.

"Have you ever seen anything like this before?" he asked.

"Never!" said Zillah. "It's as Melky says--specially made."

"And you have its fellow--lost in your restaurant?" continued Purdie, turning to Mrs. Goldmark.

"Its very marrow," assented Mrs. Goldmark, fervently, "is in my desk! It was dropped on one of our tables a few afternoons ago by a man who, as Mr. Rubinstein says, looked like one of those Colonials. Leastways, my waitress, Rosa, she picked it up exactly where he'd been sitting. So I put it away till he comes in again, you see. Oh, yes!"

"Has he been in again?" asked Purdie.

"Never was he inside my door before!" answered Mrs. Goldmark dramatically. "Never has he been inside it since! But--I keep his property, just so. In my desk it is!"

Purdie considered this new evidence in silence for a moment.

"The question now is--this," he said presently. "Is the man who seems undoubtedly to have dropped those studs the same man who brought that book in here? Or, had Mr. Multenius two callers here during your absence, Miss Wildrose? And--who is this mysterious man who dropped the studs--valuable things, with a special device on them? He'll have to be traced! Mrs. Goldmark--can you describe him, particularly?"

Before Mrs. Goldmark could reply, a knock came at the side-door, and Zillah, going to answer it, returned presently with a middle-aged, quiet- looking, gold-spectacled gentleman whom she introduced to Purdie as Mr. Penniket, solicitor to the late Daniel Multenius.