Chapter Twenty-Three. Mr. Killick's Opinion

The old solicitor's trained eye and quick intelligence saw at once that this announcement immediately conveyed some significant meaning to his two young visitors. Purdie and Lauriston, in fact, had immediately been struck by the similarity of the names Molteno and Multenius, and they exchanged another look which their host detected and knew to convey a meaning. He leaned forward in his chair.

"Now, that strikes you--both!" he said. "What's all this about? Better give me your confidence."

"That's precisely what we came here to do, sir," responded Purdie, with alacrity. "And with your permission I'll tell you the whole story. It's a long one, and a complicated one, Mr. Killick!--but I daresay you've heard many intricate stories in the course of your legal experience, and you'll no doubt be able to see points in this that we haven't seen. Well, it's this way--and I'll begin at the beginning."

The old gentleman sat in an attitude of patient and watchful attention while Purdie, occasionally prompted and supplemented by Lauriston, told the whole story of the Praed Street affair, from Lauriston's first visit to the pawnshop up to the events of that morning. Once or twice he asked a question; one or twice he begged the narrator to pause while he considered a point: in the end he drew out his watch--after which he glanced out of his window.

"Do I gather that the taxi-cab which I see outside there is being kept by you two young men?" he asked.

"It is," answered Purdie. "It's important that we should lose no time in getting back to town, Mr. Killick."

"Just so!" agreed Mr. Killick, moving towards his library door. "But I'm going with you--as soon as I've got myself into an overcoat. Now!" he added, a few minutes later, when all three went out to the cab. "Tell the man to drive us straight to that police-station you've been visiting of late--and till we get there, just let me think quietly--I can probably say more about this case than I'm yet aware of. But--if it will give you any relief, I can tell you this at once--I have a good deal to tell. Strange! --strange indeed how things come round, and what a small world this is, after all!"

With this cryptic utterance Mr. Killick sank into a corner of the cab, where he remained, evidently lost in thought, until, nearly an hour later, they pulled up at the door of the police-station. Within five minutes they were closeted with the chief men there--amongst whom were Ayscough and the detective from New Scotland Yard.

"You know me--or of me--some of you?" observed the old solicitor, as he laid a card on the desk by which he had been given a chair. "I was very well known in the City police-courts, you know, until I retired three years ago. Now, these young gentlemen have just told me all the facts of this very strange case, and I think I can throw some light on it--on part of it, anyway. First of all, let me see those two rings about which there has been so much enquiry."

Ayscough produced the rings from a locked drawer; the rest of those present looked on curiously as they were examined and handled by Mr. Killick. It was immediately evident that he had no doubt about his recognition and identification of them--after a moment's inspection of each he pushed them back towards the detective.

"Certainly!" he said with a confidence that carried conviction. "Those are the rings which I gave to Mrs. Lauriston, this young man's mother. I knew them at once. If it's necessary, I can show you the receipt which I got with them from the seller. The particulars are specified in that receipt-- and I know that I still have it. Does my testimony satisfy you?"

The chief official present glanced at the man from New Scotland Yard, and receiving a nod from him, smiled at the old solicitor.

"I think we can rely on your evidence, Mr. Killick," he said. "We had to make certain, you know. But these marks--isn't that a curious coincidence, now, when you come to think of it?"

"Not a bit of it!" replied Mr. Killick. "And I'll tell you why--that's precisely what I've come all the way from my own comfortable fireside at Stanmore to do! There's no coincidence at all. I've heard the whole story of this Praed Street affair now from these two lads. And I've no more doubt than I have that I see you, that the old pawnbroker whom you knew hereabouts as Daniel Multenius was the same man Daniel Molteno--from whom I bought those rings, years ago! Not the slightest doubt!"

None of those present made any remark on this surprising announcement, and Mr. Killick went on.

"I was, as some of you may know, in practice in the City--in Moorgate Street, as a matter of fact," he said. "Daniel Molteno was a jeweller in Houndsditch. I occasionally acted for him--professionally. And occasionally when I wanted anything in the way of jewellery, I went to his shop. He was then a man of about fifty, a tall, characteristically Hebraic sort of man, already patriarchal in appearance, though he hadn't a grey hair in his big black beard. He was an interesting man, profoundly learned in the history of precious stones. I remember buying those rings from him very well indeed--I remember, too, what I gave him for them--seventy-five pounds for the two. Those private marks inside them are, of course, his-- and so they're just the same as his private marks inside those other rings in the tray. But that's not what I came here to tell you--that's merely preliminary."

"Deeply interesting, anyway, sir," observed Ayscough. "And, maybe, very valuable."

"Not half so valuable as what I'm going to tell you," replied Mr. Killick, with a dry chuckle, "Now, as I understand it, from young Mr. Purdie's account, you're all greatly excited at present over the undoubted connection with this Praed Street mystery of one Mr. Spencer Levendale, who is, I believe, a very rich man, a resident in one of the best parts of this district, and a Member of Parliament. It would appear from all you've discovered, amongst you, up to now, that Spencer Levendale has been privately mixed up with old Daniel Multenius in some business which seems to be connected with South Africa. Now, attend to what I say:--About the time that I knew Daniel Molteno in Houndsditch, Daniel Molteno had a partner--a junior partner, whose name, however, didn't appear over the shop. He was a much younger man than Daniel--in fact, he was quite a young man--I should say he was then about twenty-three or four--not more. He was of medium height, dark, typically Jewish, large dark eyes, olive skin, good-looking, smart, full of go. And his name--the name I knew him by--was Sam Levin." The other men in the room glanced at each other--and one of them softly murmured what all was thinking.

"The same initials!"

"Just so!" agreed Mr. Killick. "That's what struck me--Sam Levin: Spencer Levendale. Very well!--I continue. One day I went to Daniel Molteno's shop to get something repaired, and it struck me that I hadn't seen Sam Levin the last two or three times I had been in. 'Where's your partner?' I asked of Daniel Molteno. 'I haven't seen him lately.' 'Partner no longer, Mr. Killick,' said he. 'We've dissolved. He's gone to South Africa.' 'What to do there?' I asked. 'Oh,' answered Daniel Molteno, 'he's touched with this fever to get at close quarters with the diamond fields! He's gone out there to make a fortune, and come back a millionaire.' 'Well!' I said. 'He's a likely candidate.' 'Oh, yes!' said Daniel. 'He'll do well.' No more was said--and, as far as I can remember, I never saw Daniel Molteno again. It was some time before I had occasion to go that way--when I did, I was surprised to see a new name over the shop. I went in and asked where its former proprietor was. The new shopkeeper told me that Mr. Molteno had sold his business to him. And he didn't know where Mr. Molteno had gone, or whether he'd retired from business altogether; he knew nothing--and evidently didn't care, either, so--that part of my memories comes to an end!"

"Mr. Spencer Levendale is a man of just under fifty," remarked Ayscough, after a thoughtful pause, "and I should say that twenty-five years ago, he'd be just such a man as Mr. Killick has described."

"You can take it from me--considering all that I've been told this afternoon--" said the old solicitor, "that Spencer Levendale is Sam Levin --come back from South Africa, a millionaire. I'm convinced of it! And now then, gentlemen, what does all this mean? There's no doubt that old Multenius and Levendale were secretly mixed up. What in? What's the extraordinary mystery about that book--left in Multenius's back parlour and advertised for immediately by Levendale as if it were simply invaluable? Why has Levendale utterly disappeared? And who is this man Purvis--and what's he to do with it? You've got the hardest nuts to crack --a whole basketful of 'em!--that ever I heard of. And I've had some little experience of crime!"

"I've had some information on Levendale and Purvis this very afternoon," said Ayscough. He turned to the other officials. "I hadn't a chance of telling you of it before," he continued. "I was at Levendale's house at three o'clock, making some further enquiries. I got two pieces of news. To start with--that bottle out of which Levendale filled a small phial, which he put in his waistcoat pocket when he went out for the last time--you remember, Mr. Purdie, that his butler told you of that incident--well, that bottle contains chloroform--I took a chemist there to examine it and some other things. That's item one. The other's a bit of information volunteered by Levendale's chauffeur. The morning after Mr. Multenius's death, and after you, Mr. Lauriston, Mr. Rubinstein, and myself called on Levendale, Levendale went off to the City in his car. He ordered the chauffeur to go through Hyde Park, by the Victoria Gate, and to stop by the Powder Magazine. At the Powder Magazine he got out of the car and walked down towards the bridge on the Serpentine. The chauffeur had him in view all the way, and saw him join a tall man, clean-shaven, much browned, who was evidently waiting for him. They remained in conversation, at the entrance to the bridge, some five minutes or so--then the stranger went across the bridge in the direction of Kensington, and Levendale returned to his car. Now, in my opinion, that strange man was this Purvis we've heard of. And that seems to have been the last time any one we've come across saw him. That night, after his visit to his house, and his taking the phial of chloroform away with him, Levendale utterly disappeared, too --and yet sent a wire to his butler, from close by, next morning, saying he would be away for a few days! Why didn't he call with that message himself!"

Mr. Killick, who had listened to Ayscough with close attention, laughed, and turned to the officials with a sharp look.

"Shall I give you people a bit of my opinion after hearing all this?" he said. "Very well, then--Levendale never did send that wire! It was sent in Levendale's name--to keep things quiet. I believe that Levendale's been trapped--and Purvis with him!"