Chapter Thirty-Three. Secret Work
 

The inner room of the police-station, at ten o'clock that morning, was full of men. Purdie, coming there with Lauriston at five minutes before the hour, found Melky Rubinstein hanging about the outer door, and had only just time to warn his companion to keep silence as to their midnight discovery before Guyler and John Purvis drove up in one cab and Mr. Killick in another. Inside, Ayscough, refreshed by his breakfast and an hour's rest, was talking to the inspector and the man from New Scotland Yard--all these looked enquiringly at the group which presently crowded in on them.

"Any of you gentlemen got any fresh news?" demanded the inspector, as he ran his eye over the expectant faces "No?--well, I suppose you're all wanting to know if we have?" He glanced at Ayscough, who was pointing out certain paragraphs in one of the morning newspapers to the Scotland Yard man. "The fact is," he continued, "there have been queer developments since last night--and I don't exactly know where we are! My own opinion is that we'd better wait a few hours before saying anything more definite--to my mind, these newspapers are getting hold of too much news--giving information to the enemy, as it were. I think you'd all better leave things to us, gentlemen--for a while." There was rather more than a polite intimation in this that the presence of so many visitors was not wanted-- but John Purvis at once assumed a determined attitude.

"I want to know exactly what's being done, and what's going to be done, about my brother!" he said. "I'm entitled to that! That's the job I came about--myself--as for the rest--"

"Your brother's here!" said Purdie, who was standing by the window and keeping an eye on the street outside. "And Mr. Levendale with him--hadn't you better have them straight in?" he went on, turning to the inspector. "They both look as if they'd things to tell."

But Ayscough had already made for the door and within a moment was ushering in the new arrivals. And Purdie was quick to note that the Levendale who entered, a sheaf of morning papers in his hand, was a vastly different Levendale to the man he had seen nine hours before, dirty, unkempt, and worn out with weariness. The trim beard and mustache were hopelessly lost, and there were lines on Levendale's face which they concealed, but Levendale himself was now smartly groomed and carefully dressed, and business-like, and it was with the air of a man who means business that he strode into the room and threw a calm nod to the officials.

"Now, Inspector," he said, going straight to the desk, while Stephen Purvis turned to his brother. "I see from the papers that you've all been much exercised about Mr. Purvis and myself--it just shows how a couple of men can disappear and give some trouble before they're found. But here we are!--and why we're here is because we're beaten--we took our own course in trying to find our own property--and we're done! We can do no more--and so we come to you."

"You should have come here at first, Mr. Levendale," said the Inspector, a little sourly. "You'd have saved a lot of trouble--to yourselves as well as to us. But that's neither here nor there--I suppose you've something to tell us, sir?"

"Before I tell you anything," replied Levendale, "I want to know something." He pointed to the morning papers which he had brought in. "These people," he said, "seem to have got hold of a lot of information-- all got from you, of course. Now, we know what we're after--let's put it in a nutshell. A diamond--an orange-yellow diamond--worth eighty thousand pounds, the property of Mr. Stephen Purvis there. That's item one! But there's another. Eighty thousand pounds in bank-notes!--my property. Now-- have any of you the least idea who's got the diamond and my money? Come!"

There was a moment's silence. Then Ayscough spoke.

"Not a definite idea, Mr. Levendale--as yet."

"Then I'll tell you," said Levendale. "A Chinese fellow--one Chang Li. He's got them--both! And Stephen Purvis and I have been after him for all the days and nights since we disappeared--and we're beaten! Now you'll have to take it up--and I'd better tell you the plain truth about what's no doubt seemed a queer business from the first. Half-an-hour's talk now will save hours of explanation later on. So listen to me, all of you--I already see two gentlemen here, Mr. Killick, and Mr. Guyler, who in a certain fashion, can corroborate some particulars that I shall give you. Keep us free from interruption, if you please, while I tell you my story."

Ayscough answered this request by going to the door and leaning against it, and Levendale took a chair by the side of the desk and looked round at an expectant audience.

"It's a queer and, in some respects, an involved story," he said, "but I shall contrive to make matters plain to you before I've finished. I shall have to go back a good many years--to a time when, as Mr. Killick there knows, I was a partner with Daniel Molteno in a jewellery business in the City. I left him, and went out to South Africa, where I engaged in diamond trading. I did unusually well in my various enterprises, and some years later I came back to London a very well-to-do man. Not long after my return, I met my former partner again. He had changed his name to Multenius, and was trading in Praed Street as a jeweller and pawnbroker. Now, I had no objection to carrying on a trade with certain business connections of mine at the Cape--and after some conversation with Multenius he and I arranged to buy and sell diamonds together here in London, and I at once paid over a sum of money to him as working capital. The transactions were carried out in his name. It was he, chiefly, who conducted them--he was as good and keen a judge of diamonds as any man I ever knew--and no one here was aware that I was concerned in them. I never went to his shop in Praed Street but twice--if it was absolutely necessary for him to see me, we met in the City, at a private office which I have there. Now you understand the exact relations between Daniel Multenius and myself. We were partners--in secret.

"We come, then, to recent events. Early in this present autumn, we heard from Mr. Stephen Purvis, with whom I had had some transactions in South Africa, that he had become possessed of a rare and fine orange-yellow diamond and that he was sending it to us. It arrived at Multenius's-- Multenius brought it to me at my city office and we examined it, after which Multenius deposited it in his bank. We decided to buy it ourselves --I finding the money. We knew, from our messages from Stephen Purvis, that he would be in town on the 18th November, and we arranged everything for that date. That date, then, becomes of special importance--what happened at Multenius's shop in Praed Street on the afternoon of November 18th, between half-past four and half-past five is, of course, the thing that really is of importance. Now, what did happen? I can tell you--save as regards one detail which is, perhaps, of more importance than the other details. Of that detail I can't tell anything--but I can offer a good suggestion about it.

"Stephen Purvis was to call at Daniel Multenius's shop in Praed Street between five o'clock and half-past on the afternoon of November 18th--to complete the sale of his diamond. About noon on that day, Daniel Multenius went to the City. He went to his bank and took the diamond away. He then proceeded to my office, where I handed him eighty thousand pounds in bank notes--notes of large amounts. With the diamond and these notes in his possession, Daniel Multenius went back to Praed Street. I was to join him there shortly after five o'clock.

"Now we come to my movements. I lunched in the City, and afterwards went to a certain well-known book-seller's in Holborn, who had written to tell me that he had for sale a valuable book which he knew I wanted. I have been a collector of rare books ever since I came back to England. I spent an hour or so at the book-seller's shop. I bought the book which I had gone to see--paying a very heavy price for it. I carried it away in my hand, not wrapped up, and got into an omnibus which was going my way, and rode in it as far as the end of Praed Street. There I got out. And--in spite of what I said in my advertisement in the newspapers of the following morning,--I had the book in my hand when I left the omnibus. Why I pretended to have lost it, why I inserted that advertisement in the papers, I shall tell you presently--that was all part of a game which was forced upon me.

"It was, as near as I can remember, past five o'clock when I turned along Praed Street. The darkness was coming on, and there was a slight rain falling, and a tendency to fog. However, I noticed something--I am naturally very quick of observation. As I passed the end of the street which goes round the back of the Grand Junction Canal basin, the street called Iron Gate Wharf, I saw turn into it, walking very quickly, a Chinaman whom I knew to be one of the two Chinese medical students to whom Daniel Multenius had let a furnished house in Maida Vale. He had his back to me--I did not know which of the two he was. I thought nothing of the matter, and went on. In another minute I was at the pawn-shop. I opened the door, walked in, and went straight to the little parlour--I had been there just twice before when Daniel Multenius was alone, and so I knew my way. I went, I say, straight through--and in the parlour doorway ran into Stephen Purvis.

"Purvis was excited--trembling, big fellow though he is, do you see? He will bear me out as to what was said--and done. Without a word, he turned and pointed to where Daniel Multenius was lying across the floor--dead. 'I haven't been here a minute!' said Purvis. 'I came in--found him, like that! There's nobody here. For God's sake, where's my diamond?'

"Now, I was quick to think. I formed an impression within five seconds. That Chinaman had called--found the old man lying in a fit, or possibly dead--had seen, as was likely, the diamond on the table in the parlour, the wad of bank-notes lying near, had grabbed the lot--and gone away. It was a theory--and I am confident yet that it was the correct one. And I tell you plainly that my concern from that instant was not with Daniel Multenius, but with the Chinaman! I thought and acted like lightning. First, I hastily examined Multenius, felt in his pockets, found that there was nothing there that I wanted and that he was dead. Then I remembered that on a previous visit of mine he had let me out of his house by a door at the rear which communicated with a narrow passage running into Market Street, and without a second's delay, I seized Purvis by the arm and hurried him out. It was dark enough in that passage--there was not a soul about--we crossed Market Street, turned to the right, and were in Oxford and Cambridge Terrace before we paused. My instinct told me that the right thing to do was to get away from that parlour. And it was not until we were quite away from it that I realized that I had left my book behind me!"