Chapter Thirty-Four. Baffled

Levendale paused at this point of his story, and looked round the circle of attentive faces. He was quick to notice that two men were watching him with particularly close attention--one was Ayscough, the other, the old solicitor. And as he resumed his account he glanced meaningly at Mr. Killick.

"I daresay some of you would like to question me--and Stephen Purvis, too --on what I've already told you?" he said. "You're welcome to ask any questions you like--any of you--when I've done. But--let me finish--for then perhaps you'll fully understand what we were at.

"Purvis and I walked up and down in Oxford and Cambridge Terrace for some time--discussing the situation. The more I considered the matter, the more I was certain that my first theory was right--the Chinaman had got the diamond and the bank-notes. I was aware of these two Chinamen as tenants of Multenius's furnished house--as a matter of fact, I had been present, at the shop in Praed Street, on one of my two visits there when they concluded their arrangements with him. What I now thought was this--one of them had called on the old man to do some business, or to pay the rent, and had found him in a fit, or dead, as the result of one, had seen the diamond and the money on the table, placed there in readiness for Purvis's coming, and had possessed himself of both and made off. Purvis agreed with me. And--both Purvis and myself are well acquainted with the characteristic peculiarities, and idiosyncrasies of Chinamen!--we knew with what we had to deal. Therefore we knew what we had to do. We wanted the diamond and my money. And since we were uncomfortably aware of the craft and subtlety of the thief who'd got both we knew we should have to use craft ourselves--and of no common sort. Therefore we decided that the very last thing we should think of would be an immediate appeal to the police.

"Now, you police officials may, nay, will!--say that we ought to have gone straight to you, especially as this was a case of murder. But we knew nothing about it being a case of murder. We had seen no signs of violence on the old man--I knew him to be very feeble, and I believed he had been suddenly struck over by paralysis, or something of that sort. I reckoned matters up, carefully. It was plain that Daniel Multenius had been left alone in house and shop--that his granddaughter was out on some errand or other. Therefore, no one knew of the diamond and the money. We did not want any one to know. If we had gone to the police and told our tale, the news would have spread, and would certainly have reached the Chinaman's ears. We knew well enough that if we were to get our property back the thief must not be alarmed--there must be nothing in the newspapers next morning. The Chinaman must not know that the real owners of the diamond and the bank-notes suspected him--he must not know that information about his booty was likely to be given to the police. He must be left to believe--for some hours at any rate--that what he had possessed himself of was the property of a dead man who could not tell anything. But there was my book in that dead man's parlour! It was impossible to go back and fetch it. It was equally impossible that it should not attract attention. Daniel Multenius's granddaughter, whom I believed to be a very sharp young woman, would notice it, and would know that it had come into the place during her absence. I thought hard over that problem--and finally I drafted an advertisement and sent it off to an agency with instructions to insert it in every morning newspaper in London next day. Why? Because I wanted to draw a red herring across the trail!--I wanted, for the time being, to set up a theory that some man or other had found that book in the omnibus, had called in at Multenius's to sell or pawn it, had found the old man alone, and had assaulted and robbed him. All this was with a view to hoodwinking the Chinaman. Anything must be done, anything!--to keep him ignorant that Purvis and I knew the real truth.

"But--what did we intend to do? I tell you, not being aware that old Daniel Multenius had met his death by violence, we did not give one second's thought to that aspect and side of the affair--we concentrated on the recovery of our property. I knew the house in which these Chinese lived. That evening, Purvis and I went there. We have both been accustomed, in our time, to various secret dealings and manoeuvres, and we entered the grounds of that house without any one being the wiser. It did not take long to convince us that the house was empty. It remained empty that night--Purvis kept guard over it, in an outhouse in the garden. No one either entered or left it between our going to it and Purvis coming away from it next morning--he stayed there, watching until it was time to keep an appointment with me in Hyde Park. Before I met him, I had been called upon by Detective Ayscough, Mr. Rubinstein, and Mr. Lauriston--they know what I said to them. I could not at that time say anything else--I had my own concerns to think of.

"When Purvis and I met we had another consultation, and we determined, in view of all the revelations which had come out and had been published in the papers, that the suspicion cast on young Mr. Lauriston was the very best thing that could happen for us; it would reassure our Chinaman. And we made up our minds that the house in Maida Vale would not be found untenanted that night, and we arranged to meet there at eleven o'clock. We felt so sure that our man would have read all the news in the papers, and would feel safe, and that we should find him. But, mark you, we had no idea as to which of the two Chinamen it was that we wanted. Of one fact, however, we were certain--whichever it was that I had seen slip round the corner of Iron Gate Wharf the previous day, whether it was Chang Li or Chen Li, he would have kept his secret to himself! The thing was--to get into that house; to get into conversation with both; to decide which was the guilty man, and then--to take our own course. We knew what to do--and we went fully prepared.

"Now we come to this--our second visit to the house in Maida Vale. To be exact, it was between eleven and twelve on the second night after the disappearance of the diamond. As on the previous night, we gained access to the garden by the door at the back--that, on each occasion, was unfastened, while the gate giving access to the road in Maida Vale was securely locked. And, as on the previous night, we quickly found that up to then at any rate, the house was empty. But not so the garden! While I was looking round the further side of the house, Purvis took a careful look round the garden. And presently he came to me and drew away to the asphalted path which runs from the front gate to the front door. The moon had risen above the houses and trees--and in its light he pointed to bloodstains. It did not take a second look, gentlemen, to see that they were recent--in fact, fresh. Somebody had been murdered in that garden not many minutes--literally, minutes!--before our arrival. And within two minutes more we found the murdered man lying behind some shrubbery on the left of the path. I knew him for the younger of the two Chinese--the man called Chen Li.

"This discovery, of course, made us aware that we were now face to face with a new development. We were not long in arriving at a conclusion about that. Chang Li had found out that his friend had become possessed of these valuable--he might have discovered the matter of the diamond, or of the bank-notes or both--how was immaterial. But we were convinced, putting everything together, that he had made this discovery, had probably laid in wait for Chen Li as he returned home that night, had run a knife into him as he went up the garden, had dragged the body into the shrubbery, possessed himself of the loot, and made off. And now we were face to face with what was going, as we knew, to be the stiffest part of our work--the finding of Chang Li. We set to work on that without a moment's delay.

"I have told you that Purvis and I have a pretty accurate knowledge of Chinamen; we have both had deep and intimate experience of them and their ways. I, personally, know a good deal of the Chinese Colony in London: I have done business with Chinamen, both in London and South Africa, for years. I had a good idea of what Chang Li's procedure would be. He would hide--if need be, for months, until the first heat of the hue and cry which he knew would be sure to be raised, would have cooled down. There are several underground warrens--so to speak--in the East End, in which he could go to earth, comfortably and safely, until there was a chance of slipping out of the country unobserved. I know already of some of them. I would get to know of others.

"Purvis and I got on that track--such as it was, at once. We went along to the East End there and then--before morning I had shaved off my beard and mustache, disguised myself in old clothes, and was beginning my work. First thing next morning I did two things--one was to cause a telegram to be sent from Spring Street to my butler explaining my probable absence; the other to secretly warn the Bank of England about the bank-notes. But I had no expectation that Chang Li would try to negotiate those--all his energies, I knew, would be concentrated on the diamond. Nevertheless, he might try--and would, if he tried--succeed--in changing one note, and it was as well to take that precaution.

"Now then, next day, Purvis and I being, in our different ways, at work in the East End, we heard the news about the Praed Street tradesman, Parslett. That seemed to me remarkable proof of my theory. As the successive editions of the newspapers came out during that day, and next day, we learnt all about the Parslett affair. I saw through it at once. Parslett, being next-door neighbour to Daniel Multenius, had probably seen Chen Li--whom we now believed to have been the actual thief--slip away from Multenius's door, and, when the news of Daniel's death came out, had put two and two together, and, knowing where the Chinamen lived, had gone to the house in Maida Vale to blackmail them. I guessed what had happened then--Parslett, to quieten him for the moment, had been put off with fifty pounds in gold, and promised more--and he had also been skilfully poisoned in such a fashion that he would get safely away from the premises but die before he got home. And when he was safe away, Chang Li had murdered Chen Li, and made off. So--as I still think--all our theories were correct, and the only thing to do was to find Chang."

But here Levendale paused, glanced at Stephen Purvis, and spread out his hands with a gesture which indicated failure and disappointment. His glance moved from Stephen Purvis to the police officials.

"All no good!" he exclaimed. "It's useless to deny it. I have been in every Chinese den and haunt in East London--I'm certain that Chang Li is nowhere down there. I have spent money like water--employed Chinese and Easterns on whom I could depend--there isn't a trace of him! And so--we gave up last night. Purvis and I--baffled. We've come to you police people--"

"You should have done that before, Mr. Levendale," said the Inspector severely. "You haven't given us much credit, I think, and if you'd told all this at first--"

Before the Inspector could say more, a constable tapped at the door and put his head into the room. His eyes sought Ayscough.

"There's a young gentleman--foreigner--asking for you, Mr. Ayscough," he said. "Wants to see you at once--name of Mr. Yada."