Whether Miss Polly Burton really did expect to see the man in the corner tha_aturday afternoon, 'twere difficult to say; certain it is that when she foun_er way to the table close by the window and realized that he was not there, she felt conscious of an overwhelming sense of disappointment. And yet durin_he whole of the week she had, with more pride than wisdom, avoided thi_articular A.B.C. shop.
"I thought you would not keep away very long," said a quiet voice close to he_ar.
She nearly lost her balance—where in the world had he come from? She certainl_ad not heard the slightest sound, and yet there he sat, in the corner, like _eritable Jack-in-the-box, his mild blue eyes staring apologetically at her, his nervous fingers toying with the inevitable bit of string.
The waitress brought him his glass of milk and a cheese-cake. He ate it i_ilence, while his piece of string lay idly beside him on the table. When h_ad finished he fumbled in his capacious pockets, and drew out the inevitabl_ocket-book.
Placing a small photograph before the girl, he said quietly:
"That is the back of the houses in Phillimore Terrace, which overlook Adam an_ve Mews."
She looked at the photograph, then at him, with a kindly look of indulgen_xpectancy.
"You will notice that the row of back gardens have each an exit into the mews.
These mews are built in the shape of a capital F. The photograph is take_ooking straight down the short horizontal line, which ends, as you see, in _cul-de-sac_. The bottom of the vertical line turns into Phillimore Terrace, and the end of the upper long horizontal line into High Street, Kensington.
Now, on that particular night, or rather early morning, of January 15th, Constable D 21, having turned into the mews from Phillimore Terrace, stood fo_ moment at the angle formed by the long vertical artery of the mews and th_hort horizontal one which, as I observed before, looks on to the back garden_f the Terrace houses, and ends in a _cul-de-sac_.
"How long D 21 stood at that particular corner he could not exactly say, bu_e thinks it must have been three or four minutes before he noticed _uspicious-looking individual shambling along under the shadow of the garde_alls. He was working his way cautiously in the direction of the _cul-de-sac_ , and D 21, also keeping well within the shadow, went noiselessly after him.
"He had almost overtaken him—was, in fact, not more than thirty yards fro_im—when from out of one of the two end houses—No. 22, Phillimore Terrace, i_act—a man, in nothing but his night-shirt, rushed out excitedly, and, befor_ 21 had time to intervene, literally threw himself upon the suspecte_ndividual, rolling over and over with him on the hard cobble-stones, an_rantically shrieking, 'Thief! Thief! Police!'
"It was some time before the constable succeeded in rescuing the tramp fro_he excited grip of his assailant, and several minutes before he could mak_imself heard.
"'There! there! that'll do!' he managed to say at last, as he gave the man i_he shirt a vigorous shove, which silenced him for the moment. 'Leave the ma_lone now, you mustn't make that noise this time o' night, wakin' up all th_olks.' The unfortunate tramp, who in the meanwhile had managed to got on t_is feet again, made no attempt to get away; probably he thought he woul_tand but a poor chance. But the man in the shirt had partly recovered hi_ower of speech, and was now blurting out jerky, half—intelligible sentences:
"'I have been robbed—robbed—I—that is—my master—Mr. Knopf. The desk i_pen—the diamonds gone—all in my charge—and—now they are stolen! That's th_hief—I'll swear—I heard him—not three minutes ago—rushed downstairs—the doo_nto the garden was smashed—I ran across the garden—he was sneaking about her_till—Thief! Thief! Police! Diamonds! Constable, don't let him go—I'll mak_ou responsible if you let him go—'
"'Now then—that'll do!' admonished D 21 as soon as he could get a word in,
'stop that row, will you?'
"The man in the shirt was gradually recovering from his excitement.
"'Can I give this man in charge?' he asked.
"'Burglary and housebreaking. I heard him, I tell you. He must have Mr.
Knopf's diamonds about him at this moment.'
"'Where is Mr. Knopf?'
"'Out of town,' groaned the man in the shirt. 'He went to Brighton last night, and left me in charge, and now this thief has been and—'
"The tramp shrugged his shoulders and suddenly, without a word, he quietl_egan taking off his coat and waistcoat. These he handed across to th_onstable. Eagerly the man in the shirt fell on them, and turned the ragge_ockets inside out. From one of the windows a hilarious voice made som_acetious remark, as the tramp with equal solemnity began divesting himself o_is nether garments.
"'Now then, stop that nonsense,' pronounced D 21 severely, 'what were yo_oing here this time o' night, anyway?'
"'The streets o' London is free to the public, ain't they?' queried the tramp.
"'This don't lead nowhere, my man.'
"'Then I've lost my way, that's all,' growled the man surlily, 'and p'rap_ou'll let me get along now.'
"By this time a couple of constables had appeared upon the scene. D 21 had n_ntention of losing sight of his friend the tramp, and the man in the shir_ad again made a dash for the latter's collar at the bare idea that he shoul_e allowed to 'get along.'
"I think D 21 was alive to the humour of the situation. He suggested tha_obertson (the man in the night-shirt) should go in and get some clothes on, whilst he himself would wait for the inspector and the detective, whom D 1_ould send round from the station immediately.
"Poor Robertson's teeth were chattering with cold. He had a violent fit o_neezing as D 21 hurried him into the house. The latter, with anothe_onstable, remained to watch the burglared premises both back and front, and _5 took the wretched tramp to the station with a view to sending an inspecto_nd a detective round immediately.
"When the two latter gentlemen arrived at No. 22, Phillimore Terrace, the_ound poor old Robertson in bed, shivering, and still quite blue. He had go_imself a hot drink, but his eyes were streaming and his voice was terribl_usky. D 21 had stationed himself in the dining-room, where Robertson ha_ointed the desk out to him, with its broken lock and scattered contents.
"Robertson, between his sneezes, gave what account he could of the event_hich happened immediately before the robbery.
"His master, Mr. Ferdinand Knopf, he said, was a diamond merchant, and _achelor. He himself had been in Mr. Knopf's employ over fifteen years, an_as his only indoor servant. A charwoman came every day to do the housework.
"Last night Mr. Knopf dined at the house of Mr. Shipman, at No. 26, lowe_own. Mr. Shipman is the great jeweller who has his place of business in Sout_udley Street. By the last post there came a letter with the Brighto_ostmark, and marked 'urgent,' for Mr. Knopf, and he (Robertson) was jus_ondering if he should run over to No. 26 with it, when his master returned.
He gave one glance at the contents of the letter, asked for his A.B.C. Railwa_uide, and ordered him (Robertson) to pack his bag at once and fetch him _ab.
"'I guessed what it was,' continued Robertson after another violent fit o_neezing. 'Mr. Knopf has a brother, Mr. Emile Knopf, to whom he is very muc_ttached, and who is a great invalid. He generally goes about from one seasid_lace to another. He is now at Brighton, and has recently been very ill.
"'If you will take the trouble to go downstairs I think you will still fin_he letter lying on the hall table.
"'I read it after Mr. Knopf left; it was not from his brother, but from _entleman who signed himself J. Collins, M.D. I don't remember the exac_ords, but, of course, you'll be able to read the letter—Mr. J. Collins sai_e had been called in very suddenly to see Mr. Emile Knopf, who, he added, ha_ot many hours to live, and had begged of the doctor to communicate at onc_ith his brother in London.
"'Before leaving, Mr. Knopf warned me that there were some valuables in hi_esk—diamonds mostly, and told me to be particularly careful about locking u_he house. He often has left me like this in charge of his premises, an_sually there have been diamonds in his desk, for Mr. Knopf has no regula_ity office as he is a commercial traveller.'
"This, briefly, was the gist of the matter which Robertson related to th_nspector with many repetitions and persistent volubility.
"The detective and inspector, before returning to the station with thei_eport, thought they would call at No. 26, on Mr. Shipman, the great jeweller.
"You remember, of course," added the man in the corner, dreamily contemplatin_is bit of string, "the exciting developments of this extraordinary case. Mr.
Arthur Shipman is the head of the firm of Shipman and Co., the wealth_ewellers. He is a widower, and lives very quietly by himself in his own old- fashioned way in the small Kensington house, leaving it to his two marrie_ons to keep up the style and swagger befitting the representatives of s_ealthy a firm.
"'I have only known Mr. Knopf a very little while,' he explained to th_etectives. 'He sold me two or three stones once or twice, I think; but we ar_oth single men, and we have often dined together. Last night he dined wit_e. He had that afternoon received a very fine consignment of Brazilia_iamonds, as he told me, and knowing how beset I am with callers at m_usiness place, he had brought the stones with him, hoping, perhaps, to do _it of trade over the nuts and wine.
"'I bought £25,000 worth of him,' added the jeweller, as if he were speakin_f so many farthings, 'and gave him a cheque across the dinner table for tha_mount. I think we were both pleased with our bargain, and we had a fina_ottle of '48 port over it together. Mr. Knopf left me at about 9.30, for h_nows I go very early to bed, and I took my new stock upstairs with me, an_ocked it up in the safe. I certainly heard nothing of the noise in the mew_ast night. I sleep on the second floor, in the front of the house, and thi_s the first I have heard of poor Mr. Knopf's loss—'
"At this point of his narrative Mr. Shipman very suddenly paused, and his fac_ecame very pale. With a hasty word of excuse he unceremoniously left th_oom, and the detective heard him running quickly upstairs.
"Less than two minutes later Mr. Shipman returned. There was no need for hi_o speak; both the detective and the inspector guessed the truth in a momen_y the look upon his face.
"'The diamonds!' he gasped. 'I have been robbed.'"