"Now I must tell you," continued the man in the corner, "that after I had rea_he account of the double robbery, which appeared in the early afternoo_apers, I set to work and had a good think—yes!" he added with a smile, notin_olly's look at the bit of string, on which he was still at work, "yes! aide_y this small adjunct to continued thought—I made notes as to how I shoul_roceed to discover the clever thief, who had carried off a small fortune in _ingle night. Of course, my methods are not those of a London detective; h_as his own way of going to work. The one who was conducting this cas_uestioned the unfortunate jeweller very closely about his servants and hi_ousehold generally.
"'I have three servants,' explained Mr. Shipman, two of whom have been with m_or many years; one, the housemaid, is a fairly new comer—she has been her_bout six months. She came recommended by a friend, and bore an excellen_haracter. She and the parlourmaid room together. The cook, who knew me when _as a schoolboy, sleeps alone; all three servants sleep on the floor above. _ocked the jewels up in the safe which stands in the dressing-room. My key_nd watch I placed, as usual, beside my bed. As a rule, I am a fairly ligh_leeper.
"'I cannot understand how it could have happened—but—you had better come u_nd have a look at the safe. The key must have been abstracted from m_edside, the safe opened, and the keys replaced—all while I was fast asleep.
Though I had no occasion to look into the safe until just now, I should hav_iscovered my loss before going to business, for I intended to take th_iamonds away with me—'
"The detective and the inspector went up to have a look at the safe. The loc_ad in no way been tampered with—it had been opened with its own key. Th_etective spoke of chloroform, but Mr. Shipman declared that when he woke i_he morning at about half-past seven there was no smell of chloroform in th_oom. However, the proceedings of the daring thief certainly pointed to th_se of an anaesthetic. An examination of the premises brought to light th_act that the burglar had, as in Mr. Knopf's house, used the glass-panelle_oor from the garden as a means of entrance, but in this instance he ha_arefully cut out the pane of glass with a diamond, slipped the bolts, turne_he key, and walked in.
"'Which among your servants knew that you had the diamonds in your house las_ight, Mr. Shipman?' asked the detective.
"'Not one, I should say,' replied the jeweller, 'though, perhaps, th_arlourmaid, whilst waiting at table, may have heard me and Mr. Knop_iscussing our bargain.'
"'Would you object to my searching all your servants' boxes?'
"'Certainly not. They would not object, either, I am sure. They are perfectl_onest.'
"The searching of servants' belongings is invariably a useless proceeding,"
added the man in the corner, with a shrug of the shoulders. "No one, not eve_ latter-day domestic, would be fool enough to keep stolen property in th_ouse. However, the usual farce was gone through, with more or less protest o_he part of Mr. Shipman's servants, and with the usual result.
"The jeweller could give no further information; the detective and inspector, to do them justice, did their work of investigation minutely and, what i_ore, intelligently. It seemed evident, from their deductions, that th_urglar had commenced proceedings on No. 26, Phillimore Terrace, and had the_one on, probably climbing over the garden walls between the houses to No. 22, where he was almost caught in the act by Robertson. The facts were simpl_nough, but the mystery remained as to the individual who had managed to glea_he information of the presence of the diamonds in both the houses, and th_eans which he had adopted to get that information. It was obvious that th_hief or thieves knew more about Mr. Knopf's affairs than Mr. Shipman's, sinc_hey had known how to use Mr. Emile Knopf's name in order to get his brothe_ut of the way.
"It was now nearly ten o'clock, and the detectives, having taken leave of Mr.
Shipman, went back to No. 22, in order to ascertain whether Mr. Knopf had com_ack; the door was opened by the old charwoman, who said that her master ha_eturned, and was having some breakfast in the dining-room.
"Mr. Ferdinand Knopf was a middle-aged man, with sallow complexion, black hai_nd beard, of obviously Hebrew extraction. He spoke with a marked foreig_ccent, but very courteously, to the two officials, who, he begged, woul_xcuse him if he went on with his breakfast.
"'I was fully prepared to hear the bad news,' he explained, 'which my ma_obertson told me when I arrived. The letter I got last night was a bogus one; there is no such person as J. Collins, M.D. My brother had never felt bette_n his life. You will, I am sure, very soon trace the cunning writer of tha_pistle—ah! but I was in a rage, I can tell you, when I got to the Metropol_t Brighton, and found that Emile, my brother, had never heard of any Docto_ollins.
"'The last train to town had gone, although I raced back to the station a_ard as I could. Poor old Robertson, he has a terrible cold. Ah yes! my loss!
it is for me a very serious one; if I had not made that lucky bargain with Mr.
Shipman last night I should, perhaps, at this moment be a ruined man.
"'The stones I had yesterday were, firstly, some magnificent Brazilians; thes_ sold to Mr. Shipman mostly. Then I had some very good Cape diamonds—al_one; and some quite special Parisians, of wonderful work and finish, entrusted to me for sale by a great French house. I tell you, sir, my los_ill be nearly £10,000 altogether. I sell on commission, and, of course, hav_o make good the loss.'
"He was evidently trying to bear up manfully, and as a business man should, under his sad fate. He refused in any way to attach the slightest blame to hi_ld and faithful servant Robertson, who had caught, perhaps, his death of col_n his zeal for his absent master. As for any hint of suspicion falling eve_emotely upon the man, the very idea appeared to Mr. Knopf absolutel_reposterous.
"With regard to the old charwoman, Mr. Knopf certainly knew nothing about her, beyond the fact that she had been recommended to him by one of th_radespeople in the neighbourhood, and seemed perfectly honest, respectable, and sober.
"About the tramp Mr. Knopf knew still less, nor could he imagine how he, or i_act anybody else, could possibly know that he happened to have diamonds i_is house that night.
"This certainly seemed the great hitch in the case.
"Mr. Ferdinand Knopf, at the instance of the police, later on went to th_tation and had a look at the suspected tramp. He declared that he had neve_et eyes on him before.
"Mr. Shipman, on his way home from business in the afternoon, had don_ikewise, and made a similar statement.
"Brought before the magistrate, the tramp gave but a poor account of himself.
He gave a name and address, which latter, of course, proved to be false. Afte_hat he absolutely refused to speak. He seemed not to care whether he was kep_n custody or not. Very soon even the police realized that, for the present, at any rate, nothing could be got out of the suspected tramp.
"Mr. Francis Howard, the detective, who had charge of the case, though h_ould not admit it even to himself, was at his wits' ends. You must remembe_hat the burglary, through its very simplicity, was an exceedingly mysteriou_ffair. The constable, D 21, who had stood in Adam and Eve Mews, presumabl_hile Mr. Knopf's house was being robbed, had seen no one turn out from th_cul-de-sac_ into the main passage of the mews.
"The stables, which immediately faced the back entrance of the Phillimor_errace houses, were all private ones belonging to residents in th_eighbourhood. The coachmen, their families, and all the grooms who slept i_he stablings were rigidly watched and questioned. One and all had see_othing, heard nothing, until Robertson's shrieks had roused them from thei_leep.
"As for the letter from Brighton, it was absolutely commonplace, and writte_pon note-paper which the detective, with Machiavellian cunning, traced to _tationer's shop in West Street. But the trade at that particular shop was _ery brisk one; scores of people had bought note-paper there, similar to tha_n which the supposed doctor had written his tricky letter. The handwritin_as cramped, perhaps a disguised one; in any case, except under ver_xceptional circumstances, it could afford no clue to the identity of th_hief. Needless to say, the tramp, when told to write his name, wrote _otally different and absolutely uneducated hand.
"Matters stood, however, in the same persistently mysterious state when _mall discovery was made, which suggested to Mr. Francis Howard an idea, which, if properly carried out, would, he hoped, inevitably bring the cunnin_urglar safely within the grasp of the police.
"That was the discovery of a few of Mr. Knopf's diamonds," continued the ma_n the corner after a slight pause, "evidently trampled into the ground by th_hief whilst making his hurried exit through the garden of No. 22, Phillimor_errace.
"At the end of this garden there is a small studio which had been built by _ormer owner of the house, and behind it a small piece of waste ground abou_even feet square which had once been a rockery, and is still filled wit_arge loose stones, in the shadow of which earwigs and woodlice innumerabl_ave made a happy hunting ground.
"It was Robertson who, two days after the robbery, having need of a larg_tone, for some household purpose or other, dislodged one from that piece o_aste ground, and found a few shining pebbles beneath it. Mr. Knopf took the_ound to the police-station himself immediately, and identified the stones a_ome of his Parisian ones.
"Later on the detective went to view the place where the find had been made, and there conceived the plan upon which he built big cherished hopes.
"Acting upon the advice of Mr. Francis Howard, the police decided to let th_nonymous tramp out of his safe retreat within the station, and to allow hi_o wander whithersoever he chose. A good idea, perhaps—the presumption bein_hat, sooner or later, if the man was in any way mixed up with the cunnin_hieves, he would either rejoin his comrades or even lead the police to wher_he remnant of his hoard lay hidden; needless to say, his footsteps were to b_iterally dogged.
"The wretched tramp, on his discharge, wandered out of the yard, wrapping hi_hin coat round his shoulders, for it was a bitterly cold afternoon. He bega_perations by turning into the Town Hall Tavern for a good feed and a copiou_rink. Mr. Francis Howard noted that he seemed to eye every passer-by wit_uspicion, but he seemed to enjoy his dinner, and sat some time over hi_ottle of wine.
"It was close upon four o'clock when he left the tavern, and then began fo_he indefatigable Mr. Howard one of the most wearisome and uninterestin_hases, through the mazes of the London streets, he ever remembers to hav_ade. Up Notting Hill, down the slums of Notting Dale, along the High Street, beyond Hammersmith, and through Shepherd's Bush did that anonymous tramp lea_he unfortunate detective, never hurrying himself, stopping every now and the_t a public-house to get a drink, whither Mr. Howard did not always care t_ollow him.
"In spite of his fatigue, Mr. Francis Howard's hopes rose with every half-hou_f this weary tramp. The man was obviously striving to kill time; he seemed t_eel no weariness, but walked on and on, perhaps suspecting that he was bein_ollowed.
"At last, with a beating heart, though half perished with cold, and wit_erribly sore feet, the detective began to realize that the tramp wa_radually working his way back towards Kensington. It was then close upo_leven o'clock at night; once or twice the man had walked up and down the Hig_treet, from St. Paul's School to Derry and Toms' shops and back again, he ha_ooked down one or two of the side streets and—at last—he turned int_hillimore Terrace. He seemed in no hurry, he oven stopped once in the middl_f the road, trying to light a pipe, which, as there was a high east wind, took him some considerable time. Then he leisurely sauntered down the street, and turned into Adam and Eve Mews, with Mr. Francis Howard now close at hi_eels.
"Acting upon the detective's instructions, there were several men in plai_lothes ready to his call in the immediate neighbourhood. Two stood within th_hadow of the steps of the Congregational Church at the corner of the mews, others were stationed well within a soft call.
"Hardly, therefore, had the hare turned into the _cul-de-sac_ at the back o_hillimore Terrace than, at a slight sound from Mr. Francis Howard, ever_gress was barred to him, and he was caught like a rat in a trap.
"As soon as the tramp had advanced some thirty yards or so (the whole lengt_f this part of the mews is about one hundred yards) and was lost in th_hadow, Mr. Francis Howard directed four or five of his men to procee_autiously up the mews, whilst the same number were to form a line all alon_he front of Phillimore Terrace between the mews and the High Street.
"Remember, the back-garden walls threw long and dense shadows, but th_ilhouette of the man would be clearly outlined if he made any attempt a_limbing over them. Mr. Howard felt quite sure that the thief was bent o_ecovering the stolen goods, which, no doubt, he had hidden in the rear of on_f the houses. He would be caught _in flagrante delicto_ , and, with a heav_entence hovering over him, he would probably be induced to name hi_ccomplice. Mr. Francis Howard was thoroughly enjoying himself.
"The minutes sped on; absolute silence, in spite of the presence of so man_en, reigned in the dark and deserted mews.
"Of course, this night's adventure was never allowed to get into the papers,"
added the man in the corner with his mild smile. "Had the plan bee_uccessful, we should have heard all about it, with a long eulogistic articl_s to the astuteness of our police; but as it was—well, the tramp sauntered u_he mews—and—there he remained for aught Mr. Francis Howard or the othe_onstables could ever explain. The earth or the shadows swallowed him up. N_ne saw him climb one of the garden walls, no one heard him break open a door; he had retreated within the shadow of the garden walls, and was seen or hear_f no more."
"One of the servants in the Phillimore Terrace houses must have belonged t_he gang," said Polly with quick decision.
"Ah, yes! but which?" said the man in the corner, making a beautiful knot i_is bit of string. "I can assure you that the police left not a stone unturne_nce more to catch sight of that tramp whom they had had in custody for tw_ays, but not a trace of him could they find, nor of the diamonds, from tha_ay to this."