"They will not be destroyed; nor any of them!" Mr. Corbeck actuallysmiled in amazement.
"How on earth do you know?" he asked. Her answer was still moreincomprehensible:
"I don't know how I know it; but know it I do. I feel it all throughme; as though it were a conviction which has been with me all my life!"
The Finding of the Lamps
Sergeant Daw at first made some demur; but finally agreed to adviseprivately on a matter which might be suggested to him. He added that Iwas to remember that he only undertook to advise; for if action wererequired he might have to refer the matter to headquarters. With thisunderstanding I left him in the study, and brought Miss Trelawny andMr. Corbeck to him. Nurse Kennedy resumed her place at the bedsidebefore we left the room.
I could not but admire the cautious, cool-headed precision with whichthe traveller stated his case. He did not seem to conceal anything,and yet he gave the least possible description of the objects missing.He did not enlarge on the mystery of the case; he seemed to look on itas an ordinary hotel theft. Knowing, as I did, that his one object wasto recover the articles before their identity could be obliterated, Icould see the rare intellectual skill with which he gave the necessarymatter and held back all else, though without seeming to do so."Truly," thought I, "this man has learned the lesson of the Easternbazaars; and with Western intellect has improved upon his masters!" Hequite conveyed his idea to the Detective, who, after thinking thematter over for a few moments, said:
"Pot or scale? that is the question."
"What does that mean?" asked the other, keenly alert.
"An old thieves phrase from Birmingham. I thought that in these daysof slang everyone knew that. In old times at Brum, which had a lot ofsmall metal industries, the gold- and silver-smiths used to buy metalfrom almost anyone who came along. And as metal in small quantitiescould generally be had cheap when they didn't ask where it came from,it got to be a custom to ask only one thing--whether the customerwanted the goods melted, in which case the buyer made the price, andthe melting-pot was always on the fire. If it was to be preserved inits present state at the buyer's option, it went into the scale andfetched standard price for old metal.
"There is a good deal of such work done still, and in other places thanBrum. When we're looking for stolen watches we often come across theworks, and it's not possible to identify wheels and springs out of aheap; but it's not often that we come across cases that are wanted.Now, in the present instance much will depend on whether the thief is agood man--that's what they call a man who knows his work. Afirst-class crook will know whether a thing is of more value thanmerely the metal in it; and in such case he would put it with someonewho could place it later on--in America or France, perhaps. By theway, do you think anyone but yourself could identify your lamps?"
"No one but myself!"
"Are there others like them?"
"Not that I know of," answered Mr. Corbeck; "though there may be othersthat resemble them in many particulars." The Detective paused beforeasking again: "Would any other skilled person--at the British Museum,for instance, or a dealer, or a collector like Mr. Trelawny, know thevalue--the artistic value--of the lamps?"
"Certainly! Anyone with a head on his shoulders would see at a glancethat the things were valuable."
The Detective's face brightened. "Then there is a chance. If yourdoor was locked and the window shut, the goods were not stolen by thechance of a chambermaid or a boots coming along. Whoever did the jobwent after it special; and he ain't going to part with his swag withouthis price. This must be a case of notice to the pawnbrokers. There'sone good thing about it, anyhow, that the hue and cry needn't be given.We needn't tell Scotland Yard unless you like; we can work the thingprivately. If you wish to keep the thing dark, as you told me at thefirst, that is our chance." Mr. Corbeck, after a pause, said quietly:
"I suppose you couldn't hazard a suggestion as to how the robbery waseffected?" The Policeman smiled the smile of knowledge and experience.
"In a very simple way, I have no doubt, sir. That is how all thesemysterious crimes turn out in the long-run. The criminal knows hiswork and all the tricks of it; and he is always on the watch forchances. Moreover, he knows by experience what these chances are likelyto be, and how they usually come. The other person is only careful; hedoesn't know all the tricks and pits that may be made for him, and bysome little oversight or other he falls into the trap. When we knowall about this case, you will wonder that you did not see the method ofit all along!" This seemed to annoy Mr. Corbeck a little; there wasdecided heat in his manner as he answered:
"Look here, my good friend, there is not anything simple about thiscase--except that the things were taken. The window was closed; thefireplace was bricked up. There is only one door to the room, and thatI locked and bolted. There is no transom; I have heard all about hotelrobberies through the transom. I never left my room in the night. Ilooked at the things before going to bed; and I went to look at themagain when I woke up. If you can rig up any kind of simple robbery outof these facts you are a clever man. That's all I say; clever enoughto go right away and get my things back." Miss Trelawny laid her handupon his arm in a soothing way, and said quietly:
"Do not distress yourself unnecessarily. I am sure they will turn up."Sergeant Daw turned to her so quickly that I could not help rememberingvividly his suspicions of her, already formed, as he said:
"May I ask, miss, on what you base that opinion?"
I dreaded to hear her answer, given to ears already awake to suspicion;but it came to me as a new pain or shock all the same:
"I cannot tell you how I know. But I am sure of it!" The Detectivelooked at her for some seconds in silence, and then threw a quickglance at me.
Presently he had a little more conversation with Mr. Corbeck as to hisown movements, the details of the hotel and the room, and the means ofidentifying the goods. Then he went away to commence his inquiries,Mr. Corbeck impressing on him the necessity for secrecy lest the thiefshould get wind of his danger and destroy the lamps. Mr. Corbeckpromised, when going away to attend to various matters of his ownbusiness, to return early in the evening, and to stay in the house.
All that day Miss Trelawny was in better spirits and looked in betterstrength than she had yet been, despite the new shock and annoyance ofthe theft which must ultimately bring so much disappointment to herfather.
We spent most of the day looking over the curio treasures of Mr.Trelawny. From what I had heard from Mr. Corbeck I began to have someidea of the vastness of his enterprise in the world of Egyptianresearch; and with this light everything around me began to have a newinterest. As I went on, the interest grew; any lingering doubts whichI might have had changed to wonder and admiration. The house seemed tobe a veritable storehouse of marvels of antique art. In addition tothe curios, big and little, in Mr. Trelawny's own room--from the greatsarcophagi down to the scarabs of all kinds in the cabinets--the greathall, the staircase landings, the study, and even the boudoir were fullof antique pieces which would have made a collector's mouth water.
Miss Trelawny from the first came with me, and looked with growinginterest at everything. After having examined some cabinets ofexquisite amulets she said to me in quite a naive way:
"You will hardly believe that I have of late seldom even looked at anyof these things. It is only since Father has been ill that I seem tohave even any curiosity about them. But now, they grow and grow on meto quite an absorbing degree. I wonder if it is that the collector'sblood which I have in my veins is beginning to manifest itself. If so,the strange thing is that I have not felt the call of it before. Ofcourse I know most of the big things, and have examined them more orless; but really, in a sort of way I have always taken them forgranted, as though they had always been there. I have noticed the samething now and again with family pictures, and the way they are takenfor granted by the family. If you will let me examine them with you itwill be delightful!"
It was a joy to me to hear her talk in such a way; and her lastsuggestion quite thrilled me. Together we went round the various roomsand passages, examining and admiring the magnificent curios. There wassuch a bewildering amount and variety of objects that we could onlyglance at most of them; but as we went along we arran
ged that we shouldtake them seriatim, day by day, and examine them more closely. In thehall was a sort of big frame of floriated steel work which Margaretsaid her father used for lifting the heavy stone lids of thesarcophagi. It was not heavy and could be moved about easily enough.By aid of this we raised the covers in turn and looked at the endlessseries of hieroglyphic pictures cut in most of them. In spite of herprofession of ignorance Margaret knew a good deal about them; her yearof life with her father had had unconsciously its daily and hourlylesson. She was a remarkably clever and acute-minded girl, and with aprodigious memory; so that her store of knowledge, gatheredunthinkingly bit by bit, had grown to proportions that many a scholarmight have envied.