“I’ve never known her to be well,” said Rolfe, with a laugh. “Every morning when she brings up my breakfast I’ve got to hear details of her bad back which should be kept for the confidential ear of the doctor. But she regards me as a son, I think—I’ve been here so long. But now you are here, Mr. Crewe—” Rolfe waited in polite expectation that his visitor would disclose the object of his visit.
But Crewe seemed in no hurry to do so. He produced his cigar case and offered Rolfe a cigar, which the latter accepted with a pleasant recollection of the excellent flavour of the cigars the private detective kept. When each of them had his cigar well alight, Crewe glanced at the open stamp album and commenced talking about stamps. It was a subject which Rolfe was always willing to discuss. Crewe declared that he was an ignorant outsider as far as stamps were concerned, but he professed to have a respectful admiration for those who immersed themselves in such a fascinating subject. Rolfe, with the fervid egoism of the collector, talked about stamps for half an hour without recalling that his visitor must have come to talk about something else.
“I’ve got a small stamp collection in my office,” said Crewe, when Rolfe paused for a moment. “It belonged to that Jewish diamond merchant who was shot in Hatton Gardens two years ago. You remember his case?”
“Rather! That was a smart bit of work of yours, Mr. Crewe, in laying your hands on the woman who did it and getting back the diamond.”
Crewe smiled in response.
“The Jew was very grateful, poor fellow. He died in the hospital after the trial, so she was lucky to escape with twelve years. He left me a diamond ring and a stamp album that had come into his possession.”
“I should like to see it,” said Rolfe eagerly. “It is more than likely that there are some good specimens in it. The Jews are keen collectors. If you let me have a look at it, I’ll tell you what the collection is worth.”
“You can have it altogether,” said Crewe. “I’ll send my boy Joe round with it in the morning.”
“Oh, Mr. Crewe, it’s very good of you,” said Rolfe, with the covetousness of the collector shining in his eyes.
“Nonsense! Why shouldn’t you have it? But I didn’t come round here solely to talk about stamps, Rolfe. I came to have a little chat about the Riversbrook case. How are you getting on with it?”
“Why, really,” said Rolfe, “I’ve not done much with it since, since—”
“Since Birchill was acquitted, eh! But you are not letting it drop altogether, are you? That would be a pity—such an interesting case. Whom have you your eye on now as the right man?”
Rolfe, who thought he detected a suspicion of banter in Crewe’s remarks, evaded the latter question by answering the first part of Crewe’s inquiry.
“Why hardly that, Mr. Crewe. But the chief is not very keen on the case. Birchill’s acquittal was too much of a blow to him. He reckons that nowadays juries are too soft-hearted to convict on a capital charge.”