His words ended abruptly—with a little gasp. Jimmie Dale had opened the cash box and was dangling the necklace under the light—a stream of fiery, flashing, sparkling gems.
Then Wilbur spoke again, a hard, bitter note in his voice, pointing his hand at the necklace.
“But now, on top of everything, you have brought me disgrace—because you broke into his safe to-night for that? He would and will accuse me. I have heard of you—the Gray Seal—you have done a pitiful night’s work in your greed for that thing there.”
“For this?” Jimmie Dale smiled ironically, holding the necklace up. Then he shook his head. “I didn’t break into Markel’s safe for this—it wouldn’t have been worth while. It’s only paste.”
“Paste!” exclaimed Wilbur, in a slow way.
“Paste,” said Jimmie Dale placidly, dropping the necklace back into its case. “Quite in keeping with Markel, isn’t it—to make a sensation on the cheap?”
“But that doesn’t change matters!” Wilbur cried out sharply, after a numbed instant’s pause. “You still broke into the safe, even if you didn’t know then that the necklace was paste.”
“Ah, but, you see—I did know then,” said Jimmie Dale softly. “I am really—you must take my word for it—a very good judge of stones, and I had—er—seen these before.”
Wilbur stared—bewildered, confused.
“Then why—what was it that—”
“A paper,” said Jimmie Dale, with a little chuckle—and produced it from the cash box. “It reads like this: ‘On demand, I promise to pay—’”
“My note!” It came in a great, surging cry from Wilbur; and he strained forward to read it.
“Of course,” said Jimmie Dale. “Of course—your note. Did you think that I had just happened to drop in on you? Now, then, see here, you just buck up, and—er—smile. There isn’t even a possibility of you being accused of the theft. In the first place, Markel saw quite enough of me to know that it wasn’t you. Secondly, neither Markel nor any one else would ever dream that the break was made for anything else but the necklace, with which you have no connection—the papers were in the cash box and were just taken along with it. Don’t you see? And, besides, the police, with my very good friend, Carruthers at their elbows, will see very thoroughly to it that the Gray Seal gets full and ample credit for the crime. But”—Jimmie Dale pulled out his watch, and yawned under his mask—“it’s getting to be an unconscionable hour—and you’ve still a letter to write.”
“A letter?” Wilbur’s voice was broken, his lips quivering.
“To Markel,” said Jimmie Dale pleasantly. “Write him in reply to his letter of the afternoon, and post it before you leave here—just as though you had written it at once, promptly, on receipt of his. He will still get it on the morning delivery. State that you will take up the note immediately on presentation at whatever bank he chooses to name. That’s all. Seeing that he hasn’t got it, he can’t very well present it—can he? Eventually, having—er—no use for fake diamonds, I shall return the necklace, together with the papers in his cash box here—including your note.”