A slight frown gathered on Stephen Foster’s brow as he put aside the packet of papers, and it deepened as he recognized a familiar step coming through the shop. But he had a cheery smile of greeting ready when the office door opened to admit Victor Nevill. The young man’s face was flushed with excitement, and he carried in one hand a crumpled copy of the Westminster Budget.
“Seen the evening editions yet?” he exclaimed.
“No; what’s in them?” asked the curio-dealer.
“I was lunching at the Arlington, with the Honorable Bertie—By the way, he took the hook,” Nevill replied, in a calmer tone, “and when I came out I bought this on the street. But read for yourself.”
He opened the newspaper, folded it twice, and tossed
it down on Stephen
A mysterious discussion.
The paragraph in the Westminster Budget to which Victor Nevill referred was headed in large type, and ran as follows:
“This morning, at his palatial residence in Amsterdam, commenced the sale of the gallery of valuable paintings collected by the late Mr. Martin Von Whele, who died while on a visit to his coffee estate in Java. He left everything to his son, with the exception of the pictures, which, by the terms of his will, were to be disposed of in order to found a hospital in his native town. Mr. Von Whele was a keen and discriminating patron of art, a lover of both the ancient and the modern, and his vast wealth permitted him to indulge freely in his hobby. His collection was well known by repute throughout the civilized world. But the trustees of the estate seem to have committed a grave blunder—which will undoubtedly cause much complaint—in waiting until almost the last moment to announce the sale. But few bidders were present, and these had things pretty much their own way, apparently owing to the gross ignorance of the auctioneer. The gem of the gallery, the famous Rembrandt found and purchased in Paris some years ago by Mr. Von Whele, was knocked down for the ridiculous sum of L2,400. The lucky purchaser was Mr. Charles Drummond, of the firm of Lamb and Drummond, Pall Mall.”
A remark that would not look well in print escaped Stephen Foster’s lips as he threw the paper on his desk.
“A blunder?” he cried. “It was criminal! A rascally conspiracy, with Drummond at the bottom of it—British cunning against Dutch stupidity! I seldom miss anything in the papers, Nevill, and yet I never heard of Von Whele’s death. I didn’t get a hint of the sale.”
“Nor I,” replied Nevill. “It’s a queer business. I thought the paragraph would interest you. The sale continues—do you think of running over to Amsterdam?”
“No; I shan’t go. It’s too late. By to-morrow a lot of dealers will have men on the spot, and the rest of the pictures will likely fetch full value. But L2,400 for the Rembrandt! Why, it’s worth five times as much if it’s worth a penny! There’s a profit for you, Nevill. And I always coveted that picture. I had a sort of a hope that it would drop into my hands some day. I believe I spoke to you about it.”