“You did,” assented Nevill, “and I remembered that at once when I read of the sale. But I had another reason—one of my own—for calling your attention to the matter.”
Stephen Foster apparently did not hear the latter remark.
“I saw the Rembrandt when I was in Amsterdam, two years ago,” he said bitterly. “It was a splendid canvas—the colors were almost as fresh and bright as the day they were laid on. And as a character study it was a masterpiece second to none, and in my estimation superior to his ‘Gilder,’ which is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. It represented a Pole or a Russian, with a face of intense ferocity. His rank was shown by his rich cloak, the decorations on his furred hat, and by the gold-beaded mace held in his hand. Von Whele declared that the subject was John the Third, of Poland; but that was mere conjecture. And now Drummond has the picture, and it will soon be drawing crowds around the firm’s window, I dare say. What a prize I have let slip through my fingers!”
“I want to ask you a question,” Nevill started abruptly. “Suppose this Rembrandt, or any other painting of value and renown, should be stolen from a big dealer’s shop. How could the thief dispose of it?”
“He would have little or no chance of doing so at once,” was the reply, “unless he found some unscrupulous collector who was willing to buy it and hide it away. But in the course of a few years, when the affair had blown over, the picture could be sold for its full value, without any risk to the seller, if he was a smart man.”
“Then, if you had this Rembrandt locked up in your safe, you would regard it as a sound and sure investment, to be realized on in the future?”
“Certainly. I should consider it as an equivalent for L10,000,” Stephen Foster replied. “But there is not much of that sort of thing done—the ordinary burglar doesn’t understand the game,” he went on, carelessly. “And a good thing for the dealers, too. With my knowledge of the place, I could very easily remove a picture from Lamb and Drummond’s store-room any night.”
“Yes, you know the ground thoroughly. Would you like to make L10,000 at a single stroke, without risk?”
“I don’t think I should hesitate long, if it was a sure thing,” Stephen Foster replied, laughingly. “Nevill, what are you driving at?” he added with sudden earnestness.
“Wait a moment, and I’ll explain.”
Victor Nevill stepped to the door, listened briefly, and turned the key noiselessly in the lock. He drew a chair close to his companion and sat down.
“I am going to tell you a little story,” he said. “It will interest you, if I am not mistaken.”
It must have been a very important and mysterious communication, from the care with which Nevill told it, from the low and cautious tone in which he spoke. Stephen Foster listened with a blank expression that gradually changed to a look of amazement and satisfaction, of ill-concealed avarice. Then the two discussed the matter together, heedless of the passage of time, until the clock struck five.