“Monsieur must not take his loss too much to heart,” said Alphonse, with well-meant sympathy. “If he informs the police—”
“I prefer to have nothing to do with the police, thank you. You may go, Alphonse. I shall dine in town, as usual.”
When Alphonse had departed, Jack threw a sheet over the canvas on his easel, put on a smoking jacket, lighted his pipe, and stretched himself in an easy chair, to think about the startling discovery he had made.
The mystery presented many difficult points for his consideration. The rogue’s sole aim was to get that particular painting, and he had taken nothing else, though he might have walked off with his pockets filled with valuable articles. He probably expected that the robbery would not be discovered for a long time.
But what was his object in stealing the Rembrandt? What did he hope to do with a copy of so well-known a work of art? Was there any connection between this crime and the one committed last night on the premises of the Pall Mall dealers? That was extremely unlikely. It was beyond question that Lamb and Drummond had had the original painting in their possession, and that daring burglars had taken it.
“I could see light in the matter,” Jack reflected, “if the fellow had visited my place after hearing of the robbery at Lamb and Drummond’s. In that case, his scheme would have been to get the duplicate canvas—granted that he knew of its existence and whereabouts—and trade it off for the original. But he could not have known until early this morning, and he did not come then. I was sleeping here, and would have heard him. No, my picture must have been taken at least a week or ten days ago.”
Jack smoked two more pipes, and the dark-brown Latakia tobacco from Oriental shores, stealing insidiously to his brain, brought him an idea.
“It is chimeric and improbable,” he concluded, “but it is the most likely theory I have struck yet. Was my Frenchman the same chap who robbed Lamb and Drummond? Did he or his confederates steal both paintings, knowing them to be as like as two peas, with the intention of disposing of each as the original, and thus killing two birds with one stone? By Jove, I believe I’ve hit it! But, no, it is unlikely. Can I be right? I’ll reserve my opinion, anyway, until I have written to Paris to ascertain if there is such a person as M. Felix Marchand, of the Pare Monceaux. If there is not, then I will interview Lamb and Drummond, and confide the whole story to them.”
He decided to write the letter at once, but before he could reach his desk there was a sharp rap on the door. He opened it, and saw a tall, well-dressed gentleman, with a tawny beard and mustache, who bowed coldly and silently, and held out a card. Jack took it and read the name. His visitor was Stephen Foster.
A COWARDLY COMMUNICATION.