“Bless my soul!” he muttered, half audibly. “Very remarkable!”
“I beg your pardon, sir,” said Jack.
“Nothing! nothing!” replied Sir Lucius, in some confusion. “So you are Mr. Vernon?”
“That is my name, sir.”
Sir Lucius pulled himself together, and thoughtfully stroked his mustache. An awkward pause was broken by Mr. Lamb, who proceeded to state at some length the business that had rendered Jack’s presence imperative. Sir Lucius listened with rising indignation, as the story poignantly recalled to him his bitter experience with the Munich Jew. Jack, seeing the ludicrous side, with difficulty repressed an inclination to smile.
“Let me have the picture,” he said. “I can settle the question at once.”
Sir Lucius rose eagerly from his seat. Mr. Lamb took the canvas from an open safe and spread it on the table. Jack bent over it, standing between the two. He laughed as he pointed to a peculiar brush-stroke—insignificant in the general effect—down in the lower right-hand corner.
“There is my mark,” he said, “and this is the duplicate I painted for Martin Von Whele, nearly six years ago.”
“I thought as much,” exclaimed Mr. Lamb.
“Are you sure of what you are saying, young man?” asked Sir Lucius.
“Quite positive, sir,” declared Jack. “I assure you that—”
“Yes, there can be no doubt about it,” interrupted Mr. Lamb. “I was pretty well satisfied from the first, but I would not trust my own judgment, considering the poorness of my eyesight. This is the copy, and the person who stole it from Mr. Vernon’s studio disposed of it later to the Jew in Munich, who succeeded—very naturally, I admit—in selling it to you as the real thing, Sir Lucius.”
There was a double entendre about the “very naturally” which Sir Lucius chose, rightly or wrongly, to interpret to his own disadvantage.
“Do you mean to insinuate—” he began, bridling up.
“As for the genuine Rembrandt—my picture,” resumed Mr. Lamb, “its disappearance is still shrouded in mystery. It can be only a matter of time, however, until the affair is cleared up. But that is poor consolation for the insurance people, who owe me L10,000.”
“It is well you safeguard yourself in that way,” observed Jack. “I shouldn’t be surprised if your picture turned up as unexpectedly as mine has done, and perhaps before long. But I can hardly call this my property. Sir Lucius Chesney is out of pocket to the tune of eleven hundred pounds—”
“D—n the money, sir!” blurted out Sir Lucius. “I can afford to lose it. And pray accept the Rembrandt from me as a gift, if you think you are not entitled to it legally.”
“You are very kind, but I prefer that you should keep it.”
“I don’t want it—won’t have it! Take it out of my sight!—it is only a worthless copy!” Sir Lucius, purple in the face, plumped himself down in his chair. “I beg your pardon, Mr. Vernon,” he added. “As a copy it is truly magnificent—it does the greatest credit to your artistic skill. It deceived me, sir! Whom would it not have deceived? There is an end of the matter! I shall forget it. But I will go to Munich some day, and beat that rascally Jew within an inch of his life!”