Sergeant Daw at first made some demur; but finally agreed to advise privately on a matter which might be suggested to him. He added that I was to remember that he only undertook to advise; for if action were required he might have to refer the matter to headquarters. With this understanding I left him in the study, and brought Miss Trelawny and Mr. Corbeck to him. Nurse Kennedy resumed her place at the bedside before we left the room.
I could not but admire the cautious, cool-headed precision with which the traveller stated his case. He did not seem to conceal anything, and yet he gave the least possible description of the objects missing. He did not enlarge on the mystery of the case; he seemed to look on it as an ordinary hotel theft. Knowing, as I did, that his one object was to recover the articles before their identity could be obliterated, I could see the rare intellectual skill with which he gave the necessary matter and held back all else, though without seeming to do so. “Truly,” thought I, “this man has learned the lesson of the Eastern bazaars; and with Western intellect has improved upon his masters!” He quite conveyed his idea to the Detective, who, after thinking the matter over for a few moments, said:
“Pot or scale? that is the question.”
“What does that mean?” asked the other, keenly alert.
“An old thieves phrase from Birmingham. I thought that in these days of slang everyone knew that. In old times at Brum, which had a lot of small metal industries, the gold- and silver-smiths used to buy metal from almost anyone who came along. And as metal in small quantities could generally be had cheap when they didn’t ask where it came from, it got to be a custom to ask only one thing—whether the customer wanted the goods melted, in which case the buyer made the price, and the melting-pot was always on the fire. If it was to be preserved in its present state at the buyer’s option, it went into the scale and fetched standard price for old metal.
“There is a good deal of such work done still, and in other places than Brum. When we’re looking for stolen watches we often come across the works, and it’s not possible to identify wheels and springs out of a heap; but it’s not often that we come across cases that are wanted. Now, in the present instance much will depend on whether the thief is a good man—that’s what they call a man who knows his work. A first-class crook will know whether a thing is of more value than merely the metal in it; and in such case he would put it with someone who could place it later on—in America or France, perhaps. By the way, do you think anyone but yourself could identify your lamps?”
“No one but myself!”
“Are there others like them?”
“Not that I know of,” answered Mr. Corbeck; “though there may be others that resemble them in many particulars.” The Detective paused before asking again: “Would any other skilled person—at the British Museum, for instance, or a dealer, or a collector like Mr. Trelawny, know the value— the artistic value—of the lamps?”