“Is Franklyn coming straight back?” asked Howell.
“That is the plan. He should leave Vienna to-morrow night,” said The Sparrow, again consulting the papers. “And he comes home with all speed. But first he travels to Brussels, and afterwards to The Hague, where he will hand over Anna Torna’s jewels to old Van Ort, and they’ll be cut out of all recognition by the following day. Franklyn will then cross from the Hook to Harwich. He will wire me his departure from Vienna. He’s bought a car for the job, and will have to abandon it somewhere outside of Vienna, for, as in most of our games, time is the essence of the contract,” and the old fellow laughed oddly.
“I thought Franklyn worked with Molly,” said Mr. Howell.
“So he does. I want him back, for I’ve a delicate mission for him,” replied the sphinx-like man known as The Sparrow.
Mr. Howell, at the invitation of the arch-criminal, helped himself to a drink. Then The Sparrow said:
“You are due to leave London the day after to-morrow on that little business in Madrid. You must remain in town. I may want you.”
“Very well. But Tresham is already there. I had a letter from him from the Palace Hotel yesterday.”
“I will recall him by wire to-morrow. Our plans are complete. The Marquis’s picture will still hang in his house until we are ready for it. It is the best specimen of Antonio del Rincon, and will fetch a big price in New York—when we have time to go and get it,” he laughed.
“Is Franklyn to help the Maxwell woman again?” asked Mr. Howell, who was known as an expert valuer of antiques and articles of worth, and who had an office in St. James’s. He only dealt in collectors’ pieces, and in the trade bore an unblemished reputation, on account of his expert knowledge and his sound financial condition. He bought old masters and pieces of antique silver now and then, but none suspected that the genuine purchases at big prices were only made in order to blind his friends as to the actual nature of his business.
Indeed, to his office came many an art gem stolen from its owner on the Continent and smuggled over by devious ways known only to The Sparrow and his associates. And just as ingeniously the stolen property was sent across to America, so well camouflaged that the United States Customs officers were deceived. With pictures it was their usual method to coat the genuine picture with a certain varnish, over which one of the organization, an old artist living in Chelsea, would paint a modern and quite passable picture and add a new canvas back.
Then, on its arrival in America, the new picture was easily cleaned off, the back removed, and lo! it was an old master once more ready for purchase at a high price by American collectors.
Truly, the gloved hand of The Sparrow was a master hand. He had brought well-financed and well-organized theft to a fine art. His “indicators,” both male and female, were everywhere, and cosmopolitan as he was himself, and a wealthy man, he was able to direct—and finance—all sorts of coups, from a barefaced jewel theft to the forgery of American banknotes.