CASE OF THE IVORY STATUE
Where a case did not touch his peculiar interest, appeals to Moris Klaw fell upon deaf ears. However dastardly a crime, if its details were of the sordid sort, he shrank within his Wapping curio-shop as closely as any tortoise within its shell.
“Of what use,” he said to me on one occasion, “are my acute psychic sensibilities to detect who it is with a chopper that has brained some unhappy washerwoman? Shall I bring to bear those delicate perceptions which it has taken me so many years to acquire in order that some ugly old fool shall learn what has become of his pretty young wife? I think not—no!”
Sometimes, however, when Inspector Grimsby of Scotland Yard was at a loss, he would induce me to intercede with the eccentric old dealer, and sometimes Moris Klaw would throw out a hint.
Beyond doubt the cases that really interested him were those that afforded scope for the exploiting of his pet theories; the Cycle of Crime, the criminal history of all valuable relics, the indestructibility of thought. Such a case came under my personal notice on one occasion, and my friend Coram was instrumental in enlisting the services of Moris Klaw. It was, I think, one of the most mysterious affairs with which I ever came in contact, and the better to understand it you must permit me to explain how Roger Paxton, the sculptor, came to have such a valuable thing in his studio as that which we all assumed had inspired the strange business.
It was Sir Melville Fennel, then, who commissioned Paxton to execute a chryselephantine statue. Sir Melville’s museum of works of art, ancient and modern, is admittedly the second finest private collection of the kind in the world. The late Mr. Pierpont Morgan’s alone took precedence.
The commission came as something of a surprise. The art of chryselephantine sculpture, save for one attempt at revival, in Belgium, has been dead for untold generations. By many modern critics, indeed, it is condemned, as being not art but a parody of art.
Given carte-blanche in the matter of cost, Paxton produced a piece of work which induced the critics to talk about a modern Phidias. Based upon designs furnished by the eccentric but wealthy baronet, the statue represented a slim and graceful girl reclining as in exhaustion upon an ebony throne. The ivory face, with its wearily closed eyes, was a veritable triumph, and was surmounted by a head-dress of gold intertwined among a mass of dishevelled hair. One ivory arm hung down so that the fingers almost touched the pedestal; the left hand was pressed to the breast as though against a throbbing heart. Gold bracelets and anklets, furnished by Sir Melville, were introduced into the composition; and, despite the artist’s protest, a heavy girdle, encrusted with gems and found in the tomb of some favourite of a long-dead Pharaoh, encircled the waist. When complete, the thing was, from a merely intrinsic point of view, worth several thousand pounds.
As the baronet had agreed to the exhibition of the statue prior to its removal to Fennel Hall, Paxton’s star was seemingly in the ascendant, when the singular event occurred that threatened to bring about his ruin.
The sculptor gave one of the pleasant little dinners for which he had gained a reputation. His task was practically completed, and his friends had all been enjoined to come early, so that the statue could be viewed before the light failed. We were quite a bachelor party, and I shall always remember the circle of admiring faces surrounding the figure of the reclining dancer—warmed in the soft light to an almost uncanny semblance of fair flesh and blood.
“You see,” explained Paxton, “this composite work although it has latterly fallen into disrepute, affords magnificent scope for decorative purposes; such a richness of colour can be obtained. The ornaments are genuine antiques and of great value—a fad of my patron’s.”
For some minutes we stood silently admiring the beautiful workmanship; then Harman inquired: “Of what is the hair composed?”
Paxton Smiled. “A little secret I borrowed from the Greeks!” he replied, with condonable vanity. “Polyclitus and his contemporaries excelled at the work.”
“That jewelled girdle looks detachable,” I said.
“It is firmly fastened to the waist of the figure,” answered the sculptor. “I defy any one to detach it inside an hour.”
“From a modern point of view the thing is an innovation,” remarked one of the others, thoughtfully.
Coram, curator of the Menzies Museum, who up to the present had stood in silent contemplation of the figure, now spoke for the first time. “The cost of materials is too great for this style of work ever to become popular,” he averred. “That girdle, by the way, represents a small fortune, and together with the anklets, armlets and head-dress, might well tempt any burglar. What precautions do you take, Paxton?”
“Sleep out here every night,” was the reply; “and there is always some one here in the daytime. Incidentally, a curious thing occurred last week. I had just fixed the girdle, which, I may explain, was once the property of Nicris, a favourite of Ramses III., and my model was alone here for a few minutes. As I was returning from the house I heard her cry out, and when I came to look for her she was crouching in a corner trembling. What do you suppose had frightened her?”
“Give it up,” said Harman.
“She swore that Nicris—for the statue is supposed to represent her—had moved!”
“Imagination,” replied Coram; “but easily to be understood. I could believe it, myself, if I were here alone long enough.”
“I fancy,” continued Paxton, “that she must have heard some of the tales that have been circulated concerning the girdle. The thing has a rather peculiar history. It was discovered in the tomb of the dancer by whom it had once been worn; and it is said that an inscription was unearthed at the same time containing an account of Nicris’s death under particularly horrible circumstances. Seton—you fellows know Seton—who was present at the opening of the sarcophagus, tells me that the Arabs, on catching sight of the girdle, all prostrated themselves and then took to their heels. Sir Melville Fennel’s agent sent it on to England, however, and Sir Melville conceived the idea of this statue.”
“Luckily for you,” added Coram.
“Quite so,” laughed the sculptor; and, carefully locking the studio door, he led the way up the short path to the house.
We were a very merry party, and the night was far advanced ere the gathering broke up. Coram and I were the last to depart; and having listened to the voices of Harman and the others dying away as they neared the end of the street, we also prepared to take our leave.
“Just come with me as far as the studio,” said Paxton, “and having seen that all’s well I’ll let you out by the garden door.”
Accordingly, we donned our coats and hats, and followed our host to the end of the garden, where his studio was situated. The door unlocked, we all three stepped inside the place and gazed upon the figure of Nicris—the pallid face and arms seeming almost unearthly in the cold moonlight, wherein each jewel of the girdle and head-dress glittered strangely.
“Of course,” muttered Coram, “the thing’s altogether irregular—a fact which the critics will not fail to impress upon you; but it is unquestionably very fine, Paxton. How uncannily human it is! I don’t entirely envy you your bedchamber, old man!”
“Oh, I sleep well enough,” laughed Paxton. “No luxury, though; just this corner curtained off and a camp bedstead.”
“A truly Spartan couch!” I said. “Well, goodnight, Paxton. We shall probably see you to-morrow—I mean later to-day!”
With that we parted, leaving the sculptor to his lonely vigil at the shrine of Nicris, and as my rooms were no great distance away, some half-hour later I was in bed and asleep.
I little suspected that I had actually witnessed the commencement of one of the most amazing mysteries which ever cried out for the presence of Moris Klaw.
Some few minutes subsequent to retiring—or so it seemed to me; a longer time actually had elapsed—I was aroused by the ringing of my telephone bell. I scrambled sleepily out of bed and ran to the instrument,
Coram was the caller. And, now fully awake, I listened with an ever-growing wonder to his account of that which had prompted him to ring me up. Briefly, it amounted to this: some mysterious incident, particulars of which he omitted, had aroused Paxton from his sleep. Seeking the cause of the disturbance, the artist had unlocked the studio door and gone out into the garden. He was absent but a moment and never out of earshot of the door; yet, upon his return, the statue of Nicris had vanished!
“I have not hesitated to ’phone through to Wapping,” concluded Coram, “and get a special messenger sent to Moris Klaw. You see, the matter is urgent. If the statue cannot be recovered, its loss may spell ruin for Paxton. He had heard me speak of Moris Klaw, and of the wonders he worked in the Greek Room mysteries and accordingly called me up. I knew, if Klaw came, you would be anxious to be present.”
“Certainly,” I replied, “I wouldn’t miss one of his inquiries for anything. Shall I meet you at Paxton’s?”
I lost little time in dressing. From Coram’s brief account, the mystery appeared to be truly a dark one. Would Moris Klaw respond to this midnight appeal? There was little chance of a big fee; for Paxton was not a rich man; but in justice to the remarkable person whom it is my privilege to present to you in these papers, I must add that monetary considerations seemingly found no place in Klaw’s philosophy. He acted, I believe, from sheer love of the work; and this affair, with its bizarre details—the ancient girdle of the dancing girl—the fear of the model, who had declared that the statue moved—was such, I thought, as must appeal to him.
Ten minutes later I was at Paxton’s house. He and Coram were in the hall, and Coram admitted me.
“Do you mean,” he asked of Paxton, pursuing a conversation which my advent had interrupted, “that the statue melted into the empty air?”
“The double doors opening on to the street were securely locked and barred; that of the garden was also locked; I was in the garden, and not ten yards from the studio,” was Paxton’s reply. “Nevertheless, Nicris had vanished, leaving no trace behind!”
Incredible though the story appeared, its confirmation was to be found in the speaker’s face. I was horrified to see how haggard he looked.
“It will ruin me!” he said, and reiterated the statement again and again.
“But, my dear fellow,” I cried, “surely you have not given up hope of recovering the statue? After all, such a robbery as this can scarcely have been perpetrated without leaving some clue behind.”
“Robbery!” repeated Paxton, looking at me strangely: “you would be less confident that it is a case of robbery, Searles, if you had heard what I heard!”
I glanced at Coram, but he merely shrugged his shoulders.
“What do you mean?” I said.
“Then Coram has not told you?”
“He has told me that something aroused you in the night and that you left the studio to investigate the matter.”
“Correct, so far. Something did arouse me; and the thing was a voice!”
“It would be, I suppose, about two hours after you had gone, and I was soundly asleep in the studio, when I suddenly awoke and sat up to listen—for it seemed to me that I heard a cry immediately outside the door.”
“What kind of cry?”
“Of that I was not, at first, by any means certain; but after a brief interval the cry was repeated. It sounded more like the voice of a boy than that of a man and it uttered but one word: ‘Nicris!’ ”
“I sprang on to the floor, and stood for a moment in doubt—the thing seemed so uncanny. The electric light is not, as you know, installed in the studio, or I should have certainly switched it on. For possibly a minute I hesitated, and then, as I pulled the curtains aside and stood by the door to listen, for the third occasion the сry was repeated, this time coming indisputably from immediately outside.”
“You refer to the door that opens on to the garden?”
“Exactly—close to which stands my bed. This, then, decided me. Taking up the small revolver which I have always kept handy since Nicris was completed, I unlocked the door and stepped out into the garden—”
A vehicle, cab or car, was heard to draw up outside the house. Came the sound of a rumbling voice. Coram sprang to the door.
“Moris Klaw!” I cried.
“Good-morning, Mr. Coram!” said the strange voice, from the darkness outside. “Good-morning, Mr. Searles!”
Moris Klaw entered.
He wore his flat-topped, brown bowler of effete pattern; he wore his long, shabby, caped coat; and from beneath it gleamed the pointed, glossy toe-caps of his continental boots. Through his gold-rimmed glasses he peered into the shadows of the hall. His scanty, colourless beard appeared less adequate than ever to clothe the massive chin. The dim light rendered his face more cadaverous and more yellow even than usual.
“And this,” he proceeded, as the anxious sculptor came forward, “is Mr. Paxton, who has lost his statue? Good-morning, Mr. Paxton!”
He bowed, removing the bowler and revealing his great, high brow. Coram was about to reclose the door.
“Ah, no!” Moris Klaw checked him. “My daughter is to come yet with my cushion!”
Paxton stared, not comprehending, but stared yet harder when Isis Klaw appeared, carrying a huge red cushion. She was wrapped in a cloak which effectually concealed her lithe figure, and from the raised hood her darkly beautiful face looked out with bewitching effect. She divided between Coram and myself one of her dazzling smiles.
“It is Mr. Paxton,” said her father, indicating the sculptor. Then, indicating the girl: “It is my daughter, Isis. Isis will help us to look for Nicris. Why am I here, an old fool who ought to be asleep? Because of this girdle your statue wore. I so well remember when it was dug up. I cannot know its history; but be sure it is evil. From the beginning, please, Mr. Paxton!”
“I am awfully indebted to you! Won’t you come in and sit down?” said Paxton, glancing at the girl in bewilderment.
“No, no!” replied Klaw, “let us stand. It is good to stand, and stand upright; for it is because he can do this that man is superior to the other animals!”
Coram and I knew Klaw’s mannerisms, but I could see that Paxton thought him to be a unique kind of lunatic. Nevertheless he narrated something of the foregoing up to the point reached at Moris Klaw’s arrival.
“Proceed slowly, now,” said Klaw. “You left the door open behind you?”
“Yes; but I was never more than ten yards from it. It would have been physically impossible for any one to remove the statue unknown to me. You must remember that it was no light weight.”
“One moment,” I interrupted. “Are you sure that the statue was in its place before you came out?”
“Certain! There was a bright moon, and the figure was the first thing my eyes fell upon when I pulled the curtain aside.”
“Did you touch it?” rumbled Moris Klaw.
“No. There was no occasion to do so.”
“How much to be regretted, Mr. Paxton! The sense of touch is so exquisite a thing!”
We all wondered at his words.
“Stepping just outside the door,” Paxton resumed, “I looked to right and left. There was no one in sight. Then I walked to the wall—a matter of some ten yards—and, pulling myself up by my hands, looked over into the street. It was deserted, save for a constable on the opposite corner. I know him, slightly, and his presence convinced me that no one could either have come into or gone out of the garden by way of the wall. I did not call him, but immediately returned to the studio door.”
“In all, you were absent from the studio about how long?” asked Moris Klaw.
“Not a second over half a minute!”
“And on returning once more to the door?”
“A single glance showed me that the statue had gone!”
“Good Heavens!” I said; “it sounds impossible. Was the constable on point duty?”
“He was; there is always an officer there. He stood in sight of the double doors opening on to the street during the whole time, so that ‘Nicris’ unquestionably came out by way of the garden or melted into thin air. Since the only exit from the garden also opens on to the street, how, but by magic, can the statue have been removed from the premises?”
“Ah, my friend,” said Moris Klaw, “you talk of magic as one talks of onions! How little you know”—he swept wide his arms, looking upward—“of the phenomena of the two atmospheres! Proceed!”
“The throne,” continued Paxton, who was becoming impressed as was evident by the uncanny sense of power which emanated in some way from Moris Klaw—“remains.”
“And the statue—it was attached to it?”
“As to the figure being attached, I may say that it was only partially so. Materials for completing the work were to have arrived to-day.”
“How long would it have taken to detach it?” growled Klaw.
“Granting some knowledge of the nature of the work, not long—for, as I have said, in this respect it was incomplete. Half an hour or so, I should have believed!”
“Then,” I said, “the matter, in brief, stands thus: In the course of thirty seconds, during which time a constable was in view of one entrance and you were ten yards from the other, some one detached the statue from the throne—an operation involving half an hour’s skilled labour—and unseen by yourself or the officer, removed it from the premises.”
“Oh, the thing is impossible!” groaned Paxton. “There is something unearthly in the affair. I wish I had never set eyes upon that accursed girdle!”
“Curse not the girdle,” rumbled Moris Klaw. “Curse instead its wearer, and inform us on finding Nicris to be missing, what did you do?”
“I hastily searched the studio. A brief investigation convinced me that neither statue nor thief was concealed there. I then came out, locked the door, and having examined the garden, hailed the constable. He had been on duty for four hours at that point and had observed absolutely nothing of an unusual nature. He saw you fellows come out by the garden entrance, and from that time until I hailed him, nothing, he declared, had come in or gone out!”
“He heard no cry?”
“No; it was not loud enough to be audible from the corner.”
“Lastly,” said Klaw, “have you informed Scotland Yard?”
“No,” answered the sculptor; “nor will the constable lodge information; moreover, I withheld from him the object of my inquiries. If this business gets into the papers I shall be a ruined man!”
“I have hopes,” Klaw assured him, “that it will get in no papers. Let us proceed now to the scene of these wonderful happenings. It is my custom, Mr. Paxton, to lay my old head down upon the scene of a mystery, and from the air I can sometimes recover the key to the labyrinth!”
“So I have heard,” said Paxton.
“You have heard so, yes? You shall see! Lead on, Mr. Paxton! No time must be wasted. I am another like Napoleon, and can sleep on an instant. I do not know insomnia! Lead on. Isis, my child, be careful that it brushes against no object in passing—my odically sterilised cushion!”
We proceeded to the studio.
“I feel that I am responsible for dragging you here at this unearthly hour,” said Paxton to Isis Klaw.
She turned her fine eyes upon him.
“My father is indebted for the opportunity,” she replied; “and since he has need of me, I am here. I, too, am indebted.”
Her supreme self-possession and tone of finality silenced the artist. So far as I could see, everything in the studio was exactly as before, save that Nicris’s throne was vacant. The top of the studio was partially glazed, and Moris Klaw peered up at it earnestly.
“From above,” he rumbled, “I should wish to look down into below. How do I reach it?”
“The only step-ladder is that in the studio,” answered Paxton. “I will bring it out.”
He did so. The grey light of dawn was creeping into the sky and against that sombre background we watched Moris Klaw crawling about the roof like some giant spider.
“Did you find anything?” asked Paxton, anxiously, as the investigator descended.
“I find what I look for,” was the reply; “and no man is entitled to find more. Isis, my child, place that cushion in the ebony chair.” The girl stepped on to the dais, and disposed the red cushion as directed.
“You see,” explained Moris Klaw, “whoever has robbed you, Mr. Paxton, runs some one great danger, however clever his plans. There is, in every criminal scheme, one little point that only Fate can decide—either to hitch or to smooth out—to bring success and riches or whistling policemen and Brixton Gaol! Upon that so critical point his or her mind will concentrate at the critical moment. The critical moment, here, was that of getting Nicris out of your studio.
“I sleep upon that throne where she reclined—the ivory dancer. This sensitive plate—” he tapped his brow—“will reproduce a negative of that critical moment as it seemed in the mind of the one we look for. Isis, return in the cab that waits and be here again at six o’clock.”
He placed his quaint bowler upon a table and laid beside it his black cloak. Then, a ramshackle figure in shabby tweed, reclined upon the big ebony chair, his head against the cushion.
“Place my cloak about me, Isis.”
The girl did so.
“Good-morning, my child! Good-morning, Mr. Searles! Good-morning, Mr. Coram and Mr. Paxton!”
He closed his eyes.
“Excuse me,” began Paxton.
Isis placed her finger to her lips, and signed to us to withdraw silently.
“Ssh!” she whispered. “He is asleep!”
At five minutes to six sounded Isis Klaw’s ring upon the door bell. Paxton, Coram, and I had spent the interval in discussing the apparently supernatural happening which threatened to wreak the artist’s ruin. Again and again he had asked us: “Should I call in the Scotland Yard people? If Moris Klaw fails, consider the priceless time lost!”
“If Moris Klaw fails,” Coram assured him, “no one else will succeed!”
We admitted Isis, who wore now a smart tweed costume and a fashionable hat. Beyond doubt, Isis Klaw was strikingly beautiful.
At the door of the studio stood her father, staring straight up to the morning sky, as though by astrological arts he hoped to solve the mystery.
“What times does your model come?” he asked, ere Paxton could question him.
“Half-past ten. But, Mr. Klaw—” began our anxious friend.
“Where does it lead to,” Klaw rumbled on, “that lane behind the studio?”
“Tradesmen’s entrance to the next house.”
“Yes. But tell me, Mr. Klaw—tell me, have you any clue?”
“My mind, Mr. Paxton, records for me that Nicris was not stolen away, but walked! Plainly, I feel her go tip-toe, tip-toe, so silent and cautious! She is concerned, this barbaric dancing-girl who escapes from your studio, with two things. One is some very big man. She thinks, as she tip-toes, of one very tall; six feet and three inches at least! So it is not of you she thinks, Mr. Paxton. We shall see of whom it is. Tell me the name of your acquaintance, the point-policeman.”
We were all staring at Moris Klaw, spellbound with astonishment. But Paxton managed to mumble—
“We shall seek him, this James, at the section-house of the police depot,” rumbled Klaw. “Be silent, Mr. Paxton; let no one know of your loss. And hope.”
“I can see no ground for hope!”
“No? But I? I recognise the clue, Mr. Paxton! What a great science is that of mental photography!”
What did he mean? None of us could surmise, and I could see that poor Paxton reposed no faith whatever in the eccentric methods of the investigator. He would have voiced his doubts, I think, but he met a glance from the dark eyes of Isis Klaw which silenced him.
“My child,” said Klaw to his daughter, “take the cushion and return. My negative is a clear one. You understand?”
“Perfectly,” replied Isis with composure.
“Breakfast—” began Paxton, tentatively.
But Moris Klaw waved his hands, and enveloped himself in the big cloak.
“There is no time for such gross matters!” he said. “We are busy.”
From the brown bowler he took out a scent-spray, and bedewed his high, bald forehead with verbena.
“It is exhausting, that odic photography!” he explained.
Shortly afterwards he and I walked around to the local police depot. Something occurred to me, en route.
“By the way,” I said, “what was the other thing of which you spoke? The thing that you declared Nicris to be thinking of, though I don’t understand in the least how one can refer to the ‘thoughts’ of an ivory statue!”
“Ah,” rumbled my companion, “it is something I shall explain later—that other fear of the missing one.”
Arriving at the police depot, “Shall I ask for Constable James?” I said.
“Ah, no,” replied Klaw. “It is for the constable that he relieved at twelve o’clock I am looking.”
Inquiry showed that the latter officer—his name was Freeman— had just entered the section-house. Moris Klaw’s questions elicited the following story—although its bearing upon the matter in hand was not evident to me.
Towards twelve o’clock, that is, shortly before Freeman was relieved, a man, supporting a woman, came down the street and entered the gate of Dr. Gleeson’s house. The woman was enveloped in a huge fur cloak which entirely concealed her face and figure, but from her feeble step the constable judged her to be very ill. Considering the lateness of the hour, also, he concluded that the case must be a serious one; he further supposed the sick woman to be resident in the neighbourhood, since she came on foot.
He had begun to wonder at the length of the consultation, when, nearly an hour later, the man appeared again from the shadows of the drive, still supporting the woman. Pausing at the gate he waves his hand to the policeman.
Constable Freeman ran across the road immediately.
“Fetch me a taxicab, officer!” said the stranger, supporting his companion and exhibiting much solicitude.
Freeman promptly ran to the corner of Beira Road, and returned with a cab from the all-night rank.
“Open the door!” directed the man, who was a person of imposing height—some six-feet-three, Freeman averred.
“Ha, ha!” growled Moris Klaw, “six-feet-three! What a wondrous science!”
He seemed triumphant; but I was merely growing more nonplussed.
With that, carefully wrapping the cloak about the woman’s figure, the big man took her up in his arms and placed her inside the cab—the only glimpse of her which the constable obtained being that of a small foot clad in a silk stocking. She had apparently dropped her shoe.
Tenderly assisting her to a corner of the vehicle, the man, having bent and whispered some word of encouragement in her ear, directed the cabman to drive to the Savoy.
“Did you give him your assistance?” asked Moris Klaw.
“No. He did not seem to require it.”
“And the number of the cabman?”
Freeman fetched his notebook and supplied the required information.
“Thank you, Constable Freeman,” said Klaw. “You are a very alert constable. Good-morning, Constable Freeman!”
Again satisfaction beamed from behind my companion’s glasses. But to my eyes the darkness grew momentarily less penetrable. For these inquiries bore upon matters which had occurred prior to twelve o’clock; and, Coram, myself, and Paxton had seen the statue in its usual place considerably after midnight! My brain was in a turmoil.
Said Moris Klaw: “That cab was from the big garage at Brixton. We shall ring up the Brixton garage and learn where the man may be found. Perhaps, if Providence is with us—and Providence is with the right—he has not yet again left home.”
From a public call-office we rang up the garage, and learned that the man we wanted was not due to report for duty until ten o’clock. We experienced some difficulty in obtaining his private address, but finally it was given to us. Thither we hastened, and aroused the man from his bed.
“A big gentleman and a sick lady,” said Moris Klaw, “they hired your cab from Dr. Gleeson’s, near Beira Road, at about twelve o’clock last night, and you drove them to the Savoy Hotel.”
“No, sir. He changed the address afterwards. I’ve been wondering why. I drove him to Number 6A, Rectory Grove, Old Town, Clapham.”
“Was the lady by then recovered—no? Yes?”
“Partly, sir. I heard him talking to her. But he carried her into the house.”
“Ah,” said Moris Klaw, “there is much genius wasted; but what a great science is the science of the mind!”
Many times Moris Klaw knocked upon the door of the house in Clapham Old Town, a small one standing well back from the roadway. Within we could hear some one coughing.
Then the door was suddenly thrown open, and a man appeared who must have stood some six feet three inches. He had finely chiselled features, was clean-shaven and wore pince-nez.
Klaw said a thing that had a surprising effect.
“What!” he rumbled, “has Nina caught cold?”
The other glared, with a sudden savagery coming into his eyes, fell back a step, and clenched his great fists.
“Enough, Jean Colette!” said Moris Klaw, “you do not know me, but I know you. Attempt no tricks, or it is the police and not a meddlesome, harmless old fool who will come. Enter, Jean! We follow.”
For a moment longer the big man hesitated, and I saw the shadows of alternate resolves passing across his fine features. Then clearly he saw that surrender was inevitable, shrugged his shoulders, and stared hard at my companion.
“Enter, messieurs,” he said, with a marked French accent.
He said no more, but led the way into a long, bare room at the rear of the house. To term the apartment a laboratory would be correct but not inclusive; for it was, in addition, a studio and a workshop. Glancing rapidly around him, Moris Klaw asked: “Where is it?”
The man’s face was a study as he stood before us, looking from one to the other. Then a peculiar smile, indescribably winning, played around his lips. “You are very clever, and I know when I am beaten,” he remarked; “but had you come four hours later it would have been one hour too late.”
He strode up the room to where a tall screen stood, and, seizing it by the top, hurled it to the ground.
Behind, on a model’s dais, reclined the statue of Nicris, in a low chair!
“You have already removed the girdle and one of the anklets,” rumbled Klaw.
This was true. Indeed, it now became evident that the man had been interrupted in his task by our arrival. Opening a leather case that stood upon the floor by the dais, he produced the missing ornaments.
“What action is to be taken, messieurs?” he asked, quietly.
“No action, Jean,” replied Moris Klaw. “It is impossible, you see. But why did you delay so long?”
The other’s reply was unexpected.
“It is a task demanding much time and care, if the statue is not to be ruined; otherwise I should have performed it in Mr. Paxton’s studio instead of going to the trouble of removing the figure—and—Nina’s condition has caused me grave anxiety throughout the night.” He stared hard at Moris Klaw. We could hear the sound of coughing from some room hard by. “Who are you, m’sieur?” he asked pointedly.
“An old fool who knew Nina when she posed at Julien’s, Jean,” was the reply, “and who knew you, also, in Paris.”
Paxton, Coram, myself, and Moris Klaw sat in the studio, and all of us gazed reflectively at the recovered statue.
“It was so evident,” explained Klaw, “that since you were absent from here but thirty seconds, for any one to have removed the statue during that time was out of the question.”
“But some one did—”
“Not during that time,” rumbled Moris Klaw. “Nicris was removed whilst you all made merry within the house!”
“But, my dear Mr. Klaw, Searles, Coram and I saw the statue long after that—some time about one o’clock!”
“Wrong, my friend! You saw the model!”
“Madame Colette, whom you knew in Paris as Nina—yes! Listen—when I drop off to sleep here and dream that I am afraid for what may happen to some very large man, I dream, also, that I fear to be touched! I look down at myself, and I am beautiful! I am ivory of limb and decked with gold! I creep, so cautiously, out of the studio (in my dream; you would call it a dream) and I know, when I wake, that I must have been Nicris! Ah, you wonder! Listen.
“At about midnight, whilst your party is amiable together, comes one, Jean Colette, a clever scamp from that metropolis of such perverted genius—Paris. Into Dr. Gleeson’s he goes, supporting Madame—your model. This is seen by Constable Freeman. When the trees hide them they climb over the fence into the lane and over the wall into your garden. Nina has a cast of the studio key. How easy for her to get it!
“Jean, a clever rogue with his hands, and a man who promised to be, once, a great artist, detaches the figure from the throne and arrays it as Madame—in Madam’s outer garb! Beneath her cloak, Madame is Nicris—with copies of the jewels and all complete. He is clever, this Jean! He is, too, a man of vast strength—a modern Crotonian Milo. Not only does he carry that great piece of ivory from the studio, he lifts it over the wall—did Madame assist?—and into Dr. Gleeson’s drive. He bears it to the gate, wrapped in Nina’s furs. He calls a policeman! Ah, genius is here! He gives the wrong address. He is as cool as an orange!
“Do they escape now? Not so! He sees that you, finding Nicris missing, will apply to the point-policeman and get hold upon a thread. He says, “I will make it to appear that the robbery took place at a later time. I will thus gain hours! Another policeman will be on duty when the discovery is made; he will know nothing. He leaves Nina to pretend to be Nicris!
“Ah! she has courage, but her fears are many. Most of all she dreads that you will touch her! You do not. And Jean, the ivory statue safe at Clapham, returns for Nina. He comes into the doctor’s drive by the further gate—where the point-policeman cannot see him. He wears rubber shoes. He mounts to the studio roof. He lies flat upon the ledge above the door. His voice is falsetto. He calls ‘Nicris!’
“Presently, you come out. You peep over the wall. Ah! out, also, is Madame! She stretches up her white arms—so like the real ivory!—he stretches down his steel hands. He raises her beside him! Name of a dog, he is strong!
“Why to the roof and not over the wall? The path is of gravel and her feet are bare. On the roof, to prove me correct, upon the grime are marks of small, bare feet; are marks of men’s rubber shoes; are, half-way along, marks of smaller rubber shoes—which he had brought for Nina. He has forethought. They retire by the further gate of your neighbour’s drive.
“No doubt he bring her furs as well—no doubt. But she contracts a chill, no wonder! Ah! he is cool, he is daring, he is a great man—”
A maid entered the studio.
“A gentleman to see you, sir.”
“Ask him to come along here.”
A short interval—and Jean Colette entered, hat in hand!
“These two wedges, m’sieur—” he bowed to Paxton—“which help to attach the girdle. I forgot to return them. Adieu!”
He placed the wedges on a table, and amid a dramatic silence withdrew.
Moris Klaw took out the cylindrical scent-spray from the lining of the brown bowler.
“A true touch of Paris!” he rumbled. “Did I not say he was a great man?”