The Jew’s Breastplate

Tales of Terror and Mystery

I relapsed into an arm-chair and lit one of his excellent Matronas. When he had returned from seeing the last of his guests out, he drew a letter from his dress-jacket and sat down opposite to me.

“This is an anonymous letter which I received this morning,” said he. “I want to read it to you and to have your advice.”

“You are very welcome to it for what it is worth.”

“This is how the note runs: ‘Sir,—I should strongly advise you to keep a very careful watch over the many valuable things which are committed to your charge. I do not think that the present system of a single watchman is sufficient. Be upon your guard, or an irreparable misfortune may occur.'”

“Is that all?”

“Yes, that is all.”

“Well,” said I, “it is at least obvious that it was written by one of the limited number of people who are aware that you have only one watchman at night.”

Ward Mortimer handed me the note, with a curious smile. “Have you an eye for handwriting?” said he. “Now, look at this!” He put another letter in front of me. “Look at the c in ‘congratulate’ and the c in ‘committed.’ Look at the capital I. Look at the trick of putting in a dash instead of a stop!”

“They are undoubtedly from the same hand—with some attempt at disguise in the case of this first one.”

“The second,” said Ward Mortimer, “is the letter of congratulation which was written to me by Professor Andreas upon my obtaining my appointment.”

I stared at him in amazement. Then I turned over the letter in my hand, and there, sure enough, was “Martin Andreas” signed upon the other side. There could be no doubt, in the mind of anyone who had the slightest knowledge of the science of graphology, that the Professor had written an anonymous letter, warning his successor against thieves. It was inexplicable, but it was certain.

“Why should he do it?” I asked.

“Precisely what I should wish to ask you. If he had any such misgivings, why could he not come and tell me direct?”

“Will you speak to him about it?”

“There again I am in doubt. He might choose to deny that he wrote it.”

“At any rate,” said I, “this warning is meant in a friendly spirit, and I should certainly act upon it. Are the present precautions enough to insure you against robbery?”

“I should have thought so. The public are only admitted from ten till five, and there is a guardian to every two rooms. He stands at the door between them, and so commands them both.”

“But at night?”

“When the public are gone, we at once put up the great iron shutters, which are absolutely burglar-proof. The watchman is a capable fellow. He sits in the lodge, but he walks round every three hours. We keep one electric light burning in each room all night.”

“It is difficult to suggest anything more—short of keeping your day watches all night.”

“We could not afford that.”

“At least, I should communicate with the police, and have a special constable put on outside in Belmore Street,” said I. “As to the letter, if the writer wishes to be anonymous, I think he has a right to remain so. We must trust to the future to show some reason for the curious course which he has adopted.”

So we dismissed the subject, but all that night after my return to my chambers I was puzzling my brain as to what possible motive Professor Andreas could have for writing an anonymous warning letter to his successor—for that the writing was his was as certain to me as if I had seen him actually doing it. He foresaw some danger to the collection. Was it because he foresaw it that he abandoned his charge of it? But if so, why should he hesitate to warn Mortimer in his own name? I puzzled and puzzled until at last I fell into a troubled sleep, which carried me beyond my usual hour of rising.

I was aroused in a singular and effective method, for about nine o’clock my friend Mortimer rushed into my room with an expression of consternation upon his face. He was usually one of the most tidy men of my acquaintance, but now his collar was undone at one end, his tie was flying, and his hat at the back of his head. I read his whole story in his frantic eyes.

“The museum has been robbed!” I cried, springing up in bed.

“I fear so! Those jewels! The jewels of the urim and thummim!” he gasped, for he was out of breath with running. “I’m going on to the police-station. Come to the museum as soon as you can, Jackson! Good-bye!” He rushed distractedly out of the room, and I heard him clatter down the stairs.

I was not long in following his directions, but I found when I arrived that he had already returned with a police inspector, and another elderly gentleman, who proved to be Mr. Purvis, one of the partners of Morson and Company, the well-known diamond merchants. As an expert in stones he was always prepared to advise the police. They were grouped round the case in which the breastplate of the Jewish priest had been exposed. The plate had been taken out and laid upon the glass top of the case, and the three heads were bent over it.

“It is obvious that it has been tampered with,” said Mortimer. “It caught my eye the moment that I passed through the room this morning. I examined it yesterday evening, so that it is certain that this has happened during the night.”

It was, as he had said, obvious that someone had been at work upon it. The settings of the uppermost row of four stones—the carnelian, peridot, emerald, and ruby—were rough and jagged as if someone had scraped all round them. The stones were in their places, but the beautiful gold-work which we had admired only a few days before had been very clumsily pulled about.

“It looks to me,” said the police inspector, “as if someone had been trying to take out the stones.”

“My fear is,” said Mortimer, “that he not only tried, but succeeded. I believe these four stones to be skilful imitations which have been put in the place of the originals.”

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