Read CHAPTER XXIII - M. LEVI of The Sins of Severac Bablon , free online book, by Sax Rohmer, on ReadCentral.com.

The art of detection, in common with every other art, produces from time to time a genius; and a genius, whatever else he may be, emphatically is not a person having “an infinite capacity for taking pains.”  Such masters of criminology as Alphonse Bertillon or his famous compatriot, Victor Lemage, whose resignation so recently had stirred the wide world to wonder-achieve their results by painstaking labours, yes, but all those labours would be more or less futile without that elusive element of inspiration, intuition, luck-call it what you will-which constitutes genius, which alone distinguishes such men from the other capable plodders about them.  A brief retrospective survey of the surprising results achieved by Dr. Lepardo within the space of an hour will show these to have been due to brilliant imagination, deep knowledge of human nature, foresight, unusual mental activity, and-that other capacity so hard to define.

Dr. Lepardo was studying the following paragraph marked by Miss
Maitland: 

FOR SALE.-Entire furniture, antique, of large flat, comprising pieces by Sheraton, Chippendale, Boule, etc.  Paintings by Greuze, Murillo, Van Dyck, also modern masters.  Pottery, Chinese, Sevres, old English, etc.  A collection of 500 pieces of early pewter, etc., etc., etc.  The whole valued at over L30,000.

The torpedo-like car had dropped him at Bedford Court Mansions, and, shuffling up the steps into the hall, he addressed himself to the porter.

“Ah, my friend, has the Count de Guise gone out again?”

“I have not seen him go out, sir.”

“Not since you saw him come in?”

“Not since then, sir-no.”

“About half-past seven he came in, I think?  Yes, about half-past.”

“Quite right, sir.”

Again the odd gleam came into the doctor’s eyes, as it had come when, by one of his amazing leading questions he had learnt that Lawrence Guthrie’s father resided in Constantinople.  The doctor mounted to the first floor.  He was about to ring the bell of Nb, when another idea struck him.  He descended and again addressed the porter.

“The Count must be resting.  He does not reply.  He has, of course, discharged his servants?”

“Yes, sir.  He leaves England next week.”

“Ah, he is alone.”

Upstairs once more.

He rang three times before the door was opened to him by a tall, slight man, arrayed in a blue silk dressing-gown.  He had a most pleasant face, and wore his moustache and beard according to the latest Parisian mode.  He looked about thirty years of age, was fair, blue-eyed, and handsome.

“I am sorry to trouble you so late, Count,” said the old doctor, in perfect French; “but I think I can make you an offer for some, if not all, of your collection.”

He hunted, peering through a case which apparently contained some dozens of cards, finally handing the Count the following: 

    ISIDOR LEVI
    Fine Art Expert
    London and Paris.

Count de Guise hesitated, glanced at his caller, glanced at his watch, cleared his throat-and still hesitated.

“If I approve,” continued ‘Isidor Levi,’ “I will hand you a cheque on the Credit Lyonnais.”

The Count bowed.

“Enter, M. Levi.  Your name, of course, is known to me.”

Indeed it was a name familiar enough in art circles.

Dr. Lepardo entered.

The room into which the Count ushered him was most magnificently appointed.  The visitor’s feet sank into the carpet as into banked moss.  Beautiful furniture stood about.  Pictures by eminent artists graced the walls.  Statuettes, vases, busts, choice antiques, were everywhere.  It was the room of a wealthy connoisseur, of an aesthete whose delicacy of taste bordered upon the effeminate.  The doctor stared hard at the Count without permitting the latter to observe that he did so.  With his hands thrust deep in the sack-like pockets of his inverness he drifted from treasure to treasure-uninvited, from room to room-like some rudderless craft.  The Count followed.  In his handsome face it might be read that he resented the attitude of M. Levi, who behaved as though he found himself in the gallery of a dealer.  Suddenly, before a Van Dyck portrait, the visitor cried: 

“Ah, a forgery, m’sieur!  Spurious.”

Count de Guise leapt round upon him with perfect fury blazing in his blue eyes.  The veins had sprung into prominence upon his forehead, and one throbbed-a virile blue cord-upon his left temple.

“M’sieur!”

He seemed to choke.  His sudden passion was volcanic-terrible.

Dr. Lepardo, still peering, seemed not to heed him; then quickly: 

“Ah, I apologise, I most sincerely apologise.  I was misled by the unusual tone of the brown.  But-no, it is undoubted.  None other than Van Dyck painted that ruff.”

The Count glared and quivered, his fine nostrils distended, a while longer, but swallowed his rage and bowed in acknowledgment of the apology.  Dr. Lepardo was off again upon his voyage of discovery, drifting from picture to vase, from statuette to buhl cabinet.

“M’sieur,” he rumbled, peering around at de Guise, who now stood by the fireplace of the room to which the visitor’s driftings had led him, his hands locked behind him.  “I think I can propose you for the entire collection.  Is it agreeable?”

The Count bowed.

“Ah!”

M. Levi seated himself at the writing-table-for the room was a beautifully appointed study-and produced a cheque-book.

“Twenty thousand pounds, English?”

The Count laughed contemptuously.

“Twenty-two?”

“Do not jest, m’sieur.  Nothing but thirty.”

“Twenty-eight is final.  It is the price I had determined upon.”

De Guise considered, bit his lip, glanced at the open cheque-book-always a potent argument-and bowed in his grand fashion.  Lepardo changed his spectacles for a larger pair, reached for a pen, peering, and overturned a massive inkstand.  The ink poured in an oily black stream across the leathern top of the table.

“Ah, clumsy!” he cried.  “Blotting-paper, quick.”

The other took some from a drawer and sopped up the ink.  Lepardo rumbled apologies, and, when the ink had been dried up, made out a cheque for L28,000, payable to “The Count de Guise, in settlement for the entire effects contained in his flat, Nb Bedford Court Mansions,” signed it “I.  Levi,” and handed it to de Guise, who was surveying his inky hands, usually so spotless, with frowning disfavour.

The Count took the cheque, and Lepardo stood up.

“One moment, m’sieur.”

Lepardo sat down again.

“You have dated this cheque 1928.”

“Ah,” cried the other, “always so absent.  I had in mind the price, m’sieur.  Believe me, I shall lose on this deal, but no matter.  Give it back to me; I will write out another.”

The second cheque made out, correctly, Lepardo shuffled to the door, refusing de Guise’s offer of refreshments.  He was about to pass out on to the landing when: 

“Heavens!  I am truly an absent fool.  I wear my writing glasses and have left my street glasses on your table.  One moment.  No, I would not trouble you.”

He shuffled quickly back to the study, to return almost immediately, glasses in hand.

“Will seven-thirty in the morning be too early for my men to commence an inventory?”

“Not at all.”

“Good night, m’sieur Comte.”

“Good night, M. Levi.”

So concluded an act in this strange comedy.

Let us glance for a moment at Thomas Sheard, of the Gleaner, who sat in his study, his head resting upon his clenched hand, his pipe cold.

Twelve o’clock, and the household sleeping.  He had spent the early part of the night at Moorgate Place, had written his account of the murder, seen it consigned to the machines, and returned wearily home.  Now, in the stillness, he was listening; every belated cab whose passing broke the silence of the night set his heart beating, for he was listening-listening for Severac Bablon.

His faith was shaken.

He had been content to know himself the confidant of the man who had taken from Park Lane to give to the Embankment; of the man who had kidnapped four great millionaires and compelled them each to bear an equal share with himself, towards salving a wrecked bank; of the man, who assisted by M. Lemage, the first detective in Europe, had hoodwinked Scotland Yard.  But the thought that he had called “friend” the man who had murdered, or caused to be murdered, Douglas Graham-whatever had been the dead man’s character-was dreadful-terrifying.

It meant?  It meant that if Severac Bablon did not come, and come that night, to clear himself, then he, Sheard, must confess to his knowledge of him-must, at whatever personal cost, give every assistance in his power to those who sought to apprehend the murderer.

A key turned in the lock of the front door.

Sheard started to his feet.  A soft step in the hall-and Severac Bablon entered.

The journalist could find no words to greet him; but he stood watching the fine masterful face.  There was a new, eager look in the long, dark eyes.

Severac Bablon extended his hand.  Sheard shook his head and resting his elbow on the mantelpiece, looked down into the dying embers of the fire.

“You, too, my friend?”

Sheard turned impulsively.

“Tell me you are in no way implicated in that ghastly crime!” he burst out.  “Only tell me, and I shall be satisfied.”

Severac Bablon stepped quickly forward, grasped him by both shoulders and looked hard into his eyes with that strange, penetrating gaze that seemed to pierce through all pretence into the mind beyond.

“Sheard, in the pursuit of what I-and my poor wisdom may be no better than a wiser man’s folly-of what I consider to be Nature’s one law-Justice, I have braved the laws of man, risked my honour and my liberty.  I have dared to hold the scales, to weigh in the balance some of the affairs of men.  But life, be it that of the lowliest insect, of the vilest sinner against every code of mankind, is sacred.  I-with all my egotism, with all my poor human vanity-would not dare to rob a fellow creature of that gift which only God can give, which only God may take back.”

“Then

“You, who knew me, doubted?”

Sheard grasped the proffered hand.

“Forgive my fears,” he said warmly; “I should have known.  But this horrible thing has shaken me.  I cannot survey murdered corpses with the calmly professional eye of the Sheffields and Harbornes.”

“It was the work of an enemy, Sheard.  There are men labouring, even now, piecing a false chain together, link by link; searching, spying, toiling in the dark to prove that the robber, the incendiary, the iconoclast, is also a murderer.  I have need of all my friends to-night.”

With a weary gesture, almost pathetic, he ran his fingers through his black hair.  The shaded light struck greenly venomous sparks from his ring.

“This is such a coward’s blow as I never had foreseen,” he continued; “but, as I believe, my resources are equal even to this.”

“What!  You know the murderer?”

“If the wrong man is not arrested by some one of the agents of Scotland Yard, of Mr. Oppner, of Julius Rohscheimer, of Heaven alone knows how many others that seek, I have hopes that within a few hours, at most, of the world’s learning I am an assassin, the world will learn that I am not.  Can you be ready to accompany me at any hour after 5 A.M. that I may come for you?”

Sheard stared.

“Certainly.”

“Then-to bed, oh, doughty copy-hunter.  You still are my friend.  That is all I wished to know.  For that alone I came like a thief in the night.  Until I return, au revoir.”