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Authors: Donald Thomas

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BOOK: The Lost Casebooks of Sherlock Holmes
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Holmes nodded, as if he understood. Just then a bell rang on the floor above and Stivey, with a seaman's agility, went up the spiral staircase to answer Sir Arthur's summons. He returned a few minutes later with a leather box and a key.

‘Sir Arthur presents his compliments, Mr Holmes, and will be down in a moment. If you will excuse me, I must return Lord Castletown's collar of knighthood to the library safe.'

You may be sure that Holmes and I followed the messenger as he walked into the next room where the Ratner safe stood between two windows. Stivey took the key, which Sir Arthur had just given him and which fitted each of the double locks. When he tried to turn it, the look of worry and irritation on his face told us that neither the key nor the lock would move.

‘Turn it the other way, Mr Stivey,' said Holmes coolly.

Stivey did so. We heard the bolts move. He tried the handle but the steel door would not move.

‘Ah,' said Holmes, ‘now you have locked it. In other words, it seems that the safe as well as the strong-room door was unlocked this morning.'

Stivey backed away from the tall steel safe as if he feared it might explode. He turned to go back up the stairs and inform Sir Arthur Vicars but at that moment Sir Arthur was coming down. He nodded brusquely to us, like a man busy with the details of a royal visit four days in the future.

‘Let me have the key,' he said impatiently, taking it from the messenger. Holmes, Stivey and I watched him. In his morning dress, Sir Arthur Vicars was no longer an Elizabethan courtier but every inch a modern official. He slid the key into the first lock, turned it and heard the bolts slide back. He repeated the process with the second lock and then drew open the safe door with something of a flourish.

We stood behind him, looking into the steel maw. There were shelves laid out with leather jewel cases, orderly and neat. As if he was in a hurry to get the matter over with, he drew out the first leather case and opened it. I could not see what it might contain. I heard only the hushed and tragic voice of Ulster King of Arms.

‘My God! They are gone! The jewels are gone!'

VI

We stood in the sunlit library while Sir Arthur opened each box in turn and, at every discovery, the word ‘Gone!' hung like the motes of dust in the summer air. Apart from two collars of knighthood in the strong-room and a third belonging to Lord Castletown, the entire Crown Jewels of the Irish Kingdom had vanished. Gold, diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires had disappeared from a safe to which only Sir Arthur Vicars had the keys.

Holmes said nothing but watched Ulster King of Arms with sharp eyes, noting every nuance of his behaviour. Sir Arthur swung round on Detective Officer Kerr, as if to hold him to blame.

‘Kerr!' he said in bitter panic. ‘All the jewels are gone! Some of the smart boys that have been over for the King's visit have made a clean sweep of them!'

And still Holmes said nothing. Sir Arthur, in his misery, turned to him.

‘The Board of Works are at fault in this,' he said pathetically, ‘I have asked them for a good safe. I have correspondence to prove it. They refused it and did not give it to me. I have no confidence in this safe.'

To listen to him, you would never have thought that anything more was amiss than some trifling clerical error. Not that the entire regalia of Ireland's jewels had vanished into air. The sword of state, the orb and sceptre were still in the strong-room. But all that might most easily be sold for fifty thousand pounds had gone. He turned next to me.

‘I would not be a bit surprised if they were returned to my house by parcel post tomorrow morning.'

Had he gone mad? Had the loss turned his mind? That was my first thought. Jewels are not stolen merely to be returned by parcel post next day! Sherlock Holmes said nothing.

‘I must fetch Superintendent Lowe,' Kerr said. ‘He must be told.'

‘Indeed,' said Holmes at last, ‘and someone will have to tell the King. I should not care to be that person. I do not suppose that His Majesty will be much amused.'

Then Sir Arthur Vicars was off again. ‘My late mother's jewels, you know. I kept them in there for safety. They have gone too.'

There was, to say the least, something a little zany about his behaviour. In my own opinion, however, he betrayed shock rather than guilt. We went with Sir Arthur to his room on the next floor and awaited the arrival of John Lowe of the Dublin CID. Ulster King of Arms sat with his elbows on his desk and his head in his hands, a most abject study in self-pity as he bemoaned the loss. From below us we heard the sounds of a search beginning. Presently Superintendent Lowe arrived from the headquarters of the Dublin Metropolitan Police a few yards away. There were shouted commands. Detective Officer Kerr was given charge of three men who were to turn over every scrap of coal in the cellars.

I managed to get Holmes away from Sir Arthur.

‘Are we to do nothing? I daresay the jewels were not our concern but yet—'

He shook his head and put his finger to his lips for silence. Presently he walked to the top of the spiral staircase and, leaning over the rail, called down, ‘Mr Lowe! Before you trouble yourself any further in this matter, send for Cornelius Gallagher!'

‘Who the devil is Cornelius Gallagher?' I asked.

‘A locksmith, Watson. The finest in Dublin. He is employed by Ratner's as their leading man.'

In all my years with Sherlock Holmes, I had never before seen a smith take to pieces the lock of a safe. It recalled to me an experience of watching the most delicate surgical operation in my student days at Bart's. We stood over the bulky and breathless figure of Cornelius Gallagher as he dismantled the lock of the Ratner safe with his tiny screwdrivers, meticulous as a watchmaker. Within the lock were the seven slivers of metal, levers or mirrors as they call them. Each must be lifted by a segment of the key before the lock will open. Mr Gallagher unscrewed them one by one. Then he examined each through a small but powerful glass, turning the metal this way and that.

‘Are they marked, Mr Gallagher?' Holmes inquired.

‘Quite clean, sir. Not a scratch. They might be new.'

Holmes stood back. ‘Then we may say, gentlemen, that this safe has never been opened except by the two keys which were made for it. A duplicate, however skilfully cut, is not perfect. Its tiny irregularities scratch the mirrors sufficiently for the marks to be seen with a jeweller's glass. A pick or a probe would do much worse. Is that not so, Mr Gallagher?'

Cornelius Gallagher twisted his head round.

‘It is, Mr Holmes, sir. This safe was never tampered with, only opened in the usual way.'

A look amounting almost to terror seized Sir Arthur Vicars, though it was terror seen in farce rather than melodrama.

‘Oh, no, Mr Holmes!' He seemed about to kneel and clutch my friend's legs. ‘You cannot say it of me! It is unfair, unjust! You cannot say so, Mr Holmes!'

VII

That evening, after Lowe had left our rooms and we were sitting with brandy and soda, I said to my friend, ‘Well, it cannot be Shackleton. He is still in London or still on his way to Dublin, and has not been in this city since the jewels were checked when the door of the Bedford Tower was found unlocked. You have Lestrade's word for it.'

Holmes said only, ‘Hmm.'

‘And if it was opened with the proper keys, both were in the possession of Sir Arthur Vicars and he alone knew where they were.'

‘Does Sir Arthur Vicars look to you, Watson, like a man who would know how to sell the jewels even if he had them?'

‘No,' I said, ‘but I don't see how it could be Shackleton if he was never in Dublin.'

‘Don't you?'

‘If he was not here when it happened, which Scotland Yard itself confirms, it amounts to an alibi.'

‘Does it?'

Conversation was impossible. Holmes had something in mind but no skill of mine would prise it forth. Next day there was worse news for Sir Arthur Vicars. Cornelius Gallagher examined the locks of the strong-room door, which had also been found open by Mrs Farrell on that fateful Saturday morning. There was not a scratch nor a blemish on the polished steel mirrors of the lock. It had been opened with one of the proper keys. One of these was locked in the vault itself. The other two were in the possession of Sir Arthur and their whereabouts known only to him.

Of course, it was quite impossible that the scandal could be kept quiet for more than a few hours. The investiture of Lord Castletown was cancelled on the King's orders. How could the Knights of St Patrick parade shorn of all their splendour? It would have appeared ridiculous. By this time His Majesty was on the royal train, travelling to North Wales, where the
Victoria and Albert
lay at Holyhead, ready to carry him across the Irish Sea. His fury over the stupidity of the Viceroy's court for letting itself be robbed in this manner may be better imagined than described. In the meantime, the press burst upon us with headlines that stood inches tall. The value of the missing jewels was put at £50,000 and more. The stones represented the prize of empire in the eighteenth century and had been the gift of King William IV to the Viceroy's court in 1833.

Holmes seemed remarkably unperturbed by the disappearance of the jewels. Knowing his dislike of ceremonial occasions, I believe he took a secret pleasure in the discomfiture of the officials. He was present when Sir Arthur Vicars was questioned in his office by Superintendent Lowe two days after the robbery.

‘I believe the jewels were taken by a man you know,' Sir Arthur began, ‘a guest in my house. I am obliged to think he spied on me to find the safe key. I am sure that he must have taken impressions of my keys while I was in my bath. He sometimes came to this office on Sundays to collect his letters and he borrowed my key to the main door of the building.'

Superintendent Lowe, a sharp moustachio'd fellow, looked at Ulster King of Arms with pity.

‘You forget, sir. The safe and the strong-room were opened with their proper keys. Impressions were not used.'

Poor devil! Sir Arthur was trapped, cornered, and there was an end of it.

‘However it was done, it was he!' he cried.

Holmes sighed. ‘I believe, Sir Arthur, that the jewels were last checked three weeks before. Frank Shackleton has not left England in the past month. I am informed that for the last two days, including that of the robbery, he has been a guest of Lord Ronald Sutherland-Gower at Penshurst in Kent. His travelling companion was the Duke of Argyll, the King's brother-in-law.'

‘Then I do not know,' Sir Arthur said wretchedly. ‘It cannot have been he. I have done him a great wrong by suggesting it. But the truth is that the young fellow has caused me a good deal of concern. I guaranteed two bills for him, fifteen hundred pounds owed to Wiltons the moneylenders in Piccadilly. And more for furniture bought from Wolff and Hollander. Wiltons charge steep for a loan, as much as fifty per cent in all. I hope I shan't be called on for it but I can't tell.'

The more one heard about Frank Shackleton's business ventures, the more unsavoury they sounded. Superintendent Lowe cleared his throat and flexed his moustaches. He unwrapped a sheet of paper and drew out two identical keys. They were the keys to the Ratner safe.

‘These two keys, sir. This one was at all times worn round your neck? Day and night?'

‘It was.'

‘And this? As I understand it, this was wrapped and hidden in the spine of a certain volume on your study shelves.'

‘It was.'

Holmes intervened. ‘And did you check frequently to ensure that it was still there?'

‘Every night, Mr Holmes, before I retired.'

‘Then it would appear that the safe cannot have been opened by anyone but you,' Holmes said calmly.

Sir Arthur expostulated with an energy so nearly hysterical that I thought my professional assistance might be needed. There was a flaw in his temperament, as I saw it. He had become the most pitiable object. If logic meant anything at all, the innocent Sir Arthur had stolen the jewels and Shackleton the rogue could not have done so. Yet Holmes seemed entirely content to accept impossibilities. Shackleton was the thief and Sir Arthur Vicars his victim.

‘It cannot be, Holmes!' I insisted that evening for the twentieth time. ‘Vicars alone could have opened the safe and the strong-room. Shackleton could not have done it, even if he had travelled from London to Dublin and back at the speed of a bullet!'

My companion chuckled, lit his pipe from a coal in a pair of tongs, and said nothing.

‘If you know the culprit, it is your plain duty to say so. It is the only means by which the jewels may be recovered!'

He looked at me with mild surprise and took the pipe from his mouth.

‘My dear Watson,' he said gently. ‘Do you not see? That is the means by which they would be irretrievably lost.'

VIII

There was a brief interruption, if it can be called so. King Edward arrived off Kingstown two days later. On Wednesday morning, 10 July, the early summer light revealed the graceful clipper hull and the twin buff funnels of the
Victoria and Albert
anchored off Kingstown Harbour, the royal standard at the mast flickering in a light breeze from the Irish Channel. To either side was anchored the more substantial bulk of a Royal Navy cruiser,
Black Prince
to port and
Antrim
to starboard.

Though the flagged streets of Kingstown were packed with sightseers by 10
A
.
M
., they had to wait almost another two hours before the cruisers boomed out their royal salute and the steam pinnace puffed its way across the harbour to come alongside Victoria Wharf. It was a warm summer morning, the Royal Marine band playing and the welcoming dignitaries gathered expectantly in a closely guarded pavilion, hung with flags and bunting. King Edward and Queen Alexandra stepped ashore to the cheers of the crowd. Lord Aberdeen, minus certain items of the usual regalia, came forward to greet the King. The press assured us that King Edward was ‘beaming with smiles and looking in splendid health … his hat raised in recognition of the kindly reception'. According to Lord Aberdeen, the royal gaze was fixed on the viceregal breast so intently that the King's representative wondered if he might be in some way improperly dressed. ‘I was thinking of those jewels,' His Majesty said bleakly.

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