“‘Arthur!’ I screamed, ‘you villain! you thief! How dare you touch that coronet?’
“The gas was half up, as I had left it, and my unhappy boy, dressed only in his shirt and trousers, was standing beside the light, holding the coronet in his hands. He appeared to be wrenching at it, or bending it with all his strength. At my cry he dropped it from his grasp and turned as pale as death. I snatched it up and examined it. One of the gold corners, with three of the beryls in it, was missing.
“‘You blackguard!’ I shouted, beside myself with rage. ‘You have destroyed it! You have dishonoured me forever! Where are the jewels which you have stolen?’
“‘Stolen!’ he cried.
“‘Yes, thief!’ I roared, shaking him by the shoulder.
“‘There are none missing. There cannot be any missing,’ said he.
“‘There are three missing. And you know where they are. Must I call you a liar as well as a thief? Did I not see you trying to tear off another piece?’
“‘You have called me names enough,’ said he, ‘I will not stand it any longer. I shall not say another word about this business, since you have chosen to insult me. I will leave your house in the morning and make my own way in the world.’
“‘You shall leave it in the hands of the police!’ I cried half-mad with grief and rage. ‘I shall have this matter probed to the bottom.’
“‘You shall learn nothing from me,’ said he with a passion such as I should not have thought was in his nature. ‘If you choose to call the police, let the police find what they can.’
“By this time the whole house was astir, for I had raised my voice in my anger. Mary was the first to rush into my room, and, at the sight of the coronet and of Arthur’s face, she read the whole story and, with a scream, fell down senseless on the ground. I sent the housemaid for the police and put the investigation into their hands at once. When the inspector and a constable entered the house, Arthur, who had stood sullenly with his arms folded, asked me whether it was my intention to charge him with theft. I answered that it had ceased to be a private matter, but had become a public one, since the ruined coronet was national property. I was determined that the law should have its way in everything.
“‘At least,’ said he, ‘you will not have me arrested at once. It would be to your advantage as well as mine if I might leave the house for five minutes.’
“‘That you may get away, or perhaps that you may conceal what you have stolen,’ said I. And then, realising the dreadful position in which I was placed, I implored him to remember that not only my honour but that of one who was far greater than I was at stake; and that he threatened to raise a scandal which would convulse the nation. He might avert it all if he would but tell me what he had done with the three missing stones.
“‘You may as well face the matter,’ said I; ‘you have been caught in the act, and no confession could make your guilt more heinous. If you but make such reparation as is in your power, by telling us where the beryls are, all shall be forgiven and forgotten.’
“‘Keep your forgiveness for those who ask for it,’ he answered, turning away from me with a sneer. I saw that he was too hardened for any words of mine to influence him. There was but one way for it. I called in the inspector and gave him into custody. A search was made at once not only of his person but of his room and of every portion of the house where he could possibly have concealed the gems; but no trace of them could be found, nor would the wretched boy open his mouth for all our persuasions and our threats. This morning he was removed to a cell, and I, after going through all the police formalities, have hurried round to you to implore you to use your skill in unravelling the matter. The police have openly confessed that they can at present make nothing of it. You may go to any expense which you think necessary. I have already offered a reward of £ 1000. My God, what shall I do! I have lost my honour, my gems, and my son in one night. Oh, what shall I do!”
He put a hand on either side of his head and rocked himself to and fro, droning to himself like a child whose grief has got beyond words.
Sherlock Holmes sat silent for some few minutes, with his brows knitted and his eyes fixed upon the fire.
“Do you receive much company?” he asked.
“None save my partner with his family and an occasional friend of Arthur’s. Sir George Burnwell has been several times lately. No one else, I think.”
“Do you go out much in society?”
“Arthur does. Mary and I stay at home. We neither of us care for it.”
“That is unusual in a young girl.”
“She is of a quiet nature. Besides, she is not so very young. She is four-and-twenty.”
“This matter, from what you say, seems to have been a shock to her also.”
“Terrible! She is even more affected than I.”
“You have neither of you any doubt as to your son’s guilt?”
“How can we have when I saw him with my own eyes with the coronet in his hands.”
“I hardly consider that a conclusive proof. Was the remainder of the coronet at all injured?”
“Yes, it was twisted.”
“Do you not think, then, that he might have been trying to straighten it?”
“God bless you! You are doing what you can for him and for me. But it is too heavy a task. What was he doing there at all? If his purpose were innocent, why did he not say so?”
“Precisely. And if it were guilty, why did he not invent a lie? His silence appears to me to cut both ways. There are several singular points about the case. What did the police think of the noise which awoke you from your sleep?”
“They considered that it might be caused by Arthur’s closing his bedroom door.”
“A likely story! As if a man bent on felony would slam his door so as to wake a household. What did they say, then, of the disappearance of these gems?”
“They are still sounding the planking and probing the furniture in the hope of finding them.”
“Have they thought of looking outside the house?”
“Yes, they have shown extraordinary energy. The whole garden has already been minutely examined.”
“Now, my dear sir,” said Holmes, “is it not obvious to you now that this matter really strikes very much deeper than either you or the police were at first inclined to think? It appeared to you to be a simple case; to me it seems exceedingly complex. Consider what is involved by your theory. You suppose that your son came down from his bed, went, at great risk, to your dressing-room, opened your bureau, took out your coronet, broke off by main force a small portion of it, went off to some other place, concealed three gems out of the thirty-nine, with such skill that nobody can find them, and then returned with the other thirty-six into the room in which he exposed himself to the greatest danger of being discovered. I ask you now, is such a theory tenable?”
“But what other is there?” cried the banker with a gesture of despair. “If his motives were innocent, why does he not explain them?”
“It is our task to find that out,” replied Holmes; “so now, if you please, Mr. Holder, we will set off for Streatham together, and devote an hour to glancing a little more closely into details.”
My friend insisted upon my accompanying them in their expedition, which I was eager enough to do, for my curiosity and sympathy were deeply stirred by the story to which we had listened. I confess that the guilt of the banker’s son appeared to me to be as obvious as it did to his unhappy father, but still I had such faith in Holmes’ judgment that I felt that there must be some grounds for hope as long as he was dissatisfied with the accepted explanation. He hardly spoke a word the whole way out to the southern suburb, but sat with his chin upon his breast and his hat drawn over his eyes, sunk in the deepest thought. Our client appeared to have taken fresh heart at the little glimpse of hope which had been presented to him, and he even broke into a desultory chat with me over his business affairs. A short railway journey and a shorter walk brought us to Fairbank, the modest residence of the great financier.
Fairbank was a good-sized square house of white stone, standing back a little from the road. A double carriage-sweep, with a snow-clad lawn, stretched down in front to two large iron gates which closed the entrance. On the right side was a small wooden thicket, which led into a narrow path between two neat hedges stretching from the road to the kitchen door, and forming the tradesmen’s entrance. On the left ran a lane which led to the stables, and was not itself within the grounds at all, being a public, though little used, thoroughfare. Holmes left us standing at the door and walked slowly all round the house, across the front, down the tradesmen’s path, and so round by the garden behind into the stable lane. So long was he that Mr. Holder and I went into the dining-room and waited by the fire until he should return. We were sitting there in silence when the door opened and a young lady came in. She was rather above the middle height, slim, with dark hair and eyes, which seemed the darker against the absolute pallor of her skin. I do not think that I have ever seen such deadly paleness in a woman’s face. Her lips, too, were bloodless, but her eyes were flushed with crying. As she swept silently into the room she impressed me with a greater sense of grief than the banker had done in the morning, and it was the more striking in her as she was evidently a woman of strong character, with immense capacity for self-restraint. Disregarding my presence, she went straight to her uncle and passed her hand over his head with a sweet womanly caress.
“You have given orders that Arthur should be liberated, have you not, dad?” she asked.
“No, no, my girl, the matter must be probed to the bottom.”
“But I am so sure that he is innocent. You know what woman’s instincts are. I know that he has done no harm and that you will be sorry for having acted so harshly.”
“Why is he silent, then, if he is innocent?”
“Who knows? Perhaps because he was so angry that you should suspect him.”
“How could I help suspecting him, when I actually saw him with the coronet in his hand?”
“Oh, but he had only picked it up to look at it. Oh, do, do take my word for it that he is innocent. Let the matter drop and say no more. It is so dreadful to think of our dear Arthur in prison!”
“I shall never let it drop until the gems are found—never, Mary! Your affection for Arthur blinds you as to the awful consequences to me. Far from hushing the thing up, I have brought a gentleman down from London to inquire more deeply into it.”
“This gentleman?” she asked, facing round to me.
“No, his friend. He wished us to leave him alone. He is round in the stable lane now.”
“The stable lane?” She raised her dark eyebrows. “What can he hope to find there? Ah! this, I suppose, is he. I trust, sir, that you will succeed in proving, what I feel sure is the truth, that my cousin Arthur is innocent of this crime.”
“I fully share your opinion, and I trust, with you, that we may prove it,” returned Holmes, going back to the mat to knock the snow from his shoes. “I believe I have the honour of addressing Miss Mary Holder. Might I ask you a question or two?”
“Pray do, sir, if it may help to clear this horrible affair up.”
“You heard nothing yourself last night?”
“Nothing, until my uncle here began to speak loudly. I heard that, and I came down.”
“You shut up the windows and doors the night before. Did you fasten all the windows?”
“Were they all fastened this morning?”
“You have a maid who has a sweetheart? I think that you remarked to your uncle last night that she had been out to see him?”
“Yes, and she was the girl who waited in the drawing-room, and who may have heard uncle’s remarks about the coronet.”
“I see. You infer that she may have gone out to tell her sweetheart, and that the two may have planned the robbery.”
“But what is the good of all these vague theories,” cried the banker impatiently, “when I have told you that I saw Arthur with the coronet in his hands?”
“Wait a little, Mr. Holder. We must come back to that. About this girl, Miss Holder. You saw her return by the kitchen door, I presume?”
“Yes; when I went to see if the door was fastened for the night I met her slipping in. I saw the man, too, in the gloom.”
“Do you know him?”
“Oh, yes! he is the greengrocer who brings our vegetables round. His name is Francis Prosper.”
“He stood,” said Holmes, “to the left of the door—that is to say, farther up the path than is necessary to reach the door?”
“Yes, he did.”
“And he is a man with a wooden leg?”
Something like fear sprang up in the young lady’s expressive black eyes. “Why, you are like a magician,” said she. “How do you know that?” She smiled, but there was no answering smile in Holmes’ thin, eager face.
“I should be very glad now to go upstairs,” said he. “I shall probably wish to go over the outside of the house again. Perhaps I had better take a look at the lower windows before I go up.”
He walked swiftly round from one to the other, pausing only at the large one which looked from the hall onto the stable lane. This he opened and made a very careful examination of the sill with his powerful magnifying lens. “Now we shall go upstairs,” said he at last.
The banker’s dressing-room was a plainly furnished little chamber, with a grey carpet, a large bureau, and a long mirror. Holmes went to the bureau first and looked hard at the lock.
“Which key was used to open it?” he asked.
“That which my son himself indicated—that of the cupboard of the lumber-room.”
“Have you it here?”
“That is it on the dressing-table.”
Sherlock Holmes took it up and opened the bureau.
“It is a noiseless lock,” said he. “It is no wonder that it did not wake you. This case, I presume, contains the coronet. We must have a look at it.” He opened the case, and taking out the diadem he laid it upon the table. It was a magnificent specimen of the jeweller’s art, and the thirty-six stones were the finest that I have ever seen. At one side of the coronet was a cracked edge, where a corner holding three gems had been torn away.
“Now, Mr. Holder,” said Holmes, “here is the corner which corresponds to that which has been so unfortunately lost. Might I beg that you will break it off.”
The banker recoiled in horror. “I should not dream of trying,” said he.
“Then I will.” Holmes suddenly bent his strength upon it, but without result. “I feel it give a little,” said he; “but, though I am exceptionally strong in the fingers, it would take me all my time to break it. An ordinary man could not do it. Now, what do you think would happen if I did break it, Mr. Holder? There would be a noise like a pistol shot. Do you tell me that all this happened within a few yards of your bed and that you heard nothing of it?”
“I do not know what to think. It is all dark to me.”
“But perhaps it may grow lighter as we go. What do you think, Miss Holder?”
“I confess that I still share my uncle’s perplexity.”
“Your son had no shoes or slippers on when you saw him?”
“He had nothing on save only his trousers and shirt.”
“Thank you. We have certainly been favoured with extraordinary luck during this inquiry, and it will be entirely our own fault if we do not succeed in clearing the matter up. With your permission, Mr. Holder, I shall now continue my investigations outside.”
He went alone, at his own request, for he explained that any unnecessary footmarks might make his task more difficult. For an hour or more he was at work, returning at last with his feet heavy with snow and his features as inscrutable as ever.
“I think that I have seen now all that there is to see, Mr. Holder,” said he; “I can serve you best by returning to my rooms.”
“But the gems, Mr. Holmes. Where are they?”
“I cannot tell.”
The banker wrung his hands. “I shall never see them again!” he cried. “And my son? You give me hopes?”
“My opinion is in no way altered.”
“Then, for God’s sake, what was this dark business which was acted in my house last night?”
“If you can call upon me at my Baker Street rooms to-morrow morning between nine and ten I shall be happy to do what I can to make it clearer. I understand that you give me carte blanche to act for you, provided only that I get back the gems, and that you place no limit on the sum I may draw.”
“I would give my fortune to have them back.”
“Very good. I shall look into the matter between this and then. Good-bye; it is just possible that I may have to come over here again before evening.”
It was obvious to me that my companion’s mind was now made up about the case, although what his conclusions were was more than I could even dimly imagine. Several times during our homeward journey I endeavoured to sound him upon the point, but he always glided away to some other topic, until at last I gave it over in despair. It was not yet three when we found ourselves in our rooms once more. He hurried to his chamber and was down again in a few minutes dressed as a common loafer. With his collar turned up, his shiny, seedy coat, his red cravat, and his worn boots, he was a perfect sample of the class.
“I think that this should do,” said he, glancing into the glass above the fireplace. “I only wish that you could come with me, Watson, but I fear that it won’t do. I may be on the trail in this matter, or I may be following a will-o’-the-wisp, but I shall soon know which it is. I hope that I may be back in a few hours.” He cut a slice of beef from the joint upon the sideboard, sandwiched it between two rounds of bread, and thrusting this rude meal into his pocket he started off upon his expedition.