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THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

by Arthur Conan Doyle


ADVENTURE XI. THE ADVENTURE OF THE BERYL CORONET

"Holmes," said I as I stood one morning in our bow-window looking
down the street, "here is a madman coming along. It seems rather
sad that his relatives should allow him to come out alone."

My friend rose lazily from his armchair and stood with his hands
in the pockets of his dressing-gown, looking over my shoulder. It
was a bright, crisp February morning, and the snow of the day
before still lay deep upon the ground, shimmering brightly in the
wintry sun. Down the centre of Baker Street it had been ploughed
into a brown crumbly band by the traffic, but at either side and
on the heaped-up edges of the foot-paths it still lay as white as
when it fell. The gray pavement had been cleaned and scraped, but
was still dangerously slippery, so that there were fewer
passengers than usual. Indeed, from the direction of the
Metropolitan Station no one was coming save the single gentleman
whose eccentric conduct had drawn my attention.

He was a man of about fifty, tall, portly, and imposing, with a
massive, strongly marked face and a commanding figure. He was
dressed in a sombre yet rich style, in black frock-coat, shining
hat, neat brown gaiters, and well-cut pearl-gray trousers. Yet
his actions were in absurd contrast to the dignity of his dress
and features, for he was running hard, with occasional little
springs, such as a weary man gives who is little accustomed to
set any tax upon his legs. As he ran he jerked his hands up and
down, waggled his head, and writhed his face into the most
extraordinary contortions.

"What on earth can be the matter with him?" I asked. "He is
looking up at the numbers of the houses."

"I believe that he is coming here," said Holmes, rubbing his
hands.

"Here?"

"Yes; I rather think he is coming to consult me professionally. I
think that I recognize the symptoms. Ha! did I not tell you?" As
he spoke, the man, puffing and blowing, rushed at our door and
pulled at our bell until the whole house resounded with the
clanging.

A few moments later he was in our room, still puffing, still
gesticulating, but with so fixed a look of grief and despair in
his eyes that our smiles were turned in an instant to horror and
pity. For a while he could not get his words out, but swayed his
body and plucked at his hair like one who has been driven to the
extreme limits of his reason. Then, suddenly springing to his
feet, he beat his head against the wall with such force that we
both rushed upon him and tore him away to the centre of the room.
Sherlock Holmes pushed him down into the easy-chair and, sitting
beside him, patted his hand and chatted with him in the easy,
soothing tones which he knew so well how to employ.

"You have come to me to tell your story, have you not?" said he.
"You are fatigued with your haste. Pray wait until you have
recovered yourself, and then I shall be most happy to look into
any little problem which you may submit to me."

The man sat for a minute or more with a heaving chest, fighting
against his emotion. Then he passed his handkerchief over his
brow, set his lips tight, and turned his face towards us.

"No doubt you think me mad?" said he.

"I see that you have had some great trouble," responded Holmes.

"God knows I have!--a trouble which is enough to unseat my
reason, so sudden and so terrible is it. Public disgrace I might
have faced, although I am a man whose character has never yet
borne a stain. Private affliction also is the lot of every man;
but the two coming together, and in so frightful a form, have
been enough to shake my very soul. Besides, it is not I alone.
The very noblest in the land may suffer unless some way be found
out of this horrible affair."

"Pray compose yourself, sir," said Holmes, "and let me have a
clear account of who you are and what it is that has befallen
you."

"My name," answered our visitor, "is probably familiar to your
ears. I am Alexander Holder, of the banking firm of Holder &
Stevenson, of Threadneedle Street."

The name was indeed well known to us as belonging to the senior
partner in the second largest private banking concern in the City
of London. What could have happened, then, to bring one of the
foremost citizens of London to this most pitiable pass? We
waited, all curiosity, until with another effort he braced
himself to tell his story.

"I feel that time is of value," said he; "that is why I hastened
here when the police inspector suggested that I should secure
your cooperation. I came to Baker Street by the Underground and
hurried from there on foot, for the cabs go slowly through this
snow. That is why I was so out of breath, for I am a man who
takes very little exercise. I feel better now, and I will put the
facts before you as shortly and yet as clearly as I can.

"It is, of course, well known to you that in a successful banking
business as much depends upon our being able to find remunerative
investments for our funds as upon our increasing our connection
and the number of our depositors. One of our most lucrative means
of laying out money is in the shape of loans, where the security
is unimpeachable. We have done a good deal in this direction
during the last few years, and there are many noble families to
whom we have advanced large sums upon the security of their
pictures, libraries, or plate.

"Yesterday morning I was seated in my office at the bank when a
card was brought in to me by one of the clerks. I started when I
saw the name, for it was that of none other than--well, perhaps
even to you I had better say no more than that it was a name
which is a household word all over the earth--one of the highest,
noblest, most exalted names in England. I was overwhelmed by the
honor and attempted, when he entered, to say so, but he plunged
at once into business with the air of a man who wishes to hurry
quickly through a disagreeable task.

"'Mr. Holder,' said he, 'I have been informed that you are in the
habit of advancing money.'

"'The firm does so when the security is good.' I answered.

"'It is absolutely essential to me,' said he, 'that I should have
50,000 pounds at once. I could, of course, borrow so trifling a
sum ten times over from my friends, but I much prefer to make it
a matter of business and to carry out that business myself. In my
position you can readily understand that it is unwise to place
one's self under obligations.'

"'For how long, may I ask, do you want this sum?' I asked.

"'Next Monday I have a large sum due to me, and I shall then most
certainly repay what you advance, with whatever interest you
think it right to charge. But it is very essential to me that the
money should be paid at once.'

"'I should be happy to advance it without further parley from my
own private purse,' said I, 'were it not that the strain would be
rather more than it could bear. If, on the other hand, I am to do
it in the name of the firm, then in justice to my partner I must
insist that, even in your case, every businesslike precaution
should be taken.'

"'I should much prefer to have it so,' said he, raising up a
square, black morocco case which he had laid beside his chair.
'You have doubtless heard of the Beryl Coronet?'

"'One of the most precious public possessions of the empire,'
said I.

"'Precisely.' He opened the case, and there, imbedded in soft,
flesh-colored velvet, lay the magnificent piece of jewellery
which he had named. 'There are thirty-nine enormous beryls,' said
he, 'and the price of the gold chasing is incalculable. The
lowest estimate would put the worth of the coronet at double the
sum which I have asked. I am prepared to leave it with you as my
security.'

"I took the precious case into my hands and looked in some
perplexity from it to my illustrious client.

"'You doubt its value?' he asked.

"'Not at all. I only doubt --'

"'The propriety of my leaving it. You may set your mind at rest
about that. I should not dream of doing so were it not absolutely
certain that I should be able in four days to reclaim it. It is a
pure matter of form. Is the security sufficient?'

"'Ample.'

"'You understand, Mr. Holder, that I am giving you a strong proof
of the confidence which I have in you, founded upon all that I
have heard of you. I rely upon you not only to be discreet and to
refrain from all gossip upon the matter but, above all, to
preserve this coronet with every possible precaution because I
need not say that a great public scandal would be caused if any
harm were to befall it. Any injury to it would be almost as
serious as its complete loss, for there are no beryls in the
world to match these, and it would be impossible to replace them.
I leave it with you, however, with every confidence, and I shall
call for it in person on Monday morning.'

"Seeing that my client was anxious to leave, I said no more but,
calling for my cashier, I ordered him to pay over fifty 1000
pound notes. When I was alone once more, however, with the
precious case lying upon the table in front of me, I could not
but think with some misgivings of the immense responsibility
which it entailed upon me. There could be no doubt that, as it
was a national possession, a horrible scandal would ensue if any
misfortune should occur to it. I already regretted having ever
consented to take charge of it. However, it was too late to alter
the matter now, so I locked it up in my private safe and turned
once more to my work.

"When evening came I felt that it would be an imprudence to leave
so precious a thing in the office behind me. Bankers' safes had
been forced before now, and why should not mine be? If so, how
terrible would be the position in which I should find myself! I
determined, therefore, that for the next few days I would always
carry the case backward and forward with me, so that it might
never be really out of my reach. With this intention, I called a
cab and drove out to my house at Streatham, carrying the jewel
with me. I did not breathe freely until I had taken it upstairs
and locked it in the bureau of my dressing-room.

"And now a word as to my household, Mr. Holmes, for I wish you to
thoroughly understand the situation. My groom and my page sleep
out of the house, and may be set aside altogether. I have three
maid-servants who have been with me a number of years and whose
absolute reliability is quite above suspicion. Another, Lucy
Parr, the second waiting-maid, has only been in my service a few
months. She came with an excellent character, however, and has
always given me satisfaction. She is a very pretty girl and has
attracted admirers who have occasionally hung about the place.
That is the only drawback which we have found to her, but we
believe her to be a thoroughly good girl in every way.

"So much for the servants. My family itself is so small that it
will not take me long to describe it. I am a widower and have an
only son, Arthur. He has been a disappointment to me, Mr.
Holmes-- a grievous disappointment. I have no doubt that I am
myself to blame. People tell me that I have spoiled him. Very
likely I have. When my dear wife died I felt that he was all I
had to love. I could not bear to see the smile fade even for a
moment from his face. I have never denied him a wish. Perhaps it
would have been better for both of us had I been sterner, but I
meant it for the best.

"It was naturally my intention that he should succeed me in my
business, but he was not of a business turn. He was wild,
wayward, and, to speak the truth, I could not trust him in the
handling of large sums of money. When he was young he became a
member of an aristocratic club, and there, having charming
manners, he was soon the intimate of a number of men with long
purses and expensive habits. He learned to play heavily at cards
and to squander money on the turf, until he had again and again
to come to me and implore me to give him an advance upon his
allowance, that he might settle his debts of honor. He tried
more than once to break away from the dangerous company which he
was keeping, but each time the influence of his friend, Sir
George Burnwell, was enough to draw him back again.

"And, indeed, I could not wonder that such a man as Sir George
Burnwell should gain an influence over him, for he has frequently
brought him to my house, and I have found myself that I could
hardly resist the fascination of his manner. He is older than
Arthur, a man of the world to his finger-tips, one who had been
everywhere, seen everything, a brilliant talker, and a man of
great personal beauty. Yet when I think of him in cold blood, far
away from the glamour of his presence, I am convinced from his
cynical speech and the look which I have caught in his eyes that
he is one who should be deeply distrusted. So I think, and so,
too, thinks my little Mary, who has a woman's quick insight into
character.

"And now there is only she to be described. She is my niece; but
when my brother died five years ago and left her alone in the
world I adopted her, and have looked upon her ever since as my
daughter. She is a sunbeam in my house--sweet, loving, beautiful,
a wonderful manager and housekeeper, yet as tender and quiet and
gentle as a woman could be. She is my right hand. I do not know
what I could do without her. In only one matter has she ever gone
against my wishes. Twice my boy has asked her to marry him, for
he loves her devotedly, but each time she has refused him. I
think that if anyone could have drawn him into the right path it
would have been she, and that his marriage might have changed his
whole life; but now, alas! it is too late--forever too late!

"Now, Mr. Holmes, you know the people who live under my roof, and
I shall continue with my miserable story.

"When we were taking coffee in the drawing-room that night after
dinner, I told Arthur and Mary my experience, and of the precious
treasure which we had under our roof, suppressing only the name
of my client. Lucy Parr, who had brought in the coffee, had, I am
sure, left the room; but I cannot swear that the door was closed.
Mary and Arthur were much interested and wished to see the famous
coronet, but I thought it better not to disturb it.

"'Where have you put it?' asked Arthur.

"'In my own bureau.'

"'Well, I hope to goodness the house won't be burgled during the
night.' said he.

"'It is locked up,' I answered.

"'Oh, any old key will fit that bureau. When I was a youngster I
have opened it myself with the key of the box-room cupboard.'

"He often had a wild way of talking, so that I thought little of
what he said. He followed me to my room, however, that night with
a very grave face.

"'Look here, dad,' said he with his eyes cast down, 'can you let
me have 200 pounds?'

"'No, I cannot!' I answered sharply. 'I have been far too
generous with you in money matters.'

"'You have been very kind,' said he, 'but I must have this money,
or else I can never show my face inside the club again.'

"'And a very good thing, too!' I cried.

"'Yes, but you would not have me leave it a dishonored man,'
said he. 'I could not bear the disgrace. I must raise the money
in some way, and if you will not let me have it, then I must try
other means.'

"I was very angry, for this was the third demand during the
month. 'You shall not have a farthing from me,' I cried, on which
he bowed and left the room without another word.

"When he was gone I unlocked my bureau, made sure that my
treasure was safe, and locked it again. Then I started to go
round the house to see that all was secure--a duty which I
usually leave to Mary but which I thought it well to perform
myself that night. As I came down the stairs I saw Mary herself
at the side window of the hall, which she closed and fastened as
I approached.

"'Tell me, dad,' said she, looking, I thought, a little
disturbed, 'did you give Lucy, the maid, leave to go out
to-night?'

"'Certainly not.'

"'She came in just now by the back door. I have no doubt that she
has only been to the side gate to see someone, but I think that
it is hardly safe and should be stopped.'

"'You must speak to her in the morning, or I will if you prefer
it. Are you sure that everything is fastened?'

"'Quite sure, dad.'

"'Then. good-night.' I kissed her and went up to my bedroom
again, where I was soon asleep.

"I am endeavoring to tell you everything, Mr. Holmes, which may
have any bearing upon the case, but I beg that you will question
me upon any point which I do not make clear."

"On the contrary, your statement is singularly lucid."

"I come to a part of my story now in which I should wish to be
particularly so. I am not a very heavy sleeper, and the anxiety
in my mind tended, no doubt, to make me even less so than usual.
About two in the morning, then, I was awakened by some sound in
the house. It had ceased ere I was wide awake, but it had left an
impression behind it as though a window had gently closed
somewhere. I lay listening with all my ears. Suddenly, to my
horror, there was a distinct sound of footsteps moving softly in
the next room. I slipped out of bed, all palpitating with fear,
and peeped round the comer of my dressing-room door.

"'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 dishonored 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 house-maid 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, realizing the dreadful position
in which I was placed, I implored him to remember that not only
my honor 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 pounds. My
God, what shall I do! I have lost my honor, 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.



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