Friday 17 August 2012

The Theft Of The Maharaja's Diamond

“The butler did it,” I said.

The Great Detective frowned at me from under his brand-new deerstalker hat. “What makes you say that, Watson?”

“It’s a staple of detective fiction,” I told him. “Whenever you have a butler, he either winds up dead or he’s a criminal. This butler isn’t dead. So he’s a criminal.”

“You’ve been reading too many of those dreadful penny shockers.” The Great Detective blew a gargantuan cloud of smoke from his huge hooked pipe. “Though it does help me clarify the situation. You see, the butler is the only person I can be certain did not do it – since you, Watson, think he did.”

“Well,” I asked, reasonably enough, “if the butler didn’t do it, who did?”

“Let’s go over the crime again, shall we?” The Great Detective breathed another cloud of smoke at me. “Here we are at the mansion of Lord Fauntleroy, at the instance of our friend Lestrade of the Yard. Lord Fauntleroy is an eccentric who lives only with his butler for company, but at the moment he has visitors, to be precise, three of them – the American businessman, Van Geldtasche, the young and notorious English society lady, Miss Emerald Moneygrubber, and the Maharaja of Khunkharabi. Now the Maharaja of Khunkharabi had brought with him his famous jewel, the Chorpulis Diamond, which he intended to sell to Lord Fauntleroy. It was this evening that the transfer was to have taken place. And during the evening, while still in the possession of the Maharaja, the stone disappeared.”

“I know all that,” I said. “What I want to say is –“

“Don’t interrupt. It’s not polite and, besides it interrupts my flow of thought.” The Great Detective puffed more smoke. “The possibilities, as I see it, are either that the stone has been misplaced or that it has been stolen.”

“Hear, hear,” I murmured encouragingly. The Great Detective shot me a dirty look.

“Now, if it was merely misplaced, the Maharaja and the others should have found it – they’ve been looking all over his room, and the police have, too. Since they did not find it, it’s possible that it has been stolen. It could easily have been misappropriated, since it was in the Maharaja’s room, unguarded, all day, on his table.

“If it has been stolen, who could have stolen it?”

“You’re assuming,” I said, “that the Maharaja hasn’t hidden it away for reasons of his own...”

“I have not discounted that possibility. But consider – he brings the stone to England, to sell to Lord Fauntleroy. Obviously, it is because he requires funds. If he chose to hide it, what could he gain? If he did not wish to part with the jewel to His Lordship, all he required to do was to inform him accordingly.”

“You’re right,” I said, properly abashed. “Please go on.”

“Therefore,” said the Great Detective, through noisome clouds of smoke, “it is to be assumed that the stone in question has been purloined by a person or persons unknown. And since in this establishment there were at the time of the presumed crime only five individuals, and if we can rule out two of those, we have three suspects.”

“Two? The Maharaja I can understand, but surely you are not ruling out His Lordship?”

“I am ruling out the butler,” said the Great Detective crushingly. “Lord Fauntleroy is, quite naturally, a suspect. He would undoubtedly prefer to receive the stone without having to suffer financially in order to acquire it; nevertheless, I believe that – since he has expressed a wish to display it – he is not the guilty one.”

“If he had acquired it illegally,” I said, “he couldn’t show it around. Besides, he’s rich as King Midas. He can easily afford the stone.”

“Precisely.” The Great Detective nodded encouragingly. “So it is either the American businessman or the British society lady who is guilty. What can you tell me about them?”

“Nothing much...except what is in the papers anyway.”

“I do not require information available to the public at large. I wanted to ascertain your impressions, incomplete and inchoate as they are, of these two personages.” The Great Detective took up a hat from the hat stand and took out his magnifying glass. “I imagine this is the American’s hat.” He tapped it and a slight puff of dust arose. “He does not keep his headgear in particularly clean condition; and besides look how the lining is worn. Watson, I believe he is not a millionaire businessman at all. Look at that stain; it resembles blood, and, unless I am much mistaken, those white grains trapped in the band are cocaine. Our businessman, Watson, is an international criminal, I do believe.”

“Let me see.” I took the hat from the Great Detective’s hands and examined it. “It’s your hat,” I said.

“My hat?”

“Yes, I thought I recognised it. You must have left it the last time when you visited Lord Fauntleroy. Look, here are your initials.” I pointed to the S.H. inked on the lining. “You were saying something about international criminals. Please go on. It was very interesting.”

The Great Detective glared at me. “What do you know about the woman?”

“Absolutely nothing,” I said. “I have never clapped eyes on her and never expect to, unless it be to treat her for the gonorrhoea I am certain her liaisons will lead her to contract. Why?”

“Never mind. I shall interview both of these people and decide which of them is guilty. They are all gathered in the drawing room. You shall, in the meantime, accompany Lestrade and search their rooms and accoutrements.”

“I shall? Should I search the butler’s room, too?”

“Again the butler? The butler is not a suspect. If you wish to waste your time and effort, search his room while Lestrade searches the others; but I warn you that it will be a waste of time.”

“Still, I think it’s worth it. I still feel the butler did it. Anyway, you go and meet those two while I get my bit done.” So saying, I went upstairs to the bedrooms. Lestrade was already hard at work in the American’s bedroom; he grinned at me and carried on working. One of his subordinates was in the Englishwoman’s room. The only other person present was the butler himself, who stood in the corridor, looking helpless.

“Where is your room?” I asked the man. “I wish to search it.”

When I returned downstairs the Great Detective was waiting for me impatiently. “Watson,” he said, “let us go. We shall have to set up a trap somewhere else. I’m convinced the criminal has succeeded in sending the diamond out of the premises with one of his or her associates.”

“You’re right, of course,” I murmured. “As always.”

As we rode side by side in the Great Detective’s carriage, I kept my hand in my pocket tightly closed around the diamond, which the butler had given me as soon as we were alone in his room. He had it all ready to give it to me, naturally; after all, I had paid him a substantial amount to purloin the stone in the first place.

I told you the butler did it.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2011/12

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