The Emerald CrossChapter 15

On the morning of the day of the inquiry into the theft of the Irish Crown Jewels, two men whose presence was essential to the day's proceedings embarked on the ferry from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire. Inspector Kane, standing in a corner with the collar of his raincoat turned up, watched Frank Shackleton as he sat at a table sipping a cup of strong coffee. The Inspector was returning from a trip to England, where a bookmaker had grievously disappointed him by confirming that he had indeed paid out the sum of two thousand pounds to Mr Francis Shackleton at Royal Ascot. Kane had planned to get the previous day's ferry, but it had been cancelled due to high winds and a lightening storm that had rattled the windows of the old inn opposite the ferry port where he had been forced to pass the night. However, the Inspector's journey had not been completely fruitless. Finding that Frank was likely to be in trouble with the law, malicious tongues had spoken, pouring poison in the Inspector's ear. He now knew that Frank was indeed guilty of a crime, though he did not expect that he would ever be convicted.

The two men arrived at Dublin Castle almost at the same time. Frank, in his haste to reach the scene of the inquiry, was completely unaware of the shadowy figure in the raincoat that followed him through the streets. He entered the familiar surroundings of the Office of Arms Library and found that the proceedings had already begun. Vicars sat in the witnesses' chair, about to be questioned; it was impossible to speak to him or even to pass him a note. Frank fingered the letter in his pocket. He would give it to Vicars as soon as he had the chance, and they would no doubt get an opportunity for a private conversation when the inquiry was over.

Mr Barry, the Solicitor General, stood up to begin his questioning of Vicars. "Sir Arthur, was it your responsibility to ensure the security of Bedford Tower and the safety of the stolen valuable items? This was specified in your conditions of employment, wasn't it?"

"Yes, it was; I don't deny it," Vicars replied.

Barry then pointed to the safe, which still stood, open and empty, in a corner of the library. "Is this the safe from which the jewels were stolen?"

"Yes, it is."

"Why is it here, in the Library? Why was it not put into the strong room, with the antique swords and the ancient manuscripts?"

"Haven't you seen the strong room door? It is very narrow, about two feet wide. The safe is too big, it wouldn't fit through the door. There is not really enough space for it in the strong room, anyway."

"When did you find that the jewels had been taken?"

"On the sixth of July"

"And when did you last see them?"

"I think it was about a month before, some time in June."

"In the record of the evidence you gave to the police immediately after the discovery of the theft, you said you had taken them out of the safe on 11th June to show them to your friend the antiquary Mr Hodgson."

"Yes, that's right; that is when I last saw them."

"Was it a habit of yours, to take them from the safe and show them to anyone who happened to visit you at your office? Did it not occur to you that the more people who knew where they were kept, the more likely it was that they would be stolen?"

"I didn't show them to anyone who I thought likely to be a thief!"

"I would have thought the sight of diamonds worth more than thirty thousand pounds would tempt almost anyone to become a thief. So you do not admit that you neglected to take proper care of the jewels?"

"I most certainly do not!"

"You didn't look at them at all between the 11th of June and the 6th of July?"

"I didn't even open the safe."

"So, Sir Arthur, by your own admission you did not take care to limit the number of people who would know where to find the jewels. You bought a safe which was much too big to fit into the strong room and had to be housed in the Library where people go in and out all day. You kept a spare key to the safe in an unlocked drawer of your desk. For almost a month, you didn't even check the contents of the safe. You must see for yourself that you have not done all you could to keep the jewels safe that were placed in your trust."

"I thought this was an inquiry to find out who had stolen the jewels! I don't like the direction you are taking with your questions. You're not likely to come up with any new evidence with this pathetic attempt to put the blame on me."

"This inquiry aims to find out who is responsible for the loss of the jewels, and that includes, of course, anyone who was negligent in their duty to guard them."

"This is absurd! The people responsible for a theft are the thieves! They must be caught and punished for their evil deeds. If this inquiry is not even going to try to achieve that, then I think it's a waste of time. I refuse to answer any more questions of this kind." With that, Vicars got up and walked out of the room.

The next witness was Sydney Horlock, Vicars' secretary. Before Barry could ask him any questions he said, "I stand with Sir Arthur on this. I too refuse to answer any questions at this inquiry." Then he followed his chief from the room.

Pierce Mahoney was next in the witnesses' chair. "Do not follow Horlock's example, or the inquiry will conclude that you and your uncle have something to hide," Barry warned him.

"I have nothing to hide and neither has Sir Arthur. I will be happy to answer any questions you may ask me," Pierce retorted.

For the benefit of the inquiry, Pierce recounted the events of the sixth of July in response to Barry's questions. Then Barry started a line of questioning about keys. How many were there, and who exactly in the Office of Arms had access to them? Frank, who believed that Vicars had made up the robbery to have an excuse for not being able to produce the jewels, started to find it difficult to concentrate on the proceedings. When Barry had finished questioning Pierce, Stivey was called, as he had been there when the theft was discovered. After Stivey had given his version of events, it was Frank's turn.

Frank had no hesitation in giving truthful answers to Barry's questions concerning his arrival at Dublin Castle on July 6th, just after the discovery of the theft. However it was a different matter when Barry started to pry into his financial status.

"You had borrowed money from several sources before you left Dublin in June. You must have been desperately in need of a way to raise a large sum at that time. What plan occurred to you, Mr Shackleton?"

"I prefer to keep my business matters private, Mr Barry. I cannot see what this has to do with the case we are discussing today."

"Do you deny that you were short of money in June?"

"I had a slight cash flow problem which has now been resolved, that is all."

"So much so that all your debts were paid in full early in July! How did you acquire a large sum of money so quickly?"

"I have investments, Mr Barry. I fail to see the relevance to this inquiry..." Frank stopped. Suddenly he understood what was implied. "You can't be suggesting that I stole the jewels to pay off my debts! That is completely ridiculous! As I have already said, I wasn't even in Ireland at the time of the theft."

"Perhaps you arranged the timing of events carefully, to give yourself an alibi while your accomplice carried out the crime, with reference to instructions based on your inside knowledge of the Office of Arms?"

"I didn't even know they had been stolen until I got back here!"

"Why did you say, just a few days before, in the hearing of several people in London, that you thought an attempt to rob the jewels was likely?"

"That was dinner party chatter, nothing more! I refuse to answer any more of these absurd accusations."

Frank left the witness chair, intending to march out of the Library and join Vicars. He was stopped by a tall man in a raincoat who said, "I am Detective Inspector John Kane of Scotland Yard. Please remain in the room, Mr Shackleton. I would like a word with you when I have finished giving my evidence. I will not be long and I think you will have a great interest in what I am about to say, as my evidence mostly concerns your affairs."

Frank stayed to listen and was somewhat embarrassed when the Inspector revealed that he had gained two thousand pounds not by clever investments, as he had hoped people would think, but by betting on a horse race. He caught a smirk on the face of Pierce Mahoney.

The commission hearing the inquiry then gave their verdict. "We find that the Ulster King of Arms, Sir Arthur Vicars, is guilty of negligence in performing the duties of his office. We recommend that he be dismissed from his position. As it is hard to believe that this theft was carried out with no inside knowledge of procedures of the Office of Arms, we recommend the appointment of a complete new staff. However, we find that there is no evidence to make a case against Mr Shackleton for the theft of the jewels."

Frank was so shocked at the part of the verdict that concerned his friend that he could hardly feel relief at being no longer a suspect himself. He was for a moment grateful that he had to stay behind as everyone else left the room, at the request of the Inspector. He was happy to leave it to Pierce to break the terrible news to Vicars.

"How could they do that to Sir Arthur, when he wasn't even here to defend himself? That job is his whole life!" he complained to the Inspector.

"Never mind that now, Mr Shackleton, I have something important to say to you. When I was investigating your movements in London, I found out something that I did not mention in my evidence today. People have been talking about you, accusing you of indulging in certain illegal and immoral acts. I am sure you know what I am talking about. To be blunt, you are accused of gross indecency with a certain army officer. You may remember that the Irish writer Oscar Wilde was tried and convicted of the same offence and spent two years in prison. But that won't happen to you, since you have too many friends in high places. The King would not want to see such a scandal connected with his brother-in-law the Duke of Argyll, who I am informed is a close friend of yours, or with Lord Gower. So you get off free, Mr Shackleton, on one condition. You must cease your immoral conduct and leave Ireland at once."

Frank's intention to see Sir Arthur was pushed completely out of his mind. His only thought was that he must see Richard at once, to warn him - and to say goodbye. He did not have far to look for his friend, as Richard, informed by Stivey of the day of Frank's return, was waiting for him outside the door of Bedford Tower.

"Richard! You're here!"

"Frank! It's good to see you back in Dublin again. I hope you will stay for longer than you did the last time."

"No! No, I cannot - I only wish I could! Richard, believe me, I want to stay more than anything. But that Inspector from Scotland Yard has found me out."

"What! Do you mean it was you who took the jewels after all? I would never have believed it! Sir Arthur told the police it was you, but I told him he'd got it wrong."

"No, of course I'm not the thief; I don't mean that. I mean he has found out about me, and I think they must suspect you." Frank's voice had dropped to a whisper. "I don't want you to get caught, Richard! I must leave Ireland; we dare not see each other again."

"If they know about you they must be sure of me as well. Everyone knows we are close friends. I can't lose you, Frank. I'll come with you, if you want me."

"Richard, my dear Richard! We must not be seen together again; it could mean prison for both of us. Remember what happened to Oscar Wilde! They are only reluctant to prosecute me because of the important people I know, and what I might reveal about their habits. You do not have the same protection, Richard! It can't be helped; I must go without you. Goodbye, Richard."

"Then goodbye for ever, Frank!"

The two men parted. They could not touch except to shake each other's hand.

Frank watched through the gate of the Castle courtyard until he could no longer see his friend. Then sadly he turned back to Bedford Tower. He had one last duty before he left; to inform Vicars that the jewels had in fact been handed over in Italy not to the real Count Silvio, but to an impostor! Something Richard had said puzzled him. Why would Arthur, having taken Frank into his confidence, have tried to get him into trouble with the police? It seemed unlikely to be true. Arthur and Richard had never liked each other; there must have been a misunderstanding of some kind. At the foot of the stairs that led to Vicars' office he met Inspector Kane.

"You have no further business here, Mr Shackleton."

"I did not want to leave without saying farewell to Sir Arthur, and how sorry I am that he has lost his position."

"I am sure he has no wish to see you. On the contrary, he is infuriated that you have got off, while he has been found negligent. For some reason he was convinced you were involved with the crime. It was he who encouraged the inquiry to suspect you, and first informed me about your money problems and told me to investigate you."

"How could he do that! When I've been doing everything I can to help him!"

What Richard had said to him was now confirmed. Frank was appalled at this betrayal by his old mentor. He wished he had refused to get involved in this business of the jewels; refused to go to Italy at Arthur's request. Certainly he owed Arthur no more loyalty. He would leave without seeing him and never tell him what he had found out in Italy.

It seemed to him as if everything in his world was crumbling and falling apart; his job, Richard, and now even his friendship with Arthur Vicars. All were lost to him and Ireland could no longer be his home.

The Gate of Dublin Castle