“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 dishonoured 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 endeavouring 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.