One of the most interesting occurrences of my crowded life was my participation in the famous Closure Castle jewel robbery.
I was staying with Lord Bunderbourne. His old Jacobean mansion embowered in trees was an ideal spot for a daring burglary.
It was, I remember, midwinter. The fountain was frozen.
We had just finished dinner
when the local constable burst in to say that a convict had escaped from the neighbouring prison.
It was too true. The safe was empty.
Our cigars were forgotten in the excitement of the moment.
A detective was telephoned for, and came at once.
He first made a plan of the house,
and hurried next to the kitchen garden, where he stood aghast at his discovery.
Then on to the out-houses, where it was noticed that one of the doors was partly open.
Ponto, the watch dog, seemed dazed. He had been drugged, the detective said.
He also pointed out that the horse's neck was strangely swollen.
The detective next interrogated the whole house party, although some were in déshabille.
Suspicion fell first on the chief footman, whose embarrassment was greatly in his disfavour.
Passing to the man's room, the detective saw at a glance that the bed had not been slept on.
Meanwhile, being alone in the drawing room, I had an instinctive feeling that someone was hiding behind the screen,
and I was certain that I heard the sound of the sharpening of a knife.
Having no other weapon handy, I produced my toothpick.
But at this moment the detective returned, in a disguise calculated to baffle the keenest observer.
The contents of the mysterious bag having been analysed,
he showed us that the ring was movable,
and drew our attention to the fact that there were signs of a struggle.
He then showed us the print of a blood-stained hand on the wall
and producing his pocket book, convinced us that in spite of certain superficial differences, they were one and the same man.
We were immensely impressed, and in a few moments the burglar was fairly trapped.
The detective then resumed his natural appearance,
and was presented by Lord Bunderbourne with a heavy cheque.
While waiting for the prison van
he told us some good stories of his career. It was he, it seems, who was the real hero of the Charlotte Street anarchist plot, which he discovered by overhearing a conversation between two of the miscreants in a Soho restaurant.
He gave us also some curious information about the ingenious methods of famous criminals. There was, for example, the notorious one-eyed Jimmy Snaffles, who used a housebreaking implement of his own construction, which he would try on the trees outside before breaking into the house.
And there were that very respectable couple, Tom Bilks and his wife, who entered houses with scaling ladders at night, and kept a blameless registry office in Balham through the day.