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The House Of Silk

The House Of Silk

Titel: The House Of Silk
Autoren: Anthony Horowitz
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on the other side of the Atlantic. An art dealer is not the sort of man to make enemies, I would have thought. But you seem to have done just that.’
    ‘Indeed so. My foeman is called Keelan O’Donaghue and I wish to Heaven that I had never heard the name.’
    Holmes reached for the Persian slipper where he kept his tobacco and began to fill his pipe. Meanwhile, Edmund Carstairs drew a breath and this is the tale that he told.

The Flat Cap Gang

    ‘Eighteen months ago, I was introduced to a quite extraordinary man by the name of Cornelius Stillman who was in London at the end of a lengthy European tour. His home was on the East Coast of America and he was what is termed a Boston Brahmin, which is to say that he belonged to one of their most elevated and honoured families. He had made a fortune from the Calumet and Hecla mines and had also invested in the railroads and the telephone companies. In his youth, he had apparently had ambitions to become an artist and part of the reason for his visit was to visit the museums and galleries of Paris, Florence, Rome and London.
    ‘Like many wealthy Americans, he was imbued with a sense of civic responsibility that did him great credit. He had purchased land in the Back Bay area of Boston and had already begun work on the construction of an art gallery which he called The Parthenon and which he planned to fill with the finest works of art, purchased on his travels. I met him at a dinner party and found him to be a huge volcano of a man, brimming with energy and enthusiasm. He was rather old-fashioned in his dress, bearded and affecting a monocle, but he proved to be remarkably well informed, fluent in French and Italian with a smattering of ancient Greek. His knowledge of art, his aesthetic sensibility, also set him apart from many of his fellow citizens. Do not think of me as unnecessarily chauvinistic, Mr Holmes. He himself told me of the many shortcomings of the cultural life to which he had become accustomed as he grew up – how great paintings had been exhibited next to freaks of nature such as mermaids and dwarves. He had seen Shakespeare performed with interludes by tightrope walkers and contortionists. Such was the way of things in Boston at the time. The Parthenon would be different, he said. It would, as its name implied, be a temple to art and to civilisation.
    ‘I was overjoyed when Mr Stillman agreed to come to my gallery in Albemarle Street. Mr Finch and I spent many hours in his company, taking him through our catalogue and showing him some of the purchases we had recently made in auctions around the country. The long and the short of it was that he bought from us works by Romney, Stubbs and Lawrence but also a series of four landscapes by John Constable which were quite the pride of our collection. These were views of the Lake District, painted in 1806, and unlike anything else in the artist’s canon. They had a profundity of mood and spirit that was remarkable, and Mr Stillman promised that they would be exhibited in a large and well-lit room that he would design specifically for them. We parted on excellent terms. And in view of what happened, I should add that I banked a substantial sum of money. Indeed, Mr Finch remarked that this was undoubtedly the most successful transaction of our lives.
    ‘It now only remained to send the works to Boston. They were carefully wrapped, placed in a crate and dispatched with the White Star Line from Liverpool to New York. By one of those twists of fate that mean nothing at the time but which will later return to haunt you, we had intended to send them directly to Boston. The RMS
made that journey but we missed it by a matter of hours and so chose another vessel. Our agent, a bright young man by the name of James Devoy, met the package in New York and travelled with it on the Boston and Albany Railroad – a journey of one hundred and ninety miles.
    ‘But the paintings never arrived.
    ‘There were, in Boston at this time, a number of gangs, operating particularly in the south of the city, in Charlestown and Somersville. Many of them had fanciful names such as the Dead Rabbits and the Forty Thieves and had come originally from Ireland. It is sad to think that, having been welcomed into that great country, their return to it should have been lawlessness and violence, but such was the case and the police had been unable to restrain them or bring them to justice. One of the most active and most
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