Chapter 500 The Stolen Oil Painting
After spending the whole morning together, Zhang Heng knew that Mr. Villard was indeed, if not, Sherlock’s biggest fan.
His words and the way he looked at Holmes confirmed his thoughts about him.
On the other hand, although Sherlock Holmes said nothing about the flattery, he secretly enjoyed such admiration towards him. No matter how lonely and noble artists were, they truly wished deep inside their hearts and minds that the world would accept their works. Based on how one defined an artist, Holmes couldn’t be considered one, though, his attainments in the criminal investigation did earn him a Victorian artist title.
Of course, Holmes would pay more attention to the case that Villard told about rather than the compliments. Holmes appeared to be extremely interested in this ‘gentleman thief.’
In the carriage, he asked Villard, “How much information do you have about him now?”
When posed with the question, a look of embarrassment flashed across Villard’s face.
“I tried my best to investigate this matter, but unfortunately, I haven’t gotten much information about it. Mainly because it’s not that easy to find the victims. Most people refuse to talk about these embarrassing matters that took place in the past. That thief… How should I put it? In a sense, he is a gentleman; as long as you pay the ransom, he will keep his promise and return whatever he stole. He will also not harass his target again. Because of that, most of his victims obediently pay the ransom with no further questions.”
“Not bad. So, he is a thief that knows how to manage his reputation,” Holmes commended. “It seems that our friend regards this business as his life’s work. How can we not meet such an interesting person? Shall we?”
Villard was elated, rubbing his palms as he exclaimed, “So, this time, are you planning to make a move? This is wonderful! As long as you are willing to work this case, I’m pretty sure that it will be the end of this gentleman thief. I don’t think he knows you are in London. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have come here.”
“My friend, you exalt me too much,” Holmes smiled. “Let’s talk about the case first.”
“Don’t worry. I know how inconvenient it is for you to go to France. I have surveyed the scene and collected all the seemingly useful and useless information for your reference.”
As he spoke, Villard took out a small notebook from the suitcase.
Zhang Heng took a look at it. Almost every page was filled with dense notes, and carefully drawn pictures even accompanied them. Even Holmes was impressed.
“Your notes are of the most careful detail, Villard; I firmly believe you have surpassed most of your peers.”
“Hehe! It’s nothing. I believe that hard work can make up for my shortcomings.” Villard scratched his head, overjoyed to be complimented by his heartthrob. Sherlock Holmes did a speed-read on the notebook, then took another half an hour to read it from beginning to end. After that, he handed it to Zhang Heng. “Read it. It’s fascinating.”
Zhang Heng took the notebook and roughly scanned through its contents.
Viscount Canaletto’s oil painting had gone missing half a month ago. Because of the painting’s special nature, he did not put it in the collection room like his other collections, storing it in a small, inconspicuous room. There was also a large and exquisite porcelain vase from China in there as well. Although the vase carried a much higher value, the thief had no interest in it, taking only the painting with him. Clearly, he knows a lot about my client.”
“What do you think?” Holmes asked Zhang Heng. The latter thought for a moment before giving his thought on the matter.
“There are several problems here. First, even if the painting goes missing, no one can prove that the viscount once possessed it.”
“Oh, yes, the viscount has a little quirk. He likes to leave his signature on the back of the oil paintings he collects. Even if he knew it was stolen, he still had to sign his name on it,” Villard confessed helplessly. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have to come all the way from Paris to London.”
“The second question: how many people knew that he had purchased the piece?”
“You are asking the right question here,” Holmes nodded.
“It is also the most interesting part of this case. You mentioned that the viscount completed the transaction secretly through an intermediary. How did the gentleman thief find out about it after so many years? Since he is dedicated to unraveling the most unbearable secrets of the heart, he should have revealed this secret before anything else.” “This is also the part that baffles me the most,” Villard said, “I can’t figure him out either. Just imagine; even if he learns a person’s secret by chance, it’s impossible he would discover the darkest secrets of people he never targeted. Perhaps he indulges in dark magic that allows him to see what people are thinking? He might be against someone formidable this time.”
“I don’t believe in the black magic of witch doctors,” Holmes snorted. “Among the myriad cases I have dealt with, everything that seemed mysterious and counterintuitive on the surface would eventually have a reasonable explanation to it; as long as you are patient enough to study the subject, of course. Once all the bad outcomes have been eliminated, you would end up with the truth.”
“You are right! I have learned something new,” Villard digressed humbly. He looked like a pupil in class, obediently absorbing his teacher’s advice. It humored certainly Holmes a bit.
“Carry on, my Oriental friend,” he told Zhang Heng. “Thirdly, it involves the modus operandi,” Zhang Heng continued. “The viscount went to see the oil painting the night before it was gone. Early the next morning, the maid who cleaned the house found it missing. In other words, the painting must have been stolen at night. However, the viscount’s mansion was heavily guarded, not to mention the presence of a few hounds patrolling the grounds. During that night, the hounds did not bark. The note stated that no other visitors came to visit the viscount during that time. Behind the house is a small garden. There was some light rain in the morning, and the soil was loose. There were no footprints, and the front door was facing the housekeeper’s room. He didn’t hear any unusual noises at night, so how did the gentleman thief enter the viscount’s mansion and leave with the oil painting before dawn?”
Villard was also annoyed.
“You are right! That guy is perfect. He came and went without a trace. The maid cleaned up in the morning and found that the frame was still there, and only the painting was missing. The gentleman thief even left a letter with the signature, Mr. M, on the ground. He triumphantly commented on the decoration of the viscount’s mansion. He’s treated it as if it was his property. How annoying it was!”