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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHugo: A Fantasia On Modern Themes - Part 2. The Phonograph - Chapter 12. Safe Deposit
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Hugo: A Fantasia On Modern Themes - Part 2. The Phonograph - Chapter 12. Safe Deposit Post by :hafizladhani Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :3474

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Hugo: A Fantasia On Modern Themes - Part 2. The Phonograph - Chapter 12. Safe Deposit


The Safe Deposit at Hugo's was perhaps the most wonderful of all the departments. Until Hugo thought of it, and paid a trinity of European experts to design and devise it, there had existed no such thing as an absolutely impregnable asylum for valuables. In Dakota a strong-room alleged to be impregnable had been approached underground, tunnelled, mined, and emptied by thieves with imagination. In the North of England a safe, which its inventor had defied the whole universe of crime to open, had been rifled by the aid of so simple a dodge as duplicate keys. Even in Tottenham Court Road a couple of ingenious persons had burnt a hole in a guaranteed safe by means of common gas at three and threepence per thousand cubic feet. These surprises could not occur at Hugo's. His Safe Deposit really was what it pretended to be. All contingencies were provided for. It was the final retort of virtue to vice.

You approached it by a door of quite ordinary appearance (no one cares to be seen leaving what is obviously a safe deposit), and you signed your name before entering a lift. You descended forty feet below the surface of the earth, gave a password on emerging from the lift, traversed a corridor, and at length stood in front of the sole entrance to the Safe Deposit. A guardian, when you had signed your name again, unlocked three unpickable, incombustible, and gunpowder-proof locks in a massive steel door, and you were admitted, assuming always that the hour was between nine and six. Out of hours and on Saturday after-noons and on Sundays a time-lock rendered it utterly impossible for any person whatever to turn any key in the Safe Deposit. Once the lock was set, Hugo himself could not have entered, not even to save the British Empire from instant destruction, until the time-lock had run its course.

You found yourself in an electrically lighted world of passages built in flashing steel, with floors of steel and ceilings of steel--a world where the temperature was always 65 deg.. Every passage was separated from every other passage by steel grilles, and at intervals uniformed and gigantic officials wandered about with impassive, haughty faces--faces that indicated a sublime confidence in the safety of the multifarious riches committed to their care. You might have guessed yourself in the fell grip of the Inquisition. As a fact, you were in something far more fell. You were in a vast chamber of steel, and that chamber was itself enclosed on all sides by three feet of solid concrete. No thief could tunnel or mine you without first getting through the District Railway on the one hand, or the main drainage system of London on the other. No thief could rifle you by means of duplicate keys, for no vault and no safe could be opened except in the presence of the head guardian, who possessed a key without which the renter's key was useless. No tricks could be played with the gas, because there was no gas, and the electric light could only be turned off or on from the top of the lift-well.

Now, it was a singular thing that when Simon Shawn, having proved his identity and his mission at the lift, arrived at the entrance to the Safe Deposit, he discovered the great steel door ajar, and no door-guardian in the leather chair where a door-guardian always sat. This condition of affairs did not affect the essential impregnability of any individual vault or safe, but, nevertheless, it was singular.

Simon walked straight in.

'There's no one at the door,' he said to the patrol, whom he met in the main passage. 'I want to see Mr. Hugo at once. He's down here somewhere, or he's been here.'

'Yes, Mr. Shawn,' said the patrol politely; 'I did see Mr. Hugo here about an hour or so ago. I'll ask Mr. Brown. Will you step into the waiting-room?'

Half-way along the main corridor was a large room, whose steel walls were masked by tapestries, where renters could examine their treasures on marble tables. It was empty when Simon went in. The patrol carefully closed the door on him, and then in a moment came back to say that Mr. Brown was not in his office, and had probably gone out to lunch, the hour being noon.

'Where did you see Mr. Hugo?' Simon asked, hurrying out of the room in a state of considerable agitation.

'I saw him just here, sir,' said the patrol, turning down a short side corridor--the grille was unfastened--and stopping before a door numbered thirty-nine. 'He was talking to Mr. Brown, and the door of the vault was open.'

'That must be Mr. Polycarp's vault,' Simon observed; and then he started, and put his ear against the door. 'Listen!' he exclaimed to the patrol. 'Can't you hear anything inside?'

And the patrol also put his ear to the steel face of the door.

'I seem to hear a faint knocking, but it's that faint as you scarcely _can hear it. There! it's stopped.'

'He is inside,' Shawn whispered.

'Who's inside?'

'Mr. Hugo.'

'It's God help him, then,' said the patrol, 'if he's there long. There's no ventilation, Mr. Shawn. We'd better telephone for Mr. Polycarp. The other key will be in the key-safe. I can get it. But how do you make out, sir, that Mr. Hugo can be in there? The vault could only be locked by Mr. Polycarp and Mr. Brown together, and surely they couldn't both--'

'Mr. Polycarp left his keys behind by accident. He had gone before Mr. Hugo came down.'

'There's been no Mr. Polycarp here this morning,' said the patrol a minute later. 'I've looked at the signature-book. I thought it was queer I hadn't seen him. And, what's more, that isn't Mr. Polycarp's vault at all. Mr. Polycarp's vault is No. 37. This vault has been empty for several weeks.'

'Then you have both the keys?' Simon demanded quickly.

'No, sir. It's very strange. There's only one key of No. 39 in the key-safe, and it's the renter's key.'

'Then Mr. Brown must have the other.'

'I expect so. But he ought not to have. It's against rules,' said the patrol. 'I know where he takes his lunch. I'll send for him.'

Simon put his ear again to the face of the door. The faint knocking had ceased, but after a few seconds it recommenced.

'And suppose you don't find Mr. Brown?' he queried, still listening.

'Then that vault can't be opened. But never you fear, Mr. Shawn. I'll have him here in three minutes. It's funny as he should have left anybody in there by accident--and Mr. Hugo of all people in this blessed world....'

The patrol's accents died away as he passed down the main corridor.

Within the next half-hour Simon, who had the rare virtue of being honest with himself, was freely admitting, in the privacy of his own mind, that the crisis had got beyond his power to grapple with it, and he had begun to fear complications more dreadful than he dared to put into words. For the patrol had failed to find Mr. Brown. Mr. Brown, head guardian of the Safe Deposit, had disappeared. Nor was this all. A renter had come to take his belongings from a safe in the third side-passage on the left, and the sub-guardian imprisoned in that passage could not open the grille between it and the main corridor. He had his key, but the key would not turn in the glittering lock. The renter, too impatient to wait, had departed very angrily at this excess of safety. Then it was gradually discovered that every sub-guardian in every side-passage was similarly imprisoned. Not a key in the entire place would turn. The patrol rushed to the main door. The three keys had clearly been turned while the door was opened, and the shot bolts prevented the door from closing. This explained why the door was ajar, but it did not explain the absence of the doorkeeper, who had apparently followed in the footsteps of his chief, Mr. Brown.

'The time-lock! Someone must have set it!' cried the patrol to Shawn, and the two hastened to the other end of the main corridor, where the dial of the machine glistened under an electric lamp.

And all the sub-guardians stirred and grumbled in their beautiful bright cages like wrathful lions. No such scene had ever been known in that Safe Deposit or any other safe deposit before.

The patrol was right. The dial of the time-lock showed that it had been set against every lock, great and small, in the Safe Deposit, until nine a.m. the next day.

'It's all up!' the patrol said solemnly.

'Do you mean to say nothing can be done to open that vault till nine to-morrow?' Simon demanded in despair.

'Nothing. The blooming Czar couldn't manage it with all his Cossacks! No, nor Bobs either! This is a Safe Deposit, this is, and if Mr. Hugo is in that vault, it's Mr. Hugo as knows it's a Safe Deposit by now.'

A brief silence ensued, and then Simon said:

'We must telephone to the police. There's a telephone in the waiting-room, isn't there?'

The patrol admitted that there was, but his manner hinted a low opinion of the utility of the police. He stood mute while Simon Shawn told the telephone receiver what had occurred in the bowels of the earth beneath Hugo's.

'Wait a minute,' said the telephone, and then, after a pause: 'Are you there? I'm Inspector Winter.'

'That's him as has charge of all the strong-room cases,' the patrol interjected to Simon.

'I've got Mr. Jack Galpin here, as it happens,' said the telephone.

'Mr. Jack Galpin?' Simon questioned.

'He's just done eighteen months for an attempt in Lombard Street,' the patrol explained. 'I've heard of him.'

'I'll come down with him immediately in a cab,' said the telephone.

When Simon returned to the impregnable door of Vault 39 he listened in vain for a sound. Then he knocked with his pen-knife on the polished steel, and presently there was an answering signal from within--a series of scarcely perceptible irregular taps. It struck him that the irregularity of the taps formed a rhythm, and after a few seconds he recognised the rhythm of the Intermezzo from 'Cavalleria Rusticana,' which he had played for Hugo that very morning.

It was at this moment that the messenger-boy attached to the department came whistling into the steel corridors, and delivered to the patrol a small white packet, which, he said, Mr. Brown had handed to him with instructions to hand it to the patrol. He had seen Mr. Brown in a cab outside the building, and Mr. Brown had the appearance of being very ill.

The packet contained the second key of Vault 39.

'But this'll be no use till to-morrow,' was the patrol's comment, 'and by then--'

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Hugo: A Fantasia On Modern Themes - Part 2. The Phonograph - Chapter 13. Mr. Galpin Hugo: A Fantasia On Modern Themes - Part 2. The Phonograph - Chapter 13. Mr. Galpin

Hugo: A Fantasia On Modern Themes - Part 2. The Phonograph - Chapter 13. Mr. Galpin
PART II. THE PHONOGRAPH CHAPTER XIII. MR. GALPINWhen the patrol and Simon between them had explained the mysterious and fatal situation to Mr. Jack Galpin, Mr. Jack Galpin leaned against one of the marble tables in the waiting-room, and roared with laughter.'Well,' observed Mr. Galpin, 'he didn't have his Safe Deposit built for nothing, anyhow!'And he laughed again.'But he's slowly dying in there!' said Simon.'Yes, I know,' said Mr. Galpin. 'That's what makes it such a good joke.''I don't see it, sir,' Simon remarked.'Simply because your sense of humour is a bit off. What are you?''I am Mr. Hugo's man.''My respects.'Mr.

Hugo: A Fantasia On Modern Themes - Part 2. The Phonograph - Chapter 11. Sale Hugo: A Fantasia On Modern Themes - Part 2. The Phonograph - Chapter 11. Sale

Hugo: A Fantasia On Modern Themes - Part 2. The Phonograph - Chapter 11. Sale
PART II. THE PHONOGRAPHCHAPTER XI. SALEStrange sights are to be seen in London.At five minutes to nine a.m. on the first day of the year seven vast crowds stood before the seven principal entrances to Hugo's; seven crowds of immortal souls enclosed in the bodies of women. They meant to begin the year well by an honest attempt to get something for nothing. It was a cold, dank, raw, and formidable morning; Hugo's tessellated pavements were covered with moisture, and, moreover, day had not yet conquered night. But the seven crowds, growing larger each moment, recked nothing of these inconveniences. They