“Oh, confound the curtains! We are wasting our time, and there is none too much. He can lag us over this stone.”
“The deuce he can!”
“But he’ll let us slip if we only tell him where the swag is.”
“What! Give it up? Give up a hundred thousand quid?”
“It’s one or the other.”
Merton scratched his short-cropped pate.
“He’s alone in there. Let’s do him in. If his light were out we should have nothing to fear.”
The Count shook his head.
“He is armed and ready. If we shot him we could hardly get away in a place like this. Besides, it’s likely enough that the police know whatever evidence he has got. Hallo! What was that?”
There was a vague sound which seemed to come from the window. Both men sprang round, but all was quiet. Save for the one strange figure seated in the chair, the room was certainly empty.
“Something in the street,” said Merton. “Now look here, guv’nor, you’ve got the brains. Surely you can think a way out of it. If slugging is no use then it’s up to you.”
“I’ve fooled better men than he,” the Count answered. “The stone is here in my secret pocket. I take no chances leaving it about. It can be out of England to-night and cut into four pieces in Amsterdam before Sunday. He knows nothing of Van Seddar.”
“I thought Van Seddar was going next week.”
“He was. But now he must get off by the next boat. One or other of us must slip round with the stone to Lime Street and tell him.”
“But the false bottom ain’t ready.”
“Well, he must take it as it is and chance it. There’s not a moment to lose.” Again, with the sense of danger which becomes an instinct with the sportsman, he paused and looked hard at the window. Yes, it was surely from the street that the faint sound had come.
“As to Holmes,” he continued, “we can fool him easily enough. You see, the damned fool won’t arrest us if he can get the stone. Well, we’ll promise him the stone. We’ll put him on the wrong track about it, and before he finds that it is the wrong track it will be in Holland and we out of the country.”
“That sounds good to me!” cried Sam Merton with a grin.
“You go on and tell the Dutchman to get a move on him. I’ll see this sucker and fill him up with a bogus confession. I’ll tell him that the stone is in Liverpool. Confound that whining music; it gets on my nerves! By the time he finds it isn’t in Liverpool it will be in quarters and we on the blue water. Come back here, out of a line with that keyhole. Here is the stone.”
“I wonder you dare carry it.”
“Where could I have it safer? If we could take it out of Whitehall someone else could surely take it out of my lodgings.”
“Let’s have a look at it.”
Count Sylvius cast a somewhat unflattering glance at his associate and disregarded the unwashed hand which was extended towards him.
“What–d’ye think I’m going to snatch it off you? See here, mister, I’m getting a bit tired of your ways.”
“Well, well, no offence, Sam. We can’t afford to quarrel. Come over to the window if you want to see the beauty properly. Now hold it to the light! Here!”
With a single spring Holmes had leaped from the dummy’s chair and had grasped the precious jewel. He held it now in one hand, while his other pointed a revolver at the Count’s head. The two villains staggered back in utter amazement. Before they had recovered Holmes had pressed the electric bell.
“No violence, gentlemen–no violence, I beg of you! Consider the furniture! It must be very clear to you that your position is an impossible one. The police are waiting below.”
The Count’s bewilderment overmastered his rage and fear.
“But how the deuce–?” he gasped.