“Your surprise is very natural. You are not aware that a second door from my bedroom leads behind that curtain. I fancied that you must have heard me when I displaced the figure, but luck was on my side. It gave me a chance of listening to your racy conversation which would have been painfully constrained had you been aware of my presence.”
The Count gave a gesture of resignation.
“We give you best, Holmes. I believe you are the devil himself.”
“Not far from him, at any rate,” Holmes answered with a polite smile.
Sam Merton’s slow intellect had only gradually appreciated the situation. Now, as the sound of heavy steps came from the stairs outside, he broke silence at last.
“A fair cop!” said he. “But, I say, what about that bloomin’ fiddle! I hear it yet.”
“Tut, tut!” Holmes answered. “You are perfectly right. Let it play! These modern gramophones are a remarkable invention.”
There was an inrush of police, the handcuffs clicked and the criminals were led to the waiting cab. Watson lingered with Holmes, congratulating him upon this fresh leaf added to his laurels. Once more their conversation was interrupted by the imperturbable Billy with his card-tray.
“Lord Cantlemere sir.”
“Show him up, Billy. This is the eminent peer who represents the very highest interests,” said Holmes. “He is an excellent and loyal person, but rather of the old regime. Shall we make him unbend? Dare we venture upon a slight liberty? He knows, we may conjecture, nothing of what has occurred.”
The door opened to admit a thin, austere figure with a hatchet face and drooping mid-Victorian whiskers of a glossy blackness which hardly corresponded with the rounded shoulders and feeble gait. Holmes advanced affably, and shook an unresponsive hand.
“How do you do, Lord Cantlemere? It is chilly for the time of year, but rather warm indoors. May I take your overcoat?”
“No, I thank you; I will not take it off.”
Holmes laid his hand insistently upon the sleeve.
“Pray allow me! My friend Dr. Watson would assure you that these changes of temperature are most insidious.”
His Lordship shook himself free with some impatience.
“I am quite comfortable, sir. I have no need to stay. I have simply looked in to know how your self-appointed task was progressing.”
“It is difficult–very difficult.”
“I feared that you would find it so.”
There was a distinct sneer in the old courtier’s words and manner.
“Every man finds his limitations, Mr. Holmes, but at least it cures us of the weakness of self-satisfaction.”
“Yes, sir, I have been much perplexed.”
“Especially upon one point. Possibly you could help me upon
“You apply for my advice rather late in the day. I thought that you had your own all-sufficient methods. Still, I am ready to help you.”
“You see, Lord Cantlemere, we can no doubt frame a case against the actual thieves.”
“When you have caught them.”
“Exactly. But the question is–how shall we proceed against the receiver?”
“Is this not rather premature?”
“It is as well to have our plans ready. Now, what would you regard as final evidence against the receiver?”
“The actual possession of the stone.”
“You would arrest him upon that?”