Holmes seldom laughed, but he got as near it as his old friend Watson could remember.
“In that case, my dear sir, I shall be under the painful necessity of advising your arrest.”
Lord Cantlemere was very angry. Some of the ancient fires flickered up into his sallow cheeks.
“You take a great liberty, Mr. Holmes. In fifty years of official life I cannot recall such a case. I am a busy man, sir engaged upon important affairs, and I have no time or taste for foolish jokes. I may tell you frankly, sir, that I have never been a believer in your powers, and that I have always been of the opinion that the matter was far safer in the hands of the regular police force. Your conduct confirms all my conclusions. I have the honour, sir, to wish you good-evening.”
Holmes had swiftly changed his position and was between the peer and the door.
“One moment, sir,” said he. “To actually go off with the Mazarin stone would be a more serious offence than to be found in temporary possession of it.”
“Sir, this is intolerable! Let me pass.”
“Put your hand in the right-hand pocket of your overcoat.”
“What do you mean, sir?”
“Come–come, do what I ask.”
An instant later the amazed peer was standing, blinking and stammering, with the great yellow stone on his shaking palm.
“What! What! How is this, Mr. Holmes?”
“Too bad, Lord Cantlemere, too bad!” cried Holmes. “My old friend here will tell you that I have an impish habit of practical joking. Also that I can never resist a dramatic situation. I took the liberty–the very great liberty, I admit–of putting the stone into your pocket at the beginning of our interview.”
The old peer stared from the stone to the smiling face before him.
“Sir, I am bewildered. But–yes–it is indeed the Mazarin stone. We are greatly your debtors, Mr. Holmes. Your sense of humour may, as you admit, be somewhat perverted, and its exhibition remarkably untimely, but at least I withdraw any reflection I have made upon your amazing professional powers. But how–”
“The case is but half finished; the details can wait. No doubt, Lord Cantlemere, your pleasure in telling of this successful result in the exalted circle to which you return will be some small atonement for my practical joke. Billy, you will show his Lordship out, and tell Mrs. Hudson that I should be glad if she would send up dinner for two as soon as possible.”