Peters, as I will now call him, started and stared hard at his formidable pursuer. “I guess your name does not frighten me, Mr. Holmes,” said he coolly. “When a man’s conscience is easy you can’t rattle him. What is your business in my house?”
“I want to know what you have done with the Lady Frances Carfax, whom you brought away with you from Baden.”
“I’d be very glad if you could tell me where that lady may be,” Peters answered coolly. “I’ve a bill against her for nearly a hundred pounds, and nothing to show for it but a couple of trumpery pendants that the dealer would hardly look at. She attached herself to Mrs. Peters and me at Baden–it is a fact that I was using another name at the time–and she stuck on to us until we came to London. I paid her bill and her ticket. Once in London, she gave us the slip, and, as I say, left these out-of-date jewels to pay her bills. You find her, Mr. Holmes, and I’m your debtor.”
“I MEAN to find her,” said Sherlock Holmes. “I’m going through this house till I do find her.”
“Where is your warrant?”
Holmes half drew a revolver from his pocket. “This will have to serve till a better one comes.”
“Why, you’re a common burglar.”
“So you might describe me,” said Holmes cheerfully. “My companion is also a dangerous ruffian. And together we are going through your house.”
Our opponent opened the door.
“Fetch a policeman, Annie!” said he. There was a whisk of feminine skirts down the passage, and the hall door was opened and shut.
“Our time is limited, Watson,” said Holmes. “If you try to stop us, Peters, you will most certainly get hurt. Where is that coffin which was brought into your house?”
“What do you want with the coffin? It is in use. There is a body in it.”
“I must see the body.”
“Never with my consent.”
“Then without it.” With a quick movement Holmes pushed the fellow to one side and passed into the hall. A door half opened stood immediately before us. We entered. It was the dining-room. On the table, under a half-lit chandelier, the coffin was lying. Holmes turned up the gas and raised the lid. Deep down in the recesses of the coffin lay an emaciated figure. The glare from the lights above beat down upon an aged and withered face. By no possible process of cruelty, starvation, or disease could this worn-out wreck be the still beautiful Lady Frances. Holmes’s face showed his amazement, and also his relief.
“Thank God!” he muttered. “It’s someone else.”
“Ah, you’ve blundered badly for once, Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” said Peters, who had followed us into the room.
“Who is the dead woman?”
“Well, if you really must know, she is an old nurse of my wife’s, Rose Spender by name, whom we found in the Brixton Workhouse Infirmary. We brought her round here, called in Dr. Horsom, of 13 Firbank Villas–mind you take the address, Mr. Holmes–and had her carefully tended, as Christian folk should. On the third day she died–certificate says senile decay–but that’s only the doctor’s opinion, and of course you know better. We ordered her funeral to be carried out by Stimson and Co., of the Kennington Road, who will bury her at eight o’clock to-morrow morning. Can you pick any hole in that, Mr. Holmes? You’ve made a silly blunder, and you may as well own up to it. I’d give something for a photograph of your gaping, staring face when you pulled aside that lid expecting to see the Lady Frances Carfax and only found a poor old woman of ninety.”
Holmes’s expression was as impassive as ever under the jeers of his antagonist, but his clenched hands betrayed his acute annoyance.
“I am going through your house,” said he.
“Are you, though!” cried Peters as a woman’s voice and heavy steps sounded in the passage. “We’ll soon see about that. This way, officers, if you please. These men have forced their way into my house, and I cannot get rid of them. Help me to put them out.”
A sergeant and a constable stood in the doorway. Holmes drew his card from his case.
“This is my name and address. This is my friend, Dr. Watson.”
“Bless you, sir, we know you very well,” said the sergeant, “but you can’t stay here without a warrant.”
“Of course not. I quite understand that.”
“Arrest him!” cried Peters.
“We know where to lay our hands on this gentleman if he is wanted,” said the sergeant majestically, “but you’ll have to go, Mr. Holmes.”
“Yes, Watson, we shall have to go.”