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The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone

Baring-Goulds Chronology: Summer 1903, one day
            The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone

  It was pleasant to Dr. Watson to find himself once more in the
untidy room of the first floor in Baker Street which had been the
starting-point of so many remarkable adventures. He looked
round him at the scientific charts upon the wall, the acid-charred
bench of chemicals, the violin-case leaning in the corner, the
coal-scuttle, which contained of old the pipes and tobacco. Fi-
nally, his eyes came round to the fresh and smiling face of Billy,
the young but very wise and tactful page, who had helped a little
to fill up the gap of loneliness and isolation which surrounded
the saturnine figure of the great detective.
  "It all seems very unchanged, Billy. You don't change, ei-
ther. I hope the same can be said of him?"
  Billy glanced with some solicitude at the closed door of the
bedroom.
  "I think he's in bed and asleep," he said.
  It was seven in the evening of a lovely summer's day, but Dr.
Watson was sufficiently familiar with the irregularity of his old
friend's hours to feel no surprise at the idea.
  "That means a case, I suppose?"
  "Yes, sir, he is very hard at it just now. I'm frightened for his
health. He gets paler and thinner, and he eats nothing. 'When
will you be pleased to dine, Mr. Holmes?' Mrs. Hudson asked.
'Seven-thirty, the day after to-morrow,' said he. You know his
way when he is keen on a case."
  "Yes, Billy, I know."
  "He's following someone. Yesterday he was out as a work-
man looking for a job. To-day he was an old woman. Fairly took
me in, he did, and I ought to know his ways by now." Billy
pointed with a grin to a very baggy parasol which leaned against
the sofa. "That's part of the old woman's outfit," he said.
  "But what is it all about, Billy?"
  Billy sank his voice, as one who discusses great secrets of
State. "I don't mind telling you, sir, but it should go no farther.
It's this case of the Crown diamond."
  "What -- the hundred-thousand-pound burglary?"
  "Yes, sir. They must get it back, sir. Why, we had the Prime
Minister and the Home Secretary both sitting on that very sofa.
Mr. Holmes was very nice to them. He soon put them at their
ease and promised he would do all he could. Then there is Lord
Cantlemere --"
  "Ah!"
  "Yes, sir, you know what that means. He's a stiff'un, sir, if I
may say so. I can get along with the Prime Minister, and I've
nothing against the Home Secretary, who seemed a civil, oblig-
ing sort of man, but I can't stand his Lordship. Neither can Mr.
Holmes, sir. You see, he don't believe in Mr. Holmes and he
was against employing him. He'd rather he failed."
  "And Mr. Holmes knows it?"
  "Mr. Holmes always knows whatever there is to know."
  "Well, we'll hope he won't fail and that Lord Cantlemere will
be confounded. But I say, Billy, what is that curtain for across
the window?"
  "Mr. Holmes had it put up there three days ago. We've got
something funny behind it."
  Billy advanced and drew away the drapery which screened the
alcove of the bow window.
  Dr. Watson could not restrain a cry of amazement. There was a
facsimile of his old friend, dressing-gown and all, the face
turned three-quarters towards the window and downward, as
though reading an invisible book, while the body was sunk deep
in an armchair. Billy detached the head and held it in the air.
  "We put it at different angles, so that it may seem more
lifelike. I wouldn't dare touch it if the blind were not down. But
when it's up you can see this from across the way."
  "We used something of the sort once before."
  "Before my time," said Billy. He drew the window curtains
apart and looked out into the street. "There are folk who watch
us from over yonder. I can see a fellow now at the window.
Have a look for yourself."
  Watson had taken a step forward when the bedroom door
opened, and the long, thin form of Holmes emerged, his face pale
and drawn, but his step and bearing as active as ever. With a
single spring he was at the window, and had drawn the blind
once more.
  "That will do, Billy," said he. "You were in danger of your
life then, my boy, and I can't do without you just yet. Well,
Watson, it is good to see you in your old quarters once again.
You come at a critical moment."
  "So I gather."
  "You can go, Billy. That boy is a problem, Watson. How far
am I justified in allowing him to be in danger?"
  "Danger of what, Holmes?"
  "Of sudden death. I'm expecting something this evening."
  "Expecting what?"
  "To be murdered, Watson."
  "No, no, you are joking, Holmes!"
  "Even my limited sense of humour could evolve a better joke
than that. But we may be comfortable in the meantime, may we
not? Is alcohol permitted? The gasogene and cigars are in the old
place. Let me see you once more in the customary armchair.
You have not, I hope, learned to despise my pipe and my
lamentable tobacco? It has to take the place of food these days."
  "But why not eat?"
  "Because the faculties become refined when you starve them.
Why, surely, as a doctor, my dear Watson, you must admit that
what your digestion gains in the way of blood supply is so much
lost to the brain. I am a brain, Watson. The rest of me is a mere
appendix. Therefore, it is the brain I must consider."
  "But this danger, Holmes?"
  "Ah, yes, in case it should come off, it would perhaps be as
well that you should burden your memory with the name and
address of the murderer. You can give it to Scotland Yard, with
my love and a parting blessing. Sylvius is the name -- Count
Negretto Sylvius. Write it down, man, write it down! 136 Moorside
Gardens, N. W. Got it?"
  Watson's honest face was twitching with anxiety. He knew
only too well the immense risks taken by Holmes and was well
aware that what he said was more likely to be under-statement
than exaggeration. Watson was always the man of action, and he
rose to the occasion.
  "Count me in, Holmes. I have nothing to do for a day or
two."
  "Your morals don't improve, Watson. You have added fib-
bing to your other vices. You bear every sign of the busy
medical man, with calls on him every hour."
  "Not such important ones. But can't you have this fellow
arrested?"
  "Yes, Watson, I could. That's what worries him so."
  "But why don't you?"
  "Because I don't know where the diamond is."
  "Ah! Billy told me -- the missing Crown jewel!"
  "Yes, the great yellow Mazarin stone. I've cast my net and I
have my fish. But I have not got the stone. What is the use of
taking them? We can make the world a better place by laying
them by the heels. But that is not what I am out for. It's the
stone I want."
  "And is this Count Sylvius one of your fish?"
  "Yes, and he's a shark. He bites. The other is Sam Merton
the boxer. Not a bad fellow, Sam, but the Count has used him.
Sam's not a shark. He is a great big silly bull-headed gudgeon.
But he is flopping about in my net all the same."
  "Where is this Count Sylvius?"
  "I've been at his very elbow all the morning. You've seen me
as an old lady, Watson. I was never more convincing. He
actually picked up my parasol for me once. 'By your leave,
madame,' said he -- half-Italian, you know, and with the South-
ern graces of manner when in the mood, but a devil incarnate in
the other mood. Life is full of whimsical happenings, Watson."
  "It might have been tragedy."
  "Well, perhaps it might. I followed him to old Straubenzee's
workshop in the Minories. Straubenzee made the air-gun -- a very
pretty bit of work, as I understand, and I rather fancy it is in the
opposite window at the present moment. Have you seen the
dummy? Of course, Billy showed it to you. Well, it may get a
bullet through its beautiful head at any moment. Ah, Billy, what
is it?"
  The boy had reappeared in the room with a card upon a tray.
Holmes glanced at it with raised eyebrows and an amused smile.
  "The man himself. I had hardly expected this. Grasp the
nettle, Watson! A man of nerve. Possibly you have heard of his
reputation as a shooter of big game. It would indeed be a
triumphant ending to his excellent sporting record if he added me
to his bag. This is a proof that he feels my toe very close behind
his heel."
  "Send for the police."
  "I probably shall. But not just yet. Would you glance care-
fully out of the window, Watson, and see if anyone is hanging
about in the street?"
  Watson looked warily round the edge of the curtain.
  "Yes, there is one rough fellow near the door."
  "That will be Sam Merton -- the faithful but rather fatuous
Sam. Where is this gentleman, Billy?"
  "In the waiting-room, sir."
  "Show him up when I ring."
  "Yes, sir."
  "If I am not in the room, show him in all the same."
  "Yes, sir."
  Watson waited until the door was closed, and then he turned
earnestly to his companion.
  "Look here, Holmes, this is simply impossible. This is a
desperate man, who sticks at nothing. He may have come to
murder you."
  "I should not be surprised."
  "I insist upon staying with you."
  "You would be horribly in the way."
  "In his way?"
  "No, my dear fellow -- in my way."
  "Well, I can't possibly leave you."
  "Yes, you can, Watson. And you will, for you have never failed
to play the game. I am sure you will play it to the end. This man
has come for his own purpose, but he may stay for mine."
  Holmes took out his notebook and scribbled a few lines. "Take a
cab to Scotland Yard and give this to Youghal of the C. I. D.
Come back with the police. The fellow's arrest will follow."
  "I'll do that with joy."
  "Before you return I may have just time enough to find out
where the stone is." He touched the bell. "I think we will go out
through the bedroom. This second exit is exceedingly useful. I
rather want to see my shark without his seeing me, and I have,
as you will remember, my own way of doing it."
  It was, therefore, an empty room into which Billy, a minute
later, ushered Count Sylvius. The famous game-shot, sportsman,
and man-about-town was a big, swarthy fellow, with a formida-
ble dark moustache shading a cruel, thin-lipped mouth, and
surmounted by a long, curved nose like the beak of an eagle. He
was well dressed, but his brilliant necktie, shining pin, and
glittering rings were flamboyant in their effect. As the door
closed behind him he looked round him with fierce, startled
eyes, like one who suspects a trap at every turn. Then he gave a
violent start as he saw the impassive head and the collar of the
dressing-gown which projected above the armchair in the win-
dow. At first his expression was one of pure amazement. Then
the light of a horrible hope gleamed in his dark, murderous eyes.
He took one more glance round to see that there were no
witnesses, and then, on tiptoe, his thick stick half raised, he
approached the silent figure. He was crouching for his final
spring and blow when a cool, sardonic voice greeted him from
the open bedroom door:
  "Don't break it, Count! Don't break it!"
  The assassin staggered back, amazement in his convulsed
face. For an instant he half raised his loaded cane once more, as
if he would turn his violence from the effigy to the original; but
there was something in that steady gray eye and mocking smile
which caused his hand to sink to his side.
  "It's a pretty little thing," said Holmes, advancing towards
the image. "Tavernier, the French modeller, made it. He is as
good at waxworks as your friend Straubenzee is at air-guns."
  "Air-guns, sir! What do you mean?"
  "Put your hat and stick on the side-table. Thank you! Pray
take a seat. Would you care to put your revolver out also? Oh,
very good, if you prefer to sit upon it. Your visit is really most
opportune, for I wanted badly to have a few minutes' chat with
you. "
  The Count scowled, with heavy, threatening eyebrows.
  "I, too, wished to have some words with you, Holmes. That
is why I am here. I won't deny that I intended to assault you just
now."
  Holmes swung his leg on the edge of the table.
  "I rather gathered that you had some idea of the sort in your
head," said he. "But why these personal attentions?"
  "Because you have gone out of your way to annoy me.
Because you have put your creatures upon my track."
  "My creatures! I assure you no!"
  "Nonsense! I have had them followed. Two can play at that
game, Holmes."
  "It is a small point, Count Sylvius, but perhaps you would
kindly give me my prefix when you address me. You can
understand that, with my routine of work, I should find myself
on familiar terms with half the rogues' gallery, and you will
agree that exceptions are invidious."
  "Well, Mr. Holmes, then."
  "Excellent! But I assure you you are mistaken about my
alleged agents."
  Count Sylvius laughed contemptuously.
  "Other people can observe as well as you. Yesterday there
was an old sporting man. To-day it was an elderly woman. They
held me in view all day."
  "Really, sir, you compliment me. Old Baron Dowson said the
night before he was hanged that in my case what the law had
gained the stage had lost. And now you give my little impersona-
tions your kindly praise?"
  "It was you -- you yourself?"
  Holmes shrugged his shoulders. "You can see in the corner
the parasol which you so politely handed to me in the Minories
before you began to suspect."
  "If I had known, you might never --"
  "Have seen this humble home again. I was well aware of it.
We all have neglected opportunities to deplore. As it happens,
you did not know, so here we are!"
  The Count's knotted brows gathered more heavily over his
menacing eyes. "What you say only makes the matter worse. It
was not your agents but your play-acting, busybody self! You
admit that you have dogged me. Why?"
  "Come now, Count. You used to shoot lions in Algeria."
  "Well?"
  "But why?"
  "Why? The sport -- the excitement -- the danger!"
  "And, no doubt, to free the country from a pest?"
  "Exactly!"
  "My reasons in a nutshell!"
  The Count sprang to his feet, and his hand involuntarily
moved back to his hip-pocket.
  "Sit down, sir, sit down! There was another, more practical,
reason. I want that yellow diamond!"
  Count Sylvius lay back in his chair with an evil smile.
  "Upon my word!" said he.
  "You knew that I was after you for that. The real reason why
you are here to-night is to find out how much I know about the
matter and how far my removal is absolutely essential. Well, I
should say that, from your point of view, it is absolutely essen-
tial, for I know all about it, save only one thing, which you are
about to tell me."
  "Oh, indeed! And pray, what is this missing fact?"
  "Where the Crown diamond now is."
  The Count looked sharply at his companion. "Oh, you want
to know that, do you? How the devil should I be able to tell you
where it is?"
  "You can, and you will."
  "Indeed!"
  "You can't bluff me, Count Sylvius." Holmes's eyes, as he
gazed at him, contracted and lightened until they were like two
menacing points of steel. "You are absolute plate-glass. I see to
the very back of your mind."
  "Then, of course, you see where the diamond is!"
  Holmes clapped his hands with amusement, and then pointed a
derisive finger. "Then you do know. You have admitted it!"
  "I admit nothing."
  "Now, Count, if you will be reasonable we can do business.
If not, you will get hurt."
  Count Sylvius threw up his eyes to the ceiling. "And you talk
about bluff!" said he.
  Holmes looked at him thoughtfully like a master chess-player
who meditates his crowning move. Then he threw open the table
drawer and drew out a squat notebook.
  "Do you know what I keep in this book?"
  "No, sir, I do not!"
  "You!"
  "Me!"
  "Yes, sir, you! You are all here -- every action of your vile
and dangerous life."
  "Damn you, Holmes!" cried the Count with blazing eyes.
"There are limits to my patience!"
  "It's all here, Count. The real facts as to the death of old Mrs.
Harold, who left you the Blymer estate, which you so rapidly
gambled away."
  "You are dreaming!"
  "And the complete life history of Miss Minnie Warrender."
  "Tut! You will make nothing of that!"
  "Plenty more here, Count. Here is the robbery in the train
de-luxe to the Riviera on February 13, 1892. Here is the forged
check in the same year on the Credit Lyonnais."
  "No, you're wrong there."
  "Then I am right on the others! Now, Count, you are a
card-player. When the other fellow has all the trumps, it saves
time to throw down your hand."
  "What has all this talk to do with the jewel of which you
spoke?"
  "Gently, Count. Restrain that eager mind! Let me get to the
points in my own humdrum fashion. I have all this against you;
but, above all, I have a clear case against both you and your
fighting bully in the case of the Crown diamond."
  "Indeed!"
  "I have the cabman who took you to Whitehall and the
cabman who brought you away. I have the commissionaire who
saw you near the case. I have Ikey Sanders, who refused to cut it
up for you. Ikey has peached, and the game is up."
  The veins stood out on the Count's forehead. His dark, hairy
hands were clenched in a convulsion of restrained emotion. He
tried to speak, but the words would not shape themselves.
  "That's the hand I play from," said Holmes. "I put it all
upon the table. But one card is missing. It's the king of dia-
monds. I don't know where the stone is."
  "You never shall know."
  "No? Now, be reasonable, Count. Consider the situation. You
are going to be locked up for twenty years. So is Sam Merton.
What good are you going to get out of your diamond? None in
the world. But if you hand it over -- well, I'll compound a
felony. We don't want you or Sam. We want the stone. Give
that up, and so far as I am concerned you can go free so long as
you behave yourself in the future. If you make another slip
well, it will be the last. But this time my commission is to get
the stone, not you."
  "But if I refuse?"
  "Why, then -- alas! -- it must be you and not the stone."
  Billy had appeared in answer to a ring.
  "I think, Count, that it would be as well to have your friend
Sam at this conference. After all, his interests should be repre-
sented. Billy, you will see a large and ugly gentleman outside
the front door. Ask him to come up."
  "If he won't come, sir?"
  "No violence, Billy. Don't be rough with him. If you tell him
that Count Sylvius wants him he will certainly come."
  "What are you going to do now?" asked the Count as Billy
disappeared.
  "My friend Watson was with me just now. I told him that I
had a shark and a gudgeon in my net; now I am drawing the net
and up they come together."
  The Count had risen from his chair, and his hand was behind
his back. Holmes held something half protruding from the pocket
of his dressing-gown.
  "You won't die in your bed, Holmes."
  "I have often had the same idea. Does it matter very much?
After all, Count, your own exit is more likely to be perpendicular
than horizontal. But these anticipations of the future are morbid.
Why not give ourselves up to the unrestrained enjoyment of the
present?"
  A sudden wild-beast light sprang up in the dark, menacing
eyes of the master criminal. Holmes's figure seemed to grow
taller as he grew tense and ready.
  "It is no use your fingering your revolver, my friend," he
said in a quiet voice. "You know perfectly well that you dare
not use it, even if I gave you time to draw it. Nasty, noisy
things, revolvers, Count. Better stick to air-guns. Ah! I think I
hear the fairy footstep of your estimable partner. Good day, Mr.
Merton. Rather dull in the street, is it not?"
  The prize-fighter, a heavily built young man with a stupid,
obstinate, slab-sided face, stood awkwardly at the door, looking
about him with a puzzled expression. Holmes's debonair manner
was a new experience, and though he vaguely felt that it was
hostile, he did not know how to counter it. He turned to his more
astute comrade for help.
  "What's the game now, Count? What's this fellow want?
What's up?" His voice was deep and raucous.
  The Count shrugged his shoulders, and it was Holmes who
answered.
  "If I may put it in a nutshell, Mr. Merton, I should say it was
all up."
  The boxer still addressed his remarks to his associate.
  "Is this cove trying to be funny, or what? I'm not in the funny
mood myself."
  "No, I expect not," said Holmes. "I think I can promise you
that you will feel even less humorous as the evening advances.
Now, look here, Count Sylvius. I'm a busy man and I can't
waste time. I'm going into that bedroom. Pray make yourselves
quite at home in my absence. You can explain to your friend
how the matter lies without the restraint of my presence. I shall
try over the Hoffman 'Barcarole' upon my violin. In five min-
utes I shall return for your final answer. You quite grasp the
alternative, do you not? Shall we take you, or shall we have the
stone?"
  Holmes withdrew, picking up his violin from the corner as he
passed. A few moments later the long-drawn, wailing notes of
that most haunting of tunes came faintly through the closed door
of the bedroom.
  "What is it, then?" asked Merton anxiously as his companion
turned to him. "Does he know about the stone?"
  "He knows a damned sight too much about it. I'm not sure
that he doesn't know all about it."
  "Good Lord!" The boxer's sallow face turned a shade whiter.
  "Ikey Sanders has split on us."
  "He has, has he? I'll do him down a thick 'un for that if I
swing for it."
  "That won't help us much. We've got to make up our minds
what to do."
  "Half a mo'," said the boxer, looking suspiciously at the
bedroom door. "He's a leary cove that wants watching. I sup-
pose he's not listening?"
  "How can he be listening with that music going?"
  "That's right. Maybe somebody's behind a curtain. Too many
curtains in this room." As he looked round he suddenly saw for
the first time the effigy in the window, and stood staring and
pointing, too amazed for words.
  "Tut! it's only a dummy," said the Count.
  "A fake, is it? Well, strike me! Madame Tussaud ain't in it.
It's the living spit of him, gown and all. But them curtains
Count!"
  "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 be-
comes 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 ex-
tended 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!"
  "Thank you!"
  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! Con-
sider 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.
  "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, Biily. 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 fee-
ble 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."
  "No doubt."
  "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?"
  "Most undoubtedly."
  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 Lord-
ship out, and tell Mrs. Hudson that I should be glad if she would
send up dinner for two as soon as possible."