Read The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle book online

 

“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, obliging 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 fibbing 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-ltalian, you know, and with the Southern 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.”

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