“Send for the police.”
“I probably shall. But not just yet. Would you glance carefully 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.”
“If I am not in the room, show him in all the same.”
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 formidable 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 window. 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 impersonations 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.”
“Why? The sport — the excitement — the danger!”
“And, no doubt, to free the country from a pest?”