On glancing through my notes, I find it recorded that the night of November 10th saw the first heavy blizzard of the winter of 1886. The day had been dark and cold with a bitter, searching wind that moaned against the windows and, as the early dusk deepened into night, the street-lamps glimmering through the gloom of Baker Street disclosed the first flurries of snow and sleet swirling along the empty, glistening pavements.
Scarcely three weeks had passed since my friend Sherlock Holmes and I had returned from Dartmoor on the conclusion of that singular case, the details of which I have recorded elsewhere under the name of The Hound of the Baskervilles and, though several enquiries had been brought to my friend's notice since that time, none was of a nature to appeal to his love of the bizarre or to challenge that unique combination of logic and deduction which depended for its inspiration upon the intricacies of the problem which lay before it.
A merry fire was crackling in the grate and as I leaned back in my chair and let my eyes wander about the untidy cosiness of our sitting-room, I had to admit that the wildness of the night and the rattle of the sleet upon the window-panes served merely to increase my own sense of contentment. On the far side of the fire-place, Sherlock Holmes was curled up in his arm-chair, languidly turning over the pages of a black index-book marked "B" in which he had just completed certain entries under "Baskerville" and giving vent to occasional chuckles and ejaculations as his eyes wandered over the names and notes covering every page of the volume. I had flung down The Lancet with some idea of encouraging my friend to touch upon one or two of the names which were strange to me when, beneath the sobbing of the wind, my ears caught the faint sound of the door-bell.
"You have a visitor," I said.
"Surely a client, Watson," Holmes replied, laying aside his book. "And on urgent business," he added, with a glance at the rattling window-panes. "These inclement nights are invariably the herald of—" His words were interrupted by a rush of feet on the staircase, the door was burst open, and our visitor stumbled into the room.
He was a short, stout man, wrapped up in a dripping mackintosh cape and wearing a bowler hat tied under his chin by a woollen muffler. Holmes had tilted the lampshade, so that the light shone towards the door and, for a moment, the man remained motionless, staring at us across the room while the moisture from his sodden garment dripped in dark stains upon the carpet. He would have been a comical figure, with his tubbiness and his fat face framed in its encircling muffler, were it not for the impression of helpless misery in the man's brown eyes and in the shaking hands with which he plucked at the absurd bow beneath his chin.
"Take off your coat and come to the fire," said Holmes kindly.
"I must indeed apologize, gentlemen, for my untoward intrusion," he began. "But I fear that circumstances have arisen which threaten—threaten—"
But I was too late. There was a thud and a groan and there lay our visitor senseless upon the carpet.
Seizing some brandy from the sideboard, I ran to force it between his lips while Holmes, who had loosened the man's muffler, craned over my shoulder.
"What do you make of him, Watson?" he asked.
"He has had a severe shock," I replied. "From his appearance, he seems a comfortable, respectable person of the grocer class, and doubtless we will find out more ' about him when he has recovered."
"Tut, I think that we might venture a little further," my friend said thoughtfully. "When the butler from some wealthy household rushes on the spur of the moment through a snow-storm in order to fall senseless on my humble carpet, I am tempted to visualize some affair of greater moment than a broken till."
"My dear Holmes!"
"I would stake a guinea that there is a livery beneath that overcoat. Ah, did I not say so!"
"Even so, I do not see how you surmised it nor the wealthy household."
Holmes picked up the limp hands. "You will observe that the pads of both thumbs are darkened, Watson. In a man of sedentary type, I know of only one occupation that will account for this equality of discolouration. The man polishes silver with his thumbs."
"Surely, Holmes, a leather would be more usual," I protested.
"On ordinary silver, yes. Very fine silver is finished, however, with the thumbs, and hence my conjecture of a well-to-do household. As for his sudden departure, the man has rushed into the night in patent-leather pumps despite that it has been snowing since six o'clock. There, now, you are feeling better," he added kindly, as our visitor opened his eyes. "Dr. Watson and I will help you into this chair and after you have rested awhile doubtless you will tell us your troubles."
The man clapped his hands to his head.
"Rested awhile!" he cried wildly. "My God, sir, they must be after me already!"
"Who must be after you?"
"The police, Sir John, all of them! The Abbas Ruby has been stolen!" The words rose almost to a shriek. My friend leaned forward and placed his long, thin fingers on the other's wrist. On previous occasions I have noted Holmes's almost magnetic power for asserting a sense of peace and comfort over the minds of those in distress.
It was so in this case, and the wild, panic-stricken gleam faded slowly in the man's eyes.
"Come, now, give me the facts," Sherlock Holmes enjoined after a moment.
"My name is Andrew Joliffe," began our visitor more calmly, "and for the past two years I have been employed as butler to Sir John and Lady Doverton at Manchester Square."
"Sir John Doverton, the horticulturist?"
"Yes, sir. Indeed, there's them that say that his flowers, and especially his famous red camellias, mean more to Sir John than even the Abbas Ruby and all his other family treasures. I take it you know about the ruby, sir?"
"I know of its existence. But tell me in your own words."
"Well, it makes one frightened just to look at it. Like a big drop of blood it is, with a touch of devil's fire smouldering in its heart. In two years I had seen it only once, for Sir John keeps it in the safe in his bedroom, locked up like some deadly poisonous creature that shouldn't even know the light of day. Tonight, however, I saw it for the second time. It was just after dinner, when one of our guests, Captain Masterman, suggested to Sir John that he should show them the Abbas Ruby—"
"Their names," interposed Holmes languidly.
"Names, sir? Ah, you mean the guests. Well, there were Captain Masterman, who is her ladyship's brother, Lord and Lady Brackminster, Mrs. Dunbar, the Rt. Hon. William Radford, our Member of Parliament, and Mrs. Fitzsimmons-Leming."
Holmes scribbled a word on his cuff. "Pray continue," said he.
"I was serving coffee in the library when the captain made his suggestion and all the ladies began to clamour to see the gem. 'I would prefer to show you the red camellias in the conservatory,' says Sir John. 'The specimen that my wife is wearing in her gown is surely more beautiful than anything to be found in a jewel-box, as you can judge for yourselves.'
" 'Then, let us judge for ourselves!' smiled Mr. Dunbar, and Sir John went upstairs and brought down the jewel-case. As he opened it on the table and they all crowded round, her ladyship told me to light the lamps in the conservatory as they would be coming shortly to see the red camellias. But there were no red camellias."
"I fail to understand."
"They'd gone, sir! Gone, every single one of them," cried our visitor hoarsely. "When I entered the conservatory, I just stood there holding the lamp above my head and wondering if I was stark mad. There was the famous shrub, all right, but of the dozen great blossoms which I had admired on it this very afternoon there remained not so much as a petal."
Sherlock Holmes stretched out a long arm for his pipe.
"Dear, dear," said he. "This is most gratifying. But pray continue your interesting narrative."
"I ran back to the library to tell them. 'But it is impossible!' cried her ladyship. 'I saw the flowers myself when I plucked one for my dress just before dinner.' 'The man's been at the port!' said Sir John, and then, thrusting the jewel-case into the table drawer, he rushed for the conservatory with all the rest of them at his heels. But the camellias had gone."
"One moment," interrupted Holmes. "When were they seen last?"
"I saw them at four and as her ladyship picked one shortly before dinner, they were there about eight o'clock. But the flowers are of no matter, Mr. Holmes. It's the ruby!"
Our visitor leaned forward in his chair.
"The library was empty for only a few minutes," he continued almost in a whisper. "But when Sir John, fair demented over the mystery of his flowers, returned and opened the drawer, the Abbas Ruby, together with its jewel-case, had vanished as completely as the red camellias."
For a moment we sat in silence broken only by the tinkle of burning embers falling in the grate.
"Joliffe," mused Holmes dreamily. "Andrew Joliffe. The Catterton diamond robbery, was it not?"
The man buried his face in his hands.
"I'm glad you know, sir," he muttered at last. "But as God is my judge I've kept straight since I came out three years ago. Captain Masterman was very good to me and got me this job with his brother-in-law, and from that day to this I've never let him down. I've been content to keep my wages, hoping that eventually I might save enough to buy my own cigar shop."
"Go on with your story."
"Well, sir, I was in the hall, having sent the stableboy for the police, when I caught Captain Masterman's voice through the half-opened door of the library. 'Damn it, John, I wanted to give a lame dog a chance,' said he, 'but I blame myself now that I did not tell you his past history. He must have slipped in here while everyone was in the conservatory and—' I waited for no more, sir, but telling Rogers, the footman, that if anybody wanted me then they would find me with Mr. Sherlock Holmes, I ran here through the snow, believing from all I've heard that you will not think it beneath you to save from injustice one who has already paid his debt to society. You are my only hope, sir, and—My God, I knew it!"
The door had flown open and a tall, fair-haired man, wrapped to the ears in a snow-powdered cape, strode into the room.
"Ah, Gregson, we were expecting you."
"No doubt, Mr. Holmes," replied Inspector Gregson drily. "Well, this is our man, and so we'll be getting along."
Our wretched client leaped to his feet. "But I'm innocent! I never touched it!" he wailed.
The police-agent smiled sourly and, drawing from his pocket a flat box, he shook it under his prisoner's nose.
"God save us, it's the jewel-case!" gasped Joliffe.
"There, he admits it! Where was it found, you say? It was found where you put it, my man, under your mattress."
Joliffe's face had turned the colour of ashes. "But I never touched it," he repeated dully.
"One moment, Gregson," interposed Holmes. "Am I to understand that you have the Abbas Ruby?"
"No," he replied, "the case was empty. But it cannot be far, and Sir John is offering a reward of five thousand pounds."
"May I see the case? Thank you. Dear me, what a sorry sight. The lock unbroken but the hinges smashed. Flesh-coloured velvet. But surely—"
Whipping out his lens, Holmes laid the jewel-case beneath the reading lamp and examined it closely. "Most interesting," he said at length. "By the way, Joliffe, was the ruby mounted?"
"It was set in a carved gold locket and chain. But, oh, Mr. Holmes—"
"Rest assured I will do my best for you. Well, Gregson, we will detain you no longer."
The Scotland Yard man snapped a pair of handcuffs on our unhappy visitor and a moment later the door had closed behind them.
For a while, Holmes smoked thoughtfully. He had pulled up his chair to the blaze and, with his chin cupped in his hands and his elbows resting on his knees, he stared broodingly into the fire while the ruddy light waxed and waned on his keen finely drawn features.
"Have you ever heard of the Nonpareil Club, Watson?" he asked suddenly.
"The name is unfamiliar to me," I confessed.
"It is the most exclusive gambling club in London," he continued. "The Members' List, which is privately printed, reads like Debrett with a spicing of the Almanach de Gotha. I have had my eye upon it for sometime past."
"Good heavens, Holmes, why?"
"Where there is wealth follows crime, Watson. It is the one fixed principle that has governed man's wickedness through all his history."
"But what has this club to do with the Abbas Ruby?" I asked.
"Perhaps, nothing. Or again, everything. Kindly hand me down the Biographical Index marked 'M' from the shelf above the pipe-rack. Dear me, it is remarkable that one letter of the alphabet can embrace so many notorious names. You would find it profitable to study this list, Watson. But here is our man, I think. Mappins; Marston, the poisoner; Masterman. Captain the Honourable Bruce Mastennan, born 1856, educated at—h'm! ha!—suspected of implication in the Hilliers Dearbon inheritance forgery; secretary of Nonpareil Club; member of—quite so." My friend flung the book on the couch. "Well, Watson, are you game for a nocturnal excursion?"
"By all means, Holmes. But where?"
"We will be guided by circumstances."
The wind had fallen and as we emerged into the white, silent streets, the distant chimes of Big Ben struck the hour of ten. Though we were well muffled, it was so bitterly cold that I welcomed the need of our brisk walk to Marylebone Road before we could hail a hansom.
"It will do no harm to call at Manchester Square," remarked Holmes, as we tucked the rug about us and jingled away through the snow-covered streets. A short drive brought us to our destination, and as we alighted before the portico of an imposing Georgian house, Holmes pointed to the ground.
"The guests have gone already," said he, "for you will observe that these wheel-marks were made after the snow ceased to fall."
The footman who had opened the door to us took our cards, and a moment later we were ushered across the hall into a handsome library where a tall, thin man with greying hair and a most melancholy countenance was warming his coat-tails before a blazing fire. As we entered, a woman, who was reclining on a chaise lounge, rose to her feet and turned to look at us.
Though the leading artist of our day has immortalized Lady Doverton, I venture to think that no portrait will ever do full justice to this imperious and beautiful woman as we saw her then, in a gown of white satin with a single scarlet flower flaming at her bodice and the golden glow of the candles shining on her pale, perfectly chiselled face and drawing sparkles of fire from the diamonds that crowned her rich auburn hair. Her companion advanced on us eagerly.
"Really, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, this is most gratifying!" he cried. "That you should face the inclemency of the night in order to fasten upon the perpetrator of this outrage speaks highly for your public spirit, sir! Most highly!"
Holmes bowed. "The Abbas Ruby is a famous stone, Sir John."
"Ah, the ruby. Yes, yes, of course," replied Sir John Doverton. "Most lamentable. Fortunately, there are buds. Your knowledge of flowers will tell you—" He broke off as his wife laid her fingers on his arm.
"As the matter is already in the hands of the police," she said haughtily, "I do not understand why we should be honoured by this visit from Mr. Sherlock Holmes."
"I shall take up very little of your time, Lady Doverton," replied my friend. "A few minutes in your conservatory should suffice."
"With what object, sir? What possible connection can there be between my husband's conservatory and the missing jewel?"
"It is that I wish to determine."
Lady Doverton smiled coldly. "In the meantime, the police will have arrested the thief."
"I think not."
"Absurd! The man who fled was a convicted jewel-robber. It is obvious."
"Perhaps too obvious, madam! Does it not strike you as somewhat singular that an ex-convict, though aware that his record was known already to your brother, should steal a famous stone from his own employer and then conveniently condemn himself by secreting the jewel-box under his mattress, where even Scotland Yard could be relied upon to search?"
Lady Doverton put a hand to her bosom. "I had not considered the matter in that light," she said.
"Naturally. But, dear me, what a beautiful blossom! I take it that this is the red camellia which you plucked this afternoon?"
"This evening, sir, just before dinner."
"Spes ultima gentis!" observed Sir John gloomily. "At least, until the next crop."
"Just so. It would interest me to see your conservatory."
We followed our guide along a short passage which, opening from the library, terminated in the glass door of a hothouse. While the famous horticulturist and I waited at the entrance, Holmes commenced a slow tour through the warm, stifling darkness, the lighted candle which he bore in his hand appearing and disappearing like some great glow-worm amid the weird shapes of cacti and curious tropical shrubs. Holding the light close to the camellia bush, he spent some time peering through his lens.
"The victims of a vandal's knife," groaned Sir John.
"No, they were snipped with a small pair of curved nail-scissors," Holmes remarked. "You will observe that there is no shredding on the stalks such as a knife would cause, and furthermore, the small cut on this leaf shows that the scissor-points overreached the stem of the flower. Well, I think that there is nothing more to be learned here."
We were retracing our steps when Holmes paused at a small window in the passage and, opening the catch, struck a match and craned over the sill.
"It overlooks a path used by the tradesmen," volunteered Sir John.
I leaned over my friend's shoulder. Below, the snow lay in a long, smooth drift from the house wall to the edge of a narrow pathway. Holmes said nothing but, as he turned away, I noticed that there was something of surprise, almost of chagrin, in his expression.
Lady Doverton was awaiting us in the library.
"I fear that your reputation is overrated, Mr. Holmes," she said, with a gleam of amusement in her fine blue eyes. "I expected you to return with all the missing flowers and perhaps even the Abbas Ruby itself!"
"At least, I have every hope of returning you the latter, madam," said Holmes coldly.
"A dangerous boast, Mr. Holmes."
"Others will tell you that boasting is not among my habits. And now, as Dr. Watson and I are already somewhat overdue at the Nonpareil Club—dear me, Lady Doverton, I fear that you have broken your fan—it only remains for me to express our regret for this intrusion and to wish you a very good night."
We had driven as far as Oxford Street when Holmes, who had sat in complete silence with his chin upon his breast, suddenly sprang to his feet, pushed up the trap and shouted an order to our driver.
"What a fool!" he cried, clapping a hand to his forehead, as our hansom turned in its tracks. "What mental abberation!"
"Watson, if I ever show signs of self-satisfaction, kindly whisper the word 'camellias' in my ear."
A few minutes later, we had alighted again before the portico of Sir John Doverton's mansion. "There is no need to disturb the household," muttered Holmes. "I imagine that this is the gate into the tradesmen's entrance."
My friend led the way swiftly along the path skirting the wall of the house until we found ourselves under a window which I recognized as the one opening from the passage. Then, throwing himself on his knees he commenced carefully to scoop away the snow with his bare hands. After a few moments, he straightened himself and I saw that he had cleared a large dark patch.
"Let us risk a match, Watson," he chuckled.
I lit one and there, on the black earth exposed by Holmes's burrowings in the snow-drift, lay a little reddish-brown heap of frozen flowers.
"The camellias!" I exclaimed. "My dear fellow, what does this mean?"
My friend's face was very stern as he rose to his feet.
"Villainy, Watson!" said he. "Clever, calculated villainy."
He picked up one of the dead flowers and stood for a while silently contemplating the dark, withered petals in the palm of his hand.
"It is as well for Andrew Joliffe that he reached Baker Street before Gregson reached him," he observed thoughtfully.
"Shall I raise the house?" I asked.
"Ever the man of action, Watson," he replied, with a dry chuckle. "No, my dear fellow, I think that we would be better employed in making our way quietly back to our hansom and then on to the purlieus of St. James's."
In the events of the evening, I had lost all sense of time, and it came as something of a shock when, as we wheeled from Piccadilly into St. James's Street and stopped before the door of an elegant, well-lighted house, I saw from the clock above Palace Yard that it was not far short of midnight.
"When its neighbours of clubland go to bed the Nonpareil Club comes into its own," remarked Holmes, ringing the bell. He scribbled a note on his calling-card and, handing it to the manservant at the door, he led the way into the hall.
As we followed the servant up a marble staircase to the floor above, I caught a glimpse of lofty and luxurious rooms in which small groups of men, clad in evening dress, were sitting about and reading papers or gathered round rosewood card-tables.
Our guide knocked at a door and a moment later we found ourselves in a small, comfortably furnished room hung with sporting prints and smelling strongly of cigar smoke. A tall, soldierly-looking man with a close-cropped moustache and thick auburn hair, who was lounging in a chair before the fireplace, made no attempt to rise at our entrance but, whirling Holmes's card between his fingers, surveyed us coldly through a pair of blue eyes that reminded me forcibly of Lady Doverton.
"You choose strange times to call, gentlemen," he said, with a trace of hostility in his voice. "It's cursed late."
"And getting later," my friend observed. "No, Captain Masterman, a chair is unnecessary. I prefer to stand."
"Stand, then. What do you want?"
"The Abbas Ruby," said Sherlock Holmes quietly.
I started and gripped my stick. There was a moment of silence while Masterman stared up at Holmes from the depth of his chair. Then throwing back his head, he laughed heartily.
"My dear sir, you must really excuse me!" he cried at length, his handsome face all a-grin. "But your demand is a little excessive. The Nonpareil Club does not number absconding servants among its members. You must seek elsewhere for Joliffe."
"I have already spoken with Joliffe."
"Ah, I see," he sneered. "Then you represent the interests of the butler?"
"No, I represent the interests of justice," replied Holmes sternly.
"Dear me, how very imposing. Well, Mr. Holmes, your demand was so worded that it is lucky for you that I have no witnesses or it would go hard with you in a court of law. A cool five thousand guineas' worth of slander, I should say. You'll find the door behind you."
Holmes strolled across to the fireplace and, drawing his watch from his pocket, compared it with the clock on the mantelpiece.
"It is now five minutes after midnight," he remarked. "You have until nine o'clock in the morning to return the jewel to me at Baker Street."
Masterman bounded from his chair.
"Now look here, damn you—" he snarled.
"It won't do, Captain Masterman, really it won't do. However, that you may realize that I am not bluffing, I will run over a few points for your edification. You knew Joliffe's past record and you got him the post with Sir John as a possible sinecure for the future."
"Prove it, you cursed busybody!"
"Later you needed money," continued Holmes imperturbably, "a great deal of money, to judge from the value of the Abbas Ruby. I have no doubt that an examination of your card losses would give us the figure. Thereupon you contrived, I regret to add with your sister's help, a scheme that was as cunning in its conception as it was merciless in its execution.
"From Lady Doverton you obtained precise details of the jewel-case containing the stone, and you caused a duplicate of this case to be constructed. The difficulty was to know when Sir John would withdraw the ruby from the safe, which he did but rarely. The coming dinner party at which you were to be one of the guests suggested a very simple solution. Relying on the wholehearted support of the ladies, you would ask your brother-in-law to bring down the jewel. But how to ensure that he and the others would leave the room while the jewel was there? I fear that, here, we come upon the subtle traces of the feminine mind. There could be no surer way than to play upon Sir John's pride in his famous red camellias. It worked out exactly as you foresaw.
"When Joliffe returned with the news that the bush had been stripped, Sir John instantly thrust the jewel-case into the nearest receptacle and, followed by his guests, rushed to the conservatory. You slipped back, pocketed the case and, on the robbery being discovered, volunteered the perfectly true information that his wretched butler was a convicted jewel-thief. However, though cleverly planned and boldly executed, you made two cardinal errors.
"The first was that the duplicate jewel-case, which had been rather amateurishly smashed and then planted under the mattress of Joliffe's bed, probably some hours in advance, was lined in a pale velvet. My lens disclosed that this delicate surface contained not the slightest trace of rubbing such as invariably occurs from the mounting of a pendant jewel.
"The second error was fatal. Your sister stated that she had plucked the blossom in her gown immediately prior to dinner and, such being the case, the flowers must have been there at eight o'clock. I asked myself what I should do if I wished to dispose of a dozen blossoms as swiftly as possible. The answer was the nearest window, In this instance, the one in the passage.
"But the snow which lay in a deep drift below disclosed no traces whatever. This, I confess, caused me some perplexity until, as Dr. Watson can testify, the obvious solution dawned on me. I rushed back and proceeding very carefully to remove the snow-drift under the window, I came upon the remains of the missing camellias lying on the frozen earth. As they were too light to sink through the snow, they must have been flung there before the snow-fall commenced at six o'clock. Lady Doverton's story was therefore a fabrication and, in those withered flowers, lay the answer to the whole problem."
During my friend's exposition, I had watched the angry flush on Captain Masterman's face fade into an ugly pallor and now, as Holmes ceased, he crossed swiftly to a desk in the corner, an ominous glint in his eyes.
"I wouldn't," said Holmes pleasantly.
Masterman paused with his hand on the drawer.
"What are you going to do?" he rasped.
"Providing that the Abbas Ruby is returned to me before nine o'clock, I shall make no public exposure and doubtless Sir John Doverton will forbear further enquiries at my request. I am protecting his wife's name. Were it otherwise, you would feel the full weight of my hand upon you, Captain Masterman, for when I consider your inveiglement of your sister and your foul plot to ensnare an innocent man, I am hard put to it to recall a more blackguardly villain."
"But the scandal, curse you!" cried Masterman. "What of the scandal in the Nonpareil Club? I'm over my ears in card debts and if I give up the ruby—" he paused and shot us a swift furtive glance. "Look here, Holmes, what about a sporting proposition—?"
My friend turned towards the door.
"You have until nine o'clock," he said coldly. "Come, Watson."
The snow had begun to fall again as we waited in St. James's Street while the porter whistled for a cab.
"My dear fellow, I'm afraid that you must be very tired," Holmes remarked.
"On the contrary, I am always invigorated by your company," I answered.
"Well, you have deserved a few hours' rest. Our adventures are over for tonight"
But my friend spoke too soon. A belated hansom carried us to Baker Street, and I was in the act of opening the front door with my latch-key when our attention was arrested by the lamps of a carriage approaching swiftly from the direction of Marlebone Road. The vehicle, a closed four-wheeler, came to a halt a few yards down the street and, an instant later, the muffled figure of a woman hurried towards us. Though her features were hidden under a heavy veil, there was something vaguely familiar in her tall, graceful form and the queenly poise of her head as she stood face to face with us on the snow-covered pavement.
"I wish to speak with you, Mr. Holmes," she cried imperiously.
My friend raised his eyebrows. "Perhaps you would go ahead, Watson, and light the gas," he said quietly.
In the years of my association with the cases of my friend, Sherlock Holmes, I have seen many beautiful women cross our threshold. But I cannot recall one whose beauty surpassed that of the woman who now, with a deep rustle of skirts, entered our modest sitting-room.
She had thrown back her veil and the gas-light illumined with a pale radiance her perfect face and the brilliance of her long-lashed blue eyes which met and challenged Holmes's stern and uncompromising glance.
"I had not expected this late visit, Lady Doverton," he said austerely.
"I thought that you were omniscient, Mr. Holmes," she replied, with a faint mockery ringing in her voice. "But, perhaps you know nothing about women."
"I fail to see—"
"Must I remind you of your boast? The loss of the Abbas Ruby is a disaster, and I could not rest in my anxiety to know whether or not you have fulfilled your promise. Come, sir, admit that you have failed."
"On the contrary, I have succeeded."
Our visitor rose from her chair, her eyes glittering.
"This is an ill jest, Mr. Holmes," she cried haughtily.
I have remarked elsewhere that, despite his profound distrust of the opposite sex, it was my friend's nature to be chivalrous to women. But now, for the first time, as he faced Lady Doverton, I saw his face harden ominously in the presence of a woman.
"The hour is a trifle late for tiresome pretences, madam," said he. "I have visited the Nonpareil Club and taken some pains to explain to your brother both the manner in which he acquired the Abbas Ruby and the part which you—"
"—which you, I say, played in the matter. I beg that you will spare me my delusion that you played that part unwillingly."
For an instant the beautiful, imperious creature faced Holmes in the circle of lamplight, then, with a low moaning cry, she fell on her knees, her hands clutching at his coat. Holmes stooped and raised her swiftly.
"Kneel to your husband, Lady Doverton, and not to me," he said quietly. "Indeed, you have much to answer for."
"I swear to you—"
"Hush, I know all. Not a word shall pass my lips."
"You mean that you will not tell him?" she gasped.
"I see nothing to be gained thereby. Joliffe will be released in the morning, of course, and the affair of the Abbas Ruby brought to a close."
"God reward you for your mercy," she whispered brokenly. "I will do my best to make amends. But my unfortunate brother—his losses at cards—"
"Ah, yes, Captain Masterman. I do not think, Lady Doverton, that you have cause to worry too deeply over that gentleman. Captain Masterman's bankruptcy and the resultant scandal in the Nonpareil Club may have the result of starting him upon a more honourable path than that which he has pursued up to now. Indeed, once the scandal has become a thing of the past, Sir John might be persuaded to arrange a commission for him in some overseas military service. From what I have seen of that young man's enterprise and address, I have no doubt that he would do very well on the North-West frontier of India."
Evidently, I was more fatigued than I had supposed by the events of the night, and I did not awake until nearly ten o'clock. When I entered our sitting-room, I found that Sherlock Holmes had already finished his breakfast and was lounging in front of the fire in his old red dressing-gown, his feet stretched out to the blaze and the air rancid with the smoke of his after-breakfast pipe composed of the previous day's dottles. I rang for Mrs. Hudson and ordered a pot of coffee and some rashers and eggs.
"I'm glad that you're in time, Watson," he said, shooting an amused glance at me from beneath his drooping lids.
"Mrs. Hudson's capability to produce breakfast at any hour is not least among her virtues," I replied.
"Quite so. But I was not referring to your breakfast. I am expecting Sir John Doverton."
"In that case, Holmes, as it is a delicate affair, it would be better perhaps that I leave you alone."
Holmes waved me back to my seat. "My dear fellow, I shall be glad of your presence. And here, I think, is our visitor a few minutes before his time."
There came a knock on the door and the tall, stooping figure of the well-known horticulturist entered the room. "You have news for me, Mr. Holmes!" he cried impetuously. "Speak out, sir, speak out! I am all attention."
"Yes, I have news for you," Holmes replied with a slight smile.
Sir John darted forward. "Then the camellias—" he began.
"Well, well. Perhaps we would be wise to forget the red camellias. I noticed a goodly crop of buds on the bush."
"I thank God that is true," said our visitor devoutly, "and I am glad to perceive, Mr. Holmes, that you place a higher value on the ascetic rarities of Nature than on the intrinsic treasures of man's handiwork. Nevertheless, there still remains the dreadful loss of the Abbas Ruby. Have you any hope of recovering the jewel?"
"There is every hope. But, before we discuss the matter any further, I beg that you will join me in a glass of port." Sir John raised his eyebrows. "At this hour, Mr. Holmes?" he exclaimed. "Really, sir, I hardly think—"
"Come now," smiled Sherlock Holmes, filling three glasses at the sideboard and handing one to our visitor. "It is a chill morning and I can heartily recommend the rarity of this vintage."
With a slight frown of disapproval, Sir John Doverton lifted the glass to his lips. There was a moment of silence broken by a sudden startled cry. Our visitor, his face as white as the piece of linen which he had put to his mouth, stared wildly from Holmes to the flaming, flashing crystal which had fallen from his lips into his handkerchief. "The Abbas Ruby!" he gasped.
Sherlock Holmes broke into a hearty laugh and clapped his hands together.
"Really you must forgive me!" he cried. "My friend Dr. Watson will tell you that I can never resist these somewhat dramatic touches. It is perhaps the Vernet blood in my veins."
Sir John Doverton gazed thunder-struck at the great jewel, smouldering and winking against its background of white linen.
"Good heavens, I can scarcely credit my own eyes," he said in a shaking voice. "But how on earth did you recover it?"
"Ah, there I must crave your indulgence. Suffice to say that your butler, Joliffe, who was a sorely wronged man, was released this morning and that the jewel is now returned safely to its rightful owner," replied Holmes kindly. "Here is the locket and chain from which I took the liberty of removing the stone in order that I might play my little trick upon you by concealing the ruby in your port wine. I beg that you will press the matter no further."
"It shall be as you wish, Mr. Holmes," said Sir John earnestly. "Indeed I have cause to place every confidence in your judgement. But what can I do to express—"
"Well, I am far from a rich man and I shall leave it to you whether or not I have deserved your five thousand pounds reward."
"Many times over," cried John Doverton, drawing a cheque-book from his pocket "Furthermore, I shall send you a cutting from my red camellias."
Holmes bowed gravely.
"I shall place it in the special charge of Watson," he said. "By the way, Sir John, I will be glad if you would make out two separate cheques. One for Ј2500 in favour of Sherlock Holmes, and the other for a similar amount in favour of Andrew Joliffe. I fear that from this time forward you might find your former butler a trifle nervous in his domestic duties, and this sum of money should be ample to set him up in the cigar business, thus fulfilling the secret ambition of his life. Thank you, my dear sir. And now I think that for once we might really break our morning habits and, by partaking a glass of port, modestly celebrate the successful conclusion of the case of the Abbas Ruby."
Since . . . our visit to Devonshire, he had been engaged in two affairs of the utmost importance . . . the famous card scandal of the Nonpareil Club ... and the unfortunate Madame Montpensier.
FROM "THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES."
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