There was Holmes sitting close to us with an air of quiet amusement.
"Holmes!" I exclaimed. "You here! But where is the old man?"
"Here is the old man," said he, holding out a heap of white hair. "Here he is,--wig, whiskers, eyebrows, and all. I thought my disguise was pretty good, but I hardly expected that it would stand that test."
"Ah, You rogue!" cried Jones, highly delighted. "You would have made an actor, and a rare one. You had the proper workhouse cough, and those weak legs of yours are worth ten pound a week. I thought I knew the glint of your eye, though. You didn't get away from us so easily, You see."
"I have been working in that get-up all day," said he, lighting his cigar. "You see, a good many of the criminal classes begin to know me,--especially since our friend here took to publishing some of my cases: so I can only go on the war-path under some simple disguise like this. You got my wire?"
"Yes; that was what brought me here."
"How has your case prospered?"
"It has all come to nothing. I have had to release two of my prisoners, and there is no evidence against the other two."
"Never mind. We shall give you two others in the place of them. But you must put yourself under my orders. You are welcome to all the official credit, but you must act on the line that I point out. Is that agreed?"
"Entirely, if you will help me to the men."
"Well, then, in the first place I shall want a fast police-boat-- a steam launch--to be at the Westminster Stairs at seven o'clock."
"That is easily managed. There is always one about there; but I can step across the road and telephone to make sure."
"Then I shall want two stanch men, in case of resistance."
"There will be two or three in the boat. What else?"
"When we secure the men we shall get the treasure. I think that it would be a pleasure to my friend here to take the box round to the young lady to whom half of it rightfully belongs. Let her be the first to open it.--Eh, Watson?"
"It would be a great pleasure to me."
"Rather an irregular proceeding," said Jones, shaking his head. "However, the whole thing is irregular, and I suppose we must wink at it. The treasure must afterwards be handed over to the authorities until after the official investigation."
"Certainly. That is easily managed. One other point. I should much like to have a few details about this matter from the lips of Jonathan Small himself. You know I like to work the detail of my cases out. There is no objection to my having an unofficial interview with him, either here in my rooms or elsewhere, as long as he is efficiently guarded?"
"Well, you are master of the situation. I have had no proof yet of the existence of this Jonathan Small. However, if you can catch him I don't see how I can refuse you an interview with him."
"That is understood, then?"
"Perfectly. Is there anything else?"
"Only that I insist upon your dining with us. It will be ready in half an hour. I have oysters and a brace of grouse, with something a little choice in white wines.--Watson, you have never yet recognized my merits as a housekeeper."
Chapter X The End of the Islander
Our meal was a merry one. Holmes coud talk exceedingly well when he chose, and that night he did choose. He appeared to be in a state of nervous exaltation. I have never known him so brilliant. He spoke on a quick succession of subjects,--on miracle-plays, on medieval pottery, on Stradivarius violins, on the Buddhism of Ceylon, and on the war-ships of the future,-- handling each as though he had made a special study of it. His bright humor marked the reaction from his black depression of the preceding days. Athelney Jones proved to be a sociable soul in his hours of relaxation, and faced his dinner with the air of a bon vivant. For myself, I felt elated at the thought that we were nearing the end of our task, and I caught something of Holmes's gaiety. None of us alluded during dinner to the cause which had brought us together.