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Just as Sherlock Holmes scrambled free out on to the ledge, one of his attackers launched himself forward and struck him in the leg. The detective gave a fierce gasp of pain as he wrenched himself free, and then suddenly he found himself falling through darkened space.
Blotting the pain of the wound from his mind, Holmes twisted his body, aiming it at the large rhododendron bush below him. He landed spread-eagled atop its leafy branches. It broke his fall, but it was only a temporary resting-place, for the weight of his body was too great to be supported by the bush and he tumbled in an ungainly fashion on to the lawn. At moments like this, Holmes's ability to think and act quickly was remarkable. He knew that if he stayed where he was, he would be captured or more likely killed by the assailants. If he fled, all his efforts that evening would come to nought. There had to be some centre ground. He scrambled awkwardly to his feet, gritting his teeth as the wound in his leg screaming with pain. He ran as fast as he could to the garden wall, and vaulted over on to the pavement. He crouched low against the bole of a large oak tree by the kerb. On the other side of the street he spied a carriage. The driver appeared to be peering at the house in anticipation.
Two of the assailants appeared in the garden, one swinging a bulls-eye lantern around wildly.
“He's scarpered!” cried one fellow.
“Yeah,” replied the other. “Never mind him, let's get this bleeder away before the whole neighborhood wakes up.”
The third man appeared at the door with a large burden over his shoulder, wrapped in agrey blanket. The burden was Patrick Graves. The man blew on a silver whistle and the driver brought the carriage to the gate. Graves was bundled inside, followed by two of the men; the other, obviously the leader, jumped up alongside the driver.
“Let's go,” he croaked, and the carriage set off.
Holmes slipped from this hiding-place and ran after the carriage. With iron determination he blotted from his mind the stabbing pain in his leg, and, clutching hold of one of the metal bars running parallel across the back of the coach, he pulled himself forward and managed to secure a foothold on the back of the vehicle. With amazing dexterity for an injured man, he was able to settle himself into a crouching position to the back of the carriage, hanging on in a precarious fashion as the vehicle gained speed. In this manner, he travelled with the abductors through the dark and winding streets of London.
Despite his limited vision, Holmes's encyclopaedic knowledge of London allowed him to deduce the direction in which they were travelling. All signs told him that they were headed towards
Rotherhithe. The detective clung on for dear life as the carriage swayed and rattled its way east.
After some twenty minutes, the roads narrowed and darkened - the frequency of gas lamps diminishing. They were now in the vicinity of the West India Docks -
an area of warehouses, giant wharves and silent, uninhabited streets. And then the carriage slowed down as it approached the gates of some huge warehouse. He heard one of the men blow hard on a whistle four times, and, peering around the edge of the carriage, Holmes saw the gates begin to open. Now he had to think fast. Decisions had to be made. Should he drop from the vehicle before he became trapped in the warehouse, or should he risk going inside to face to unknown? Once inside the warehouse, he felt certain that he would be able to discover much more concerning Moriarty's plot to steal the Elephant's Egg. The danger was, of course, that he would be trapped there, thus rendering the knowledge useless. In such situations as this, with his heart racing and his adrenalin pumping, Sherlock Holmes gave way to the emotional rather than the rational response. He stayed with the carriage.
It rumbled into the vast and apparently empty warehouse, a great industrial cathedral with a high vaulted ceiling which echoed with the rattle of the carriage. In the distance, Holmes spied a group of men, some of whom were carrying lanterns. The welcoming committee. Nimbly, Holmes jumped from his perch and, keeping to the shadows, he scrambled to a stack of discarded packing-cases by the wall, and hid there. And waited. He was inside and safe for the moment. And then the doors of the warehouse closed with an echoing clang. He was inside, but trapped.
Graves was unceremoniously unloaded from the carriage as the group of men, three in all, approached. Holmes recognised one of them - Scoular, one of Moriarty's lieutenants. He seemed to be in charge.
“You have our prize?” he asked, pointing at Graves.
“We've got him. He's groggy now, but he's only had a few drops of the old chlory. He'll be right as rain shortly,” said the leader of the abductors, the one who had hit Holmes from behind.
“Was there any trouble?” asked Scoular, his face a cold mask.
“A little. Some geezer tried to interfere.”
“Yeah,” said another. “Called himself Sherlock Holmes.”
Scoular's eyes narrowed. “What happened?”
“We gave him what for, and he scarpered.”
“You fools! He should have been silenced!”
“He was a very slippery customer.”
“There were three of you.”
Scoular's observation hushed the men for a moment, and then the leader piped up again: “But we had Graves to deal with as well, and we got him for you.”
Scoular nodded, and turned to his confederates. “Maxwell, you take care of Mr. Graves; and Jenson, pay our friends here and make sure they leave the premises with some speed.” He looked up at the driver of the carriage. “Take them back to the city and drop them somewhere quiet.”
The bigger of the two men took Grave's limp body and hoisted it over his shoulder, like a roll of carpet. The abductors were paid off, and within minutes the carriage had departed, taking its three passengers with it.
Holding his lantern aloft, Scoular made his way back down towards the far end of the warehouse, accompanied by his two accomplices, one of whom bore the limp frame of Patrick Graves.
Sherlock Holmes followed them at a distance, keeping to the sides of the building and beyond the feeble rays of the lantern.
The men halted, and suddenly a bright shaft of yellow light shot up from the floor of the warehouse, sending a golden glow up into the rafters. Silently, Holmes dropped to the ground. He saw that Scoular had opened a trap-door, and it was from here that the light was emanating. Without a word, the men disappeared from sight and then with the same suddenness of its arrival, the bright beam of illumination vanished as the trap-door slammed shut. The detective was left alone in the Stygian gloom and silence. It was as though he had been witness to a strange shadow-play, and now the show was over. But the show was not over, he determined. This was merely an interval. He had come this far; it would be futile to give up now. He knew that this was the closest he'd ever been to Professor Moriarty, and he intended to get even closer. Somewhere above him a bat, disturbed by the sudden shaft of light, fluttered briefly from one rafter to another and then settled again.
After five minutes, when his eyes had fully acclimatized to the darkness, which was softened only by the moonlight that struggled through the grime on the row of windows placed up the wall near the roof, Sherlock Holmes rose to his feet. His leg still ached and he could feel the wetness of the warm blood seeping through his trouser leg, but he ignored it. He had to ignore it. There were greater concerns at issue here. Slowly he approached the trap-door, and with his heart in his mouth, he gently tugged at the rope-ring which raised it. Again, yellow light escaped into the warehouse. He saw that there was a staircase which led downwards to what appeared to be a narrow corridor. Holmes noted with surprise that this was expensively panelled and carpeted.
Like a man operating underwater, he slipped through the aperture and gently replaced the trap-door. Trap-door, he thought. How appropriate. He was now trapped within the lair of London's greatest criminal. And he walked into this trap himself. With a wry grin, he made his way down the staircase.
At the bottom, he listened, straining his ears for any sound. Remarkably, there was none - just a hissing silence. He moved along the corridor and soon came upon two doors: one straight ahead of him and the other to his right, which was twice the size of the first. Gingerly pulling the large door ajar, he discovered that it led to a lift. A metal cage was in readiness to propel the occupant downwards to who knew where. Reckless as he might have been to come this far, he certainly was not going to risk taking a ride in a lift, especially in Moriarty's domain.
He tried the other door, which led to another short passage - almost an anteroom - and a further door. As soon as he began to open this, he heard voices. He stopped and peered through the crack that he had created. He gazed down upon a magnificent high chamber, wonderfully furnished and illuminated by electricity. As far as he could determine, the door was situated on a minstrel gallery above the chamber. The gallery ran round the four walls, made up of shelves which housed a vast quantity of books. Down below, two men were in quiet conversation. Crouching low, Holmes slipped through the door and laid on the floor, edging forward enough to survey the scene below him.
From his vantage point, Holmes had an excellent view of the room and its occupants. He recognised one of the men straightaway. It was Colonel Sebastian Moran, Moriarty's second-in-command. Holmes observed the other man closely. He was a tall fellow, with finely chiselled, sardonic features and a hard cruel mouth and a mop of dark unruly hair. He had about him an air of power and authority. It was clear to Sherlock Holmes that this was Professor James Moriarty, the Napoleon of Crime. He was in his presence at last. A thrill of excitement rippled through his body. Here was his dark doppelgänger, a man as passionate about committing crime as Holmes was about solving it. Excitement transmuted to nervousness and uncertainty. It was as though he had only just realised the precariousness of his position. Oh, he had been clever to trace the devil to his lair, but he would have to be much cleverer to leave without being discovered. He pushed these thoughts from his mind; bridges to be crossed later. Moving even further to the edge of the gallery, he strained his ears to catch what the two men were saying.
Moriarty leaned in a nonchalant fashion on the edge of the mantelpiece while Moran paced up and down in front of him.
“I'm not at all happy about Holmes's appearance tonight,” Moran was saying.
“Neither am I,” replied the Professor, in silky tones. “But I will take steps to prevent his further involvement in my plans. We must utilise Watson again, and if that fails, I shall simply have to rid myself of this nuisance once and for all.”
“Wouldn't it be possible to do that straightaway?”
“Possibly, but my mind is filled with the Elephant's Egg operation at present, and I'd rather not be distracted by having to devise a suitable finale for Mr. Sherlock Holmes.”
Moran nodded. He knew better than to attempt to persuade his master otherwise.
“Everything is in place at the Indian end,” continued Moriarty, as though he were speaking his thoughts aloud. “Our man is ready to take the place of the Maharaja's envoy on the sea voyage. It is a substitution which has been worked out with the greatest precision. Reed is overseeing this. So when the ship docks in England, not only will the envoy be fake but the ruby also. No one will dare to examine it that closely. It would be most impolite to scrutinise such a gift. No one will realise that it is merely a very convincing piece of red glass. It will be presented to the Queen in a special ceremony at Windsor Castle, after which it will be lodged in the vaults there, with all the other trinkets she has acquired during her reign. It is unlikely that it will be seen again - or at least for some time. Meanwhile, we shall have the pleasure of profiting from this most bountiful of eggs.” Moriarty allowed himself a brief smile.
“That's if Graves is prepared to co-operate.”
“He will, Moran, he will. We have wasted too much time on these reluctant jewelers. He'll do as I ask… even if I have to use force.”
As though on cue, a door opened and Scoular entered, accompanied by a groggy-looking Patrick Graves. Scoular shepherded the jeweller to the sofa by the fire.
“Our man is coming round,” he declared.
Moriarty grinned. “Good. Moran, be so kind as to give our visitor a reviving brandy.”
Moran did as he was ordered. Graves took the brandy glass and greedily downed the drink in one gulp, which brought on a coughing fit. The other three men waited patiently like statues until he had finished.
“Mr. Graves,” said Moriarty, approaching the sofa, “I have something for you, an offer that can make you a substantial amount of money or one that could result in you losing at least one of your limbs.”
Graves, who was already pale, blanched at the harshness of these words.
“Do I have a choice?” he asked at length, in a halting fashion, his voice no more than a dry whisper.
“Indeed you do.”
Graves grinned slyly. “Then I'd rather take the money option.”
Moriarty chuckled in a theatrical manner while his two companions gazed on Graves with stony stares. “A man after my own heart.”
“Any brandy perhaps?” Graves held out his glass like a beggar.
“Give our friend another snifter, Moran, and Scoular, you see he gets a good night's rest. We can discuss details in the morning. I don't think we have any need to worry. I'm sure Mr. Graves will be as co-operative as we wish.”
“Certainly will, gentlemen,” agreed Graves, before taking another gulp of brandy from his refreshed glass.
Sherlock Holmes, positioned high above this drama, concluded that he had learned as much as he needed for the time being, and that it would be prudent to make his escape. With infinite care he retraced his steps back through the two doors and along the panelled passage and up the wooden staircase. Below the trap-door, he paused and strained his ears for any noise, any sound of movement. He could hear none. He pushed up the trap-door sufficiently for him to survey the warehouse. It appeared as empty and deserted as when he had left it. His heart pounding with pleasure, he scrambled through.
As soon as he was on his feet, he felt an arm grasp him around the neck. A gruff voice snarled in his ear. “And what the hell do you think you're doing?”
Holmes swivelled his head to catch a glimpse of his assailant. It was the coach driver, back from his travels. With great speed and dexterity, Holmes grabbed the man's arms and, placing all his weight on his good leg, he heaved him over his shoulder. It was a practised Baritsu move. The man rose as though he were a rag doll, and landed with an unhealthy thud on his back some three feet away from the detective. He gave a cry of pain, and before he was able to lift himself from the ground, Holmes straddled his body and administered a powerful right hook to his chin. The driver's head fell backwards, his eyes tight shut and his mouth agape. Holmes could not help but smile with pleasure at his own strength and ability. He then carried out a search of the man's clothing until he found what he was looking for: the keys to the warehouse door.
Within five minutes, Sherlock Holmes, limping badly now, was three streets away from Moriarty's warehouse. After half an hour, he was in a cab on his way back to Baker Street.