Part 2 - The Return of Sherlock Holmes Audiobook by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Adventures 04-05)


Uploaded by CCProse on 25.09.2011

Transcript:
THE ADVENTURE OF THE SOLITARY CYCLIST
From the years 1894 to 1901 inclusive, Mr. Sherlock Holmes was a very busy man.
It is safe to say that there was no public case of any difficulty in which he was not
consulted during those eight years, and there were hundreds of private cases, some
of them of the most intricate and
extraordinary character, in which he played a prominent part.
Many startling successes and a few unavoidable failures were the outcome of
this long period of continuous work.
As I have preserved very full notes of all these cases, and was myself personally
engaged in many of them, it may be imagined that it is no easy task to know which I
should select to lay before the public.
I shall, however, preserve my former rule, and give the preference to those cases
which derive their interest not so much from the brutality of the crime as from the
ingenuity and dramatic quality of the solution.
For this reason I will now lay before the reader the facts connected with Miss Violet
Smith, the solitary cyclist of Charlington, and the curious sequel of our
investigation, which culminated in unexpected tragedy.
It is true that the circumstance did not admit of any striking illustration of those
powers for which my friend was famous, but there were some points about the case which
made it stand out in those long records of
crime from which I gather the material for these little narratives.
On referring to my notebook for the year 1895, I find that it was upon Saturday, the
23rd of April, that we first heard of Miss Violet Smith.
Her visit was, I remember, extremely unwelcome to Holmes, for he was immersed at
the moment in a very abstruse and complicated problem concerning the peculiar
persecution to which John Vincent Harden,
the well known tobacco millionaire, had been subjected.
My friend, who loved above all things precision and concentration of thought,
resented anything which distracted his attention from the matter in hand.
And yet, without a harshness which was foreign to his nature, it was impossible to
refuse to listen to the story of the young and beautiful woman, tall, graceful, and
queenly, who presented herself at Baker
Street late in the evening, and implored his assistance and advice.
It was vain to urge that his time was already fully occupied, for the young lady
had come with the determination to tell her story, and it was evident that nothing
short of force could get her out of the room until she had done so.
With a resigned air and a somewhat weary smile, Holmes begged the beautiful intruder
to take a seat, and to inform us what it was that was troubling her.
"At least it cannot be your health," said he, as his keen eyes darted over her, "so
ardent a bicyclist must be full of energy."
She glanced down in surprise at her own feet, and I observed the slight roughening
of the side of the sole caused by the friction of the edge of the pedal.
"Yes, I bicycle a good deal, Mr. Holmes, and that has something to do with my visit
to you to-day."
My friend took the lady's ungloved hand, and examined it with as close an attention
and as little sentiment as a scientist would show to a specimen.
"You will excuse me, I am sure.
It is my business," said he, as he dropped it.
"I nearly fell into the error of supposing that you were typewriting.
Of course, it is obvious that it is music.
You observe the spatulate finger-ends, Watson, which is common to both
professions?
There is a spirituality about the face, however"--she gently turned it towards the
light--"which the typewriter does not generate.
This lady is a musician."
"Yes, Mr. Holmes, I teach music." "In the country, I presume, from your
complexion." "Yes, sir, near Farnham, on the borders of
Surrey."
"A beautiful neighbourhood, and full of the most interesting associations.
You remember, Watson, that it was near there that we took Archie Stamford, the
forger.
Now, Miss Violet, what has happened to you, near Farnham, on the borders of Surrey?"
The young lady, with great clearness and composure, made the following curious
statement:
"My father is dead, Mr. Holmes. He was James Smith, who conducted the
orchestra at the old Imperial Theatre.
My mother and I were left without a relation in the world except one uncle,
Ralph Smith, who went to Africa twenty-five years ago, and we have never had a word
from him since.
When father died, we were left very poor, but one day we were told that there was an
advertisement in the TIMES, inquiring for our whereabouts.
You can imagine how excited we were, for we thought that someone had left us a fortune.
We went at once to the lawyer whose name was given in the paper.
There we, met two gentlemen, Mr. Carruthers and Mr. Woodley, who were home
on a visit from South Africa.
They said that my uncle was a friend of theirs, that he had died some months before
in great poverty in Johannesburg, and that he had asked them with his last breath to
hunt up his relations, and see that they were in no want.
It seemed strange to us that Uncle Ralph, who took no notice of us when he was alive,
should be so careful to look after us when he was dead, but Mr. Carruthers explained
that the reason was that my uncle had just
heard of the death of his brother, and so felt responsible for our fate."
"Excuse me," said Holmes. "When was this interview?"
"Last December--four months ago."
"Pray proceed." " Mr. Woodley seemed to me to be a most
odious person.
He was for ever making eyes at me--a coarse, puffy-faced, red-moustached young
man, with his hair plastered down on each side of his forehead.
I thought that he was perfectly hateful-- and I was sure that Cyril would not wish me
to know such a person." "Oh, Cyril is his name!" said Holmes,
smiling.
The young lady blushed and laughed. "Yes, Mr. Holmes, Cyril Morton, an
electrical engineer, and we hope to be married at the end of the summer.
Dear me, how DID I get talking about him?
What I wished to say was that Mr. Woodley was perfectly odious, but that Mr.
Carruthers, who was a much older man, was more agreeable.
He was a dark, sallow, clean-shaven, silent person, but he had polite manners and a
pleasant smile.
He inquired how we were left, and on finding that we were very poor, he
suggested that I should come and teach music to his only daughter, aged ten.
I said that I did not like to leave my mother, on which he suggested that I should
go home to her every week-end, and he offered me a hundred a year, which was
certainly splendid pay.
So it ended by my accepting, and I went down to Chiltern Grange, about six miles
from Farnham.
Mr. Carruthers was a widower, but he had engaged a lady housekeeper, a very
respectable, elderly person, called Mrs. Dixon, to look after his establishment.
The child was a dear, and everything promised well.
Mr. Carruthers was very kind and very musical, and we had most pleasant evenings
together.
Every week-end I went home to my mother in town.
"The first flaw in my happiness was the arrival of the red-moustached Mr. Woodley.
He came for a visit of a week, and oh! it seemed three months to me.
He was a dreadful person--a bully to everyone else, but to me something
infinitely worse.
He made odious love to me, boasted of his wealth, said that if I married him I could
have the finest diamonds in London, and finally, when I would have nothing to do
with him, he seized me in his arms one day
after dinner--he was hideously strong--and swore that he would not let me go until I
had kissed him.
Mr. Carruthers came in and tore him from me, on which he turned upon his own host,
knocking him down and cutting his face open.
That was the end of his visit, as you can imagine.
Mr. Carruthers apologized to me next day, and assured me that I should never be
exposed to such an insult again.
I have not seen Mr. Woodley since. "And now, Mr. Holmes, I come at last to
the special thing which has caused me to ask your advice to-day.
You must know that every Saturday forenoon I ride on my bicycle to Farnham Station, in
order to get the 12:22 to town.
The road from Chiltern Grange is a lonely one, and at one spot it is particularly so,
for it lies for over a mile between Charlington Heath upon one side and the
woods which lie round Charlington Hall upon the other.
You could not find a more lonely tract of road anywhere, and it is quite rare to meet
so much as a cart, or a peasant, until you reach the high road near Crooksbury Hill.
Two weeks ago I was passing this place, when I chanced to look back over my
shoulder, and about two hundred yards behind me I saw a man, also on a bicycle.
He seemed to be a middle-aged man, with a short, dark beard.
I looked back before I reached Farnham, but the man was gone, so I thought no more
about it.
But you can imagine how surprised I was, Mr. Holmes, when, on my return on the
Monday, I saw the same man on the same stretch of road.
My astonishment was increased when the incident occurred again, exactly as before,
on the following Saturday and Monday.
He always kept his distance and did not molest me in any way, but still it
certainly was very odd.
I mentioned it to Mr. Carruthers, who seemed interested in what I said, and told
me that he had ordered a horse and trap, so that in future I should not pass over these
lonely roads without some companion.
"The horse and trap were to have come this week, but for some reason they were not
delivered, and again I had to cycle to the station.
That was this morning.
You can think that I looked out when I came to Charlington Heath, and there, sure
enough, was the man, exactly as he had been the two weeks before.
He always kept so far from me that I could not clearly see his face, but it was
certainly someone whom I did not know. He was dressed in a dark suit with a cloth
cap.
The only thing about his face that I could clearly see was his dark beard.
To-day I was not alarmed, but I was filled with curiosity, and I determined to find
out who he was and what he wanted.
I slowed down my machine, but he slowed down his.
Then I stopped altogether, but he stopped also.
Then I laid a trap for him.
There is a sharp turning of the road, and I pedalled very quickly round this, and then
I stopped and waited. I expected him to shoot round and pass me
before he could stop.
But he never appeared. Then I went back and looked round the
corner. I could see a mile of road, but he was not
on it.
To make it the more extraordinary, there was no side road at this point down which
he could have gone." Holmes chuckled and rubbed his hands.
"This case certainly presents some features of its own," said he.
"How much time elapsed between your turning the corner and your discovery that the road
was clear?"
"Two or three minutes." "Then he could not have retreated down the
road, and you say that there are no side roads?"
"None."
"Then he certainly took a footpath on one side or the other."
"It could not have been on the side of the heath, or I should have seen him."
"So, by the process of exclusion, we arrive at the fact that he made his way toward
Charlington Hall, which, as I understand, is situated in its own grounds on one side
of the road.
Anything else?" "Nothing, Mr. Holmes, save that I was so
perplexed that I felt I should not be happy until I had seen you and had your advice."
Holmes sat in silence for some little time.
"Where is the gentleman to whom you are engaged?" he asked at last.
"He is in the Midland Electrical Company, at Coventry."
"He would not pay you a surprise visit?"
"Oh, Mr. Holmes! As if I should not know him!"
"Have you had any other admirers?" "Several before I knew Cyril."
"And since?"
"There was this dreadful man, Woodley, if you can call him an admirer."
"No one else?" Our fair client seemed a little confused.
"Who was he?" asked Holmes.
"Oh, it may be a mere fancy of mine; but it had seemed to me sometimes that my
employer, Mr. Carruthers, takes a great deal of interest in me.
We are thrown rather together.
I play his accompaniments in the evening. He has never said anything.
He is a perfect gentleman. But a girl always knows."
"Ha!"
Holmes looked grave. "What does he do for a living?"
"He is a rich man." "No carriages or horses?"
"Well, at least he is fairly well-to-do.
But he goes into the city two or three times a week.
He is deeply interested in South African gold shares."
"You will let me know any fresh development, Miss Smith.
I am very busy just now, but I will find time to make some inquiries into your case.
In the meantime, take no step without letting me know.
Good-bye, and I trust that we shall have nothing but good news from you."
"It is part of the settled order of Nature that such a girl should have followers,"
said Holmes, he pulled at his meditative pipe, "but for choice not on bicycles in
lonely country roads.
Some secretive lover, beyond all doubt. But there are curious and suggestive
details about the case, Watson." "That he should appear only at that point?"
"Exactly.
Our first effort must be to find who are the tenants of Charlington Hall.
Then, again, how about the connection between Carruthers and Woodley, since they
appear to be men of such a different type?
How came they BOTH to be so keen upon looking up Ralph Smith's relations?
One more point.
What sort of a menage is it which pays double the market price for a governess but
does not keep a horse, although six miles from the station?
Odd, Watson--very odd!"
"You will go down?" "No, my dear fellow, YOU will go down.
This may be some trifling intrigue, and I cannot break my other important research
for the sake of it.
On Monday you will arrive early at Farnham; you will conceal yourself near Charlington
Heath; you will observe these facts for yourself, and act as your own judgment
advises.
Then, having inquired as to the occupants of the Hall, you will come back to me and
report.
And now, Watson, not another word of the matter until we have a few solid stepping-
stones on which we may hope to get across to our solution."
We had ascertained from the lady that she went down upon the Monday by the train
which leaves Waterloo at 9:50, so I started early and caught the 9:13.
At Farnham Station I had no difficulty in being directed to Charlington Heath.
It was impossible to mistake the scene of the young lady's adventure, for the road
runs between the open heath on one side and an old yew hedge upon the other,
surrounding a park which is studded with magnificent trees.
There was a main gateway of lichen-studded stone, each side pillar surmounted by
mouldering heraldic emblems, but besides this central carriage drive I observed
several points where there were gaps in the hedge and paths leading through them.
The house was invisible from the road, but the surroundings all spoke of gloom and
decay.
The heath was covered with golden patches of flowering gorse, gleaming magnificently
in the light of the bright spring sunshine.
Behind one of these clumps I took up my position, so as to command both the gateway
of the Hall and a long stretch of the road upon either side.
It had been deserted when I left it, but now I saw a cyclist riding down it from the
opposite direction to that in which I had come.
He was clad in a dark suit, and I saw that he had a black beard.
On reaching the end of the Charlington grounds, he sprang from his machine and led
it through a gap in the hedge, disappearing from my view.
A quarter of an hour passed, and then a second cyclist appeared.
This time it was the young lady coming from the station.
I saw her look about her as she came to the Charlington hedge.
An instant later the man emerged from his hiding-place, sprang upon his cycle, and
followed her.
In all the broad landscape those were the only moving figures, the graceful girl
sitting very straight upon her machine, and the man behind her bending low over his
handle-bar with a curiously furtive suggestion in every movement.
She looked back at him and slowed her pace. He slowed also.
She stopped.
He at once stopped, too, keeping two hundred yards behind her.
Her next movement was as unexpected as it was spirited.
She suddenly whisked her wheels round and dashed straight at him.
He was as quick as she, however, and darted off in desperate flight.
Presently she came back up the road again, her head haughtily in the air, not deigning
to take any further notice of her silent attendant.
He had turned also, and still kept his distance until the curve of the road hid
them from my sight.
I remained in my hiding-place, and it was well that I did so, for presently the man
reappeared, cycling slowly back. He turned in at the Hall gates, and
dismounted from his machine.
For some minutes I could see him standing among the trees.
His hands were raised, and he seemed to be settling his necktie.
Then he mounted his cycle, and rode away from me down the drive towards the Hall.
I ran across the heath and peered through the trees.
Far away I could catch glimpses of the old gray building with its bristling Tudor
chimneys, but the drive ran through a dense shrubbery, and I saw no more of my man.
However, it seemed to me that I had done a fairly good morning's work, and I walked
back in high spirits to Farnham.
The local house agent could tell me nothing about Charlington Hall, and referred me to
a well known firm in Pall Mall. There I halted on my way home, and met with
courtesy from the representative.
No, I could not have Charlington Hall for the summer.
I was just too late. It had been let about a month ago.
Mr. Williamson was the name of the tenant.
He was a respectable, elderly gentleman. The polite agent was afraid he could say no
more, as the affairs of his clients were not matters which he could discuss.
Mr. Sherlock Holmes listened with attention to the long report which I was
able to present to him that evening, but it did not elicit that word of curt praise
which I had hoped for and should have valued.
On the contrary, his austere face was even more severe than usual as he commented upon
the things that I had done and the things that I had not.
"Your hiding-place, my dear Watson, was very faulty.
You should have been behind the hedge, then you would have had a close view of this
interesting person.
As it is, you were some hundreds of yards away and can tell me even less than Miss
Smith. She thinks she does not know the man; I am
convinced she does.
Why, otherwise, should he be so desperately anxious that she should not get so near him
as to see his features? You describe him as bending over the
handle-bar.
Concealment again, you see. You really have done remarkably badly.
He returns to the house, and you want to find out who he is.
You come to a London house agent!"
"What should I have done?" I cried, with some heat.
"Gone to the nearest public-house. That is the centre of country gossip.
They would have told you every name, from the master to the scullery-maid.
Williamson? It conveys nothing to my mind.
If he is an elderly man he is not this active cyclist who sprints away from that
young lady's athletic pursuit. What have we gained by your expedition?
The knowledge that the girl's story is true.
I never doubted it. That there is a connection between the
cyclist and the Hall.
I never doubted that either. That the Hall is tenanted by Williamson.
Who's the better for that? Well, well, my dear sir, don't look so
depressed.
We can do little more until next Saturday, and in the meantime I may make one or two
inquiries myself."
Next morning, we had a note from Miss Smith, recounting shortly and accurately
the very incidents which I had seen, but the pith of the letter lay in the
postscript:
I am sure that you will respect my confidence, Mr. Holmes, when I tell you
that my place here has become difficult, owing to the fact that my employer has
proposed marriage to me.
I am convinced that his feelings are most deep and most honourable.
At the same time, my promise is of course given.
He took my refusal very seriously, but also very gently.
You can understand, however, that the situation is a little strained.
"Our young friend seems to be getting into deep waters," said Holmes, thoughtfully, as
he finished the letter.
"The case certainly presents more features of interest and more possibility of
development than I had originally thought.
I should be none the worse for a quiet, peaceful day in the country, and I am
inclined to run down this afternoon and test one or two theories which I have
formed."
Holmes's quiet day in the country had a singular termination, for he arrived at
Baker Street late in the evening, with a cut lip and a discoloured lump upon his
forehead, besides a general air of
dissipation which would have made his own person the fitting object of a Scotland
Yard investigation.
He was immensely tickled by his own adventures and laughed heartily as he
recounted them. "I get so little active exercise that it is
always a treat," said he.
"You are aware that I have some proficiency in the good old British sport of boxing.
Occasionally, it is of service, to-day, for example, I should have come to very
ignominious grief without it."
I begged him to tell me what had occurred. "I found that country pub which I had
already recommended to your notice, and there I made my discreet inquiries.
I was in the bar, and a garrulous landlord was giving me all that I wanted.
Williamson is a white-bearded man, and he lives alone with a small staff of servants
at the Hall.
There is some rumor that he is or has been a clergyman, but one or two incidents of
his short residence at the Hall struck me as peculiarly unecclesiastical.
I have already made some inquiries at a clerical agency, and they tell me that
there WAS a man of that name in orders, whose career has been a singularly dark
one.
The landlord further informed me that there are usually week-end visitors--'a warm lot,
sir'--at the Hall, and especially one gentleman with a red moustache, Mr.
Woodley by name, who was always there.
We had got as far as this, when who should walk in but the gentleman himself, who had
been drinking his beer in the tap-room and had heard the whole conversation.
Who was I?
What did I want? What did I mean by asking questions?
He had a fine flow of language, and his adjectives were very vigorous.
He ended a string of abuse by a vicious backhander, which I failed to entirely
avoid. The next few minutes were delicious.
It was a straight left against a slogging ruffian.
I emerged as you see me. Mr. Woodley went home in a cart.
So ended my country trip, and it must be confessed that, however enjoyable, my day
on the Surrey border has not been much more profitable than your own."
The Thursday brought us another letter from our client.
You will not be surprised, Mr. Holmes [said she] to hear that I am leaving Mr.
Carruthers's employment.
Even the high pay cannot reconcile me to the discomforts of my situation.
On Saturday I come up to town, and I do not intend to return.
Mr. Carruthers has got a trap, and so the dangers of the lonely road, if there ever
were any dangers, are now over.
As to the special cause of my leaving, it is not merely the strained situation with
Mr. Carruthers, but it is the reappearance of that odious man, Mr. Woodley.
He was always hideous, but he looks more awful than ever now, for he appears to have
had an accident and he is much disfigured. I saw him out of the window, but I am glad
to say I did not meet him.
He had a long talk with Mr. Carruthers, who seemed much excited afterwards.
Woodley must be staying in the neighbourhood, for he did not sleep here,
and yet I caught a glimpse of him again this morning, slinking about in the
shrubbery.
I would sooner have a savage wild animal loose about the place.
I loathe and fear him more than I can say. How CAN Mr. Carruthers endure such a
creature for a moment?
However, all my troubles will be over on Saturday.
"So I trust, Watson, so I trust," said Holmes, gravely.
"There is some deep intrigue going on round that little woman, and it is our duty to
see that no one molests her upon that last journey.
I think, Watson, that we must spare time to run down together on Saturday morning and
make sure that this curious and inclusive investigation has no untoward ending."
I confess that I had not up to now taken a very serious view of the case, which had
seemed to me rather grotesque and bizarre than dangerous.
That a man should lie in wait for and follow a very handsome woman is no unheard-
of thing, and if he has so little audacity that he not only dared not address her, but
even fled from her approach, he was not a very formidable assailant.
The ruffian Woodley was a very different person, but, except on one occasion, he had
not molested our client, and now he visited the house of Carruthers without intruding
upon her presence.
The man on the bicycle was doubtless a member of those week-end parties at the
Hall of which the publican had spoken, but who he was, or what he wanted, was as
obscure as ever.
It was the severity of Holmes's manner and the fact that he slipped a revolver into
his pocket before leaving our rooms which impressed me with the feeling that tragedy
might prove to lurk behind this curious train of events.
A rainy night had been followed by a glorious morning, and the heath-covered
countryside, with the glowing clumps of flowering gorse, seemed all the more
beautiful to eyes which were weary of the duns and drabs and slate grays of London.
Holmes and I walked along the broad, sandy road inhaling the fresh morning air and
rejoicing in the music of the birds and the fresh breath of the spring.
From a rise of the road on the shoulder of Crooksbury Hill, we could see the grim Hall
bristling out from amidst the ancient oaks, which, old as they were, were still younger
than the building which they surrounded.
Holmes pointed down the long tract of road which wound, a reddish yellow band, between
the brown of the heath and the budding green of the woods.
Far away, a black dot, we could see a vehicle moving in our direction.
Holmes gave an exclamation of impatience. "I have given a margin of half an hour,"
said he.
"If that is her trap, she must be making for the earlier train.
I fear, Watson, that she will be past Charlington before we can possibly meet
her."
From the instant that we passed the rise, we could no longer see the vehicle, but we
hastened onward at such a pace that my sedentary life began to tell upon me, and I
was compelled to fall behind.
Holmes, however, was always in training, for he had inexhaustible stores of nervous
energy upon which to draw.
His springy step never slowed until suddenly, when he was a hundred yards in
front of me, he halted, and I saw him throw up his hand with a gesture of grief and
despair.
At the same instant an empty dog-cart, the horse cantering, the reins trailing,
appeared round the curve of the road and rattled swiftly towards us.
"Too late, Watson, too late!" cried Holmes, as I ran panting to his side.
"Fool that I was not to allow for that earlier train!
It's abduction, Watson--abduction!
Murder! Heaven knows what!
Block the road! Stop the horse!
That's right.
Now, jump in, and let us see if I can repair the consequences of my own blunder."
We had sprung into the dog-cart, and Holmes, after turning the horse, gave it a
sharp cut with the whip, and we flew back along the road.
As we turned the curve, the whole stretch of road between the Hall and the heath was
opened up. I grasped Holmes's arm.
"That's the man!"
I gasped. A solitary cyclist was coming towards us.
His head was down and his shoulders rounded, as he put every ounce of energy
that he possessed on to the pedals.
He was flying like a racer. Suddenly he raised his bearded face, saw us
close to him, and pulled up, springing from his machine.
That coal-black beard was in singular contrast to eyes were as bright as if he
had a fever. He stared at us and at the dog-cart.
Then a look of amazement came over his face.
"Halloa! Stop there!" he shouted, holding his
bicycle to block our road.
"Where did you get that dog-cart? Pull up, man!" he yelled, drawing a pistol
from his side "Pull up, I say, or, by George, I'll put a bullet into your horse."
Holmes threw the reins into my lap and sprang down from the cart.
"You're the man we want to see. Where is Miss Violet Smith?" he said, in
his quick, clear way.
"That's what I'm asking you. You're in her dog-cart.
You ought to know where she is." "We met the dog-cart on the road.
There was no one in it.
We drove back to help the young lady." "Good Lord!
Good Lord! What shall I do?" cried the stranger, in an
ecstasy of despair.
"They've got her, that hell-hound Woodley and the blackguard parson.
Come, man, come, if you really are her friend.
Stand by me and we'll save her, if I have to leave my carcass in Charlington Wood."
He ran distractedly, his pistol in his hand, towards a gap in the hedge.
Holmes followed him, and I, leaving the horse grazing beside the road, followed
Holmes.
"This is where they came through," said he, pointing to the marks of several feet upon
the muddy path. "Halloa!
Stop a minute!
Who's this in the bush?" It was a young fellow about seventeen,
dressed like an ostler, with leather cords and gaiters.
He lay upon his back, his knees drawn up, a terrible cut upon his head.
He was insensible, but alive. A glance at his wound told me that it had
not penetrated the bone.
"That's Peter, the groom," cried the stranger.
"He drove her. The beasts have pulled him off and clubbed
him.
Let him lie; we can't do him any good, but we may save her from the worst fate that
can befall a woman." We ran frantically down the path, which
wound among the trees.
We had reached the shrubbery which surrounded the house when Holmes pulled up.
"They didn't go to the house. Here are their marks on the left--here,
beside the laurel bushes.
Ah! I said so."
As he spoke, a woman's shrill scream--a scream which vibrated with a frenzy of
horror--burst from the thick, green clump of bushes in front of us.
It ended suddenly on its highest note with a choke and a gurgle.
"This way! This way!
They are in the bowling-alley," cried the stranger, darting through the bushes.
"Ah, the cowardly dogs! Follow me, gentlemen!
Too late! too late! by the living Jingo!"
We had broken suddenly into a lovely glade of greensward surrounded by ancient trees.
On the farther side of it, under the shadow of a mighty oak, there stood a singular
group of three people.
One was a woman, our client, drooping and faint, a handkerchief round her mouth.
Opposite her stood a brutal, heavy-faced, red-moustached young man, his gaitered legs
parted wide, one arm akimbo, the other waving a riding crop, his whole attitude
suggestive of triumphant bravado.
Between them an elderly, gray-bearded man, wearing a short surplice over a light tweed
suit, had evidently just completed the wedding service, for he pocketed his
prayer-book as we appeared, and slapped the
sinister bridegroom upon the back in jovial congratulation.
"They're married!" I gasped.
"Come on!" cried our guide, "come on!"
He rushed across the glade, Holmes and I at his heels.
As we approached, the lady staggered against the trunk of the tree for support.
Williamson, the ex-clergyman, bowed to us with mock politeness, and the bully,
Woodley, advanced with a shout of brutal and exultant laughter.
"You can take your beard off, Bob," said he.
"I know you, right enough.
Well, you and your pals have just come in time for me to be able to introduce you to
Mrs. Woodley." Our guide's answer was a singular one.
He snatched off the dark beard which had disguised him and threw it on the ground,
disclosing a long, sallow, clean-shaven face below it.
Then he raised his revolver and covered the young ruffian, who was advancing upon him
with his dangerous riding-crop swinging in his hand.
"Yes," said our ally, "I am Bob Carruthers, and I'll see this woman righted, if I have
to swing for it. I told you what I'd do if you molested her,
and, by the Lord!
I'll be as good as my word." "You're too late.
She's my wife." "No, she's your widow."
His revolver cracked, and I saw the blood spurt from the front of Woodley's
waistcoat.
He spun round with a scream and fell upon his back, his hideous red face turning
suddenly to a dreadful mottled pallor.
The old man, still clad in his surplice, burst into such a string of foul oaths as I
have never heard, and pulled out a revolver of his own, but, before he could raise it,
he was looking down the barrel of Holmes's weapon.
"Enough of this," said my friend, coldly. "Drop that pistol!
Watson, pick it up!
Hold it to his head. Thank you.
You, Carruthers, give me that revolver. We'll have no more violence.
Come, hand it over!"
"Who are you, then?" "My name is Sherlock Holmes."
"Good Lord!" "You have heard of me, I see.
I will represent the official police until their arrival.
Here, you!" he shouted to a frightened groom, who had appeared at the edge of the
glade.
"Come here. Take this note as hard as you can ride to
Farnham." He scribbled a few words upon a leaf from
his notebook.
"Give it to the superintendent at the police-station.
Until he comes, I must detain you all under my personal custody."
The strong, masterful personality of Holmes dominated the tragic scene, and all were
equally puppets in his hands.
Williamson and Carruthers found themselves carrying the wounded Woodley into the
house, and I gave my arm to the frightened girl.
The injured man was laid on his bed, and at Holmes's request I examined him.
I carried my report to where he sat in the old tapestry-hung dining-room with his two
prisoners before him.
"He will live," said I. "What!" cried Carruthers, springing out of
his chair. "I'll go upstairs and finish him first.
Do you tell me that that angel, is to be tied to Roaring Jack Woodley for life?"
"You need not concern yourself about that," said Holmes.
"There are two very good reasons why she should, under no circumstances, be his
wife.
In the first place, we are very safe in questioning Mr. Williamson's right to
solemnize a marriage." "I have been ordained," cried the old
rascal.
"And also unfrocked." "Once a clergyman, always a clergyman."
"I think not. How about the license?"
"We had a license for the marriage.
I have it here in my pocket." "Then you got it by trick.
But, in any case a forced marriage is no marriage, but it is a very serious felony,
as you will discover before you have finished.
You'll have time to think the point out during the next ten years or so, unless I
am mistaken. As to you, Carruthers, you would have done
better to keep your pistol in your pocket."
"I begin to think so, Mr. Holmes, but when I thought of all the precaution I had taken
to shield this girl--for I loved her, Mr. Holmes, and it is the only time that ever I
knew what love was--it fairly drove me mad
to think that she was in the power of the greatest brute and bully in South Africa--a
man whose name is a holy terror from Kimberley to Johannesburg.
Why, Mr. Holmes, you'll hardly believe it, but ever since that girl has been in my
employment I never once let her go past this house, where I knew the rascals were
lurking, without following her on my
bicycle, just to see that she came to no harm.
I kept my distance from her, and I wore a beard, so that she should not recognize me,
for she is a good and high-spirited girl, and she wouldn't have stayed in my
employment long if she had thought that I was following her about the country roads."
"Why didn't you tell her of her danger?" "Because then, again, she would have left
me, and I couldn't bear to face that.
Even if she couldn't love me, it was a great deal to me just to see her dainty
form about the house, and to hear the sound of her voice."
"Well," said I, "you call that love, Mr. Carruthers, but I should call it
selfishness." "Maybe the two things go together.
Anyhow, I couldn't let her go.
Besides, with this crowd about, it was well that she should have someone near to look
after her. Then, when the cable came, I knew they were
bound to make a move."
"What cable?" Carruthers took a telegram from his pocket
"That's it," said he. It was short and concise:
The old man is dead.
"Hum!" said Holmes. "I think I see how things worked, and I can
understand how this message would, as you say, bring them to a head.
But while you wait, you might tell me what you can."
The old reprobate with the surplice burst into a volley of bad language.
"By heaven!" said he, "if you squeal on us, Bob Carruthers, I'll serve you as you
served Jack Woodley.
You can bleat about the girl to your heart's content, for that's your own
affair, but if you round on your pals to this plain-clothes copper, it will be the
worst day's work that ever you did."
"Your reverence need not be excited," said Holmes, lighting a cigarette.
"The case is clear enough against you, and all I ask is a few details for my private
curiosity.
However, if there's any difficulty in your telling me, I'll do the talking, and then
you will see how far you have a chance of holding back your secrets.
In the first place, three of you came from South Africa on this game--you Williamson,
you Carruthers, and Woodley."
"Lie number one," said the old man; "I never saw either of them until two months
ago, and I have never been in Africa in my life, so you can put that in your pipe and
smoke it, Mr. Busybody Holmes!"
"What he says is true," said Carruthers. "Well, well, two of you came over.
His reverence is our own homemade article. You had known Ralph Smith in South Africa.
You had reason to believe he would not live long.
You found out that his niece would inherit his fortune.
How's that--eh?"
Carruthers nodded and Williamson swore. "She was next of kin, no doubt, and you
were aware that the old fellow would make no will."
"Couldn't read or write," said Carruthers.
"So you came over, the two of you, and hunted up the girl.
The idea was that one of you was to marry her, and the other have a share of the
plunder.
For some reason, Woodley was chosen as the husband.
Why was that?" "We played cards for her on the voyage.
He won."
"I see. You got the young lady into your service,
and there Woodley was to do the courting. She recognized the drunken brute that he
was, and would have nothing to do with him.
Meanwhile, your arrangement was rather upset by the fact that you had yourself
fallen in love with the lady. You could no longer bear the idea of this
ruffian owning her?"
"No, by George, I couldn't!" "There was a quarrel between you.
He left you in a rage, and began to make his own plans independently of you."
"It strikes me, Williamson, there isn't very much that we can tell this gentleman,"
cried Carruthers, with a bitter laugh. "Yes, we quarreled, and he knocked me down.
I am level with him on that, anyhow.
Then I lost sight of him. That was when he picked up with this
outcast padre here.
I found that they had set up housekeeping together at this place on the line that she
had to pass for the station. I kept my eye on her after that, for I knew
there was some devilry in the wind.
I saw them from time to time, for I was anxious to know what they were after.
Two days ago Woodley came up to my house with this cable, which showed that Ralph
Smith was dead.
He asked me if I would stand by the bargain.
I said I would not. He asked me if I would marry the girl
myself and give him a share.
I said I would willingly do so, but that she would not have me.
He said, 'Let us get her married first and after a week or two she may see things a
bit different.'
I said I would have nothing to do with violence.
So he went off cursing, like the foul- mouthed blackguard that he was, and
swearing that he would have her yet.
She was leaving me this week-end, and I had got a trap to take her to the station, but
I was so uneasy in my mind that I followed her on my bicycle.
She had got a start, however, and before I could catch her, the mischief was done.
The first thing I knew about it was when I saw you two gentlemen driving back in her
dog-cart."
Holmes rose and tossed the end of his cigarette into the grate.
"I have been very obtuse, Watson," said he.
"When in your report you said that you had seen the cyclist as you thought arrange his
necktie in the shrubbery, that alone should have told me all.
However, we may congratulate ourselves upon a curious and, in some respects, a unique
case.
I perceive three of the county constabulary in the drive, and I am glad to see that the
little ostler is able to keep pace with them, so it is likely that neither he nor
the interesting bridegroom will be
permanently damaged by their morning's adventures.
I think, Watson, that in your medical capacity, you might wait upon Miss Smith
and tell her that if she is sufficiently recovered, we shall be happy to escort her
to her mother's home.
If she is not quite convalescent you will find that a hint that we were about to
telegraph to a young electrician in the Midlands would probably complete the cure.
As to you, Mr. Carruthers, I think that you have done what you could to make amends
for your share in an evil plot.
There is my card, sir, and if my evidence can be of help in your trial, it shall be
at your disposal."
In the whirl of our incessant activity, it has often been difficult for me, as the
reader has probably observed, to round off my narratives, and to give those final
details which the curious might expect.
Each case has been the prelude to another, and the crisis once over, the actors have
passed for ever out of our busy lives.
I find, however, a short note at the end of my manuscript dealing with this case, in
which I have put it upon record that Miss Violet Smith did indeed inherit a large
fortune, and that she is now the wife of
Cyril Morton, the senior partner of Morton & Kennedy, the famous Westminster
electricians.
Williamson and Woodley were both tried for abduction and assault, the former getting
seven years the latter ten.
Of the fate of Carruthers, I have no record, but I am sure that his assault was
not viewed very gravely by the court, since Woodley had the reputation of being a most
dangerous ruffian, and I think that a few,
months were sufficient to satisfy the demands of justice.
>
THE ADVENTURE OF THE PRIORY SCHOOL
We have had some dramatic entrances and exits upon our small stage at Baker Street,
but I cannot recollect anything more sudden and startling than the first appearance of
Thorneycroft Huxtable, M.A., Ph.D., etc.
His card, which seemed too small to carry the weight of his academic distinctions,
preceded him by a few seconds, and then he entered himself--so large, so pompous, and
so dignified that he was the very embodiment of self-possession and solidity.
And yet his first action, when the door had closed behind him, was to stagger against
the table, whence he slipped down upon the floor, and there was that majestic figure
prostrate and insensible upon our bearskin hearth-rug.
We had sprung to our feet, and for a few moments we stared in silent amazement at
this ponderous piece of wreckage, which told of some sudden and fatal storm far out
on the ocean of life.
Then Holmes hurried with a cushion for his head, and I with brandy for his lips.
The heavy, white face was seamed with lines of trouble, the hanging pouches under the
closed eyes were leaden in colour, the loose mouth drooped dolorously at the
corners, the rolling chins were unshaven.
Collar and shirt bore the grime of a long journey, and the hair bristled unkempt from
the well-shaped head. It was a sorely stricken man who lay before
us.
"What is it, Watson?" asked Holmes. "Absolute exhaustion--possibly mere hunger
and fatigue," said I, with my finger on the thready pulse, where the stream of life
trickled thin and small.
"Return ticket from Mackleton, in the north of England," said Holmes, drawing it from
the watch-pocket. "It is not twelve o'clock yet.
He has certainly been an early starter."
The puckered eyelids had begun to quiver, and now a pair of vacant gray eyes looked
up at us. An instant later the man had scrambled on
to his feet, his face crimson with shame.
"Forgive this weakness, Mr. Holmes, I have been a little overwrought.
Thank you, if I might have a glass of milk and a biscuit, I have no doubt that I
should be better.
I came personally, Mr. Holmes, in order to insure that you would return with me.
I feared that no telegram would convince you of the absolute urgency of the case."
"When you are quite restored----"
"I am quite well again. I cannot imagine how I came to be so weak.
I wish you, Mr. Holmes, to come to Mackleton with me by the next train."
My friend shook his head.
"My colleague, Dr. Watson, could tell you that we are very busy at present.
I am retained in this case of the Ferrers Documents, and the Abergavenny murder is
coming up for trial.
Only a very important issue could call me from London at present."
"Important!" Our visitor threw up his hands.
"Have you heard nothing of the abduction of the only son of the Duke of Holdernesse?"
"What! the late Cabinet Minister?" "Exactly.
We had tried to keep it out of the papers, but there was some rumor in the GLOBE last
night. I thought it might have reached your ears."
Holmes shot out his long, thin arm and picked out Volume "H" in his encyclopaedia
of reference. "'Holdernesse, 6th Duke, K.G., P.C.'--half
the alphabet!
'Baron Beverley, Earl of Carston'--dear me, what a list!
'Lord Lieutenant of Hallamshire since 1900. Married Edith, daughter of Sir Charles
Appledore, 1888.
Heir and only child, Lord Saltire. Owns about two hundred and fifty thousand
acres. Minerals in Lancashire and Wales.
Address: Carlton House Terrace; Holdernesse Hall, Hallamshire; Carston Castle, Bangor,
Wales.
Lord of the Admiralty, 1872; Chief Secretary of State for----' Well, well,
this man is certainly one of the greatest subjects of the Crown!"
"The greatest and perhaps the wealthiest.
I am aware, Mr. Holmes, that you take a very high line in professional matters, and
that you are prepared to work for the work's sake.
I may tell you, however, that his Grace has already intimated that a check for five
thousand pounds will be handed over to the person who can tell him where his son is,
and another thousand to him who can name the man or men who have taken him."
"It is a princely offer," said Holmes. "Watson, I think that we shall accompany
Dr. Huxtable back to the north of England.
And now, Dr. Huxtable, when you have consumed that milk, you will kindly tell me
what has happened, when it happened, how it happened, and, finally, what Dr.
Thorneycroft Huxtable, of the Priory
School, near Mackleton, has to do with the matter, and why he comes three days after
an event--the state of your chin gives the date--to ask for my humble services."
Our visitor had consumed his milk and biscuits.
The light had come back to his eyes and the colour to his cheeks, as he set himself
with great vigour and lucidity to explain the situation.
"I must inform you, gentlemen, that the Priory is a preparatory school, of which I
am the founder and principal. HUXTABLE'S SIDELIGHTS ON HORACE may
possibly recall my name to your memories.
The Priory is, without exception, the best and most select preparatory school in
England.
Lord Leverstoke, the Earl of Blackwater, Sir Cathcart Soames--they all have
intrusted their sons to me.
But I felt that my school had reached its zenith when, weeks ago, the Duke of
Holdernesse sent Mr. James Wilder, his secretary, with intimation that young Lord
Saltire, ten years old, his only son and
heir, was about to be committed to my charge.
Little did I think that this would be the prelude to the most crushing misfortune of
my life.
"On May 1st the boy arrived, that being the beginning of the summer term.
He was a charming youth, and he soon fell into our ways.
I may tell you--I trust that I am not indiscreet, but half-confidences are absurd
in such a case--that he was not entirely happy at home.
It is an open secret that the Duke's married life had not been a peaceful one,
and the matter had ended in a separation by mutual consent, the Duchess taking up her
residence in the south of France.
This had occurred very shortly before, and the boy's sympathies are known to have been
strongly with his mother.
He moped after her departure from Holdernesse Hall, and it was for this
reason that the Duke desired to send him to my establishment.
In a fortnight the boy was quite at home with us and was apparently absolutely
happy. "He was last seen on the night of May 13th-
-that is, the night of last Monday.
His room was on the second floor and was approached through another larger room, in
which two boys were sleeping.
These boys saw and heard nothing, so that it is certain that young Saltire did not
pass out that way. His window was open, and there is a stout
ivy plant leading to the ground.
We could trace no footmarks below, but it is sure that this is the only possible
exit. "His absence was discovered at seven
o'clock on Tuesday morning.
His bed had been slept in. He had dressed himself fully, before going
off, in his usual school suit of black Eton jacket and dark gray trousers.
There were no signs that anyone had entered the room, and it is quite certain that
anything in the nature of cries or ones struggle would have been heard, since
Caunter, the elder boy in the inner room, is a very light sleeper.
"When Lord Saltire's disappearance was discovered, I at once called a roll of the
whole establishment--boys, masters, and servants.
It was then that we ascertained that Lord Saltire had not been alone in his flight.
Heidegger, the German master, was missing.
His room was on the second floor, at the farther end of the building, facing the
same way as Lord Saltire's.
His bed had also been slept in, but he had apparently gone away partly dressed, since
his shirt and socks were lying on the floor.
He had undoubtedly let himself down by the ivy, for we could see the marks of his feet
where he had landed on the lawn. His bicycle was kept in a small shed beside
this lawn, and it also was gone.
"He had been with me for two years, and came with the best references, but he was a
silent, morose man, not very popular either with masters or boys.
No trace could be found of the fugitives, and now, on Thursday morning, we are as
ignorant as we were on Tuesday. Inquiry was, of course, made at once at
Holdernesse Hall.
It is only a few miles away, and we imagined that, in some sudden attack of
homesickness, he had gone back to his father, but nothing had been heard of him.
The Duke is greatly agitated, and, as to me, you have seen yourselves the state of
nervous prostration to which the suspense and the responsibility have reduced me.
Mr. Holmes, if ever you put forward your full powers, I implore you to do so now,
for never in your life could you have a case which is more worthy of them."
Sherlock Holmes had listened with the utmost intentness to the statement of the
unhappy schoolmaster.
His drawn brows and the deep furrow between them showed that he needed no exhortation
to concentrate all his attention upon a problem which, apart from the tremendous
interests involved must appeal so directly to his love of the complex and the unusual.
He now drew out his notebook and jotted down one or two memoranda.
"You have been very remiss in not coming to me sooner," said he, severely.
"You start me on my investigation with a very serious handicap.
It is inconceivable, for example, that this ivy and this lawn would have yielded
nothing to an expert observer." "I am not to blame, Mr. Holmes.
His Grace was extremely desirous to avoid all public scandal.
He was afraid of his family unhappiness being dragged before the world.
He has a deep horror of anything of the kind."
"But there has been some official investigation?"
"Yes, sir, and it has proved most disappointing.
An apparent clue was at once obtained, since a boy and a young man were reported
to have been seen leaving a neighbouring station by an early train.
Only last night we had news that the couple had been hunted down in Liverpool, and they
prove to have no connection whatever with the matter in hand.
Then it was that in my despair and disappointment, after a sleepless night, I
came straight to you by the early train."
"I suppose the local investigation was relaxed while this false clue was being
followed up?" "It was entirely dropped."
"So that three days have been wasted.
The affair has been most deplorably handled."
"I feel it and admit it." "And yet the problem should be capable of
ultimate solution.
I shall be very happy to look into it. Have you been able to trace any connection
between the missing boy and this German master?"
"None at all."
"Was he in the master's class?" "No, he never exchanged a word with him, so
far as I know." "That is certainly very singular.
Had the boy a bicycle?"
"No." "Was any other bicycle missing?"
"No." "Is that certain?"
"Quite."
"Well, now, you do not mean to seriously suggest that this German rode off upon a
bicycle in the dead of the night, bearing the boy in his arms?"
"Certainly not."
"Then what is the theory in your mind?" "The bicycle may have been a blind.
It may have been hidden somewhere, and the pair gone off on foot."
"Quite so, but it seems rather an absurd blind, does it not?
Were there other bicycles in this shed?" "Several."
"Would he not have hidden a couple, had he desired to give the idea that they had gone
off upon them?" "I suppose he would."
"Of course he would.
The blind theory won't do. But the incident is an admirable starting-
point for an investigation. After all, a bicycle is not an easy thing
to conceal or to destroy.
One other question. Did anyone call to see the boy on the day
before he disappeared?" "No."
"Did he get any letters?"
"Yes, one letter." "From whom?"
"From his father." "Do you open the boys' letters?"
"No."
"How do you know it was from the father?" "The coat of arms was on the envelope, and
it was addressed in the Duke's peculiar stiff hand.
Besides, the Duke remembers having written."
"When had he a letter before that?" "Not for several days."
"Had he ever one from France?"
"No, never. "You see the point of my questions, of
course. Either the boy was carried off by force or
he went of his own free will.
In the latter case, you would expect that some prompting from outside would be needed
to make so young a lad do such a thing.
If he has had no visitors, that prompting must have come in letters; hence I try to
find out who were his correspondents." "I fear I cannot help you much.
His only correspondent, so far as I know, was his own father."
"Who wrote to him on the very day of his disappearance.
Were the relations between father and son very friendly?"
"His Grace is never very friendly with anyone.
He is completely immersed in large public questions, and is rather inaccessible to
all ordinary emotions. But he was always kind to the boy in his
own way."
"But the sympathies of the latter were with the mother?"
"Yes." "Did he say so?"
"No."
"The Duke, then?" "Good heaven, no!"
"Then how could you know?" "I have had some confidential talks with
Mr. James Wilder, his Graces secretary.
It was he who gave me the information about Lord Saltire's feelings."
"I see.
By the way, that last letter of the Dukes-- was it found in the boy's room after he was
gone?" "No, he had taken it with him.
I think, Mr. Holmes, it is time that we were leaving for Euston."
"I will order a four-wheeler. In a quarter of an hour, we shall be at
your service.
If you are telegraphing home, Mr. Huxtable, it would be well to allow the
people in your neighbourhood to imagine that the inquiry is still going on in
Liverpool, or wherever else that red herring led your pack.
In the meantime I will do a little quiet work at your own doors, and perhaps the
scent is not so cold but that two old hounds like Watson and myself may get a
sniff of it."
That evening found us in the cold, bracing atmosphere of the Peak country, in which
Dr. Huxtable's famous school is situated. It was already dark when we reached it.
A card was lying on the hall table, and the butler whispered something to his master,
who turned to us with agitation in every heavy feature.
"The Duke is here," said he.
"The Duke and Mr. Wilder are in the study. Come, gentlemen, and I will introduce you."
I was, of course, familiar with the pictures of the famous statesman, but the
man himself was very different from his representation.
He was a tall and stately person, scrupulously dressed, with a drawn, thin
face, and a nose which was grotesquely curved and long.
His complexion was of a dead pallor, which was more startling by contrast with a long,
dwindling beard of vivid red, which flowed down over his white waistcoat with his
watch-chain gleaming through its fringe.
Such was the stately presence who looked stonily at us from the centre of Dr.
Huxtable's hearthrug.
Beside him stood a very young man, whom I understood to be Wilder, the private
secretary.
He was small, nervous, alert with intelligent light-blue eyes and mobile
features. It was he who at once, in an incisive and
positive tone, opened the conversation.
"I called this morning, Dr. Huxtable, too late to prevent you from starting for
London.
I learned that your object was to invite Mr. Sherlock Holmes to undertake the
conduct of this case.
His Grace is surprised, Dr. Huxtable, that you should have taken such a step without
consulting him." "When I learned that the police had failed-
---"
"His Grace is by no means convinced that the police have failed."
"But surely, Mr. Wilder----"
"You are well aware, Dr. Huxtable, that his Grace is particularly anxious to avoid
all public scandal. He prefers to take as few people as
possible into his confidence."
"The matter can be easily remedied," said the brow-beaten doctor; " Mr. Sherlock
Holmes can return to London by the morning train."
"Hardly that, Doctor, hardly that," said Holmes, in his blandest voice.
"This northern air is invigorating and pleasant, so I propose to spend a few days
upon your moors, and to occupy my mind as best I may.
Whether I have the shelter of your roof or of the village inn is, of course, for you
to decide."
I could see that the unfortunate doctor was in the last stage of indecision, from which
he was rescued by the deep, sonorous voice of the red-bearded Duke, which boomed out
like a dinner-gong.
"I agree with Mr. Wilder, Dr. Huxtable, that you would have done wisely to consult
me.
But since Mr. Holmes has already been taken into your confidence, it would indeed
be absurd that we should not avail ourselves of his services.
Far from going to the inn, Mr. Holmes, I should be pleased if you would come and
stay with me at Holdernesse Hall." "I thank your Grace.
For the purposes of my investigation, I think that it would be wiser for me to
remain at the scene of the mystery." "Just as you like, Mr. Holmes.
Any information which Mr. Wilder or I can give you is, of course, at your disposal."
"It will probably be necessary for me to see you at the Hall," said Holmes.
"I would only ask you now, sir, whether you have formed any explanation in your own
mind as to the mysterious disappearance of your son?"
"No sir I have not."
"Excuse me if I allude to that which is painful to you, but I have no alternative.
Do you think that the Duchess had anything to do with the matter?"
The great minister showed perceptible hesitation.
"I do not think so," he said, at last.
"The other most obvious explanation is that the child has been kidnapped for the
purpose of levying ransom. You have not had any demand of the sort?"
"No, sir."
"One more question, your Grace. I understand that you wrote to your son
upon the day when this incident occurred." "No, I wrote upon the day before."
"Exactly.
But he received it on that day?" "Yes."
"Was there anything in your letter which might have unbalanced him or induced him to
take such a step?"
"No, sir, certainly not." "Did you post that letter yourself?"
The nobleman's reply was interrupted by his secretary, who broke in with some heat.
"His Grace is not in the habit of posting letters himself," said he.
"This letter was laid with others upon the study table, and I myself put them in the
post-bag."
"You are sure this one was among them?" "Yes, I observed it."
"How many letters did your Grace write that day?"
"Twenty or thirty.
I have a large correspondence. But surely this is somewhat irrelevant?"
"Not entirely," said Holmes.
"For my own part," the Duke continued, "I have advised the police to turn their
attention to the south of France.
I have already said that I do not believe that the Duchess would encourage so
monstrous an action, but the lad had the most wrong-headed opinions, and it is
possible that he may have fled to her, aided and abetted by this German.
I think, Dr. Huxtable, that we will now return to the Hall."
I could see that there were other questions which Holmes would have wished to put, but
the nobleman's abrupt manner showed that the interview was at an end.
It was evident that to his intensely aristocratic nature this discussion of his
intimate family affairs with a stranger was most abhorrent, and that he feared lest
every fresh question would throw a fiercer
light into the discreetly shadowed corners of his ducal history.
When the nobleman and his secretary had left, my friend flung himself at once with
characteristic eagerness into the investigation.
The boy's chamber was carefully examined, and yielded nothing save the absolute
conviction that it was only through the window that he could have escaped.
The German master's room and effects gave no further clue.
In his case a trailer of ivy had given way under his weight, and we saw by the light
of a lantern the mark on the lawn where his heels had come down.
That one dint in the short, green grass was the only material witness left of this
inexplicable nocturnal flight. Sherlock Holmes left the house alone, and
only returned after eleven.
He had obtained a large ordnance map of the neighbourhood, and this he brought into my
room, where he laid it out on the bed, and, having balanced the lamp in the middle of
it, he began to smoke over it, and
occasionally to point out objects of interest with the reeking amber of his
pipe. "This case grows upon me, Watson," said he.
"There are decidedly some points of interest in connection with it.
In this early stage, I want you to realize those geographical features which may have
a good deal to do with our investigation.
"Look at this map. This dark square is the Priory School.
I'll put a pin in it. Now, this line is the main road.
You see that it runs east and west past the school, and you see also that there is no
side road for a mile either way. If these two folk passed away by road, it
was THIS road."
GRAPHIC "Exactly."
"By a singular and happy chance, we are able to some extent to check what passed
along this road during the night in question.
At this point, where my pipe is now resting, a county constable was on duty
from twelve to six. It is, as you perceive, the first cross-
road on the east side.
This man declares that he was not absent from his post for an instant, and he is
positive that neither boy nor man could have gone that way unseen.
I have spoken with this policeman to-night and he appears to me to be a perfectly
reliable person. That blocks this end.
We have now to deal with the other.
There is an inn here, the Red Bull, the landlady of which was ill.
She had sent to Mackleton for a doctor, but he did not arrive until morning, being
absent at another case.
The people at the inn were alert all night, awaiting his coming, and one or other of
them seems to have continually had an eye upon the road.
They declare that no one passed.
If their evidence is good, then we are fortunate enough to be able to block the
west, and also to be able to say that the fugitives did NOT use the road at all."
"But the bicycle?"
I objected. "Quite so.
We will come to the bicycle presently.
To continue our reasoning: if these people did not go by the road, they must have
traversed the country to the north of the house or to the south of the house.
That is certain.
Let us weigh the one against the other. On the south of the house is, as you
perceive, a large district of arable land, cut up into small fields, with stone walls
between them.
There, I admit that a bicycle is impossible.
We can dismiss the idea. We turn to the country on the north.
Here there lies a grove of trees, marked as the 'Ragged Shaw,' and on the farther side
stretches a great rolling moor, Lower Gill Moor, extending for ten miles and sloping
gradually upward.
Here, at one side of this wilderness, is Holdernesse Hall, ten miles by road, but
only six across the moor. It is a peculiarly desolate plain.
A few moor farmers have small holdings, where they rear sheep and cattle.
Except these, the plover and the curlew are the only inhabitants until you come to the
Chesterfield high road.
There is a church there, you see, a few cottages, and an inn.
Beyond that the hills become precipitous. Surely it is here to the north that our
quest must lie."
"But the bicycle?" I persisted.
"Well, well!" said Holmes, impatiently. "A good cyclist does not need a high road.
The moor is intersected with paths, and the moon was at the full.
Halloa! what is this?"
There was an agitated knock at the door, and an instant afterwards Dr. Huxtable was
in the room. In his hand he held a blue cricket-cap with
a white chevron on the peak.
"At last we have a clue!" he cried. "Thank heaven! at last we are on the dear
boy's track! It is his cap."
"Where was it found?"
"In the van of the gipsies who camped on the moor.
They left on Tuesday. To-day the police traced them down and
examined their caravan.
This was found." "How do they account for it?"
"They shuffled and lied--said that they found it on the moor on Tuesday morning.
They know where he is, the rascals!
Thank goodness, they are all safe under lock and key.
Either the fear of the law or the Duke's purse will certainly get out of them all
that they know."
"So far, so good," said Holmes, when the doctor had at last left the room.
"It at least bears out the theory that it is on the side of the Lower Gill Moor that
we must hope for results.
The police have really done nothing locally, save the arrest of these gipsies.
Look here, Watson! There is a watercourse across the moor.
You see it marked here in the map.
In some parts it widens into a morass. This is particularly so in the region
between Holdernesse Hall and the school.
It is vain to look elsewhere for tracks in this dry weather, but at THAT point there
is certainly a chance of some record being left.
I will call you early to-morrow morning, and you and I will try if we can throw some
little light upon the mystery."
The day was just breaking when I woke to find the long, thin form of Holmes by my
bedside. He was fully dressed, and had apparently
already been out.
"I have done the lawn and the bicycle shed," said, he.
"I have also had a rumble through the Ragged Shaw.
Now, Watson, there is cocoa ready in the next room.
I must beg you to hurry, for we have a great day before us."
His eyes shone, and his cheek was flushed with the exhilaration of the master workman
who sees his work lie ready before him.
A very different Holmes, this active, alert man, from the introspective and pallid
dreamer of Baker Street.
I felt, as I looked upon that supple, figure, alive with nervous energy, that it
was indeed a strenuous day that awaited us. And yet it opened in the blackest
disappointment.
With high hopes we struck across the peaty, russet moor, intersected with a thousand
sheep paths, until we came to the broad, light-green belt which marked the morass
between us and Holdernesse.
Certainly, if the lad had gone homeward, he must have passed this, and he could not
pass it without leaving his traces. But no sign of him or the German could be
seen.
With a darkening face my friend strode along the margin, eagerly observant of
every muddy stain upon the mossy surface.
Sheep-marks there were in profusion, and at one place, some miles down, cows had left
their tracks. Nothing more.
"Check number one," said Holmes, looking gloomily over the rolling expanse of the
moor. "There is another morass down yonder, and a
narrow neck between.
Halloa! halloa! halloa! what have we here?" We had come on a small black ribbon of
pathway. In the middle of it, clearly marked on the
sodden soil, was the track of a bicycle.
"Hurrah!" I cried.
"We have it."
But Holmes was shaking his head, and his face was puzzled and expectant rather than
joyous. "A bicycle, certainly, but not THE
bicycle," said he.
"I am familiar with forty-two different impressions left by tires.
This, as you perceive, is a Dunlop, with a patch upon the outer cover.
Heidegger's tires were Palmer's, leaving longitudinal stripes.
Aveling, the mathematical master, was sure upon the point.
Therefore, it is not Heidegger's track."
"The boy's, then?" "Possibly, if we could prove a bicycle to
have been in his possession. But this we have utterly failed to do.
This track, as you perceive, was made by a rider who was going from the direction of
the school." "Or towards it?"
"No, no, my dear Watson.
The more deeply sunk impression is, of course, the hind wheel, upon which the
weight rests.
You perceive several places where it has passed across and obliterated the more
shallow mark of the front one. It was undoubtedly heading away from the
school.
It may or may not be connected with our inquiry, but we will follow it backwards
before we go any farther."
We did so, and at the end of a few hundred yards lost the tracks as we emerged from
the boggy portion of the moor.
Following the path backwards, we picked out another spot, where a spring trickled
across it.
Here, once again, was the mark of the bicycle, though nearly obliterated by the
hoofs of cows.
After that there was no sign, but the path ran right on into Ragged Shaw, the wood
which backed on to the school. From this wood the cycle must have emerged.
Holmes sat down on a boulder and rested his chin in his hands.
I had smoked two cigarettes before he moved.
"Well, well," said he, at last.
"It is, of course, possible that a cunning man might change the tires of his bicycle
in order to leave unfamiliar tracks.
A criminal who was capable of such a thought is a man whom I should be proud to
do business with.
We will leave this question undecided and hark back to our morass again, for we have
left a good deal unexplored."
We continued our systematic survey of the edge of the sodden portion of the moor, and
soon our perseverance was gloriously rewarded.
Right across the lower part of the bog lay a miry path.
Holmes gave a cry of delight as he approached it.
An impression like a fine bundle of telegraph wires ran down the centre of it.
It was the Palmer tires. "Here is Herr Heidegger, sure enough!"
cried Holmes, exultantly.
"My reasoning seems to have been pretty sound, Watson."
"I congratulate you." "But we have a long way still to go.
Kindly walk clear of the path.
Now let us follow the trail. I fear that it will not lead very far."
We found, however, as we advanced that this portion of the moor is intersected with
soft patches, and, though we frequently lost sight of the track, we always
succeeded in picking it up once more.
"Do you observe," said Holmes, "that the rider is now undoubtedly forcing the pace?
There can be no doubt of it. Look at this impression, where you get both
tires clear.
The one is as deep as the other. That can only mean that the rider is
throwing his weight on to the handle-bar, as a man does when he is sprinting.
By Jove! he has had a fall."
There was a broad, irregular smudge covering some yards of the track.
Then there were a few footmarks, and the tire reappeared once more.
"A side-slip," I suggested.
Holmes held up a crumpled branch of flowering gorse.
To my horror I perceived that the yellow blossoms were all dabbled with crimson.
On the path, too, and among the heather were dark stains of clotted blood.
"Bad!" said Holmes. "Bad!
Stand clear, Watson!
Not an unnecessary footstep! What do I read here?
He fell wounded--he stood up--he remounted- -he proceeded.
But there is no other track.
Cattle on this side path. He was surely not gored by a bull?
Impossible! But I see no traces of anyone else.
We must push on, Watson.
Surely, with stains as well as the track to guide us, he cannot escape us now."
Our search was not a very long one.
The tracks of the tire began to curve fantastically upon the wet and shining
path.
Suddenly, as I looked ahead, the gleam of metal caught my eye from amid the thick
gorse-bushes.
Out of them we dragged a bicycle, Palmer- tired, one pedal bent, and the whole front
of it horribly smeared and slobbered with blood.
On the other side of the bushes a shoe was projecting.
We ran round, and there lay the unfortunate rider.
He was a tall man, full-bearded, with spectacles, one glass of which had been
knocked out.
The cause of his death was a frightful blow upon the head, which had crushed in part of
his skull.
That he could have gone on after receiving such an injury said much for the vitality
and courage of the man. He wore shoes, but no socks, and his open
coat disclosed a nightshirt beneath it.
It was undoubtedly the German master. Holmes turned the body over reverently, and
examined it with great attention.
He then sat in deep thought for a time, and I could see by his ruffled brow that this
grim discovery had not, in his opinion, advanced us much in our inquiry.
"It is a little difficult to know what to do, Watson," said he, at last.
"My own inclinations are to push this inquiry on, for we have already lost so
much time that we cannot afford to waste another hour.
On the other hand, we are bound to inform the police of the discovery, and to see
that this poor fellow's body is looked after."
"I could take a note back."
"But I need your company and assistance. Wait a bit!
There is a fellow cutting peat up yonder. Bring him over here, and he will guide the
police."
I brought the peasant across, and Holmes dispatched the frightened man with a note
to Dr. Huxtable. "Now, Watson," said he, "we have picked up
two clues this morning.
One is the bicycle with the Palmer tire, and we see what that has led to.
The other is the bicycle with the patched Dunlop.
Before we start to investigate that, let us try to realize what we do know, so as to
make the most of it, and to separate the essential from the accidental."
"First of all, I wish to impress upon you that the boy certainly left of his own
free-will. He got down from his window and he went
off, either alone or with someone.
That is sure." I assented.
"Well, now, let us turn to this unfortunate German master.
The boy was fully dressed when he fled.
Therefore, he foresaw what he would do. But the German went without his socks.
He certainly acted on very short notice." "Undoubtedly."
"Why did he go?
Because, from his bedroom window, he saw the flight of the boy, because he wished to
overtake him and bring him back. He seized his bicycle, pursued the lad, and
in pursuing him met his death."
"So it would seem." "Now I come to the critical part of my
argument. The natural action of a man in pursuing a
little boy would be to run after him.
He would know that he could overtake him. But the German does not do so.
He turns to his bicycle. I am told that he was an excellent cyclist.
He would not do this, if he did not see that the boy had some swift means of
escape." "The other bicycle."
"Let us continue our reconstruction.
He meets his death five miles from the school--not by a bullet, mark you, which
even a lad might conceivably discharge, but by a savage blow dealt by a vigorous arm.
The lad, then, HAD a companion in his flight.
And the flight was a swift one, since it took five miles before an expert cyclist
could overtake them.
Yet we survey the ground round the scene of the tragedy.
What do we find? A few cattle-tracks, nothing more.
I took a wide sweep round, and there is no path within fifty yards.
Another cyclist could have had nothing to do with the actual murder, nor were there
any human foot-marks."
"Holmes," I cried, "this is impossible." "Admirable!" he said.
"A most illuminating remark.
It IS impossible as I state it, and therefore I must in some respect have
stated it wrong. Yet you saw for yourself.
Can you suggest any fallacy?"
"He could not have fractured his skull in a fall?"
"In a morass, Watson?" "I am at my wit's end."
"Tut, tut, we have solved some worse problems.
At least we have plenty of material, if we can only use it.
Come, then, and, having exhausted the Palmer, let us see what the Dunlop with the
patched cover has to offer us."
We picked up the track and followed it onward for some distance, but soon the moor
rose into a long, heather-tufted curve, and we left the watercourse behind us.
No further help from tracks could be hoped for.
At the spot where we saw the last of the Dunlop tire it might equally have led to
Holdernesse Hall, the stately towers of which rose some miles to our left, or to a
low, gray village which lay in front of us
and marked the position of the Chesterfield high road.
As we approached the forbidding and squalid inn, with the sign of a game-cock above the
door, Holmes gave a sudden groan, and clutched me by the shoulder to save himself
from falling.
He had had one of those violent strains of the ankle which leave a man helpless.
With difficulty he limped up to the door, where a squat, dark, elderly man was
smoking a black clay pipe.
"How are you, Mr. Reuben Hayes?" said Holmes.
"Who are you, and how do you get my name so pat?" the countryman answered, with a
suspicious flash of a pair of cunning eyes.
"Well, it's printed on the board above your head.
It's easy to see a man who is master of his own house.
I suppose you haven't such a thing as a carriage in your stables?"
"No, I have not." "I can hardly put my foot to the ground."
"Don't put it to the ground."
"But I can't walk." "Well, then hop."
Mr. Reuben Hayes's manner was far from gracious, but Holmes took it with admirable
good-humour.
"Look here, my man," said he. "This is really rather an awkward fix for
me. I don't mind how I get on."
"Neither do I," said the morose landlord.
"The matter is very important. I would offer you a sovereign for the use
of a bicycle." The landlord pricked up his ears.
"Where do you want to go?"
"To Holdernesse Hall." "Pals of the Dook, I suppose?" said the
landlord, surveying our mud-stained garments with ironical eyes.
Holmes laughed good-naturedly.
"He'll be glad to see us, anyhow." "Why?"
"Because we bring him news of his lost son."
The landlord gave a very visible start.
"What, you're on his track?" "He has been heard of in Liverpool.
They expect to get him every hour." Again a swift change passed over the heavy,
unshaven face.
His manner was suddenly genial. "I've less reason to wish the Dook well
than most men," said he, "for I was head coachman once, and cruel bad he treated me.
It was him that sacked me without a character on the word of a lying corn-
chandler.
But I'm glad to hear that the young lord was heard of in Liverpool, and I'll help
you to take the news to the Hall." "Thank you," said Holmes.
"We'll have some food first.
Then you can bring round the bicycle." "I haven't got a bicycle."
Holmes held up a sovereign. "I tell you, man, that I haven't got one.
I'll let you have two horses as far as the Hall."
"Well, well," said Holmes, "we'll talk about it when we've had something to eat."
When we were left alone in the stone- flagged kitchen, it was astonishing how
rapidly that sprained ankle recovered.
It was nearly nightfall, and we had eaten nothing since early morning, so that we
spent some time over our meal.
Holmes was lost in thought, and once or twice he walked over to the window and
stared earnestly out. It opened on to a squalid courtyard.
In the far corner was a smithy, where a grimy lad was at work.
On the other side were the stables.
Holmes had sat down again after one of these excursions, when he suddenly sprang
out of his chair with a loud exclamation. "By heaven, Watson, I believe that I've got
it!" he cried.
"Yes, yes, it must be so. Watson, do you remember seeing any cow-
tracks to-day?" "Yes, several."
"Where?"
"Well, everywhere. They were at the morass, and again on the
path, and again near where poor Heidegger met his death."
"Exactly.
Well, now, Watson, how many cows did you see on the moor?"
"I don't remember seeing any."
"Strange, Watson, that we should see tracks all along our line, but never a cow on the
whole moor. Very strange, Watson, eh?"
"Yes, it is strange."
"Now, Watson, make an effort, throw your mind back.
Can you see those tracks upon the path?" "Yes, I can."
"Can you recall that the tracks were sometimes like that, Watson,"--he arranged
a number of bread-crumbs in this fashion--: : : : :--"and sometimes like this"--: .
: .
: . : .--"and occasionally like this"--.
: . : .
: .
"Can you remember that?" "No, I cannot."
"But I can. I could swear to it.
However, we will go back at our leisure and verify it.
What a blind beetle I have been, not to draw my conclusion."
"And what is your conclusion?"
"Only that it is a remarkable cow which walks, canters, and gallops.
By George!
Watson, it was no brain of a country publican that thought out such a blind as
that. The coast seems to be clear, save for that
lad in the smithy.
Let us slip out and see what we can see." There were two rough-haired, unkempt horses
in the tumble-down stable. Holmes raised the hind leg of one of them
and laughed aloud.
"Old shoes, but newly shod--old shoes, but new nails.
This case deserves to be a classic. Let us go across to the smithy."
The lad continued his work without regarding us.
I saw Holmes's eye darting to right and left among the litter of iron and wood
which was scattered about the floor.
Suddenly, however, we heard a step behind us, and there was the landlord, his heavy
eyebrows drawn over his savage eyes, his swarthy features convulsed with passion.
He held a short, metal-headed stick in his hand, and he advanced in so menacing a
fashion that I was right glad to feel the revolver in my pocket.
"You infernal spies!" the man cried.
"What are you doing there?" "Why, Mr. Reuben Hayes," said Holmes,
coolly, "one might think that you were afraid of our finding something out."
The man mastered himself with a violent effort, and his grim mouth loosened into a
false laugh, which was more menacing than his frown.
"You're welcome to all you can find out in my smithy," said he.
"But look here, mister, I don't care for folk poking about my place without my
leave, so the sooner you pay your score and get out of this the better I shall be
pleased."
"All right, Mr. Hayes, no harm meant," said Holmes.
"We have been having a look at your horses, but I think I'll walk, after all.
It's not far, I believe."
"Not more than two miles to the Hall gates. That's the road to the left."
He watched us with sullen eyes until we had left his premises.
We did not go very far along the road, for Holmes stopped the instant that the curve
hid us from the landlord's view. "We were warm, as the children say, at that
inn," said he.
"I seem to grow colder every step that I take away from it.
No, no, I can't possibly leave it." "I am convinced," said I, "that this Reuben
Hayes knows all about it.
A more self-evident villain I never saw." "Oh! he impressed you in that way, did he?
There are the horses, there is the smithy. Yes, it is an interesting place, this
Fighting Cock.
I think we shall have another look at it in an unobtrusive way."
A long, sloping hillside, dotted with gray limestone boulders, stretched behind us.
We had turned off the road, and were making our way up the hill, when, looking in the
direction of Holdernesse Hall, I saw a cyclist coming swiftly along.
"Get down, Watson!" cried Holmes, with a heavy hand upon my shoulder.
We had hardly sunk from view when the man flew past us on the road.
Amid a rolling cloud of dust, I caught a glimpse of a pale, agitated face--a face
with horror in every lineament, the mouth open, the eyes staring wildly in front.
It was like some strange caricature of the dapper James Wilder whom we had seen the
night before. "The Duke's secretary!" cried Holmes.
"Come, Watson, let us see what he does."
We scrambled from rock to rock, until in a few moments we had made our way to a point
from which we could see the front door of the inn.
Wilder's bicycle was leaning against the wall beside it.
No one was moving about the house, nor could we catch a glimpse of any faces at
the windows.
Slowly the twilight crept down as the sun sank behind the high towers of Holdernesse
Hall.
Then, in the gloom, we saw the two side- lamps of a trap light up in the stable-yard
of the inn, and shortly afterwards heard the rattle of hoofs, as it wheeled out into
the road and tore off at a furious pace in the direction of Chesterfield.
"What do you make of that, Watson?" Holmes whispered.
"It looks like a flight."
"A single man in a dog-cart, so far as I could see.
Well, it certainly was not Mr. James Wilder, for there he is at the door."
A red square of light had sprung out of the darkness.
In the middle of it was the black figure of the secretary, his head advanced, peering
out into the night.
It was evident that he was expecting someone.
Then at last there were steps in the road, a second figure was visible for an instant
against the light, the door shut, and all was black once more.
Five minutes later a lamp was lit in a room upon the first floor.
"It seems to be a curious class of custom that is done by the Fighting Cock," said
Holmes.
"The bar is on the other side." "Quite so.
These are what one may call the private guests.
Now, what in the world is Mr. James Wilder doing in that den at this hour of night,
and who is the companion who comes to meet him there?
Come, Watson, we must really take a risk and try to investigate this a little more
closely." Together we stole down to the road and
crept across to the door of the inn.
The bicycle still leaned against the wall. Holmes struck a match and held it to the
back wheel, and I heard him chuckle as the light fell upon a patched Dunlop tire.
Up above us was the lighted window.
"I must have a peep through that, Watson. If you bend your back and support yourself
upon the wall, I think that I can manage."
An instant later, his feet were on my shoulders, but he was hardly up before he
was down again. "Come, my friend," said he, "our day's work
has been quite long enough.
I think that we have gathered all that we can.
It's a long walk to the school, and the sooner we get started the better."
He hardly opened his lips during that weary trudge across the moor, nor would he enter
the school when he reached it, but went on to Mackleton Station, whence he could send
some telegrams.
Late at night I heard him consoling Dr. Huxtable, prostrated by the tragedy of his
master's death, and later still he entered my room as alert and vigorous as he had
been when he started in the morning.
"All goes well, my friend," said he. "I promise that before to-morrow evening we
shall have reached the solution of the mystery."
At eleven o'clock next morning my friend and I were walking up the famous yew avenue
of Holdernesse Hall.
We were ushered through the magnificent Elizabethan doorway and into his Grace's
study.
There we found Mr. James Wilder, demure and courtly, but with some trace of that
wild terror of the night before still lurking in his furtive eyes and in his
twitching features.
"You have come to see his Grace? I am sorry, but the fact is that the Duke
is far from well. He has been very much upset by the tragic
news.
We received a telegram from Dr. Huxtable yesterday afternoon, which told us of your
discovery." "I must see the Duke, Mr. Wilder."
"But he is in his room."
"Then I must go to his room." "I believe he is in his bed."
"I will see him there."
Holmes's cold and inexorable manner showed the secretary that it was useless to argue
with him. "Very good, Mr. Holmes, I will tell him
that you are here."
After an hour's delay, the great nobleman appeared.
His face was more cadaverous than ever, his shoulders had rounded, and he seemed to me
to be an altogether older man than he had been the morning before.
He greeted us with a stately courtesy and seated himself at his desk, his red beard
streaming down on the table. "Well, Mr. Holmes?" said he.
But my friend's eyes were fixed upon the secretary, who stood by his master's chair.
"I think, your Grace, that I could speak more freely in Mr. Wilder's absence."
The man turned a shade paler and cast a malignant glance at Holmes.
"If your Grace wishes----" "Yes, yes, you had better go.
Now, Mr. Holmes, what have you to say?"
My friend waited until the door had closed behind the retreating secretary.
"The fact is, your Grace," said he, "that my colleague, Dr. Watson, and myself had
an assurance from Dr. Huxtable that a reward had been offered in this case.
I should like to have this confirmed from your own lips."
"Certainly, Mr. Holmes."
"It amounted, if I am correctly informed, to five thousand pounds to anyone who will
tell you where your son is?" "Exactly."
"And another thousand to the man who will name the person or persons who keep him in
custody?" "Exactly."
"Under the latter heading is included, no doubt, not only those who may have taken
him away, but also those who conspire to keep him in his present position?"
"Yes, yes," cried the Duke, impatiently.
"If you do your work well, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, you will have no reason to complain
of niggardly treatment."
My friend rubbed his thin hands together with an appearance of avidity which was a
surprise to me, who knew his frugal tastes. "I fancy that I see your Grace's check-book
upon the table," said he.
"I should be glad if you would make me out a check for six thousand pounds.
It would be as well, perhaps, for you to cross it.
The Capital and Counties Bank, Oxford Street branch are my agents."
His Grace sat very stern and upright in his chair and looked stonily at my friend.
"Is this a joke, Mr. Holmes?
It is hardly a subject for pleasantry." "Not at all, your Grace.
I was never more earnest in my life." "What do you mean, then?"
"I mean that I have earned the reward.
I know where your son is, and I know some, at least, of those who are holding him."
The Duke's beard had turned more aggressively red than ever against his
ghastly white face.
"Where is he?" he gasped. "He is, or was last night, at the Fighting
Cock Inn, about two miles from your park gate."
The Duke fell back in his chair.
"And whom do you accuse?" Sherlock Holmes's answer was an astounding
one. He stepped swiftly forward and touched the
Duke upon the shoulder.
"I accuse YOU," said he. "And now, your Grace, I'll trouble you for
that check."
Never shall I forget the Duke's appearance as he sprang up and clawed with his hands,
like one who is sinking into an abyss.
Then, with an extraordinary effort of aristocratic self-command, he sat down and
sank his face in his hands. It was some minutes before he spoke.
"How much do you know?" he asked at last, without raising his head.
"I saw you together last night." "Does anyone else beside your friend know?"
"I have spoken to no one."
The Duke took a pen in his quivering fingers and opened his check-book.
"I shall be as good as my word, Mr. Holmes.
I am about to write your check, however unwelcome the information which you have
gained may be to me. When the offer was first made, I little
thought the turn which events might take.
But you and your friend are men of discretion, Mr. Holmes?"
"I hardly understand your Grace." "I must put it plainly, Mr. Holmes.
If only you two know of this incident, there is no reason why it should go any
farther. I think twelve thousand pounds is the sum
that I owe you, is it not?"
But Holmes smiled and shook his head. "I fear, your Grace, that matters can
hardly be arranged so easily. There is the death of this schoolmaster to
be accounted for."
"But James knew nothing of that. You cannot hold him responsible for that.
It was the work of this brutal ruffian whom he had the misfortune to employ."
"I must take the view, your Grace, that when a man embarks upon a crime, he is
morally guilty of any other crime which may spring from it."
"Morally, Mr. Holmes.
No doubt you are right. But surely not in the eyes of the law.
A man cannot be condemned for a murder at which he was not present, and which he
loathes and abhors as much as you do.
The instant that he heard of it he made a complete confession to me, so filled was he
with horror and remorse. He lost not an hour in breaking entirely
with the murderer.
Oh, Mr. Holmes, you must save him--you must save him!
I tell you that you must save him!"
The Duke had dropped the last attempt at self-command, and was pacing the room with
a convulsed face and with his clenched hands raving in the air.
At last he mastered himself and sat down once more at his desk.
"I appreciate your conduct in coming here before you spoke to anyone else," said he.
"At least, we may take counsel how far we can minimize this hideous scandal."
"Exactly," said Holmes. "I think, your Grace, that this can only be
done by absolute frankness between us.
I am disposed to help your Grace to the best of my ability, but, in order to do so,
I must understand to the last detail how the matter stands.
I realize that your words applied to Mr. James Wilder, and that he is not the
murderer." "No, the murderer has escaped."
Sherlock Holmes smiled demurely.
"Your Grace can hardly have heard of any small reputation which I possess, or you
would not imagine that it is so easy to escape me.
Mr. Reuben Hayes was arrested at Chesterfield, on my information, at eleven
o'clock last night.
I had a telegram from the head of the local police before I left the school this
morning." The Duke leaned back in his chair and
stared with amazement at my friend.
"You seem to have powers that are hardly human," said he.
"So Reuben Hayes is taken? I am right glad to hear it, if it will not
react upon the fate of James."
"Your secretary?" "No, sir, my son."
It was Holmes's turn to look astonished. "I confess that this is entirely new to me,
your Grace.
I must beg you to be more explicit." "I will conceal nothing from you.
I agree with you that complete frankness, however painful it may be to me, is the
best policy in this desperate situation to which James's folly and jealousy have
reduced us.
When I was a very young man, Mr. Holmes, I loved with such a love as comes only once
in a lifetime.
I offered the lady marriage, but she refused it on the grounds that such a match
might mar my career. Had she lived, I would certainly never have
married anyone else.
She died, and left this one child, whom for her sake I have cherished and cared for.
I could not acknowledge the paternity to the world, but I gave him the best of
educations, and since he came to manhood I have kept him near my person.
He surmised my secret, and has presumed ever since upon the claim which he has upon
me, and upon his power of provoking a scandal which would be abhorrent to me.
His presence had something to do with the unhappy issue of my marriage.
Above all, he hated my young legitimate heir from the first with a persistent
hatred.
You may well ask me why, under these circumstances, I still kept James under my
roof.
I answer that it was because I could see his mother's face in his, and that for her
dear sake there was no end to my long- suffering.
All her pretty ways too--there was not one of them which he could not suggest and
bring back to my memory. I COULD not send him away.
But I feared so much lest he should do Arthur--that is, Lord Saltire--a mischief,
that I dispatched him for safety to Dr. Huxtable's school.
"James came into contact with this fellow Hayes, because the man was a tenant of
mine, and James acted as agent.
The fellow was a rascal from the beginning, but, in some extraordinary way, James
became intimate with him. He had always a taste for low company.
When James determined to kidnap Lord Saltire, it was of this man's service that
he availed himself. You remember that I wrote to Arthur upon
that last day.
Well, James opened the letter and inserted a note asking Arthur to meet him in a
little wood called the Ragged Shaw, which is near to the school.
He used the Duchess's name, and in that way got the boy to come.
That evening James bicycled over--I am telling you what he has himself confessed
to me--and he told Arthur, whom he met in the wood, that his mother longed to see
him, that she was awaiting him on the moor,
and that if he would come back into the wood at midnight he would find a man with a
horse, who would take him to her. Poor Arthur fell into the trap.
He came to the appointment, and found this fellow Hayes with a led pony.
Arthur mounted, and they set off together.
It appears--though this James only heard yesterday--that they were pursued, that
Hayes struck the pursuer with his stick, and that the man died of his injuries.
Hayes brought Arthur to his public-house, the Fighting Cock, where he was confined in
an upper room, under the care of Mrs. Hayes, who is a kindly woman, but entirely
under the control of her brutal husband.
"Well, Mr. Holmes, that was the state of affairs when I first saw you two days ago.
I had no more idea of the truth than you. You will ask me what was James's motive in
doing such a deed.
I answer that there was a great deal which was unreasoning and fanatical in the hatred
which he bore my heir.
In his view he should himself have been heir of all my estates, and he deeply
resented those social laws which made it impossible.
At the same time, he had a definite motive also.
He was eager that I should break the entail, and he was of opinion that it lay
in my power to do so.
He intended to make a bargain with me--to restore Arthur if I would break the entail,
and so make it possible for the estate to be left to him by will.
He knew well that I should never willingly invoke the aid of the police against him.
I say that he would have proposed such a bargain to me, but he did not actually do
so, for events moved too quickly for him, and he had not time to put his plans into
practice.
"What brought all his wicked scheme to wreck was your discovery of this man
Heidegger's dead body. James was seized with horror at the news.
It came to us yesterday, as we sat together in this study.
Dr. Huxtable had sent a telegram.
James was so overwhelmed with grief and agitation that my suspicions, which had
never been entirely absent, rose instantly to a certainty, and I taxed him with the
deed.
He made a complete voluntary confession. Then he implored me to keep his secret for
three days longer, so as to give his wretched accomplice a chance of saving his
guilty life.
I yielded--as I have always yielded--to his prayers, and instantly James hurried off to
the Fighting Cock to warn Hayes and give him the means of flight.
I could not go there by daylight without provoking comment, but as soon as night
fell I hurried off to see my dear Arthur.
I found him safe and well, but horrified beyond expression by the dreadful deed he
had witnessed.
In deference to my promise, and much against my will, I consented to leave him
there for three days, under the charge of Mrs. Hayes, since it was evident that it
was impossible to inform the police where
he was without telling them also who was the murderer, and I could not see how that
murderer could be punished without ruin to my unfortunate James.
You asked for frankness, Mr. Holmes, and I have taken you at your word, for I have now
told you everything without an attempt at circumlocution or concealment.
Do you in turn be as frank with me."
"I will," said Holmes. "In the first place, your Grace, I am bound
to tell you that you have placed yourself in a most serious position in the eyes of
the law.
You have condoned a felony, and you have aided the escape of a murderer, for I
cannot doubt that any money which was taken by James Wilder to aid his accomplice in
his flight came from your Grace's purse."
The Duke bowed his assent. "This is, indeed, a most serious matter.
Even more culpable in my opinion, your Grace, is your attitude towards your
younger son.
You leave him in this den for three days." "Under solemn promises----"
"What are promises to such people as these? You have no guarantee that he will not be
spirited away again.
To humour your guilty elder son, you have exposed your innocent younger son to
imminent and unnecessary danger. It was a most unjustifiable action."
The proud lord of Holdernesse was not accustomed to be so rated in his own ducal
hall. The blood flushed into his high forehead,
but his conscience held him dumb.
"I will help you, but on one condition only.
It is that you ring for the footman and let me give such orders as I like."
Without a word, the Duke pressed the electric bell.
A servant entered. "You will be glad to hear," said Holmes,
"that your young master is found.
It is the Duke's desire that the carriage shall go at once to the Fighting Cock Inn
to bring Lord Saltire home.
"Now," said Holmes, when the rejoicing lackey had disappeared, "having secured the
future, we can afford to be more lenient with the past.
I am not in an official position, and there is no reason, so long as the ends of
justice are served, why I should disclose all that I know.
As to Hayes, I say nothing.
The gallows awaits him, and I would do nothing to save him from it.
What he will divulge I cannot tell, but I have no doubt that your Grace could make
him understand that it is to his interest to be silent.
From the police point of view he will have kidnapped the boy for the purpose of
ransom.
If they do not themselves find it out, I see no reason why I should prompt them to
take a broader point of view.
I would warn your Grace, however, that the continued presence of Mr. James Wilder in
your household can only lead to misfortune."
"I understand that, Mr. Holmes, and it is already settled that he shall leave me
forever, and go to seek his fortune in Australia."
"In that case, your Grace, since you have yourself stated that any unhappiness in
your married life was caused by his presence I would suggest that you make such
amends as you can to the Duchess, and that
you try to resume those relations which have been so unhappily interrupted."
"That also I have arranged, Mr. Holmes. I wrote to the Duchess this morning."
"In that case," said Holmes, rising, "I think that my friend and I can congratulate
ourselves upon several most happy results from our little visit to the North.
There is one other small point upon which I desire some light.
This fellow Hayes had shod his horses with shoes which counterfeited the tracks of
cows.
Was it from Mr. Wilder that he learned so extraordinary a device?"
The Duke stood in thought for a moment, with a look of intense surprise on his
face.
Then he opened a door and showed us into a large room furnished as a museum.
He led the way to a glass case in a corner, and pointed to the inscription.
"These shoes," it ran, "were dug up in the moat of Holdernesse Hall.
They are for the use of horses, but they are shaped below with a cloven foot of
iron, so as to throw pursuers off the track.
They are supposed to have belonged to some of the marauding Barons of Holdernesse in
the Middle Ages." Holmes opened the case, and moistening his
finger he passed it along the shoe.
A thin film of recent mud was left upon his skin.
"Thank you," said he, as he replaced the glass.
"It is the second most interesting object that I have seen in the North."
"And the first?" Holmes folded up his check and placed it
carefully in his notebook.
"I am a poor man," said he, as he patted it affectionately, and thrust it into the
depths of his inner pocket.
>