It was on a bitterly cold and frosty morning, towards the end of the winter of
'97, that I was awakened by a tugging at my shoulder. It was Holmes. Th_andle in his hand shone upon his eager, stooping face, and told me at _lance that something was amiss. "Come, Watson, come!" he cried. "The game i_foot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!"
Ten minutes later we were both in a cab, and rattling through the silen_treets on our way to Charing Cross Station. The first faint winter's dawn wa_eginning to appear, and we could dimly see the occasional figure of an earl_orkman as he passed us, blurred and indistinct in the opalescent London reek.
Holmes nestled in silence into his heavy coat, and I was glad to do the same, for the air was most bitter, and neither of us had broken our fast.
It was not until we had consumed some hot tea at the station and taken ou_laces in the Kentish train that we were sufficiently thawed, he to speak an_ to listen. Holmes drew a note from his pocket, and read aloud:
Abbey Grange, Marsham, Kent, 3:30 A.M.
MY DEAR MR. HOLMES:
I should be very glad of your immediate assistance in what promises to be _ost remarkable case. It is something quite in your line. Except for releasin_he lady I will see that everything is kept exactly as I have found it, but _eg you not to lose an instant, as it is difficult to leave Sir Eustace there.
"Hopkins has called me in seven times, and on each occasion his summons ha_een entirely justified," said Holmes. "I fancy that every one of his case_as found its way into your collection, and I must admit, Watson, that yo_ave some power of selection, which atones for much which I deplore in you_arratives. Your fatal habit of looking at everything from the point of vie_f a story instead of as a scientific exercise has ruined what might have bee_n instructive and even classical series of demonstrations. You slur over wor_f the utmost finesse and delicacy, in order to dwell upon sensational detail_hich may excite, but cannot possibly instruct, the reader."
"Why do you not write them yourself?" I said, with some bitterness.
"I will, my dear Watson, I will. At present I am, as you know, fairly busy, but I propose to devote my declining years to the composition of a textbook, which shall focus the whole art of detection into one volume. Our presen_esearch appears to be a case of murder."
"You think this Sir Eustace is dead, then?"
"I should say so. Hopkins's writing shows considerable agitation, and he i_ot an emotional man. Yes, I gather there has been violence, and that the bod_s left for our inspection. A mere suicide would not have caused him to sen_or me. As to the release of the lady, it would appear that she has bee_ocked in her room during the tragedy. We are moving in high life, Watson, crackling paper, `E.B.' monogram, coat-of-arms, picturesque address. I thin_hat friend Hopkins will live up to his reputation, and that we shall have a_nteresting morning. The crime was committed before twelve last night."
"How can you possibly tell?"
"By an inspection of the trains, and by reckoning the time. The local polic_ad to be called in, they had to communicate with Scotland Yard, Hopkins ha_o go out, and he in turn had to send for me. All that makes a fair night'_ork. Well, here we are at Chiselhurst Station, and we shall soon set ou_oubts at rest."
A drive of a couple of miles through narrow country lanes brought us to a par_ate, which was opened for us by an old lodge-keeper, whose haggard face bor_he reflection of some great disaster. The avenue ran through a noble park, between lines of ancient elms, and ended in a low, widespread house, pillare_n front after the fashion of Palladio. The central part was evidently of _reat age and shrouded in ivy, but the large windows showed that moder_hanges had been carried out, and one wing of the house appeared to b_ntirely new.
The youthful figure and alert, eager face of Inspector Stanley Hopkin_onfronted us in the open doorway. "I'm very glad you have come, Mr. Holmes.
And you, too, Dr. Watson. But, indeed, if I had my time over again, I shoul_ot have troubled you, for since the lady has come to herself, she has give_o clear an account of the affair that there is not much left for us to do.
You remember that Lewisham gang of burglars?"
"What, the three Randalls?"
"Exactly; the father and two sons. It's their work. I have not a doubt of it.
They did a job at Sydenham a fortnight ago and were seen and described. Rathe_ool to do another so soon and so near, but it is they, beyond all doubt. It'_ hanging matter this time."
"Sir Eustace is dead, then?"
"Yes, his head was knocked in with his own poker."
"Sir Eustace Brackenstall, the driver tells me."
"Exactly—one of the richest men in Kent—Lady Brackenstall is in the morning- room. Poor lady, she has had a most dreadful experience. She seemed half dea_hen I saw her first. I think you had best see her and hear her account of th_acts. Then we will examine the dining-room together."
Lady Brackenstall was no ordinary person. Seldom have I seen so graceful _igure, so womanly a presence, and so beautiful a face. She was a blonde, golden-haired, blue-eyed, and would no doubt have had the perfect complexio_hich goes with such coloring, had not her recent experience left her draw_nd haggard. Her sufferings were physical as well as mental, for over one ey_ose a hideous, plum colored swelling, which her maid, a tall, austere woman, was bathing assiduously with vinegar and water. The lady lay back exhauste_pon a couch, but her quick, observant gaze, as we entered the room, and th_lert expression of her beautiful features, showed that neither her wits no_er courage had been shaken by her terrible experience. She was enveloped in _oose dressing-gown of blue and silver, but a black sequin-covered dinner- dress lay upon the couch beside her.
"I have told you all that happened, Mr. Hopkins," she said, wearily. "Coul_ou not repeat it for me? Well, if you think it necessary, I will tell thes_entlemen what occurred. Have they been in the dining-room yet?"
"I thought they had better hear your ladyship's story first."
"I shall be glad when you can arrange matters. It is horrible to me to thin_f him still lying there." She shuddered and buried her face in her hands. A_he did so, the loose gown fell back from her forearms. Holmes uttered a_xclamation.
"You have other injuries, madam! What is this?" Two vivid red spots stood ou_n one of the white, round limbs. She hastily covered it.
"It is nothing. It has no connection with this hideous business tonight. I_ou and your friend will sit down, I will tell you all I can. I am the wife o_ir Eustace Brackenstall. I have been married about a year. I suppose that i_s no use my attempting to conceal that our marriage has not been a happy one.
I fear that all our neighbors would tell you that, even if I were to attemp_o deny it. Perhaps the fault may be partly mine. I was brought up in th_reer, less conventional atmosphere of South Australia, and this English life, with its proprieties and its primness, is not congenial to me.
"But the main reason lies in the one fact, which is notorious to everyone, an_hat is that Sir Eustace was a confirmed drunkard. To be with such a man fo_n hour is unpleasant. Can you imagine what it means for a sensitive and high- spirited woman to be tied to him for day and night? It is a sacrilege, _rime, a villainy to hold that such a marriage is binding. I say that thes_onstrous laws of yours will bring a curse upon the land—God will not let suc_ickedness endure." For an instant she sat up, her cheeks flushed, and he_yes blazing from under the terrible mark upon her brow. Then the strong, soothing hand of the austere maid drew her head down on to the cushion, an_he wild anger died away into passionate sobbing. At last she continued:
"I will tell you about last night. You are aware, perhaps, that in this hous_ll the servants sleep in the modern wing. This central block is made up o_he dwelling-rooms, with the kitchen behind and our bedroom above. My maid, Theresa, sleeps above my room. There is no one else, and no sound could alar_hose who are in the farther wing. This must have been well known to th_obbers, or they would not have acted as they did.
"Sir Eustace retired about half-past ten. The servants had already gone t_heir quarters. Only my maid was up, and she had remained in her room at th_op of the house until I needed her services. I sat until after eleven in thi_oom, absorbed in a book. Then I walked round to see that all was right befor_ went upstairs. It was my custom to do this myself, for, as I have explained, Sir Eustace was not always to be trusted. I went into the kitchen, th_utler's pantry, the gun-room, the billiard-room, the drawing-room, an_inally the dining-room.
"As I approached the window, which is covered with thick curtains, I suddenl_elt the wind blow upon my face and realized that it was open. I flung th_urtain aside and found myself face to face with a broad-shouldered elderl_an, who had just stepped into the room. The window is a long French one, which really forms a door leading to the lawn. I held my bedroom candle lit i_y hand, and, by its light, behind the first man I saw two others, who were i_he act of entering. I stepped back, but the fellow was on me in an instant.
He caught me first by the wrist and then by the throat. I opened my mouth t_cream, but he struck me a savage blow with his fist over the eye, and felle_e to the ground. I must have been unconscious for a few minutes, for when _ame to myself, I found that they had torn down the bell-rope, and had secure_e tightly to the oaken chair which stands at the head of the dining-table. _as so firmly bound that I could not move, and a handkerchief round my mout_revented me from uttering a sound.
"It was at this instant that my unfortunate husband entered the room. He ha_vidently heard some suspicious sounds, and he came prepared for such a scen_s he found. He was dressed in nightshirt and trousers, with his favorit_lackthorn cudgel in his hand. He rushed at the burglars, but another—it wa_n elderly man—stooped, picked the poker out of the grate and struck him _orrible blow as he passed. He fell with a groan and never moved again. _ainted once more, but again it could only have been for a very few minute_uring which I was insensible. When I opened my eyes I found that they ha_ollected the silver from the sideboard, and they had drawn a bottle of win_hich stood there. Each of them had a glass in his hand. I have already tol_ou, have I not, that one was elderly, with a beard, and the others young, hairless lads. They might have been a father with his two sons. They talke_ogether in whispers. Then they came over and made sure that I was securel_ound. Finally they withdrew, closing the window after them. It was quite _uarter of an hour before I got my mouth free. When I did so, my scream_rought the maid to my assistance. The other servants were soon alarmed, an_e sent for the local police, who instantly communicated with London. That i_eally all that I can tell you, gentlemen, and I trust that it will not b_ecessary for me to go over so painful a story again."
"Any questions, Mr. Holmes?" asked Hopkins.
"I will not impose any further tax upon Lady Brackenstall's patience an_ime," said Holmes. "Before I go into the dining-room, I should like to hea_our experience." He looked at the maid.
"I saw the men before ever they came into the house," said she. "As I sat b_y bedroom window I saw three men in the moonlight down by the lodge gat_onder, but I thought nothing of it at the time. It was more than an hou_fter that I heard my mistress scream, and down I ran, to find her, poor lamb, just as she says, and him on the floor, with his blood and brains over th_oom. It was enough to drive a woman out of her wits, tied there, and her ver_ress spotted with him, but she never wanted courage, did Miss Mary Fraser o_delaide and Lady Brackenstall of Abbey Grange hasn't learned new ways. You'v_uestioned her long enough, you gentlemen, and now she is coming to her ow_oom, just with her old Theresa, to get the rest that she badly needs." With _otherly tenderness the gaunt woman put her arm round her mistress and led he_rom the room.
"She has been with her all her life," said Hopkins. "Nursed her as a baby, an_ame with her to England when they first left Australia, eighteen months ago.
Theresa Wright is her name, and the kind of maid you don't pick up nowadays.
This way, Mr. Holmes, if you please!"
The keen interest had passed out of Holmes's expressive face, and I knew tha_ith the mystery all the charm of the case had departed. There still remaine_n arrest to be effected, but what were these commonplace rogues that h_hould soil his hands with them? An abstruse and learned specialist who find_hat he has been called in for a case of measles would experience something o_he annoyance which I read in my friend's eyes. Yet the scene in the dining- room of the Abbey Grange was sufficiently strange to arrest his attention an_o recall his waning interest.
It was a very large and high chamber, with carved oak ceiling, oaken paneling, and a fine array of deer's heads and ancient weapons around the walls. At th_urther end from the door was the high French window of which we had heard.
Three smaller windows on the right-hand side filled the apartment with col_inter sunshine. On the left was a large, deep fireplace, with a massive, overhanging oak mantelpiece. Beside the fireplace was a heavy oaken chair wit_rms and crossbars at the bottom. In and out through the open woodwork wa_oven a crimson cord, which was secured at each side to the crosspiece below.
In releasing the lady, the cord had been slipped off her, but the knots wit_hich it had been secured still remained. These details only struck ou_ttention afterwards, for our thoughts were entirely absorbed by the terribl_bject which lay upon the tigerskin hearthrug in front of the fire.
It was the body of a tall, well-made man, about forty years of age. He la_pon his back, his face upturned, with his white teeth grinning through hi_hort, black beard. His two clenched hands were raised above his head, and _eavy, blackthorn stick lay across them. His dark, handsome, aquiline feature_ere convulsed into a spasm of vindictive hatred, which had set his dead fac_n a terribly fiendish expression. He had evidently been in his bed when th_larm had broken out, for he wore a foppish, embroidered nightshirt, and hi_are feet projected from his trousers. His head was horribly injured, and th_hole room bore witness to the savage ferocity of the blow which had struc_im down. Beside him lay the heavy poker, bent into a curve by the concussion.
Holmes examined both it and the indescribable wreck which it had wrought.
"He must be a powerful man, this elder Randall," he remarked.
"Yes," said Hopkins. "I have some record of the fellow, and he is a roug_ustomer."
"You should have no difficulty in getting him."
"Not the slightest. We have been on the lookout for him, and there was som_dea that he had got away to America. Now that we know that the gang are here, I don't see how they can escape. We have the news at every seaport already, and a reward will be offered before evening. What beats me is how they coul_ave done so mad a thing, knowing that the lady could describe them and tha_e could not fail to recognize the description."
"Exactly. One would have expected that they would silence Lady Brackenstall a_ell."
"They may not have realized," I suggested, "that she had recovered from he_aint."
"That is likely enough. If she seemed to be senseless, they would not take he_ife. What about this poor fellow, Hopkins? I seem to have heard some quee_tories about him."
"He was a goodhearted man when he was sober, but a perfect fiend when he wa_runk, or rather when he was half drunk, for he seldom really went the whol_ay. The devil seemed to be in him at such times, and he was capable o_nything. From what I hear, in spite of all his wealth and his title, he ver_early came our way once or twice. There was a scandal about his drenching _og with petroleum and setting it on fire—her ladyship's dog, to make th_atter worse—and that was only hushed up with difficulty. Then he threw _ecanter at that maid, Theresa Wright—there was trouble about that. On th_hole, and between ourselves, it will be a brighter house without him. Wha_re you looking at now?"
Holmes was down on his knees, examining with great attention the knots upo_he red cord with which the lady had been secured. Then he carefull_crutinized the broken and frayed end where it had snapped off when th_urglar had dragged it down.
"When this was pulled down, the bell in the kitchen must have rung loudly," h_emarked.
"No one could hear it. The kitchen stands right at the back of the house."
"How did the burglar know no one would hear it? How dared he pull at a bell- rope in that reckless fashion?"
"Exactly, Mr. Holmes, exactly. You put the very question which I have aske_yself again and again. There can be no doubt that this fellow must have know_he house and its habits. He must have perfectly understood that the servant_ould all be in bed at that comparatively early hour, and that no one coul_ossibly hear a bell ring in the kitchen. Therefore, he must have been i_lose league with one of the servants. Surely that is evident. But there ar_ight servants, and all of good character."
"Other things being equal," said Holmes, "one would suspect the one at whos_ead the master threw a decanter. And yet that would involve treachery toward_he mistress to whom this woman seems devoted. Well, well, the point is _inor one, and when you have Randall you will probably find no difficulty i_ecuring his accomplice. The lady's story certainly seems to be corroborated, if it needed corroboration, by every detail which we see before us." He walke_o the French window and threw it open. "There are no signs here, but th_round is iron hard, and one would not expect them. I see that these candle_n the mantelpiece have been lighted."
"Yes, it was by their light and that of the lady's bedroom candle, that th_urglars saw their way about."
"And what did they take?"
"Well, they did not take much—only half a dozen articles of plate off th_ideboard. Lady Brackenstall thinks that they were themselves so disturbed b_he death of Sir Eustace that they did not ransack the house, as they woul_therwise have done."
"No doubt that is true, and yet they drank some wine, I understand."
"To steady their nerves."
"Exactly. These three glasses upon the sideboard have been untouched, _uppose?"
"Yes, and the bottle stands as they left it."
"Let us look at it. Halloa, halloa! What is this?"
The three glasses were grouped together, all of them tinged with wine, and on_f them containing some dregs of beeswing. The bottle stood near them, two- thirds full, and beside it lay a long, deeply stained cork. Its appearance an_he dust upon the bottle showed that it was no common vintage which th_urderers had enjoyed.
A change had come over Holmes's manner. He had lost his listless expression, and again I saw an alert light of interest in his keen, deep-set eyes. H_aised the cork and examined it minutely.
"How did they draw it?" he asked.
Hopkins pointed to a half-opened drawer. In it lay some table linen and _arge corkscrew.
"Did Lady Brackenstall say that screw was used?"
"No, you remember that she was senseless at the moment when the bottle wa_pened."
"Quite so. As a matter of fact, that screw was not used. This bottle wa_pened by a pocket screw, probably contained in a knife, and not more than a_nch and a half long. If you will examine the top of the cork, you wil_bserve that the screw was driven in three times before the cork wa_xtracted. It has never been transfixed. This long screw would have transfixe_t and drawn it up with a single pull. When you catch this fellow, you wil_ind that he has one of these multiplex knives in his possession."
"Excellent!" said Hopkins.
"But these glasses do puzzle me, I confess. Lady Brackenstall actually SAW th_hree men drinking, did she not?"
"Yes; she was clear about that."
"Then there is an end of it. What more is to be said? And yet, you must admit, that the three glasses are very remarkable, Hopkins. What? You see nothin_emarkable? Well, well, let it pass. Perhaps, when a man has special knowledg_nd special powers like my own, it rather encourages him to seek a comple_xplanation when a simpler one is at hand. Of course, it must be a mere chanc_bout the glasses. Well, good-morning, Hopkins. I don't see that I can be o_ny use to you, and you appear to have your case very clear. You will let m_now when Randall is arrested, and any further developments which may occur. _rust that I shall soon have to congratulate you upon a successful conclusion.
Come, Watson, I fancy that we may employ ourselves more profitably at home."
During our return journey, I could see by Holmes's face that he was muc_uzzled by something which he had observed. Every now and then, by an effort, he would throw off the impression, and talk as if the matter were clear, bu_hen his doubts would settle down upon him again, and his knitted brows an_bstracted eyes would show that his thoughts had gone back once more to th_reat dining-room of the Abbey Grange, in which this midnight tragedy had bee_nacted. At last, by a sudden impulse, just as our train was crawling out of _uburban station, he sprang on to the platform and pulled me out after him.
"Excuse me, my dear fellow," said he, as we watched the rear carriages of ou_rain disappearing round a curve, "I am sorry to make you the victim of wha_ay seem a mere whim, but on my life, Watson, I simply CAN'T leave that cas_n this condition. Every instinct that I possess cries out against it. It'_rong— it's all wrong—I'll swear that it's wrong. And yet the lady's story wa_omplete, the maid's corroboration was sufficient, the detail was fairl_xact. What have I to put up against that? Three wineglasses, that is all. Bu_f I had not taken things for granted, if I had examined everything with car_hich I should have shown had we approached the case DE NOVO and had no cut- and-dried story to warp my mind, should I not then have found something mor_efinite to go upon? Of course I should. Sit down on this bench, Watson, unti_ train for Chiselhurst arrives, and allow me to lay the evidence before you, imploring you in the first instance to dismiss from your mind the idea tha_nything which the maid or her mistress may have said must necessarily b_rue. The lady's charming personality must not be permitted to warp ou_udgment.
"Surely there are details in her story which, if we looked at in cold blood, would excite our suspicion. These burglars made a considerable haul a_ydenham a fortnight ago. Some account of them and of their appearance was i_he papers, and would naturally occur to anyone who wished to invent a stor_n which imaginary robbers should play a part. As a matter of fact, burglar_ho have done a good stroke of business are, as a rule, only too glad to enjo_he proceeds in peace and quiet without embarking on another perilou_ndertaking. Again, it is unusual for burglars to operate at so early an hour, it is unusual for burglars to strike a lady to prevent her screaming, sinc_ne would imagine that was the sure way to make her scream, it is unusual fo_hem to commit murder when their numbers are sufficient to overpower one man, it is unusual for them to be content with a limited plunder when there wa_uch more within their reach, and finally, I should say, that it was ver_nusual for such men to leave a bottle half empty. How do all these unusual_trike you, Watson?"
"Their cumulative effect is certainly considerable, and yet each of them i_uite possible in itself. The most unusual thing of all, as it seems to me, i_hat the lady should be tied to the chair."
"Well, I am not so clear about that, Watson, for it is evident that they mus_ither kill her or else secure her in such a way that she could not giv_mmediate notice of their escape. But at any rate I have shown, have I not, that there is a certain element of improbability about the lady's story? An_ow, on the top of this, comes the incident of the wineglasses."
"What about the wineglasses?"
"Can you see them in your mind's eye?"
"I see them clearly."
"We are told that three men drank from them. Does that strike you as likely?"
"Why not? There was wine in each glass."
"Exactly, but there was beeswing only in one glass. You must have noticed tha_act. What does that suggest to your mind?"
"The last glass filled would be most likely to contain beeswing."
"Not at all. The bottle was full of it, and it is inconceivable that the firs_wo glasses were clear and the third heavily charged with it. There are tw_ossible explanations, and only two. One is that after the second glass wa_illed the bottle was violently agitated, and so the third glass received th_eeswing. That does not appear probable. No, no, I am sure that I am right."
"What, then, do you suppose?"
"That only two glasses were used, and that the dregs of both were poured int_ third glass, so as to give the false impression that three people had bee_ere. In that way all the beeswing would be in the last glass, would it not?
Yes, I am convinced that this is so. But if I have hit upon the tru_xplanation of this one small phenomenon, then in an instant the case rise_rom the commonplace to the exceedingly remarkable, for it can only mean tha_ady Brackenstall and her maid have deliberately lied to us, that not one wor_f their story is to be believed, that they have some very strong reason fo_overing the real criminal, and that we must construct our case for ourselve_ithout any help from them. That is the mission which now lies before us, an_ere, Watson, is the Sydenham train."
The household at the Abbey Grange were much surprised at our return, bu_herlock Holmes, finding that Stanley Hopkins had gone off to report t_eadquarters, took possession of the dining-room, locked the door upon th_nside, and devoted himself for two hours to one of those minute and laboriou_nvestigations which form the solid basis on which his brilliant edifices o_eduction were reared. Seated in a corner like an interested student wh_bserves the demonstration of his professor, I followed every step of tha_emarkable research. The window, the curtains, the carpet, the chair, th_ope—each in turn was minutely examined and duly pondered. The body of th_nfortunate baronet had been removed, and all else remained as we had seen i_n the morning. Finally, to my astonishment, Holmes climbed up on to th_assive mantelpiece. Far above his head hung the few inches of red cord whic_ere still attached to the wire. For a long time he gazed upward at it, an_hen in an attempt to get nearer to it he rested his knee upon a woode_racket on the wall. This brought his hand within a few inches of the broke_nd of the rope, but it was not this so much as the bracket itself whic_eemed to engage his attention. Finally, he sprang down with an ejaculation o_atisfaction.
"It's all right, Watson," said he. "We have got our case—one of the mos_emarkable in our collection. But, dear me, how slowwitted I have been, an_ow nearly I have committed the blunder of my lifetime! Now, I think that, with a few missing links, my chain is almost complete."
"You have got your men?"
"Man, Watson, man. Only one, but a very formidable person. Strong as _ion—witness the blow that bent that poker! Six foot three in height, activ_s a squirrel, dexterous with his fingers, finally, remarkably quick-witted, for this whole ingenious story is of his concoction. Yes, Watson, we have com_pon the handiwork of a very remarkable individual. And yet, in that bell- rope, he has given us a clue which should not have left us a doubt."
"Where was the clue?"
"Well, if you were to pull down a bell-rope, Watson, where would you expect i_o break? Surely at the spot where it is attached to the wire. Why should i_reak three inches from the top, as this one has done?"
"Because it is frayed there?"
"Exactly. This end, which we can examine, is frayed. He was cunning enough t_o that with his knife. But the other end is not frayed. You could not observ_hat from here, but if you were on the mantelpiece you would see that it i_ut clean off without any mark of fraying whatever. You can reconstruct wha_ccurred. The man needed the rope. He would not tear it down for fear o_iving the alarm by ringing the bell. What did he do? He sprang up on th_antelpiece, could not quite reach it, put his knee on the bracket—you wil_ee the impression in the dust— and so got his knife to bear upon the cord. _ould not reach the place by at least three inches—from which I infer that h_s at least three inches a bigger man than I. Look at that mark upon the sea_f the oaken chair! What is it?"
"Undoubtedly it is blood. This alone puts the lady's story out of court. I_he were seated on the chair when the crime was done, how comes that mark? No, no, she was placed in the chair AFTER the death of her husband. I'll wage_hat the black dress shows a corresponding mark to this. We have not yet me_ur Waterloo, Watson, but this is our Marengo, for it begins in defeat an_nds in victory. I should like now to have a few words with the nurse, Theresa. We must be wary for a while, if we are to get the information whic_e want."
She was an interesting person, this stern Australian nurse— taciturn, suspicious, ungracious, it took some time before Holmes's pleasant manner an_rank acceptance of all that she said thawed her into a correspondin_miability. She did not attempt to conceal her hatred for her late employer.
"Yes, sir, it is true that he threw the decanter at me. I heard him call m_istress a name, and I told him that he would not dare to speak so if he_rother had been there. Then it was that he threw it at me. He might hav_hrown a dozen if he had but left my bonny bird alone. He was forever ill- treating her, and she too proud to complain. She will not even tell me al_hat he has done to her. She never told me of those marks on her arm that yo_aw this morning, but I know very well that they come from a stab with _atpin. The sly devil—God forgive me that I should speak of him so, now tha_e is dead! But a devil he was, if ever one walked the earth. He was all hone_hen first we met him—only eighteen months ago, and we both feel as if it wer_ighteen years. She had only just arrived in London. Yes, it was her firs_oyage—she had never been from home before. He won her with his title and hi_oney and his false London ways. If she made a mistake she has paid for it, i_ver a woman did. What month did we meet him? Well, I tell you it was jus_fter we arrived. We arrived in June, and it was July. They were married i_anuary of last year. Yes, she is down in the morning-room again, and I hav_o doubt she will see you, but you must not ask too much of her, for she ha_one through all that flesh and blood will stand."
Lady Brackenstall was reclining on the same couch, but looked brighter tha_efore. The maid had entered with us, and began once more to foment the bruis_pon her mistress's brow.
"I hope," said the lady, "that you have not come to cross-examine me again?"
"No," Holmes answered, in his gentlest voice, "I will not cause you an_nnecessary trouble, Lady Brackenstall, and my whole desire is to make thing_asy for you, for I am convinced that you are a much-tried woman. If you wil_reat me as a friend and trust me, you may find that I will justify you_rust."
"What do you want me to do?"
"To tell me the truth."
"No, no, Lady Brackenstall—it is no use. You may have heard of any littl_eputation which I possess. I will stake it all on the fact that your story i_n absolute fabrication."
Mistress and maid were both staring at Holmes with pale faces and frightene_yes. "You are an impudent fellow!" cried Theresa. "Do you mean to say that m_istress has told a lie?"
Holmes rose from his chair. "Have you nothing to tell me?"
"I have told you everything."
"Think once more, Lady Brackenstall. Would it not be better to be frank?"
For an instant there was hesitation in her beautiful face. Then some ne_trong thought caused it to set like a mask. "I have told you all I know."
Holmes took his hat and shrugged his shoulders. "I am sorry," he said, an_ithout another word we left the room and the house. There was a pond in th_ark, and to this my friend led the way. It was frozen over, but a single hol_as left for the convenience of a solitary swan. Holmes gazed at it, and the_assed on to the lodge gate. There he scribbled a short note for Stanle_opkins, and left it with the lodge-keeper.
"It may be a hit, or it may be a miss, but we are bound to do something fo_riend Hopkins, just to justify this second visit," said he. "I will not quit_ake him into my confidence yet. I think our next scene of operations must b_he shipping office of the Adelaide-Southampton line, which stands at the en_f Pall Mall, if I remember right. There is a second line of steamers whic_onnect South Australia with England, but we will draw the larger cove_irst."
Holmes's card sent in to the manager ensured instant attention, and he was no_ong in acquiring all the information he needed. In June of '95, only one o_heir line had reached a home port. It was the ROCK OF GIBRALTAR, thei_argest and best boat. A reference to the passenger list showed that Mis_raser, of Adelaide, with her maid had made the voyage in her. The boat wa_ow somewhere south of the Suez Canal on her way to Australia. Her officer_ere the same as in '95, with one exception. The first officer, Mr. Jac_rocker, had been made a captain and was to take charge of their new ship, th_ASS ROCK, sailing in two days' time from Southampton. He lived at Sydenham, but he was likely to be in that morning for instructions, if we cared to wai_or him.
No, Mr. Holmes had no desire to see him, but would be glad to know more abou_is record and character.
His record was magnificent. There was not an officer in the fleet to touc_im. As to his character, he was reliable on duty, but a wild, desperat_ellow off the deck of his ship— hotheaded, excitable, but loyal, honest, an_indhearted. That was the pith of the information with which Holmes left th_ffice of the Adelaide-Southampton company. Thence he drove to Scotland Yard, but, instead of entering, he sat in his cab with his brows drawn down, lost i_rofound thought. Finally he drove round to the Charing Cross telegrap_ffice, sent off a message, and then, at last, we made for Baker Street onc_ore.
"No, I couldn't do it, Watson," said he, as we reentered our room. "Once tha_arrant was made out, nothing on earth would save him. Once or twice in m_areer I feel that I have done more real harm by my discovery of the crimina_han ever he had done by his crime. I have learned caution now, and I ha_ather play tricks with the law of England than with my own conscience. Let u_now a little more before we act."
Before evening, we had a visit from Inspector Stanley Hopkins. Things were no_oing very well with him.
"I believe that you are a wizard, Mr. Holmes. I really do sometimes think tha_ou have powers that are not human. Now, how on earth could you know that th_tolen silver was at the bottom of that pond?"
"I didn't know it."
"But you told me to examine it."
"You got it, then?"
"Yes, I got it."
"I am very glad if I have helped you."
"But you haven't helped me. You have made the affair far more difficult. Wha_ort of burglars are they who steal silver and then throw it into the neares_ond?"
"It was certainly rather eccentric behavior. I was merely going on the ide_hat if the silver had been taken by persons who did not want it—who merel_ook it for a blind, as it were—then they would naturally be anxious to ge_id of it."
"But why should such an idea cross your mind?"
"Well, I thought it was possible. When they came out through the Frenc_indow, there was the pond with one tempting little hole in the ice, right i_ront of their noses. Could there be a better hiding-place?"
"Ah, a hiding-place—that is better!" cried Stanley Hopkins. "Yes, yes, I se_t all now! It was early, there were folk upon the roads, they were afraid o_eing seen with the silver, so they sank it in the pond, intending to retur_or it when the coast was clear. Excellent, Mr. Holmes—that is better tha_our idea of a blind."
"Quite so, you have got an admirable theory. I have no doubt that my own idea_ere quite wild, but you must admit that they have ended in discovering th_ilver."
"Yes, sir—yes. It was all your doing. But I have had a bad setback."
"Yes, Mr. Holmes. The Randall gang were arrested in New York this morning."
"Dear me, Hopkins! That is certainly rather against your theory that the_ommitted a murder in Kent last night."
"It is fatal, Mr. Holmes—absolutely fatal. Still, there are other gangs o_hree besides the Randalls, or it may be some new gang of which the polic_ave never heard."
"Quite so, it is perfectly possible. What, are you off?"
Yes, Mr. Holmes, there is no rest for me until I have got to the bottom of th_usiness. I suppose you have no hint to give me?"
"I have given you one."
"Well, I suggested a blind."
"But why, Mr. Holmes, why?"
"Ah, that's the question, of course. But I commend the idea to your mind. Yo_ight possibly find that there was something in it. You won't stop for dinner?
Well, good-bye, and let us know how you get on."
Dinner was over, and the table cleared before Holmes alluded to the matte_gain. He had lit his pipe and held his slippered feet to the cheerful blaz_f the fire. Suddenly he looked at his watch. "I expect developments, Watson."
"Now—within a few minutes. I dare say you thought I acted rather badly t_tanley Hopkins just now?"
"I trust your judgment."
"A very sensible reply, Watson. You must look at it this way: what I know i_nofficial, what he knows is official. I have the right to private judgment, but he has none. He must disclose all, or he is a traitor to his service. In _oubtful case I would not put him in so painful a position, and so I reserv_y information until my own mind is clear upon the matter."
"But when will that be?"
"The time has come. You will now be present at the last scene of a remarkabl_ittle drama."
There was a sound upon the stairs, and our door was opened to admit as fine _pecimen of manhood as ever passed through it. He was a very tall young man, golden mustached, blue-eyed, with a skin which had been burned by tropica_uns, and a springy step, which showed that the huge frame was as active as i_as strong. He closed the door behind him, and then he stood with clenche_ands and heaving breast, choking down some overmastering emotion.
"Sit down, Captain Crocker. You got my telegram?"
Our visitor sank into an armchair and looked from one to the other of us wit_uestioning eyes. "I got your telegram, and I came at the hour you said. _eard that you had been down to the office. There was no getting away fro_ou. Let's hear the worst. What are you going to do with me? Arrest me? Spea_ut, man! You can't sit there and play with me like a cat with a mouse."
"Give him a cigar," said Holmes. "Bite on that, Captain Crocker, and don't le_our nerves run away with you. I should not sit here smoking with you if _hought that you were a common criminal, you may be sure of that. Be fran_ith me and we may do some good. Play tricks with me, and I'll crush you."
"What do you wish me to do?"
"To give me a true account of all that happened at the Abbey Grange las_ight—a TRUE account, mind you, with nothing added and nothing taken off. _now so much already that if you go one inch off the straight, I'll blow thi_olice whistle from my window and the affair goes out of my hands forever."
The sailor thought for a little. Then he struck his leg with his grea_unburned hand.
"I'll chance it," he cried. "I believe you are a man of your word, and a whit_an, and I'll tell you the whole story. But one thing I will say first. So fa_s I am concerned, I regret nothing and I fear nothing, and I would do it al_gain and be proud of the job. Damn the beast, if he had as many lives as _at, he would owe them all to me! But it's the lady, Mary—Mary Fraser—fo_ever will I call her by that accursed name. When I think of getting her int_rouble, I who would give my life just to bring one smile to her dear face, it's that that turns my soul into water. And yet—and yet—what less could I do?
I'll tell you my story, gentlemen, and then I'll ask you, as man to man, wha_ess could I do?
"I must go back a bit. You seem to know everything, so I expect that you kno_hat I met her when she was a passenger and I was first officer of the ROCK O_IBRALTAR. From the first day I met her, she was the only woman to me. Ever_ay of that voyage I loved her more, and many a time since have I kneeled dow_n the darkness of the night watch and kissed the deck of that ship because _new her dear feet had trod it. She was never engaged to me. She treated me a_airly as ever a woman treated a man. I have no complaint to make. It was al_ove on my side, and all good comradeship and friendship on hers. When w_arted she was a free woman, but I could never again be a free man.
"Next time I came back from sea, I heard of her marriage. Well, why shouldn'_he marry whom she liked? Title and money—who could carry them better tha_he? She was born for all that is beautiful and dainty. I didn't grieve ove_er marriage. I was not such a selfish hound as that. I just rejoiced tha_ood luck had come her way, and that she had not thrown herself away on _enniless sailor. That's how I loved Mary Fraser.
"Well, I never thought to see her again, but last voyage I was promoted, an_he new boat was not yet launched, so I had to wait for a couple of month_ith my people at Sydenham. One day out in a country lane I met Theres_right, her old maid. She told me all about her, about him, about everything.
I tell you, gentlemen, it nearly drove me mad. This drunken hound, that h_hould dare to raise his hand to her, whose boots he was not worthy to lick! _et Theresa again. Then I met Mary herself— and met her again. Then she woul_eet me no more. But the other day I had a notice that I was to start on m_oyage within a week, and I determined that I would see her once before _eft. Theresa was always my friend, for she loved Mary and hated this villai_lmost as much as I did. From her I learned the ways of the house. Mary use_o sit up reading in her own little room downstairs. I crept round there las_ight and scratched at the window. At first she would not open to me, but i_er heart I know that now she loves me, and she could not leave me in th_rosty night. She whispered to me to come round to the big front window, and _ound it open before me, so as to let me into the dining-room. Again I hear_rom her own lips things that made my blood boil, and again I cursed thi_rute who mishandled the woman I loved. Well, gentlemen, I was standing wit_er just inside the window, in all innocence, as God is my judge, when h_ushed like a madman into the room, called her the vilest name that a ma_ould use to a woman, and welted her across the face with the stick he had i_is hand. I had sprung for the poker, and it was a fair fight between us. Se_ere, on my arm, where his first blow fell. Then it was my turn, and I wen_hrough him as if he had been a rotten pumpkin. Do you think I was sorry? No_! It was his life or mine, but far more than that, it was his life or hers, for how could I leave her in the power of this madman? That was how I kille_im. Was I wrong? Well, then, what would either of you gentlemen have done, i_ou had been in my position?"
"She had screamed when he struck her, and that brought old Theresa down fro_he room above. There was a bottle of wine on the sideboard, and I opened i_nd poured a little between Mary's lips, for she was half dead with shock.
Then I took a drop myself. Theresa was as cool as ice, and it was her plot a_uch as mine. We must make it appear that burglars had done the thing. Theres_ept on repeating our story to her mistress, while I swarmed up and cut th_ope of the bell. Then I lashed her in her chair, and frayed out the end o_he rope to make it look natural, else they would wonder how in the world _urglar could have got up there to cut it. Then I gathered up a few plates an_ots of silver, to carry out the idea of the robbery, and there I left them, with orders to give the alarm when I had a quarter of an hour's start. _ropped the silver into the pond, and made off for Sydenham, feeling that fo_nce in my life I had done a real good night's work. And that's the truth an_he whole truth, Mr. Holmes, if it costs me my neck."
Holmes smoked for some time in silence. Then he crossed the room, and shoo_ur visitor by the hand.
"That's what I think," said he. "I know that every word is true, for you hav_ardly said a word which I did not know. No one but an acrobat or a sailo_ould have got up to that bell-rope from the bracket, and no one but a sailo_ould have made the knots with which the cord was fastened to the chair. Onl_nce had this lady been brought into contact with sailors, and that was on he_oyage, and it was someone of her own class of life, since she was trying har_o shield him, and so showing that she loved him. You see how easy it was fo_e to lay my hands upon you when once I had started upon the right trail."
"I thought the police never could have seen through our dodge."
"And the police haven't, nor will they, to the best of my belief. Now, loo_ere, Captain Crocker, this is a very serious matter, though I am willing t_dmit that you acted under the most extreme provocation to which any man coul_e subjected. I am not sure that in defense of your own life your action wil_ot be pronounced legitimate. However, that is for a British jury to decide.
Meanwhile I have so much sympathy for you that, if you choose to disappear i_he next twenty-four hours, I will promise you that no one will hinder you."
"And then it will all come out?"
"Certainly it will come out."
The sailor flushed with anger.
"What sort of proposal is that to make a man? I know enough of law t_nderstand that Mary would be held as accomplice. Do you think I would leav_er alone to face the music while I slunk away? No, sir, let them do thei_orst upon me, but for heaven's sake, Mr. Holmes, find some way of keeping m_oor Mary out of the courts."
Holmes for a second time held out his hand to the sailor.
"I was only testing you, and you ring true every time. Well, it is a grea_esponsibility that I take upon myself, but I have given Hopkins an excellen_int and if he can't avail himself of it I can do no more. See here, Captai_rocker, we'll do this in due form of law. You are the prisoner. Watson, yo_re a British jury, and I never met a man who was more eminently fitted t_epresent one. I am the judge. Now, gentleman of the jury, you have heard th_vidence. Do you find the prisoner guilty or not guilty?"
"Not guilty, my lord," said I.
"VOX POPULI, VOX DEI. You are acquitted, Captain Crocker. So long as the la_oes not find some other victim you are safe from me. Come back to this lad_n a year, and may her future and yours justify us in the judgment which w_ave pronounced this night!"