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The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

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impression that he had been murdered by her only child. It was
a masterpiece of villainy, and he carried it out like a master.
The idea of the will, which would give an obvious motive for the
crime, the secret visit unknown to his own parents, the retention
of the stick, the blood, and the animal remains and buttons in the
wood-pile, all were admirable. It was a net from which it seemed
to me a few hours ago that there was no possible escape. But he
had not that supreme gift of the artist, the knowledge of when to
stop. He wished to improve that which was already perfect --
to draw the rope tighter yet round the neck of his unfortunate
victim -- and so he ruined all. Let us descend, Lestrade.
There are just one or two questions that I would ask him."

The malignant creature was seated in his own parlour with a
policeman upon each side of him.

"It was a joke, my good sir, a practical joke, nothing more,"
he whined incessantly. "I assure you, sir, that I simply
concealed myself in order to see the effect of my disappearance,
and I am sure that you would not be so unjust as to imagine that
I would have allowed any harm to befall poor young Mr. McFarlane."

"That's for a jury to decide," said Lestrade. "Anyhow, we shall
have you on a charge of conspiracy, if not for attempted murder."

"And you'll probably find that your creditors will impound the
banking account of Mr. Cornelius," said Holmes.

The little man started and turned his malignant eyes upon my friend.

"I have to thank you for a good deal," said he. "Perhaps I'll
pay my debt some day."

Holmes smiled indulgently.

"I fancy that for some few years you will find your time very
fully occupied," said he. "By the way, what was it you put into
the wood-pile besides your old trousers? A dead dog, or rabbits,
or what? You won't tell? Dear me, how very unkind of you!
Well, well, I dare say that a couple of rabbits would account
both for the blood and for the charred ashes. If ever you write
an account, Watson, you can make rabbits serve your turn."
---------------------------------------------------------------

THE STRAND MAGAZINE
Vol. 26 DECEMBER, 1903
THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES.
By ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE.

III. --- The Adventure of the Dancing Men.

HOLMES had been seated for some hours in silence with his long,
thin back curved over a chemical vessel in which he was brewing
a particularly malodorous product. His head was sunk upon his
breast, and he looked from my point of view like a strange,
lank bird, with dull grey plumage and a black top-knot.

"So, Watson," said he, suddenly, "you do not propose to invest
in South African securities?"

I gave a start of astonishment. Accustomed as I was to Holmes's
curious faculties, this sudden intrusion into my most intimate
thoughts was utterly inexplicable.

"How on earth do you know that?" I asked.

He wheeled round upon his stool, with a steaming test-tube
in his hand and a gleam of amusement in his deep-set eyes.

"Now, Watson, confess yourself utterly taken aback," said he.

"I am."

"I ought to make you sign a paper to that effect."

"Why?"

"Because in five minutes you will say that it is all so
absurdly simple."

"I am sure that I shall say nothing of the kind."

"You see, my dear Watson" -- he propped his test-tube in the
rack and began to lecture with the air of a professor addressing
his class -- "it is not really difficult to construct a series
of inferences, each dependent upon its predecessor and each
simple in itself. If, after doing so, one simply knocks out all
the central inferences and presents one's audience with the
starting-point and the conclusion, one may produce a startling,
though possibly a meretricious, effect. Now, it was not really
difficult, by an inspection of the groove between your left
forefinger and thumb, to feel sure that you did NOT propose
to invest your small capital in the goldfields."

"I see no connection."

"Very likely not; but I can quickly show you a close connection.
Here are the missing links of the very simple chain: 1. You had
chalk between your left finger and thumb when you returned from the
club last night. 2. You put chalk there when you play billiards to
steady the cue. 3. You never play billiards except with Thurston.
4. You told me four weeks ago that Thurston had an option on some
South African property which would expire in a month, and which he
desired you to share with him. 5. Your cheque-book is locked in my
drawer, and you have not asked for the key. 6. You do not propose
to invest your money in this manner."

"How absurdly simple!" I cried.

"Quite so!" said he, a little nettled. "Every problem becomes
very childish when once it is explained to you. Here is an
unexplained one. See what you can make of that, friend Watson."
He tossed a sheet of paper upon the table and turned once more
to his chemical analysis.

I looked with amazement at the absurd hieroglyphics upon the paper.

"Why, Holmes, it is a child's drawing," I cried.

"Oh, that's your idea!"

"What else should it be?"

"That is what Mr. Hilton Cubitt, of Riding Thorpe Manor, Norfolk,
is very anxious to know. This little conundrum came by the first
post, and he was to follow by the next train. There's a ring at the
bell, Watson. I should not be very much surprised if this were he."

A heavy step was heard upon the stairs, and an instant later
there entered a tall, ruddy, clean-shaven gentleman, whose clear
eyes and florid cheeks told of a life led far from the fogs of
Baker Street. He seemed to bring a whiff of his strong, fresh,
bracing, east-coast air with him as he entered. Having shaken
hands with each of us, he was about to sit down when his eye
rested upon the paper with the curious markings, which I had
just examined and left upon the table.

"Well, Mr. Holmes, what do you make of these?" he cried.
"They told me that you were fond of queer mysteries, and I don't
think you can find a queerer one than that. I sent the paper on
ahead so that you might have time to study it before I came."

"It is certainly rather a curious production," said Holmes.
"At first sight it would appear to be some childish prank.
It consists of a number of absurd little figures dancing across
the paper upon which they are drawn. Why should you attribute
any importance to so grotesque an object?"

"I never should, Mr. Holmes. But my wife does. It is frightening
her to death. She says nothing, but I can see terror in her eyes.
That's why I want to sift the matter to the bottom."

Holmes held up the paper so that the sunlight shone full upon it.
It was a page torn from a note-book. The markings were done in
pencil, and ran in this way:--

GRAPHIC

Holmes examined it for some time, and then, folding it carefully up,
he placed it in his pocket-book.

"This promises to be a most interesting and unusual case," said he.
"You gave me a few particulars in your letter, Mr. Hilton Cubitt,
but I should be very much obliged if you would kindly go over it
all again for the benefit of my friend, Dr. Watson."

"I'm not much of a story-teller," said our visitor, nervously
clasping and unclasping his great, strong hands. "You'll just
ask me anything that I don't make clear. I'll begin at the time
of my marriage last year; but I want to say first of all that,
though I'm not a rich man, my people have been at Ridling Thorpe
for a matter of five centuries, and there is no better known
family in the County of Norfolk. Last year I came up to London
for the Jubilee, and I stopped at a boarding-house in Russell
Square, because Parker, the vicar of our parish, was staying in
it. There was an American young lady there -- Patrick was the
name -- Elsie Patrick. In some way we became friends, until
before my month was up I was as much in love as a man could be.
We were quietly married at a registry office, and we returned to
Norfolk a wedded couple. You'll think it very mad, Mr. Holmes,
that a man of a good old family should marry a wife in this
fashion, knowing nothing of her past or of her people; but if
you saw her and knew her it would help you to understand.

"She was very straight about it, was Elsie. I can't say
that she did not give me every chance of getting out of it
if I wished to do so. `I have had some very disagreeable
associations in my life,' said she; `I wish to forget all about
them. I would rather never allude to the past, for it is very
painful to me. If you take me, Hilton, you will take a woman who
has nothing that she need be personally ashamed of; but you will
have to be content with my word for it, and to allow me to be
silent as to all that passed up to the time when I became yours.
If these conditions are too hard, then go back to Norfolk and
leave me to the lonely life in which you found me.' It was only
the day before our wedding that she said those very words to me.
I told her that I was content to take her on her own terms, and
I have been as good as my word.

"Well, we have been married now for a year, and very happy we
have been. But about a month ago, at the end of June, I saw
for the first time signs of trouble. One day my wife received
a letter from America. I saw the American stamp. She turned
deadly white, read the letter, and threw it into the fire.
She made no allusion to it afterwards, and I made none, for a
promise is a promise; but she has never known an easy hour from
that moment. There is always a look of fear upon her face --
a look as if she were waiting and expecting. She would do
better to trust me. She would find that I was her best friend.
But until she speaks I can say nothing. Mind you, she is a
truthful woman, Mr. Holmes, and whatever trouble there may have
been in her past life it has been no fault of hers. I am only
a simple Norfolk squire, but there is not a man in England who
ranks his family honour more highly than I do. She knows it well,
and she knew it well before she married me. She would never
bring any stain upon it -- of that I am sure.

"Well, now I come to the queer part of my story. About a week
ago -- it was the Tuesday of last week -- I found on one of the
window-sills a number of absurd little dancing figures, like
these upon the paper. They were scrawled with chalk. I thought
that it was the stable-boy who had drawn them, but the lad swore
he knew nothing about it. Anyhow, they had come there during
the night. I had them washed out, and I only mentioned the
matter to my wife afterwards. To my surprise she took it very
seriously, and begged me if any more came to let her see them.
None did come for a week, and then yesterday morning I found
this paper lying on the sun-dial in the garden. I showed it to
Elsie, and down she dropped in a dead faint. Since then she has
looked like a woman in a dream, half dazed, and with terror
always lurking in her eyes. It was then that I wrote and sent
the paper to you, Mr. Holmes. It was not a thing that I could
take to the police, for they would have laughed at me, but you
will tell me what to do. I am not a rich man; but if there is
any danger threatening my little woman I would spend my last
copper to shield her."

He was a fine creature, this man of the old English soil,
simple, straight, and gentle, with his great, earnest blue eyes
and broad, comely face. His love for his wife and his trust in
her shone in his features. Holmes had listened to his story
with the utmost attention, and now he sat for some time in
silent thought.

"Don't you think, Mr. Cubitt," said he, at last, "that your best
plan would be to make a direct appeal to your wife, and to ask
her to share her secret with you?"

Hilton Cubitt shook his massive head.

"A promise is a promise, Mr. Holmes. If Elsie wished to tell
me she would. If not, it is not for me to force her confidence.
But I am justified in taking my own line -- and I will."

"Then I will help you with all my heart. In the first place,
have you heard of any strangers being seen in your neighbourhood?"

"No."

"I presume that it is a very quiet place. Any fresh face would
cause comment?"

"In the immediate neighbourhood, yes. But we have several small
watering-places not very far away. And the farmers take in lodgers."

"These hieroglyphics have evidently a meaning. If it is a
purely arbitrary one it may be impossible for us to solve it.
If, on the other hand, it is systematic, I have no doubt that
we shall get to the bottom of it. But this particular sample
is so short that I can do nothing, and the facts which you have
brought me are so indefinite that we have no basis for an
investigation. I would suggest that you return to Norfolk,
that you keep a keen look-out, and that you take an exact copy
of any fresh dancing men which may appear. It is a thousand
pities that we have not a reproduction of those which were done
in chalk upon the window-sill. Make a discreet inquiry also as
to any strangers in the neighbourhood. When you have collected
some fresh evidence come to me again. That is the best advice
which I can give you, Mr. Hilton Cubitt. If there are any
pressing fresh developments I shall be always ready to run down
and see you in your Norfolk home."

The interview left Sherlock Holmes very thoughtful, and several
times in the next few days I saw him take his slip of paper from
his note-book and look long and earnestly at the curious figures
inscribed upon it. He made no allusion to the affair, however,
until one afternoon a fortnight or so later. I was going out
when he called me back.

"You had better stay here, Watson."

"Why?"

"Because I had a wire from Hilton Cubitt this morning -- you
remember Hilton Cubitt, of the dancing men? He was to reach
Liverpool Street at one-twenty. He may be here at any moment.
I gather from his wire that there have been some new incidents
of importance."

We had not long to wait, for our Norfolk squire came straight from
the station as fast as a hansom could bring him. He was looking
worried and depressed, with tired eyes and a lined forehead.

"It's getting on my nerves, this business, Mr. Holmes," said he,
as he sank, like a wearied man, into an arm-chair. "It's bad
enough to feel that you are surrounded by unseen, unknown folk,
who have some kind of design upon you; but when, in addition to
that, you know that it is just killing your wife by inches, then
it becomes as much as flesh and blood can endure. She's wearing
away under it -- just wearing away before my eyes."

"Has she said anything yet?"

"No, Mr. Holmes, she has not. And yet there have been times
when the poor girl has wanted to speak, and yet could not quite
bring herself to take the plunge. I have tried to help her;
but I dare say I did it clumsily, and scared her off from it.
She has spoken about my old family, and our reputation in the county,
and our pride in our unsullied honour, and I always felt it was
leading to the point; but somehow it turned off before we got there."

"But you have found out something for yourself?"

"A good deal, Mr. Holmes. I have several fresh dancing men
pictures for you to examine, and, what is more important,
I have seen the fellow."

"What, the man who draws them?"

"Yes, I saw him at his work. But I will tell you everything
in order. When I got back after my visit to you, the very first
thing I saw next morning was a fresh crop of dancing men.
They had been drawn in chalk upon the black wooden door of the
tool-house, which stands beside the lawn in full view of the
front windows. I took an exact copy, and here it is."
He unfolded a paper and laid it upon the table. Here is a copy
of the hieroglyphics:--

GRAPHIC

"Excellent!" said Holmes. "Excellent! Pray continue."

"When I had taken the copy I rubbed out the marks;
but two mornings later a fresh inscription had appeared.
I have a copy of it here":--

GRAPHIC

Holmes rubbed his hands and chuckled with delight.

"Our material is rapidly accumulating," said he.

"Three days later a message was left scrawled upon paper,
and placed under a pebble upon the sun-dial. Here it is.
The characters are, as you see, exactly the same as the last one.
After that I determined to lie in wait; so I got out my revolver
and I sat up in my study, which overlooks the lawn and garden.
About two in the morning I was seated by the window, all being
dark save for the moonlight outside, when I heard steps behind
me, and there was my wife in her dressing-gown. She implored me
to come to bed. I told her frankly that I wished to see who it
was who played such absurd tricks upon us. She answered that it
was some senseless practical joke, and that I should not take
any notice of it.

"`If it really annoys you, Hilton, we might go and travel,
you and I, and so avoid this nuisance.'

"`What, be driven out of our own house by a practical joker?'
said I. `Why, we should have the whole county laughing at us.'

"`Well, come to bed,' said she, `and we can discuss it
in the morning.'

"Suddenly, as she spoke, I saw her white face grow whiter yet
in the moonlight, and her hand tightened upon my shoulder.
Something was moving in the shadow of the tool-house. I saw a
dark, creeping figure which crawled round the corner and
squatted in front of the door. Seizing my pistol I was rushing
out, when my wife threw her arms round me and held me with
convulsive strength. I tried to throw her off, but she clung
to me most desperately. At last I got clear, but by the time
I had opened the door and reached the house the creature was gone.
He had left a trace of his presence, however, for there on the
door was the very same arrangement of dancing men which had
already twice appeared, and which I have copied on that paper.
There was no other sign of the fellow anywhere, though I ran all
over the grounds. And yet the amazing thing is that he must have
been there all the time, for when I examined the door again in
the morning he had scrawled some more of his pictures under the
line which I had already seen."

"Have you that fresh drawing?"

"Yes; it is very short, but I made a copy of it, and here it is."

Again he produced a paper. The new dance was in this form:--

GRAPHIC

"Tell me," said Holmes -- and I could see by his eyes that
he was much excited -- "was this a mere addition to the first,
or did it appear to be entirely separate?"

"It was on a different panel of the door."

"Excellent! This is far the most important of all for our
purpose. It fills me with hopes. Now, Mr. Hilton Cubitt,
please continue your most interesting statement."

"I have nothing more to say, Mr. Holmes, except that I was angry
with my wife that night for having held me back when I might
have caught the skulking rascal. She said that she feared that
I might come to harm. For an instant it had crossed my mind
that perhaps what she really feared was that HE might come to
harm, for I could not doubt that she knew who this man was and
what he meant by these strange signals. But there is a tone in
my wife's voice, Mr. Holmes, and a look in her eyes which forbid
doubt, and I am sure that it was indeed my own safety that was
in her mind. There's the whole case, and now I want your advice
as to what I ought to do. My own inclination is to put
half-a-dozen of my farm lads in the shrubbery, and when this
fellow comes again to give him such a hiding that he will leave
us in peace for the future."

"I fear it is too deep a case for such simple remedies,"
said Holmes. "How long can you stay in London?"

"I must go back to-day. I would not leave my wife alone all night
for anything. She is very nervous and begged me to come back."

"I dare say you are right. But if you could have stopped I
might possibly have been able to return with you in a day or
two. Meanwhile you will leave me these papers, and I think
that it is very likely that I shall be able to pay you a visit
shortly and to throw some light upon your case."

Sherlock Holmes preserved his calm professional manner until our
visitor had left us, although it was easy for me, who knew him
so well, to see that he was profoundly excited. The moment that
Hilton Cubitt's broad back had disappeared through the door my
comrade rushed to the table, laid out all the slips of paper
containing dancing men in front of him, and threw himself into
an intricate and elaborate calculation. For two hours I watched
him as he covered sheet after sheet of paper with figures and
letters, so completely absorbed in his task that he had
evidently forgotten my presence. Sometimes he was making
progress and whistled and sang at his work; sometimes he was
puzzled, and would sit for long spells with a furrowed brow and
a vacant eye. Finally he sprang from his chair with a cry of
satisfaction, and walked up and down the room rubbing his hands
together. Then he wrote a long telegram upon a cable form. "If
my answer to this is as I hope, you will have a very pretty case
to add to your collection, Watson," said he. "I expect that we
shall be able to go down to Norfolk to-morrow, and to take our
friend some very definite news as to the secret of his annoyance."

I confess that I was filled with curiosity, but I was aware that
Holmes liked to make his disclosures at his own time and in his
own way; so I waited until it should suit him to take me into
his confidence.

But there was a delay in that answering telegram, and two days
of impatience followed, during which Holmes pricked up his ears
at every ring of the bell. On the evening of the second there
came a letter from Hilton Cubitt. All was quiet with him,
save that a long inscription had appeared that morning upon the
pedestal of the sun-dial. He inclosed a copy of it, which is
here reproduced:--

GRAPHIC

Holmes bent over this grotesque frieze for some minutes,
and then suddenly sprang to his feet with an exclamation
of surprise and dismay. His face was haggard with anxiety.

"We have let this affair go far enough," said he.
"Is there a train to North Walsham to-night?"

I turned up the time-table. The last had just gone.

"Then we shall breakfast early and take the very first in the
morning," said Holmes. "Our presence is most urgently needed.
Ah! here is our expected cablegram. One moment, Mrs. Hudson;
there may be an answer. No, that is quite as I expected.
This message makes it even more essential that we should not
lose an hour in letting Hilton Cubitt know how matters stand,
for it is a singular and a dangerous web in which our simple
Norfolk squire is entangled."

So, indeed, it proved, and as I come to the dark conclusion of
a story which had seemed to me to be only childish and bizarre
I experience once again the dismay and horror with which I was
filled. Would that I had some brighter ending to communicate
to my readers, but these are the chronicles of fact, and I must
follow to their dark crisis the strange chain of events which
for some days made Ridling Thorpe Manor a household word through
the length and breadth of England.

We had hardly alighted at North Walsham, and mentioned the name
of our destination, when the station-master hurried towards us.
"I suppose that you are the detectives from London?" said he.

A look of annoyance passed over Holmes's face.

"What makes you think such a thing?"

"Because Inspector Martin from Norwich has just passed through.
But maybe you are the surgeons. She's not dead -- or wasn't by
last accounts. You may be in time to save her yet -- though it
be for the gallows."

Holmes's brow was dark with anxiety.

"We are going to Ridling Thorpe Manor," said he, "but we have
heard nothing of what has passed there."

"It's a terrible business," said the station-master. "They are
shot, both Mr. Hilton Cubitt and his wife. She shot him and
then herself -- so the servants say. He's dead and her life
is despaired of. Dear, dear, one of the oldest families in the
County of Norfolk, and one of the most honoured."

Without a word Holmes hurried to a carriage, and during the long
seven miles' drive he never opened his mouth. Seldom have I
seen him so utterly despondent. He had been uneasy during all
our journey from town, and I had observed that he had turned
over the morning papers with anxious attention; but now this
sudden realization of his worst fears left him in a blank
melancholy. He leaned back in his seat, lost in gloomy
speculation. Yet there was much around to interest us,
for we were passing through as singular a country-side as
any in England, where a few scattered cottages represented
the population of to-day, while on every hand enormous
square-towered churches bristled up from the flat, green
landscape and told of the glory and prosperity of old East
Anglia. At last the violet rim of the German Ocean appeared
over the green edge of the Norfolk coast, and the driver pointed
with his whip to two old brick and timber gables which projected
from a grove of trees. "That's Ridling Thorpe Manor," said he.

As we drove up to the porticoed front door I observed in front
of it, beside the tennis lawn, the black tool-house and the
pedestalled sun-dial with which we had such strange associations.
A dapper little man, with a quick, alert manner and a waxed
moustache, had just descended from a high dog-cart.
He introduced himself as Inspector Martin, of the Norfolk
Constabulary, and he was considerably astonished when he heard
the name of my companion.

"Why, Mr. Holmes, the crime was only committed at three this
morning. How could you hear of it in London and get to the spot
as soon as I?"

"I anticipated it. I came in the hope of preventing it."

"Then you must have important evidence of which we are ignorant,
for they were said to be a most united couple."

"I have only the evidence of the dancing men," said Holmes.
"I will explain the matter to you later. Meanwhile, since it
is too late to prevent this tragedy, I am very anxious that I
should use the knowledge which I possess in order to ensure that
justice be done. Will you associate me in your investigation,
or will you prefer that I should act independently?"

"I should be proud to feel that we were acting together,
Mr. Holmes," said the inspector, earnestly.

"In that case I should be glad to hear the evidence and to
examine the premises without an instant of unnecessary delay."

Inspector Martin had the good sense to allow my friend to do
things in his own fashion, and contented himself with carefully
noting the results. The local surgeon, an old, white-haired
man, had just come down from Mrs. Hilton Cubitt's room, and he
reported that her injuries were serious, but not necessarily
fatal. The bullet had passed through the front of her brain,
and it would probably be some time before she could regain
consciousness. On the question of whether she had been shot or
had shot herself he would not venture to express any decided
opinion. Certainly the bullet had been discharged at very close
quarters. There was only the one pistol found in the room,
two barrels of which had been emptied. Mr. Hilton Cubitt had
been shot through the heart. It was equally conceivable that he
had shot her and then himself, or that she had been the criminal,
for the revolver lay upon the floor midway between them.

"Has he been moved?" asked Holmes.

"We have moved nothing except the lady. We could not leave her
lying wounded upon the floor."

"How long have you been here, doctor?"

"Since four o'clock."

"Anyone else?"

"Yes, the constable here."

"And you have touched nothing?"

"Nothing."

"You have acted with great discretion. Who sent for you?"

"The housemaid, Saunders."

"Was it she who gave the alarm?"

"She and Mrs. King, the cook."

"Where are they now?"

"In the kitchen, I believe."

"Then I think we had better hear their story at once."

The old hall, oak-panelled and high-windowed, had been turned
into a court of investigation. Holmes sat in a great,
old-fashioned chair, his inexorable eyes gleaming out of his
haggard face. I could read in them a set purpose to devote his
life to this quest until the client whom he had failed to save
should at last be avenged. The trim Inspector Martin, the old,
grey-headed country doctor, myself, and a stolid village
policeman made up the rest of that strange company.

The two women told their story clearly enough. They had been
aroused from their sleep by the sound of an explosion, which had
been followed a minute later by a second one. They slept in
adjoining rooms, and Mrs. King had rushed in to Saunders.
Together they had descended the stairs. The door of the study
was open and a candle was burning upon the table. Their master
lay upon his face in the centre of the room. He was quite dead.
Near the window his wife was crouching, her head leaning against
the wall. She was horribly wounded, and the side of her face
was red with blood. She breathed heavily, but was incapable of
saying anything. The passage, as well as the room, was full of
smoke and the smell of powder. The window was certainly shut
and fastened upon the inside. Both women were positive upon
the point. They had at once sent for the doctor and for the
constable. Then, with the aid of the groom and the stable-boy,
they had conveyed their injured mistress to her room. Both she
and her husband had occupied the bed. She was clad in her dress
-- he in his dressing-gown, over his night clothes. Nothing had
been moved in the study. So far as they knew there had never
been any quarrel between husband and wife. They had always
looked upon them as a very united couple.

These were the main points of the servants' evidence. In answer
to Inspector Martin they were clear that every door was fastened
upon the inside, and that no one could have escaped from the
house. In answer to Holmes they both remembered that they were
conscious of the smell of powder from the moment that they ran
out of their rooms upon the top floor. "I commend that fact
very carefully to your attention," said Holmes to his
professional colleague. "And now I think that we are in a
position to undertake a thorough examination of the room."

The study proved to be a small chamber, lined on three sides
with books, and with a writing-table facing an ordinary window,
which looked out upon the garden. Our first attention was given
to the body of the unfortunate squire, whose huge frame lay
stretched across the room. His disordered dress showed that he
had been hastily aroused from sleep. The bullet had been fired
at him from the front, and had remained in his body after
penetrating the heart. His death had certainly been instantaneous
and painless. There was no powder-marking either upon his
dressing-gown or on his hands. According to the country surgeon
the lady had stains upon her face, but none upon her hand.

"The absence of the latter means nothing, though its presence
may mean everything," said Holmes. "Unless the powder from
a badly-fitting cartridge happens to spurt backwards, one may
fire many shots without leaving a sign. I would suggest that
Mr. Cubitt's body may now be removed. I suppose, doctor,
you have not recovered the bullet which wounded the lady?"

"A serious operation will be necessary before that can be done.
But there are still four cartridges in the revolver. Two have
been fired and two wounds inflicted, so that each bullet can be
accounted for."

"So it would seem," said Holmes. "Perhaps you can account also for
the bullet which has so obviously struck the edge of the window?"

He had turned suddenly, and his long, thin finger was pointing
to a hole which had been drilled right through the lower
window-sash about an inch above the bottom.

"By George!" cried the inspector. "How ever did you see that?"

"Because I looked for it."

"Wonderful!" said the country doctor. "You are certainly right,
sir. Then a third shot has been fired, and therefore a third
person must have been present. But who could that have been
and how could he have got away?"

"That is the problem which we are now about to solve," said
Sherlock Holmes. "You remember, Inspector Martin, when the
servants said that on leaving their room they were at once
conscious of a smell of powder I remarked that the point was
an extremely important one?"

"Yes, sir; but I confess I did not quite follow you."

"It suggested that at the time of the firing the window as well
as the door of the room had been open. Otherwise the fumes of
powder could not have been blown so rapidly through the house.
A draught in the room was necessary for that. Both door and
window were only open for a very short time, however."

"How do you prove that?"

"Because the candle has not guttered."

"Capital!" cried the inspector. "Capital!"

"Feeling sure that the window had been open at the time of the
tragedy I conceived that there might have been a third person in
the affair, who stood outside this opening and fired through it.
Any shot directed at this person might hit the sash. I looked,
and there, sure enough, was the bullet mark!"

"But how came the window to be shut and fastened?"

"The woman's first instinct would be to shut and fasten the window.
But, halloa! what is this?"

It was a lady's hand-bag which stood upon the study table --
a trim little hand-bag of crocodile-skin and silver. Holmes
opened it and turned the contents out. There were twenty
fifty-pound notes of the Bank of England, held together by an
india-rubber band -- nothing else.

"This must be preserved, for it will figure in the trial," said
Holmes, as he handed the bag with its contents to the inspector.
"It is now necessary that we should try to throw some light upon
this third bullet, which has clearly, from the splintering of
the wood, been fired from inside the room. I should like to see
Mrs. King, the cook, again. You said, Mrs. King, that you were
awakened by a LOUD explosion. When you said that, did you mean
that it seemed to you to be louder than the second one?"

"Well, sir, it wakened me from my sleep, and so it is hard to judge.
But it did seem very loud."

"You don't think that it might have been two shots fired almost
at the same instant?"

"I am sure I couldn't say, sir."

"I believe that it was undoubtedly so. I rather think,
Inspector Martin, that we have now exhausted all that this room
can teach us. If you will kindly step round with me, we shall
see what fresh evidence the garden has to offer."

A flower-bed extended up to the study window, and we all broke
into an exclamation as we approached it. The flowers were
trampled down, and the soft soil was imprinted all over with
footmarks. Large, masculine feet they were, with peculiarly long,
sharp toes. Holmes hunted about among the grass and leaves like a
retriever after a wounded bird. Then, with a cry of satisfaction,
he bent forward and picked up a little brazen cylinder.

"I thought so," said he; "the revolver had an ejector, and here
is the third cartridge. I really think, Inspector Martin, that
our case is almost complete."

The country inspector's face had shown his intense amazement
at the rapid and masterful progress of Holmes's investigation.
At first he had shown some disposition to assert his own position;
but now he was overcome with admiration and ready to follow
without question wherever Holmes led.

"Whom do you suspect?" he asked.

"I'll go into that later. There are several points in this
problem which I have not been able to explain to you yet.
Now that I have got so far I had best proceed on my own lines,
and then clear the whole matter up once and for all."

"Just as you wish, Mr. Holmes, so long as we get our man."

"I have no desire to make mysteries, but it is impossible at the
moment of action to enter into long and complex explanations.
I have the threads of this affair all in my hand. Even if this
lady should never recover consciousness we can still reconstruct
the events of last night and ensure that justice be done.
First of all I wish to know whether there is any inn in this
neighbourhood known as `Elrige's'?"

The servants were cross-questioned, but none of them had heard
of such a place. The stable-boy threw a light upon the matter
by remembering that a farmer of that name lived some miles off
in the direction of East Ruston.

"Is it a lonely farm?"

"Very lonely, sir."

"Perhaps they have not heard yet of all that happened here
during the night?"

"Maybe not, sir."

Holmes thought for a little and then a curious smile played
over his face.

"Saddle a horse, my lad," said he. "I shall wish you to take
a note to Elrige's Farm."

He took from his pocket the various slips of the dancing men.
With these in front of him he worked for some time at the
study-table. Finally he handed a note to the boy, with
directions to put it into the hands of the person to whom it was
addressed, and especially to answer no questions of any sort
which might be put to him. I saw the outside of the note,
addressed in straggling, irregular characters, very unlike
Holmes's usual precise hand. It was consigned to Mr. Abe
Slaney, Elrige's Farm, East Ruston, Norfolk.

"I think, inspector," Holmes remarked, "that you would do well
to telegraph for an escort, as, if my calculations prove to be
correct, you may have a particularly dangerous prisoner to
convey to the county gaol. The boy who takes this note could
no doubt forward your telegram. If there is an afternoon train
to town, Watson, I think we should do well to take it, as I have
a chemical analysis of some interest to finish, and this
investigation draws rapidly to a close."

When the youth had been dispatched with the note, Sherlock
Holmes gave his instructions to the servants. If any visitor
were to call asking for Mrs. Hilton Cubitt no information should
be given as to her condition, but he was to be shown at once
into the drawing-room. He impressed these points upon them with
the utmost earnestness. Finally he led the way into the
drawing-room with the remark that the business was now out of our
hands, and that we must while away the time as best we might until
we could see what was in store for us. The doctor had departed
to his patients, and only the inspector and myself remained.

"I think that I can help you to pass an hour in an interesting
and profitable manner," said Holmes, drawing his chair up to the
table and spreading out in front of him the various papers upon
which were recorded the antics of the dancing men. "As to you,
friend Watson, I owe you every atonement for having allowed your
natural curiosity to remain so long unsatisfied. To you,
inspector, the whole incident may appeal as a remarkable
professional study. I must tell you first of all the
interesting circumstances connected with the previous
consultations which Mr. Hilton Cubitt has had with me in Baker
Street." He then shortly recapitulated the facts which have
already been recorded. "I have here in front of me these
singular productions, at which one might smile had they not
proved themselves to be the fore-runners of so terrible a
tragedy. I am fairly familiar with all forms of secret
writings, and am myself the author of a trifling monograph upon
the subject, in which I analyze one hundred and sixty separate
ciphers; but I confess that this is entirely new to me.
The object of those who invented the system has apparently been
to conceal that these characters convey a message, and to give
the idea that they are the mere random sketches of children.

"Having once recognised, however, that the symbols stood for
letters, and having applied the rules which guide us in all
forms of secret writings, the solution was easy enough.
The first message submitted to me was so short that it was
impossible for me to do more than to say with some confidence
that the symbol XXX stood for E. As you are aware, E is the
most common letter in the English alphabet, and it predominates
to so marked an extent that even in a short sentence one would
expect to find it most often. Out of fifteen symbols in the
first message four were the same, so it was reasonable to set
this down as E. It is true that in some cases the figure was
bearing a flag and in some cases not, but it was probable from
the way in which the flags were distributed that they were used
to break the sentence up into words. I accepted this as a
hypothesis, and noted that E was represented by XXX.

"But now came the real difficulty of the inquiry. The order of
the English letters after E is by no means well marked, and any
preponderance which may be shown in an average of a printed
sheet may be reversed in a single short sentence. Speaking
roughly, T, A, O, I, N, S, H, R, D, and L are the numerical
order in which letters occur; but T, A, O, and I are very nearly
abreast of each other, and it would be an endless task to try
each combination until a meaning was arrived at. I, therefore,
waited for fresh material. In my second interview with Mr.
Hilton Cubitt he was able to give me two other short sentences
and one message, which appeared -- since there was no flag --
to be a single word. Here are the symbols. Now, in the single
word I have already got the two E's coming second and fourth in
a word of five letters. It might be `sever,' or `lever,' or
`never.' There can be no question that the latter as a reply
to an appeal is far the most probable, and the circumstances
pointed to its being a reply written by the lady. Accepting it
as correct, we are now able to say that the symbols XXX stand
respectively for N, V, and R.

"Even now I was in considerable difficulty, but a happy thought
put me in possession of several other letters. It occurred to
me that if these appeals came, as I expected, from someone who
had been intimate with the lady in her early life, a combination
which contained two E's with three letters between might very
well stand for the name `ELSIE.' On examination I found that
such a combination formed the termination of the message which
was three times repeated. It was certainly some appeal to `Elsie.'
In this way I had got my L, S, and I. But what appeal could it be?
There were only four letters in the word which preceded `Elsie,'
and it ended in E. Surely the word must be `COME.' I tried all
other four letters ending in E, but could find none to fit the case.
So now I was in possession of C, O, and M, and I was in a position
to attack the first message once more, dividing it into words
and putting dots for each symbol which was still unknown.
So treated it worked out in this fashion:--

.M .ERE ..E SL.NE.

"Now the first letter CAN only be A, which is a most useful
discovery, since it occurs no fewer than three times in this
short sentence, and the H is also apparent in the second word.
Now it becomes:--

AM HERE A.E SLANE.

Or, filling in the obvious vacancies in the name:--

AM HERE ABE SLANEY.

I had so many letters now that I could proceed with considerable
confidence to the second message, which worked out in this
fashion:--

A. ELRI.ES.

Here I could only make sense by putting T and G for the missing
letters, and supposing that the name was that of some house or
inn at which the writer was staying."

Inspector Martin and I had listened with the utmost interest to
the full and clear account of how my friend had produced results
which had led to so complete a command over our difficulties.

"What did you do then, sir?" asked the inspector.

"I had every reason to suppose that this Abe Slaney was an
American, since Abe is an American contraction, and since a
letter from America had been the starting-point of all the
trouble. I had also every cause to think that there was some
criminal secret in the matter. The lady's allusions to her past
and her refusal to take her husband into her confidence both
pointed in that direction. I therefore cabled to my friend,
Wilson Hargreave, of the New York Police Bureau, who has more
than once made use of my knowledge of London crime. I asked him
whether the name of Abe Slaney was known to him. Here is his
reply: `The most dangerous crook in Chicago.' On the very
evening upon which I had his answer Hilton Cubitt sent me the
last message from Slaney. Working with known letters it took
this form:--

ELSIE .RE.ARE TO MEET THY GO.

The addition of a P and a D completed a message which showed me
that the rascal was proceeding from persuasion to threats, and
my knowledge of the crooks of Chicago prepared me to find that
he might very rapidly put his words into action. I at once came
to Norfolk with my friend and colleague, Dr. Watson, but, unhappily,
only in time to find that the worst had already occurred."

"It is a privilege to be associated with you in the handling of
a case," said the inspector, warmly. "You will excuse me,
however, if I speak frankly to you. You are only answerable to
yourself, but I have to answer to my superiors. If this Abe
Slaney, living at Elrige's, is indeed the murderer, and if he
has made his escape while I am seated here, I should certainly
get into serious trouble."

"You need not be uneasy. He will not try to escape."

"How do you know?"

"To fly would be a confession of guilt."

"Then let us go to arrest him."

"I expect him here every instant."

"But why should he come?"

"Because I have written and asked him."

"But this is incredible, Mr. Holmes! Why should he come because
you have asked him? Would not such a request rather rouse his
suspicions and cause him to fly?"

"I think I have known how to frame the letter," said Sherlock
Holmes. "In fact, if I am not very much mistaken, here is the
gentleman himself coming up the drive."

A man was striding up the path which led to the door. He was a
tall, handsome, swarthy fellow, clad in a suit of grey flannel,
with a Panama hat, a bristling black beard, and a great,
aggressive hooked nose, and flourishing a cane as he walked.
He swaggered up the path as if the place belonged to him,
and we heard his loud, confident peal at the bell.

"I think, gentlemen," said Holmes, quietly, "that we had best
take up our position behind the door. Every precaution is
necessary when dealing with such a fellow. You will need your
handcuffs, inspector. You can leave the talking to me."

We waited in silence for a minute -- one of those minutes which
one can never forget. Then the door opened and the man stepped
in. In an instant Holmes clapped a pistol to his head and Martin
slipped the handcuffs over his wrists. It was all done so swiftly
and deftly that the fellow was helpless before he knew that he was
attacked. He glared from one to the other of us with a pair of
blazing black eyes. Then he burst into a bitter laugh.

"Well, gentlemen, you have the drop on me this time. I seem to
have knocked up against something hard. But I came here in
answer to a letter from Mrs. Hilton Cubitt. Don't tell me that she
is in this? Don't tell me that she helped to set a trap for me?"

"Mrs. Hilton Cubitt was seriously injured and is at death's door."

The man gave a hoarse cry of grief which rang through the house.

"You're crazy!" he cried, fiercely. "It was he that was hurt,
not she. Who would have hurt little Elsie? I may have
threatened her, God forgive me, but I would not have touched
a hair of her pretty head. Take it back -- you! Say that she
is not hurt!"

"She was found badly wounded by the side of her dead husband."

He sank with a deep groan on to the settee and buried his face in
his manacled hands. For five minutes he was silent. Then he raised
his face once more, and spoke with the cold composure of despair.

"I have nothing to hide from you, gentlemen," said he.
"If I shot the man he had his shot at me, and there's no murder
in that. But if you think I could have hurt that woman, then you
don't know either me or her. I tell you there was never a man
in this world loved a woman more than I loved her. I had a
right to her. She was pledged to me years ago. Who was this
Englishman that he should come between us? I tell you that I
had the first right to her, and that I was only claiming my own."

"She broke away from your influence when she found the man that
you are," said Holmes, sternly. "She fled from America to avoid
you, and she married an honourable gentleman in England.
You dogged her and followed her and made her life a misery to her
in order to induce her to abandon the husband whom she loved and
respected in order to fly with you, whom she feared and hated.
You have ended by bringing about the death of a noble man and
driving his wife to suicide. That is your record in this
business, Mr. Abe Slaney, and you will answer for it to the law."

"If Elsie dies I care nothing what becomes of me," said the
American. He opened one of his hands and looked at a note
crumpled up in his palm. "See here, mister, he cried, with a
gleam of suspicion in his eyes, "you're not trying to scare me
over this, are you? If the lady is hurt as bad as you say, who was
it that wrote this note?" He tossed it forwards on to the table.

"I wrote it to bring you here."

"You wrote it? There was no one on earth outside the Joint who
knew the secret of the dancing men. How came you to write it?"

"What one man can invent another can discover," said Holmes.
There is a cab coming to convey you to Norwich, Mr. Slaney.
But, meanwhile, you have time to make some small reparation for
the injury you have wrought. Are you aware that Mrs. Hilton
Cubitt has herself lain under grave suspicion of the murder
of her husband, and that it was only my presence here and the
knowledge which I happened to possess which has saved her from
the accusation? The least that you owe her is to make it clear
to the whole world that she was in no way, directly or
indirectly, responsible for his tragic end."

"I ask nothing better," said the American. "I guess the very
best case I can make for myself is the absolute naked truth."

"It is my duty to warn you that it will be used against you,"
cried the inspector, with the magnificent fair-play of the
British criminal law.

Slaney shrugged his shoulders.

"I'll chance that," said he. "First of all, I want you
gentlemen to understand that I have known this lady since she
was a child. There were seven of us in a gang in Chicago, and
Elsie's father was the boss of the Joint. He was a clever man,
was old Patrick. It was he who invented that writing, which
would pass as a child's scrawl unless you just happened to have
the key to it. Well, Elsie learned some of our ways; but she
couldn't stand the business, and she had a bit of honest money
of her own, so she gave us all the slip and got away to London.
She had been engaged to me, and she would have married me,
I believe, if I had taken over another profession; but she would
have nothing to do with anything on the cross. It was only
after her marriage to this Englishman that I was able to find
out where she was. I wrote to her, but got no answer. After
that I came over, and, as letters were no use, I put my messages
where she could read them.

"Well, I have been here a month now. I lived in that farm,
where I had a room down below, and could get in and out every
night, and no one the wiser. I tried all I could to coax Elsie
away. I knew that she read the messages, for once she wrote an
answer under one of them. Then my temper got the better of me,
and I began to threaten her. She sent me a letter then,
imploring me to go away and saying that it would break her heart
if any scandal should come upon her husband. She said that she
would come down when her husband was asleep at three in the
morning, and speak with me through the end window, if I would
go away afterwards and leave her in peace. She came down and
brought money with her, trying to bribe me to go. This made
me mad, and I caught her arm and tried to pull her through the
window. At that moment in rushed the husband with his revolver
in his hand. Elsie had sunk down upon the floor, and we were
face to face. I was heeled also, and I held up my gun to scare
him off and let me get away. He fired and missed me. I pulled
off almost at the same instant, and down he dropped. I made
away across the garden, and as I went I heard the window shut
behind me. That's God's truth, gentlemen, every word of it,
and I heard no more about it until that lad came riding up with
a note which made me walk in here, like a jay, and give myself
into your hands."

A cab had driven up whilst the American had been talking.
Two uniformed policemen sat inside. Inspector Martin rose
and touched his prisoner on the shoulder.

"It is time for us to go."

"Can I see her first?"

"No, she is not conscious. Mr. Sherlock Holmes, I only hope
that if ever again I have an important case I shall have the
good fortune to have you by my side."

We stood at the window and watched the cab drive away. As I
turned back my eye caught the pellet of paper which the prisoner
had tossed upon the table. It was the note with which Holmes
had decoyed him.

"See if you can read it, Watson," said he, with a smile.

It contained no word, but this little line of dancing men:--

GRAPHIC

"If you use the code which I have explained," said Holmes,
"you will find that it simply means `Come here at once.' I was
convinced that it was an invitation which he would not refuse,
since he could never imagine that it could come from anyone but
the lady. And so, my dear Watson, we have ended by turning the
dancing men to good when they have so often been the agents of
evil, and I think that I have fulfilled my promise of giving you
something unusual for your note-book. Three-forty is our train,
and I fancy we should be back in Baker Street for dinner.

Only one word of epilogue. The American, Abe Slaney, was
condemned to death at the winter assizes at Norwich; but his
penalty was changed to penal servitude in consideration of
mitigating circumstances, and the certainty that Hilton Cubitt
had fired the first shot. Of Mrs. Hilton Cubitt I only know
that I have heard she recovered entirely, and that she still
remains a widow, devoting her whole life to the care of the
poor and to the administration of her husband's estate.
---------------------------------------------------------------

THE STRAND MAGAZINE
Vol. 27 JANUARY, 1904
THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES.
By ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE.

IV. --- 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
circumstances 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 note-book 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-end, Watson, which is
common to both professions? There is a spirituality about the
face, however" -- he 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 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 would 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 he swore that he would not let me go until I had kissed him.
Mr. Carruthers came in and tore him off 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 towards 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 has 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, as 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 few 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 grey 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 athletic young lady's 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 rumour
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 back-hander 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 inconclusive 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 had 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 country-side with the glowing clumps of flowering
gorse seemed all the more beautiful to eyes which were weary of
the duns and drabs and slate-greys 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 had 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 onwards 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 the pallor of his face, and his 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 pocket. "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 am 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 hellhound 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, grey-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 note-book. "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 girl,
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 a 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 these 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
recognise 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 we 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
home-made 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

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