“I think, Watson, that we can catch the professor just before lunch. He lectures at eleven and should have an interval at home.”
“What possible excuse have we for calling?”
Holmes glanced at his notebook.
“There was a period of excitement upon August 26th. We will assume that he is a little hazy as to what he does at such times. If we insist that we are there by appointment I think he will hardly venture to contradict us. Have you the effrontery necessary to put it through?”
“We can but try.”
“Excellent, Watson! Compound of the Busy Bee and Excelsior. We can but try–the motto of the firm. A friendly native will surely guide us.”
Such a one on the back of a smart hansom swept us past a row of ancient colleges and, finally turning into a tree-lined drive, pulled up at the door of a charming house, girt round with lawns and covered with purple wistaria. Professor Presbury was certainly surrounded with every sign not only of comfort but of luxury. Even as we pulled up, a grizzled head appeared at the front window, and we were aware of a pair of keen eyes from under shaggy brows which surveyed us through large horn glasses. A moment later we were actually in his sanctum, and the mysterious scientist, whose vagaries had brought us from London, was standing before us. There was certainly no sign of eccentricity either in his manner or appearance, for he was a portly, largefeatured man, grave, tall, and frock-coated, with the dignity of bearing which a lecturer needs. His eyes were his most remarkable feature, keen, observant, and clever to the verge of cunning.
He looked at our cards. “Pray sit down, gentlemen. What can I do for you?”
Mr. Holmes smiled amiably.
“It was the question which I was about to put to you, Professor.”
“To me, sir!”
“Possibly there is some mistake. I heard through a second person that Professor Presbury of Camford had need of my services.”
“Oh, indeed!” It seemed to me that there was a malicious sparkle in the intense gray eyes. “You heard that, did you? May I ask the name of your informant?”
“I am sorry, Professor, but the matter was rather confidential. If I have made a mistake there is no harm done. I can only express my regret.”
“Not at all. I should wish to go further into this matter. It interests me. Have you any scrap of writing, any letter or telegram, to bear out your assertion?”
“No, I have not.”
“I presume that you do not go so far as to assert that I summoned you?”
“I would rather answer no questions,” said Holmes.
“No, I dare say not,” said the professor with asperity. “However, that particular one can be answered very easily without your aid.”
He walked across the room to the bell. Our London friend Mr. Bennett, answered the call.
“Come in, Mr. Bennett. These two gentlemen have come from London under the impression that they have been summoned. You handle all my correspondence. Have you a note of anything going to a person named Holmes?”
“No, sir,” Bennett answered with a flush.
“That is conclusive,” said the professor, glaring angrily at my companion. “Now, sir”–he leaned forward with his two hands upon the table–” it seems to me that your position is a very questionable one.”
Holmes shrugged his shoulders.
“I can only repeat that I am sorry that we have made a needless intrusion.”