I don’t think that any of my adventures with Mr. Sherlock Holmes opened quite so abruptly, or so dramatically, as that which I associate with The Three Gables. I had not seen Holmes for some days and had no idea of the new channel into which his activities had been directed. He was in a chatty mood that morning, however, and had just settled me into the well-worn low armchair on one side of the fire, while he had curled down with his pipe in his mouth upon the opposite chair, when our visitor arrived. If I had said that a mad bull had arrived it would give a clearer impression of what occurred.
The door had flown open and a huge negro had burst into the room. He would have been a comic figure if he had not been terrific, for he was dressed in a very loud gray check suit with a flowing salmon-coloured tie. His broad face and flattened nose were thrust forward, as his sullen dark eyes, with a smouldering gleam of malice in them, turned from one of us to the other.
“Which of you gen’l’men is Masser Holmes?” he asked.
Holmes raised his pipe with a languid smile.
“Oh! it’s you, is it?” said our visitor, coming with an unpleasant, stealthy step round the angle of the table. “See here, Masser Holmes, you keep your hands out of other folks’ business. Leave folks to manage their own affairs. Got that, Masser Holmes?”
“Keep on talking,” said Holmes. “It’s fine.”
“Oh! it’s fine, is it?” growled the savage. “It won’t be so damn fine if I have to trim you up a bit. I’ve handled your kind before now, and they didn’t look fine when I was through with them. Look at that, Masser Holmes!”
He swung a huge knotted lump of a fist under my friend’s nose. Holmes examined it closely with an air of great interest.
“Were you born so?” he asked. “Or did it come by degrees?”
It may have been the icy coolness of my friend, or it may have been the slight clatter which I made as I picked up the poker. In any case, our visitor’s manner became less flamboyant.
“Well, I’ve given you fair warnin’,” said he. “I’ve a friend that’s interested out Harrow way–you know what I’m meaning–and he don’t intend to have no buttin’ in by you. Got that? You ain’t the law, and I ain’t the law either, and if you come in I’ll be on hand also. Don’t you forget it.”
“I’ve wanted to meet you for some time,” said Holmes. “I won’t ask you to sit down, for I don’t like the smell of you, but aren’t you Steve Dixie, the bruiser?”
“That’s my name, Masser Holmes, and you’ll get put through it for sure if you give me any lip.”
“It is certainly the last thing you need,” said Holmes, staring at our visitor’s hideous mouth. “But it was the killing of young Perkins outside the Holborn–Bar What! you’re not going?”
The negro had sprung back, and his face was leaden. “I won’t listen to no such talk,” said he. “What have I to do with this ‘ere Perkins, Masser Holmes? I was trainin’ at the Bull Ring in Birmingham when this boy done gone get into trouble.”
“Yes, you’ll tell the magistrate about it, Steve,” said Holmes. “I’ve been watching you and Barney Stockdale–”
“So help me the Lord! Masser Holmes–”
“That’s enough. Get out of it. I’ll pick you up when I want you.”
“Good-mornin’, Masser Holmes. I hope there ain’t no hard feelin’s about this ‘ere visit?”
“There will be unless you tell me who sent you.”
“Why, there ain’t no secret about that, Masser Holmes. It was that same gen’l’man that you have just done gone mention.”
“And who set him on to it?”
“S’elp me. I don’t know, Masser Holmes. He just say, ‘Steve, you go see Mr. Holmes, and tell him his life ain’t safe if he go down Harrow way.’ That’s the whole truth.” Without waiting for any further questioning, our visitor bolted out of the room almost as precipitately as he had entered. Holmes knocked out the ashes of his pipe with a quiet chuckle.
“I am glad you were not forced to break his woolly head, Watson. I observed your manoeuvres with the poker. But he is really rather a harmless fellow, a great muscular, foolish, blustering baby, and easily cowed, as you have seen. He is one of the Spencer John gang and has taken part in some dirty work of late which I may clear up when I have time. His immediate principal, Barney, is a more astute person. They specialize in assaults, intimidation, and the like. What I want to know is, who is at the back of them on this particular occasion?”
“But why do they want to intimidate you?”
“It is this Harrow Weald case. It decides me to look into the matter, for if it is worth anyone’s while to take so much trouble, there must be something in it.”
“But what is it?”
“I was going to tell you when we had this comic interlude. Here is Mrs. Maberley’s note. If you care to come with me we will wire her and go out at once.”
DEAR MR. SHERLOCK HOLMES [I read]:
I have had a succession of strange incidents occur to me in connection with this house, and I should much value your advice. You would find me at home any time to-morrow. The house is within a short walk of the Weald Station. I believe that my late husband, Mortimer Maberley, was one of your early clients.
Yours faithfully, MARY MABERLEY.
The address was “The Three Gables, Harrow Weald.”