“Mr. Sutro is most capable.”
“Have you another maid, or was the fair Susan, who has just banged your front door alone?”
“I have a young girl.”
“Try and get Sutro to spend a night or two in the house. You might possibly want protection.”
“Who knows? The matter is certainly obscure. If I can’t find what they are after, I must approach the matter from the other end and try to get at the principal. Did this house-agent man give any address?”
“Simply his card and occupation. Haines-Johnson, Auctioneer and Valuer.”
“I don’t think we shall find him in the directory. Honest business men don’t conceal their place of business. Well, you will let me know any fresh development. I have taken up your case, and you may rely upon it that I shall see it through.”
As we passed through the hall Holmes’s eyes, which missed nothing, lighted upon several trunks and cases which were piled in a corner. The labels shone out upon them.
“‘Milano.’ ‘Lucerne.’ These are from Italy.”
“They are poor Douglas’s things.”
“You have not unpacked them? How long have you had them?”
“They arrived last week.”
“But you said–why, surely this might be the missing link. How do we know that there is not something of value there?”
“There could not possibly be, Mr. Holmes. Poor Douglas had only his pay and a small annuity. What could he have of value?”
Holmes was lost in thought.
“Delay no longer, Mrs. Maberley,” he said at last. “Have these things taken upstairs to your bedroom. Examine them as soon as possible and see what they cohtain. I will come tomorrow and hear your report.”
It was quite evident that The Three Gables was under very close surveillance, for as we came round the high hedge at the end of the lane there was the negro prize-fighter standing in the shadow. We came on him quite suddenly, and a grim and menacing figure he looked in that lonely place. Holmes clapped his hand to his pocket.
“Lookin’ for your gun, Masser Holmes?”
“No, for my scent-bottle, Steve.”
“You are funny, Masser Holmes, ain’t you?”
“It won’t be funny for you, Steve, if I get after you. I gave you fair warning this morning.”
“Well, Masser Holmes, I done gone think over what you said, and I don’t want no more talk about that affair of Masser Perkins. S’pose I can help you, Masser Holmes, I will.”
“Well, then, tell me who is behind you on this job.”
“So help me the Lord! Masser Holmes, I told you the truth before. I don’t know. My boss Barney gives me orders and that’s all.”
“Well, just bear in mind, Steve, that the lady in that house, and everything under that roof, is under my protection. Don’t forget it.”
“All right, Masser Holmes. I’ll remember.”
“I’ve got him thoroughly frightened for his own skin, Watson,” Holmes remarked as we walked on. “I think he would double-cross his employer if he knew who he was. It was lucky I had some knowledge of the Spencer John crowd, and that Steve was one of them. Now, Watson, this is a case for Langdale Pike, and I am going to see him now. When I get back I may be clearer in the matter.”
I saw no more of Holmes during the day, but I could well imagine how he spent it, for Langdale Pike was his human book of reference upon all matters of social scandal. This strange, languid creature spent his waking hours in the bow window of a St. James’s Street club and was the receiving-station as well as the transmitter for all the gossip of the metropolis. He made, it was said, a four-figure income by the paragraphs which he contributed every week to the garbage papers which cater to an inquisitive public. If ever, far down in the turbid depths of London life, there was some strange swirl or eddy, it was marked with automatic exactness by this human dial upon the surface. Holmes discreetly helped Langdale to knowledge, and on occasion was helped in turn.