When I met my friend in his room early next morning, I was conscious from his bearing that all was well, but none the less a most unpleasant surprise was awaiting us. It took the shape of the following telegram.
Please come out at once. Client’s house burgled in the night. Police in possession.
Holmes whistled. “The drama has come to a crisis, and quicker than I had expected. There is a great driving-power at the back of this business, Watson, which does not surprise me after what I have heard. This Sutro, of course, is her lawyer. I made a mistake, I fear, in not asking you to spend the night on guard. This fellow has clearly proved a broken reed. Well, there is nothing for it but another journey to Harrow Weald.”
We found The Three Gables a very different establishment to the orderly household of the previous day. A small group of idlers had assembled at the garden gate, while a couple of constables were examining the windows and the geranium beds. Within we met a gray old gentleman, who introduced himself as the lawyer together with a bustling, rubicund inspector, who greeted Hoimes as an old friend.
“Well, Mr. Holmes, no chance for you in this case, I’m afraid. Just a common, ordinary burglary, and well within the capacity of the poor old police. No experts need apply.”
“I am sure the case is in very good hands,” said Holmes. “Merely a common burglary, you say?”
“Quite so. We know pretty well who the men are and where to find them. It is that gang of Barney Stockdale, with the big nigger in it– they’ve been seen about here.”
“Excellent! What did they get?”
“Well, they don’t seem to have got much. Mrs. Maberley was chloroformed and the house was–Ah! here is the lady herself.”
Our friend of yesterday, looking very pale and ill, had entered the room, leaning upon a little maidservant.
“You gave me good advice, Mr. Holmes,” said she, smiling ruefully. “Alas, I did not take it! I did not wish to trouble Mr. Sutro, and so I was unprotected.”
“I only heard of it this morning,” the lawyer explained.
“Mr. Holmes advised me to have some friend in the house. I neglected his advice, and I have paid for it.”
“You look wretchedly ill,” said Holmes. “Perhaps you are hardly equal to telling me what occurred.”
“It is all here,” said the inspector, tapping a bulky notebook.
“Still, if the lady is not too exhausted–”
“There is really so little to tell. I have no doubt that wicked Susan had planned an entrance for them. They must have known the house to an inch. I was conscious for a moment of the chloroform rag which was thrust over my mouth, but I have no notion how long I may have been senseless. When I woke, one man was at the bedside and another was rising with a bundle in his hand from among my son’s baggage, which was partially opened and littered over the floor. Before he could get away I sprang up and seized him.”
“You took a big risk,” said the inspector.
“I clung to him, but he shook me off, and the other may have struck me, for I can remember no more. Mary the maid heard the noise and began screaming out of the window. That brought the police, but the rascals had got away.”
“What did they take?”
“Well, I don’t think there is anything of value missing. I am sure there was nothing in my son’s trunks.”
“Did the men leave no clue?”
“There was one sheet of paper which I may have torn from the man that I grasped. It was lying all crumpled on the floor. It is in my son’s handwriting.”
“Which means that it is not of much use,” said the inspector. “Now if it had been in the burglar’s–”
“Exactly,” said Holmes. “What rugged common sense! None the less, I should be curious to see it.”
The inspector drew a folded sheet of foolscap from his pocketbook.
“I never pass anything, however trifling,” said he with some pomposity. “That is my advice to you, Mr. Holmes. In twentyfive years’ experience I have learned my lesson. There is always the chance of finger-marks or something.”