“I fancy I could tell it to you.”
“But you must look at it with my eyes, Mr. Holmes. You must realize it from the point of view of a woman who sees all her life’s ambition about to be ruined at the last moment. Is such a woman to be blamed if she protects herself?”
“The original sin was yours.”
“Yes, yes! I admit it. He was a dear boy, Douglas, but it so chanced that he could not fit into my plans. He wanted marriage–marriage, Mr. Holmes–with a penniless commoner. Nothing less would serve him. Then he became pertinacious. Because I had given he seemed to think that I still must give, and to him only. It was intolerable. At last I had to make him realize it.”
“By hiring ruffians to beat him under your own window.”
“You do indeed seem to know everything. Well, it is true. Barney and the boys drove him away, and were, I admit, a little rough in doing so. But what did he do then? Could I have believed that a gentleman would do such an act? He wrote a book in which he described his own story. I, of course, was the wolf; he the lamb. It was all there, under different names, of course; but who in all London would have failed to recognize it? What do you say to that, Mr. Holmes?”
“Well, he was within his rights.”
“It was as if the air of Italy had got into his blood and brought with it the old cruel Italian spirit. He wrote to me and sent me a copy of his book that I might have the torture of anticipation. There were two copies, he said–one for me, one for his publisher.”
“How did you know the publisher’s had not reached him?”
“I knew who his publisher was. It is not his only novel, you know. I found out that he had not heard from Italy. Then came Douglas’s sudden death. So long as that other manuscript was in the world there was no safety for me. Of course, it must be among his effects, and these would be returned to his mother. I set the gang at work. One of them got into the house as servant. I wanted to do the thing honestly. I really and truly did. I was ready to buy the house and everything in it. I offered any price she cared to ask. I only tried the other way when everything else had failed. Now, Mr. Holmes, granting that I was too hard on Douglas–and, God knows, I am sorry for it!–what else could I do with my whole future at stake?”
Sherlock Holmes shrugged his shoulders.
“Well, well,” said he, “I suppose I shall have to compound a felony as usual. How much does it cost to go round the world in first-class style?”
The lady stared in amazement.
“Could it be done on five thousand pounds?”
“Well, I should think so, indeed!”
“Very good. I think you will sign me a check for that, and I will see that it comes to Mrs. Maberley. You owe her a little change of air. Meantime, lady”–he wagged a cautionary forefinger–“have a care! Have a care! You can’t play with edged tools forever without cutting those dainty hands.”