It may have been a comedy, or it may have been a tragedy. It cost one man his reason, it cost me a blood-letting, and it cost yet another man the penalties of the law. Yet there was certainly an element of comedy. Well, you shall judge for yourselves.
I remember the date very well, for it was in the same month that Holmes refused a knighthood for services which may perhaps some day be described. I only refer to the matter in passing, for in my position of partner and confidant I am obliged to be particularly careful to avoid any indiscretion. I repeat, however, that this enables me to fix the date, which was the latter end of June, 1902, shortly after the conclusion of the South African War. Holmes had spent several days in bed, as was his habit from time to time, but he emerged that morning with a long foolscap document in his hand and a twinkle of amusement in his austere gray eyes.
“There is a chance for you to make some money. friend Watson,” said he. “Have you ever heard the name of Garrideb?”
I admitted that I had not.
“Well, if you can lay your hand upon a Garrideb, there’s money in it.”
“Ah, that’s a long story–rather a whimsical one, too. I don’t think in all our explorations of human complexities we have ever come upon anything more singular. The fellow will be here presently for cross-examination, so I won’t open the matter up till he comes. But, meanwhile, that’s the name we want.”
The telephone directory lay on the table beside me, and I turned over the pages in a rather hopeless quest. But to my amazement there was this strange name in its due place. I gave a cry of triumph.
“Here you are, Holmes! Here it is!”
Holmes took the book from my hand.
“‘Garrideb, N.,'” he read, “‘136 Little Ryder Street, W.’ Sorry to disappoint you, my dear Watson, but this is the man himself. That is the address upon his letter. We want another to match him.”
Mrs. Hudson had come in with a card upon a tray. I took it up and glanced at it.
“Why, here it is!” I cried in amazement. “This is a different initial. John Garrideb, Counsellor at Law, Moorville, Kansas, U.S.A.”
Holmes smiled as he looked at the card. “I am afraid you must make yet another effort, Watson,” said he. “This gentleman is also in the plot already, though I certainly did not expect to see him this morning. However, he is in a position to tell us a good deal which I want to know.”
A moment later he was in the room. Mr. John Garrideb, Counsellor at Law, was a short, powerful man with the round, fresh, clean-shaven face characteristic of so many American men of affairs. The general effect was chubby and rather childlike, so that one received the impression of quite a young man with a broad set smile upon his face. His eyes, however, were arresting. Seldom in any human head have I seen a pair which bespoke a more intense inward life, so bright were they, so alert, so responsive to every change of thought. His accent was American, but was not accompanied by any eccentricity of speech.
“Mr. Holmes?” he asked, glancing from one to the other. “Ah, yes! Your pictures are not unlike you, sir, if I may say so. I believe you have had a letter from my namesake, Mr. Nathan Garrideb, have you not?”
“Pray sit down,” said Sherlock Holmes. “We shall, I fancy, have a good deal to discuss.” He took up his sheets of foolscap. “You are, of course, the Mr. John Garrideb mentioned in this document. But surely you have been in England some time?”
“Why do you say that, Mr. Holmes?” I seemed to read sudden suspicion in those expressive eyes.
“Your whole outfit is English.”
Mr. Garrideb forced a laugh. “I’ve read of your tricks, Mr. Holmes, but I never thought I would be the subject of them. Where do you read that?”
“The shoulder cut of your coat, the toes of your boots–could anyone doubt it?”
“Well, well, I had no idea I was so obvious a Britisher. But business brought me over here some time ago, and so, as you say, my outfit is nearly all London. However, I guess your time is of value, and we did not meet to talk about the cut of my socks. What about getting down to that paper you hold in your hand?”
Holmes had in some way ruffled our visitor, whose chubby face had assumed a far less amiable expression.
“Patience! Patience, Mr. Garrideb!” said my friend in a soothing voice. “Dr. Watson would tell you that these little digressions of mine sometimes prove in the end to have some bearing on the matter. But why did Mr. Nathan Garrideb not come with you?”
“Why did he ever drag you into it at all?” asked our visitor with a sudden outflame of anger. “What in thunder had you to do with it? Here was a bit of professional business between two gentlemen, and one of them must needs call in a detective! I saw him this morning, and he told me this fool-trick he had played me, and that’s why I am here. But I feel bad about it, all the same.”