“‘My dear man,’ said he. ‘you will only ruin your own well-deserved reputation. It is not a case in which you can possibly succeed. You will have barren work, to say nothing of incurring some danger. Let me very strongly advise you to draw off at once.’
“‘It is curious,’ I answered, ‘but that was the very advice which I had intended to give you. I have a respect for your brains, Baron, and the little which I have seen of your personality has not lessened it. Let me put it to you as man to man. No one wants to rake up your past and make you unduly uncomfortable. It is over, and you are now in smooth waters, but if you persist in this marriage you will raise up a swarm of powerful enemies who will never leave you alone until they have made England too hot to hold you. Is the game worth it? Surely you would be wiser if you left the lady alone. It would not be pleasant for you if these facts of your past were brought to her notice.’
“The Baron has little waxed tips of hair under his nose, like the short antennae of an insect. These quivered with amusement as he listened, and he finally broke into a gentle chuckle.
“‘Excuse my amusement, Mr. Holmes,’ said he, ‘but it is really funny to see you trying to play a hand with no cards in it. I don’t think anyone could do it better, but it is rather pathetic all the same. Not a colour card there, Mr. Holmes, nothing but the smallest of the small.’
“‘So you think.’
“‘So I know. Let me make the thing clear to you, for my own hand is so strong that I can afford to show it. I have been fortunate enough to win the entire affection of this lady. This was given to me in spite of the fact that I told her very clearly of all the unhappy incidents in my past life. I also told her that certain wicked and designing persons –I hope you recognize yourself–would come to her and tell her these things. and I warned her how to treat them. You have heard of post-hypnotic suggestion. Mr. Holmes. Well you will see how it works for a man of personality can use hypnotism without any vulgar passes or tomfoolery. So she is ready for you and, I have no doubt, would give you an appointment, for she is quite amenable to her father’s will–save only in the one little matter.’
“Well, Watson, there seemed to be no more to say, so I took my leave with as much cold dignity as I could summon, but, as I had my hand on the door-handle, he stopped me.
“‘By the way, Mr. Holmes,’ said he, ‘did you know Le Brun, the French agent?’
“‘Yes,’ said I.
“‘Do you know what befell him?’
“‘I heard that he was beaten by some Apaches in the Montmartre district and crippled for life.’
“‘Quite true, Mr. Holmes. By a curious coincidence he had been inquiring into my affairs only a week before. Don’t do it, Mr. Holmes; it’s not a lucky thing to do. Several have found that out. My last word to you is, go your own way and let me go mine. Good-bye!’
“So there you are, Watson. You are up to date now.”
“The fellow seems dangerous.”
“Mighty dangerous. I disregard the blusterer, but this is the sort of man who says rather less than he means.”
“Must you interfere? Does it really matter if he marries the girl?”
“Considering that he undoubtedly murdered his last wife, I should say it mattered very much. Besides, the client! Well, well, we need not discuss that. When you have finished your coffee you had best come home with me, for the blithe Shinwell will be there with his report.”
We found him sure enough, a huge, coarse, red-faced, scorbutic man, with a pair of vivid black eyes which were the only external sign of the very cunning mind within. It seems that he had dived down into what was peculiarly his kingdom, and beside him on the settee was a brand which he had brought up in the shape of a slim, flame-like young woman with a pale, intense face, youthful, and yet so worn with sin and sorrow that one read the terrible years which had left their leprous mark upon her.
“This is Miss Kitty Winter,” said Shinwell Johnson, waving his fat hand as an introduction. “What she don’t know–well, there, she’ll speak for herself. Put my hand right on her, Mr. Holmes, within an hour of your message.”
“I’m easy to find,” said the young woman. “Hell, London, gets me every time. Same address for Porky Shinwell. We’re old mates, Porky, you and I. But, by cripes! there is another who ought to be down in a lower hell than we if there was any justice in the world! That is the man you are after, Mr. Holmes.”
Holmes smiled. “I gather we have your good wishes, Miss Winter.”
“If I can help to put him where he belongs, I’m yours to the rattle,” said our visitor with fierce energy. There was an intensity of hatred in her white, set face and her blazing eyes such as woman seldom and man never can attain.
“You needn’t go into my past, Mr. Holmes. That’s neither here nor there. But what I am Adelbert Gruner made me. If I could pull him down!” She clutched frantically with her hands into the air. “Oh, if I could only pull him into the pit where he has pushed so many!”