“We were warm, as the children say, at that inn,” said he. “I seem to grow colder every step that I take away from it. No, no, I can’t possibly leave it.”
“I am convinced,” said I, “that this Reuben Hayes knows all about it. A more self-evident villain I never saw.”
“Oh! he impressed you in that way, did he? There are the horses, there is the smithy. Yes, it is an interesting place, this Fighting Cock. I think we shall have another look at it in an unobtrusive way.”
A long, sloping hillside, dotted with gray limestone boulders, stretched behind us. We had turned off the road, and were making our way up the hill, when, looking in the direction of Holdernesse Hall, I saw a cyclist coming swiftly along.
“Get down, Watson!” cried Holmes, with a heavy hand upon my shoulder. We had hardly sunk from view when the man flew past us on the road. Amid a rolling cloud of dust, I caught a glimpse of a pale, agitated face—a face with horror in every lineament, the mouth open, the eyes staring wildly in front. It was like some strange caricature of the dapper James Wilder whom we had seen the night before.
“The Duke’s secretary!” cried Holmes. “Come, Watson, let us see what he does.”
We scrambled from rock to rock, until in a few moments we had made our way to a point from which we could see the front door of the inn. Wilder’s bicycle was leaning against the wall beside it. No one was moving about the house, nor could we catch a glimpse of any faces at the windows. Slowly the twilight crept down as the sun sank behind the high towers of Holdernesse Hall. Then, in the gloom, we saw the two side-lamps of a trap light up in the stable-yard of the inn, and shortly afterwards heard the rattle of hoofs, as it wheeled out into the road and tore off at a furious pace in the direction of Chesterfield.
“What do you make of that, Watson?” Holmes whispered.
“It looks like a flight.”
“A single man in a dog-cart, so far as I could see. Well, it certainly was not Mr. James Wilder, for there he is at the door.”
A red square of light had sprung out of the darkness. In the middle of it was the black figure of the secretary, his head advanced, peering out into the night. It was evident that he was expecting someone. Then at last there were steps in the road, a second figure was visible for an instant against the light, the door shut, and all was black once more. Five minutes later a lamp was lit in a room upon the first floor.
“It seems to be a curious class of custom that is done by the Fighting Cock,” said Holmes.
“The bar is on the other side.”
“Quite so. These are what one may call the private guests. Now, what in the world is Mr. James Wilder doing in that den at this hour of night, and who is the companion who comes to meet him there? Come, Watson, we must really take a risk and try to investigate this a little more closely.”
Together we stole down to the road and crept across to the door of the inn. The bicycle still leaned against the wall. Holmes struck a match and held it to the back wheel, and I heard him chuckle as the light fell upon a patched Dunlop tire. Up above us was the lighted window.
“I must have a peep through that, Watson. If you bend your back and support yourself upon the wall, I think that I can manage.”
An instant later, his feet were on my shoulders, but he was hardly up before he was down again.
“Come, my friend,” said he, “our day’s work has been quite long enough. I think that we have gathered all that we can. It’s a long walk to the school, and the sooner we get started the better.”
He hardly opened his lips during that weary trudge across the moor, nor would he enter the school when he reached it, but went on to Mackleton Station, whence he could send some telegrams. Late at night I heard him consoling Dr. Huxtable, prostrated by the tragedy of his master’s death, and later still he entered my room as alert and vigorous as he had been when he started in the morning. “All goes well, my friend,” said he. “I promise that before to-morrow evening we shall have reached the solution of the mystery.”
At eleven o’clock next morning my friend and I were walking up the famous yew avenue of Holdernesse Hall. We were ushered through the magnificent Elizabethan doorway and into his Grace’s study. There we found Mr. James Wilder, demure and courtly, but with some trace of that wild terror of the night before still lurking in his furtive eyes and in his twitching features.
“You have come to see his Grace? I am sorry, but the fact is that the Duke is far from well. He has been very much upset by the tragic news. We received a telegram from Dr. Huxtable yesterday afternoon, which told us of your discovery.”
“I must see the Duke, Mr. Wilder.”
“But he is in his room.”
“Then I must go to his room.”
“I believe he is in his bed.”
“I will see him there.”
Holmes’s cold and inexorable manner showed the secretary that it was useless to argue with him.
“Very good, Mr. Holmes, I will tell him that you are here.”
After an hour’s delay, the great nobleman appeared. His face was more cadaverous than ever, his shoulders had rounded, and he seemed to me to be an altogether older man than he had been the morning before. He greeted us with a stately courtesy and seated himself at his desk, his red beard streaming down on the table.
“Well, Mr. Holmes?” said he.
But my friend’s eyes were fixed upon the secretary, who stood by his master’s chair.
“I think, your Grace, that I could speak more freely in Mr. Wilder’s absence.”
The man turned a shade paler and cast a malignant glance at Holmes.
“If your Grace wishes——”
“Yes, yes, you had better go. Now, Mr. Holmes, what have you to say?”
My friend waited until the door had closed behind the retreating secretary.
“The fact is, your Grace,” said he, “that my colleague, Dr. Watson, and myself had an assurance from Dr. Huxtable that a reward had been offered in this case. I should like to have this confirmed from your own lips.”
“Certainly, Mr. Holmes.”
“It amounted, if I am correctly informed, to five thousand pounds to anyone who will tell you where your son is?”
“And another thousand to the man who will name the person or persons who keep him in custody?”
“Under the latter heading is included, no doubt, not only those who may have taken him away, but also those who conspire to keep him in his present position?”
“Yes, yes,” cried the Duke, impatiently. “If you do your work well, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, you will have no reason to complain of niggardly treatment.”
My friend rubbed his thin hands together with an appearance of avidity which was a surprise to me, who knew his frugal tastes.
“I fancy that I see your Grace’s check-book upon the table,” said he. “I should be glad if you would make me out a check for six thousand pounds. It would be as well, perhaps, for you to cross it. The Capital and Counties Bank, Oxford Street branch are my agents.”
His Grace sat very stern and upright in his chair and looked stonily at my friend.
“Is this a joke, Mr. Holmes? It is hardly a subject for pleasantry.”
“Not at all, your Grace. I was never more earnest in my life.”
“What do you mean, then?”
“I mean that I have earned the reward. I know where your son is, and I know some, at least, of those who are holding him.”
The Duke’s beard had turned more aggressively red than ever against his ghastly white face.
“Where is he?” he gasped.
“He is, or was last night, at the Fighting Cock Inn, about two miles from your park gate.”
The Duke fell back in his chair.
“And whom do you accuse?”
Sherlock Holmes’s answer was an astounding one. He stepped swiftly forward and touched the Duke upon the shoulder.
“I accuse YOU,” said he. “And now, your Grace, I’ll trouble you for that check.”
Never shall I forget the Duke’s appearance as he sprang up and clawed with his hands, like one who is sinking into an abyss. Then, with an extraordinary effort of aristocratic self-command, he sat down and sank his face in his hands. It was some minutes before he spoke.
“How much do you know?” he asked at last, without raising his head.
“I saw you together last night.”
“Does anyone else beside your friend know?”
“I have spoken to no one.”
The Duke took a pen in his quivering fingers and opened his check-book.
“I shall be as good as my word, Mr. Holmes. I am about to write your check, however unwelcome the information which you have gained may be to me. When the offer was first made, I little thought the turn which events might take. But you and your friend are men of discretion, Mr. Holmes?”
“I hardly understand your Grace.”
“I must put it plainly, Mr. Holmes. If only you two know of this incident, there is no reason why it should go any farther. I think twelve thousand pounds is the sum that I owe you, is it not?”
But Holmes smiled and shook his head.
“I fear, your Grace, that matters can hardly be arranged so easily. There is the death of this schoolmaster to be accounted for.”
“But James knew nothing of that. You cannot hold him responsible for that. It was the work of this brutal ruffian whom he had the misfortune to employ.”
“I must take the view, your Grace, that when a man embarks upon a crime, he is morally guilty of any other crime which may spring from it.”
“Morally, Mr. Holmes. No doubt you are right. But surely not in the eyes of the law. A man cannot be condemned for a murder at which he was not present, and which he loathes and abhors as much as you do. The instant that he heard of it he made a complete confession to me, so filled was he with horror and remorse. He lost not an hour in breaking entirely with the murderer. Oh, Mr. Holmes, you must save him—you must save him! I tell you that you must save him!” The Duke had dropped the last attempt at self-command, and was pacing the room with a convulsed face and with his clenched hands raving in the air. At last he mastered himself and sat down once more at his desk. “I appreciate your conduct in coming here before you spoke to anyone else,” said he. “At least, we may take counsel how far we can minimize this hideous scandal.”
“Exactly,” said Holmes. “I think, your Grace, that this can only be done by absolute frankness between us. I am disposed to help your Grace to the best of my ability, but, in order to do so, I must understand to the last detail how the matter stands. I realize that your words applied to Mr. James Wilder, and that he is not the murderer.”
“No, the murderer has escaped.”
Sherlock Holmes smiled demurely.
“Your Grace can hardly have heard of any small reputation which I possess, or you would not imagine that it is so easy to escape me. Mr. Reuben Hayes was arrested at Chesterfield, on my information, at eleven o’clock last night. I had a telegram from the head of the local police before I left the school this morning.”
The Duke leaned back in his chair and stared with amazement at my friend.
“You seem to have powers that are hardly human,” said he. “So Reuben Hayes is taken? I am right glad to hear it, if it will not react upon the fate of James.”
“No, sir, my son.”
It was Holmes’s turn to look astonished.
“I confess that this is entirely new to me, your Grace. I must beg you to be more explicit.”
“I will conceal nothing from you. I agree with you that complete frankness, however painful it may be to me, is the best policy in this desperate situation to which James’s folly and jealousy have reduced us. When I was a very young man, Mr. Holmes, I loved with such a love as comes only once in a lifetime. I offered the lady marriage, but she refused it on the grounds that such a match might mar my career. Had she lived, I would certainly never have married anyone else. She died, and left this one child, whom for her sake I have cherished and cared for. I could not acknowledge the paternity to the world, but I gave him the best of educations, and since he came to manhood I have kept him near my person. He surmised my secret, and has presumed ever since upon the claim which he has upon me, and upon his power of provoking a scandal which would be abhorrent to me. His presence had something to do with the unhappy issue of my marriage. Above all, he hated my young legitimate heir from the first with a persistent hatred. You may well ask me why, under these circumstances, I still kept James under my roof. I answer that it was because I could see his mother’s face in his, and that for her dear sake there was no end to my long-suffering. All her pretty ways too—there was not one of them which he could not suggest and bring back to my memory. I COULD not send him away. But I feared so much lest he should do Arthur—that is, Lord Saltire—a mischief, that I dispatched him for safety to Dr. Huxtable’s school.
“James came into contact with this fellow Hayes, because the man was a tenant of mine, and James acted as agent. The fellow was a rascal from the beginning, but, in some extraordinary way, James became intimate with him. He had always a taste for low company. When James determined to kidnap Lord Saltire, it was of this man’s service that he availed himself. You remember that I wrote to Arthur upon that last day. Well, James opened the letter and inserted a note asking Arthur to meet him in a little wood called the Ragged Shaw, which is near to the school. He used the Duchess’s name, and in that way got the boy to come. That evening James bicycled over—I am telling you what he has himself confessed to me—and he told Arthur, whom he met in the wood, that his mother longed to see him, that she was awaiting him on the moor, and that if he would come back into the wood at midnight he would find a man with a horse, who would take him to her. Poor Arthur fell into the trap. He came to the appointment, and found this fellow Hayes with a led pony. Arthur mounted, and they set off together. It appears—though this James only heard yesterday—that they were pursued, that Hayes struck the pursuer with his stick, and that the man died of his injuries. Hayes brought Arthur to his public-house, the Fighting Cock, where he was confined in an upper room, under the care of Mrs. Hayes, who is a kindly woman, but entirely under the control of her brutal husband.
“Well, Mr. Holmes, that was the state of affairs when I first saw you two days ago. I had no more idea of the truth than you. You will ask me what was James’s motive in doing such a deed. I answer that there was a great deal which was unreasoning and fanatical in the hatred which he bore my heir. In his view he should himself have been heir of all my estates, and he deeply resented those social laws which made it impossible. At the same time, he had a definite motive also. He was eager that I should break the entail, and he was of opinion that it lay in my power to do so. He intended to make a bargain with me—to restore Arthur if I would break the entail, and so make it possible for the estate to be left to him by will. He knew well that I should never willingly invoke the aid of the police against him. I say that he would have proposed such a bargain to me, but he did not actually do so, for events moved too quickly for him, and he had not time to put his plans into practice.
“What brought all his wicked scheme to wreck was your discovery of this man Heidegger’s dead body. James was seized with horror at the news. It came to us yesterday, as we sat together in this study. Dr. Huxtable had sent a telegram. James was so overwhelmed with grief and agitation that my suspicions, which had never been entirely absent, rose instantly to a certainty, and I taxed him with the deed. He made a complete voluntary confession. Then he implored me to keep his secret for three days longer, so as to give his wretched accomplice a chance of saving his guilty life. I yielded—as I have always yielded—to his prayers, and instantly James hurried off to the Fighting Cock to warn Hayes and give him the means of flight. I could not go there by daylight without provoking comment, but as soon as night fell I hurried off to see my dear Arthur. I found him safe and well, but horrified beyond expression by the dreadful deed he had witnessed. In deference to my promise, and much against my will, I consented to leave him there for three days, under the charge of Mrs. Hayes, since it was evident that it was impossible to inform the police where he was without telling them also who was the murderer, and I could not see how that murderer could be punished without ruin to my unfortunate James. You asked for frankness, Mr. Holmes, and I have taken you at your word, for I have now told you everything without an attempt at circumlocution or concealment. Do you in turn be as frank with me.”
“I will,” said Holmes. “In the first place, your Grace, I am bound to tell you that you have placed yourself in a most serious position in the eyes of the law. You have condoned a felony, and you have aided the escape of a murderer, for I cannot doubt that any money which was taken by James Wilder to aid his accomplice in his flight came from your Grace’s purse.”
The Duke bowed his assent.
“This is, indeed, a most serious matter. Even more culpable in my opinion, your Grace, is your attitude towards your younger son. You leave him in this den for three days.”
“Under solemn promises——”
“What are promises to such people as these? You have no guarantee that he will not be spirited away again. To humour your guilty elder son, you have exposed your innocent younger son to imminent and unnecessary danger. It was a most unjustifiable action.”
The proud lord of Holdernesse was not accustomed to be so rated in his own ducal hall. The blood flushed into his high forehead, but his conscience held him dumb.
“I will help you, but on one condition only. It is that you ring for the footman and let me give such orders as I like.”
Without a word, the Duke pressed the electric bell. A servant entered.
“You will be glad to hear,” said Holmes, “that your young master is found. It is the Duke’s desire that the carriage shall go at once to the Fighting Cock Inn to bring Lord Saltire home.
“Now,” said Holmes, when the rejoicing lackey had disappeared, “having secured the future, we can afford to be more lenient with the past. I am not in an official position, and there is no reason, so long as the ends of justice are served, why I should disclose all that I know. As to Hayes, I say nothing. The gallows awaits him, and I would do nothing to save him from it. What he will divulge I cannot tell, but I have no doubt that your Grace could make him understand that it is to his interest to be silent. From the police point of view he will have kidnapped the boy for the purpose of ransom. If they do not themselves find it out, I see no reason why I should prompt them to take a broader point of view. I would warn your Grace, however, that the continued presence of Mr. James Wilder in your household can only lead to misfortune.”
“I understand that, Mr. Holmes, and it is already settled that he shall leave me forever, and go to seek his fortune in Australia.”
“In that case, your Grace, since you have yourself stated that any unhappiness in your married life was caused by his presence I would suggest that you make such amends as you can to the Duchess, and that you try to resume those relations which have been so unhappily interrupted.”
“That also I have arranged, Mr. Holmes. I wrote to the Duchess this morning.”
“In that case,” said Holmes, rising, “I think that my friend and I can congratulate ourselves upon several most happy results from our little visit to the North. There is one other small point upon which I desire some light. This fellow Hayes had shod his horses with shoes which counterfeited the tracks of cows. Was it from Mr. Wilder that he learned so extraordinary a device?”
The Duke stood in thought for a moment, with a look of intense surprise on his face. Then he opened a door and showed us into a large room furnished as a museum. He led the way to a glass case in a corner, and pointed to the inscription.
“These shoes,” it ran, “were dug up in the moat of Holdernesse Hall. They are for the use of horses, but they are shaped below with a cloven foot of iron, so as to throw pursuers off the track. They are supposed to have belonged to some of the marauding Barons of Holdernesse in the Middle Ages.”
Holmes opened the case, and moistening his finger he passed it along the shoe. A thin film of recent mud was left upon his skin.
“Thank you,” said he, as he replaced the glass. “It is the second most interesting object that I have seen in the North.”
“And the first?”
Holmes folded up his check and placed it carefully in his notebook. “I am a poor man,” said he, as he patted it affectionately, and thrust it into the depths of his inner pocket.