The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place

“Yes, and a good colt, too. He carries all our money for the race, and all Sir Robert’s into the bargain. By the way”–he looked at us with thoughtful eyes–“I suppose you ain’t on the turf yourselves?”

“No, indeed. Just two weary Londoners who badly need some good Berkshire air.”

“Well, you are in the right place for that. There is a deal of it lying about. But mind what I have told you about Sir Robert. He’s the sort that strikes first and speaks afterwards. Keep clear of the park.”

“Surely, Mr. Barnes! We certainly shall. By the way, that was a most beautiful spaniel that was whining in the hall.”

“I should say it was. That was the real Shoscombe breed. There ain’t a better in England.”

“I am a dog-fancier myself,” said Holmes. “Now, if it is a fair question, what would a prize dog like that cost?”

“More than I could pay, sir. It was Sir Robert himself who gave me this one. That’s why I have to keep it on a lead. It would be off to the Hall in a jiffy if I gave it its head.”

“We are getting some cards in our hand, Watson,” said Holmes when the landlord had left us. “It’s not an easy one to play, but we may see our way in a day or two. By the way, Sir Robert is still in London, I hear. We might, perhaps, enter the sacred domain to-night without fear of bodily assault. There are one or two points on which I should like reassurance.”

“Have you any theory, Holmes?”

“Only this, Watson, that something happened a week or so ago which has cut deep into the life of the Shoscombe household. What is that something? We can only guess at it from its effects. They seem to be of a curiously mixed character. But that should surely help us. It is only the colourless, uneventful case which is hopeless.

“Let us consider our data. The brother no longer visits the beloved invalid sister. He gives away her favourite dog. Her dog, Watson! Does that suggest nothing to you?”

“Nothing but the brother’s spite.”

“Well, it might be so. Or–well, there is an alternative. Now to continue our review of the situation from the time that the quarrel, if there is a quarrel, began. The lady keeps her room, alters her habits, is not seen save when she drives out with her maid, refuses to stop at the stables to greet her favourite horse and apparently takes to drink. That covers the case, does it not?”

“Save for the business in the crypt.”

“That is another line of thought. There are two, and I beg you will not tangle them. Line A, which concerns Lady Beatrice, has a vaguely sinister flavour, has it not?”

“I can make nothing of it.”

“Well, now, let us take up line B, which concerns Sir Robert. He is mad keen upon winning the Derby. He is in the hands of the Jews, and may at any moment be sold up and his racing stables seized by his creditors. He is a daring and desperate man. He derives his income from his sister. His sister’s maid is his willing tool. So far we seem to be on fairly safe ground, do we not?”

“But the crypt?”

“Ah, yes, the crypt! Let us suppose, Watson–it is merely a scandalous supposition, a hypothesis put forward for argument’s sake– that Sir Robert has done away with his sister.”

“My dear Holmes, it is out of the question.”

“Very possibly, Watson. Sir Robert is a man of an honourable stock. But you do occasionally find a carrion crow among the eagles. Let us for a moment argue upon this supposition. He could not fly the country until he had realized his fortune, and that fortune could only be realized by bringing off this coup with Shoscombe Prince. Therefore, he has still to stand his ground. To do this he would have to dispose of the body of his victim, and he would also have to find a substitute who would impersonate her. With the maid as his confidante that would not be impossible. The woman’s body might be conveyed to the crypt, which is a place so seldom visited, and it might be secretly destroyed at night in the furnace, leaving behind it such evidence as we have already seen. What say you to that, Watson?”

“Well, it is all possible if you grant the original monstrous supposition.”

“I think that there is a small experiment which we may try to-morrow, Watson, in order to throw some light on the matter. Meanwhile, if we mean to keep up our characters, I suggest that we have our host in for a glass of his own wine and hold some high converse upon eels and dace, which seems to be the straight road to his affections. We may chance to come upon some useful local gossip in the process.”

In the morning Holmes discovered that we had come without our spoon-bait for jack, which absolved us from fishing for the day. About eleven o’clock we started for a walk, and he obtained leave to take the black spaniel with us.

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