The Adventure of the Retired Colourman

“I FELT A HAND INSIDE MY COLLAR.”

“Quite simple, my dear Watson. But let us get down to what is practical. I must admit to you that the case, which seemed to me to be so absurdly simple as to be hardly worth my notice, is rapidly assuming a very different aspect. It is true that though in your mission you have missed everything of importance, yet even those things which have obtruded themselves upon your notice give rise to serious thought.”

“What have I missed?”

“Don’t be hurt, my dear fellow. You know that I am quite impersonal. No one else would have done better. Some possibly not so well. But clearly you have missed some vital points. What is the opinion of the neighbours about this man Amberley and his wife? That surely is of importance. What of Dr. Ernest? Was he the gay Lothario one would expect? With your natural advantages, Watson, every lady is your helper and accomplice. What about the girl at the post-office, or the wife of the greengrocer? I can picture you whispering soft nothings with the young lady at the Blue Anchor, and receiving hard somethings in exchange. All this you have left undone.”

“It can still be done.”

“It has been done. Thanks to the telephone and the help of the Yard, I can usually get my essentials without leaving this room. As a matter of fact, my information confirms the man’s story. He has the local repute of being a miser as well as a harsh and exacting husband. That he had a large sum of money in that strong-room of his is certain. So also is it that young Dr. Ernest, an unmarried man, played chess with Amberley, and probably played the fool with his wife. All this seems plain sailing, and one would think that there was no more to be said–and yet!–and yet!”

“Where lies the difficulty?”

“In my imagination, perhaps. Well, leave it there, Watson. Let us escape from this weary workaday world by the side door of music. Carina sings to-night at the Albert Hall, and we still have time to dress, dine, and enjoy.”

In the morning I was up betimes, but some toast crumbs and two empty eggshells told me that my companion was earlier still. I found a scribbled note upon the table.

DEAR WATSON:

There are one or two points of contact which I should wish to establish with Mr. Josiah Amberley. When I have done so we can dismiss the case–or not. I would only ask you to be on hand about three o’clock, as I conceive it possible that I may want you.

S.H.

I saw nothing of Holmes all day, but at the hour named he returned, grave, preoccupied, and aloof. At such times it was wiser to leave him to himself.

“Has Amberley been here yet?”

“No.”

“Ah! I am expecting him.”

He was not disappointed, for presently the old fellow arrived with a very worried and puzzled expression upon his austere face.

“I’ve had a telegram, Mr. Holmes. I can make nothing of it.” He handed it over, and Holmes read it aloud.

“Come at once without fail. Can give you information as to your recent loss. ELMAN. The Vicarage.”

“Dispatched at 2:10 from Little Purlington,” said Holmes. “Little Purlington is in Essex, I believe, not far from Frinton. Well, of course you will start at once. This is evidently from a responsible person, the vicar of the place. Where is my Crockford? Yes, here we have him: ‘J. C. Elman, M. A., Living of Moosmoor cum Little Purlington.’ Look up the trains, Watson.”

“There is one at 5:20 from Liverpool Street.”

“Excellent. You had best go with him, Watson. He may need help or advice. Clearly we have come to a crisis in this affair.”

But our client seemed by no means eager to start.

“It’s perfectly absurd, Mr. Holmes,” he said. “What can this man possibly know of what has occurred? It is waste of time and money.”

“He would not have telegraphed to you if he did not know something. Wire at once that you are coming.”

“I don’t think I shall go.”

Holmes assumed his sternest aspect.

“It would make the worst possible impression both on the police and upon myself, Mr. Amberley, if when so obvious a clue arose you should refuse to follow it up. We should feel that you were not really in earnest in this investigation.”

Our client seemed horrified at the suggestion.

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