“Sir [he saysl:
“In answer to your advertisement of to-day’s date, I beg to inform you that I know the young lady in question very well. If you should care to call upon me I could give you some particulars as to her painful history. She is living at present at The Myrtles, Beckenham.
“He writes from Lower Brixton,” said Mycroft Holmes. “Do you not think that we might drive to him now, Sherlock, and learn these particulars?”
“My dear Mycroft, the brother’s life is more valuable than the sister’s story. I think we should call at Scotland Yard for Inspector Gregson and go straight out to Beckenham. We know that a man is being done to death, and every hour may be vital.”
“Better pick up Mr. Melas on our way,” I suggested. “We may need an interpreter.”
“Excellent,” said Sherlock Holmes. “Send the boy for a four-wheeler, and we shall be off at once.” He opened the table-drawer as he spoke, and I noticed that he slipped his revolver into his pocket. “Yes,” said he in answer to my glance, “I should say, from what we have heard, that we are dealing with a particularly dangerous gang.”
It was almost dark before we found ourselves in Pall Mall, at the rooms of Mr. Melas. A gentleman had just called for him, and he was gone.
“Can you tell me where?” asked Mycroft Holmes.
“I don’t know, sir,” answered the woman who had opened the door; “I only know that he drove away with the gentleman in a carriage.”
“Did the gentleman give a name?”
“He wasn’t a tall, handsome, dark young man?”
“Oh, no, sir. He was a little gentleman, with glasses, thin in the face, but very pleasant in his ways, for he was laughing all the time that he was talking.”
“Come along!” cried Sherlock Holmes abruptly. “This grows serious,” he observed as we drove to Scotland Yard. “These men have got hold of Melas again. He is a man of no physical courage, as they are well aware from their experience the other night.This villain was able to terrorize him the instant that he got into his presence. No doubt they want his professional services, but, having used him, they may be inclined to punish him for what they will regard as his treachery.”
Our hope was that, by taking train, we might get to Beckenham as soon as or sooner than the carriage. On reaching Scotland Yard, however, it was more than an hour before we could get Inspector Gregson and comply with the legal formalities which would enable us to enter the house. It was a quarter to ten before we reached London Bridge, and half past before the four of us alighted on the Beckenham platform. A drive of half a mile brought us to The Myrtles — a large, dark house standing back from the road in its own grounds. Here we dismissed our cab and made our way up the drive togeter.
“The windows are all dark,” remarked the inspector. “The house seems deserted.”
“Our birds are flown and the nest empty,” said Holmes.
“Why do you say so?”
“A carriage heavily loaded with luggage has passed out during the last hour.”
The inspector laughed. “I saw the wheel-tracks in the light of the gate-lamp, but where does the luggage come in?”
“You may have observed the same wheel-tracks going the other way. But the outward-bound ones were very much deeper — so much so that we can say for a certainty that there was a very considerable weiyht on the carriage.”
“You get a trifle beyond me there,” said the inspector, shrugging his shoulders. “It will not be an easy door to force, but we will try if we cannot make someone hear us.”
He hammered loudly at the knocker and pulled at the bell, but without any success. Holmes had slipped away, but he came back in a few minutes.
“I have a window open,” said he.
“It is a mercy that you are on the side of the force, and not against it, Mr. Holmes,” remarked the inspector as he noted the clever way in which my friend had forced back the catch. “Well, I think that under the circumstances we may enter without an invitation.”
One after the other we made our way into a large apartment, which was evidently that in which Mr. Melas had found himself. The inspector had lit his lantern, and by its light we could see the two doors, the curtain, the lamp, and the suit of Japanese mail as he had described them. On the table lay two glasses, an empty brandy-bottle, and the remains of a meal.
“What is that?” asked Holmes suddenly.
We all stood still and listened. A low moaning sound was coming from somewhere over our heads. Holmes rushed to the door and out into the hall. The dismal noise came from upstairs. He dashed up, the inspector and I at his heels. while his brother Mycroft followed as quickly as his great bulk would permit.
Three doors faced us upon the second floor, and it was from the central of these that the sinister sounds were issuing, sinking sometimes into a dull mumble and rising again into a shrill whine. It was locked, but the key had been left on the outside. Holmes flung open the door and rushed in, but he was out again in an instant, with his hand to his throat.
“It’s charcoal,” he cried. “Give it time. It will clear.”
Peering in, we could see that the only light in the room came from a dull blue flame which flickered from a small brass tripod in the centre. It threw a livid unnatural circle upon the floor, while in the shadows beyond we saw the vague loom of two fiyures which crouched against the wall. From thc open door there reeked a horrible poisonous exhalation which set us gasping and coughing. Holmes rushed to the top of the stairs to draw in the fresh air, and then, dashing into the room, he threw up the window and hurled the brazen tripod out into the garden.
“We can enter in a minute,” he gasped, darting out again. “Where is a candle? I doubt if we could strike a match in that atmosphere. Hold the light at the door and we shall get them out, Mycroft, now!”
With a rush we got to the poisoned men and dragged them out into the well-lit hall. Both of them were blue-lipped and insensible, with swollen, congested faces and protruding eyes. Indeed, so distorted were their features that, save for his black beard and stout figure, we might have failed to recognize in one of them the Greek interpreter who had parted from us only a few hours before at the Diogenes Club. His hands and feet were securely strapped together, and he bore over one eye the marks of a violent blow. The other, who was secured in a similar fashion was a tall man in the last stage of emaciation, with several strips of sticking-plaster arranged in a grotesque pattern over his face. He had ceased to moan as we laid him down, and a glance showed me that for him at least our aid had come too late. Mr. Melas, however, still lived, and in less than an hour, with the aid of ammonia and brandy, I had the satisfaction of seeing him open his eyes, and of knowing that my hand had drawn him back from that dark valley in which all paths meet.
It was a simple story which he had to tell, and one which did but confirm our own deductions. His visitor, on entering his rooms, had drawn a life-preserver from his sleeve, and had so impressed him with the fear of instant and inevitable death that he had kidnapped him for the second time. Indeed, it was almost mesmeric, the effect which this giggling ruffian had produced upon the unfortunate linguist, for he could not speak of him save with trembling hands and a blanched cheek. He had been taken swiftly to Beckenham, and had acted as interpreter in a second interview, even more dramatic than the first, in which the two Englishmen had menaced their prisoner with instant death if he did not comply with their demands. Finally, finding him proof against every threat, they had hurled him back into his prison and after reproaching Melas with his treachery, which appeared from the newspaper advertisement, they had stunned him with a blow from a stick, and he remembered nothing more until he found us bending over him.
And this was the singular case of the Grecian Interpreter, the explanation of which is still involved in some mystery. We were able to find out, by communicating with the gentleman who had answered the advertisement, that the unfortunate young lady came of a wealthy Grecian family, and that she had been on a visit to some friends in England. While there she had met a young man named Harold Latimer, who had acquired an ascendency over her and had eventually persuaded her to fly with him. Her friends, shocked at the event, had contented themselves with informing her brother at Athens, and had then washed their hands of the matter. The brother, on his arrival in England, had imprudently placed himself in the power of Latimer and of his associate, whose name was Wilson Kemp — a man of the foulest antecedents. These two, finding that through his ignorance of the language he was helpless in their hands, had kept him a prisoner, and had endeavoured by cruelty and starvation to make him sign away his own and his sister’s property. They had kept him in the house without the girl’s knowledge, and the plaster over the face had been for the purpose of making recognition difficult in case she should ever catch a glimpse of him. Her feminine perceptions, however, had instantly seen through the disguise when, on the occasion of the interpreter’s visit, she had seen him for the first time. The poor girl, however, was herself a prisoner, for there was no one about the house except the man who acted as coachman, and his wife, both of whom were tools of the conspirators. Finding that their secret was out, and that their prisoner was not to be coerced, the two villains with the girl had fled away at a few hours’ notice from the furnished house which they had hired, having first, as they thought, taken vengeance both upon the man who had defied and the one who had betrayed them.
Months afterwards a curious newspaper cutting reached us from Buda-Pesth. It told how two Englishmen who had been travelling with a woman had met with a tragic end. They had each been stabbed, it seems, and the Hungarian police were of opinion that they had quarrelled and had inflicted mortal injuries upon each other. Holmes, however, is, I fancy, of a different way of thinking, and he holds to this day that, if one could find the Grecian girl, one might learn how the wrongs of herself and her brother came to be avenged.