“What explanation did she give of having answered the bell when Mr. Phelps rang for the coffee?”
“She said that her husband was very tired and she wished to relieve him.”
“Well, certainly that would agree with his being found a little later asleep in his chair. There is nothing against them then but the woman’s character. Did you ask her why she hurried away that night? Her haste attracted the attention of the police constable.”
“She was later than usual and wanted to get home.”
“Did you point out to her that you and Mr. Phelps, who started at least twenty minutes after her, got home before her?”
“She explains that by the difference between a bus and a hansom.”
“Did she make it clear why, on reaching her house, she ran into the back kitchen?”
“Because she had the money there with which to pay off the brokers.”
“She has at least an answer for everything. Did you ask her whether in leaving she met anyone or saw anyone loitering about Charles Street?”
“She saw no one but the constable.”
“Well, you seem to have cross-examined her pretty thoroughly. What else have you done?”
“The clerk Gorot has been shadowed all these nine weeks, but without result. We can show nothing against him.”
Well, we have nothing else to go upon — no evidence of any kind.”
“Have you formed any theory about how that bell rang?”
“Well, I must confess that it beats me. It was a cool hand whoever it was, to go and give the alarm like that.”
“Yes, it was a queer thing to do. Many thanks to you for what you have told me. If I can put the man into your hands you shall hear from me. Come along. Watson.”
“Where are we going to now?” I asked as we left the office.
“We are now going to interview Lord Holdhurst, the cabinet minister and future premier of England.”
We were fortunate in finding that Lord Holdhurst was still in his chambers in Downing Street, and on Holmes sending in his card we were instantly shown up. The statesman received us with that old-fashioned courtesy for which he is remarkable and seated us on the two luxuriant lounges on either side of the fireplace. Standing on the rug between us, with his slight, tall figure, his sharp features, thoughtful face, and curling hair prematurely tinged with gray, he seemed to represent that not too common type, a nobleman who is in truth noble
“Your name is very familiar to me, Mr. Holmes,” said he, smiling. “And of course I cannot pretend to be ignorant of the object of your visit. There has only been one occurrence in these offices which could call for your attention. In whose interest are you acting, may I ask?”
“In that of Mr. Percy Phelps,” answered Holmes
“Ah, my unfortunate nephew! You can understand that our kinship makes it the more impossible for me to screen him in any way. I fear that the incident must have a very prejudicial effect upon his career.”
“But if the document is found?”
“Ah, that, of course, would be different.”
“I had one or two questions which I wished to ask you, Lord Holdhurst.”
“I shall be happy to give you any information in my power.”
“Was it in this room that you gave your instructions as to the copying of the document?”
“Then you could hardly have been overheard?”
“It is out of the question.”
“Did you ever mention to anyone that it was your intention to give anyone the treaty to be copied?”
“You are certain of that?”
“Well, since you never said so, and Mr. Phelps never said so, and nobody else knew anything of the matter, then the thief’s presence in the room was purely accidental. He saw his chance and he took it.”
The statesman smiled. “You take me out of my province there,” said he.
Holmes considered for a moment. “There is another very important point which I wish to discuss with you,” said he. “You feared, as I understand, that very grave results might follow from the details of this treaty becoming known.”
A shadow passed over the expressive face of the statesman. “Very grave results indeed.”
“And have they occurred?”
“If the treaty had reached, let us say, the French or Russian Foreign Office, you would expect to hear of it?”
“I should,” said Lord Holdhurst with a wry face.
“Since nearly ten weeks have elapsed, then, and nothing has been heard, it is not unfair to suppose that for some reason the treaty has not reached them.”
Lord Holdhurst shrugged his shoulders.
“We can hardly suppose, Mr. Holmes, that the thief took the treaty in order to frame it and hang it up.”
“Perhaps he is waiting for a better price.”
“If he waits a little longer he will get no price at all. The treaty will cease to be secret in a few months.”
“That is most important,” said Holmes. “Of course, it is a possible supposition that the thief has had a sudden illness –”
“An attack of brain-fever, for example?” asked the statesman, flashing a swift glance at him.
“I did not say so,” said Holmes imperturbably. “And now Lord Holdhurst, we have already taken up too much of your valuable time, and we shall wish you good-day.”
“Every success to your investigation, be the criminal who it may,” answered the nobleman as he bowed us out at the door.
“He’s a fine fellow,” said Holmes as we came out into Whitehall. “But he has a struggle to keep up his position. He is far from rich and has many calls. You noticed, of course, that his boots had been resoled. Now, Watson, I won’t detain you from your legitimate work any longer. I shall do nothing more to-day unless I have an answer to my cab advertisement. But I should be extremely obliged to you if you would come down with me to Woking to-morrow by the same train which we took yesterday.”
* * *
I met him accordingly next morning and we travelled down to Woking together. He had had no answer to his advertisement, he said, and no fresh light had been thrown upon the case. He had, when he so willed it, the utter immobility of countenance of a red Indian, and I could not gather from his appearance whether he was satisfied or not with the position of the case. His conversation, I remember, was about the Bertillon system of measurements, and he expressed his enthusiastic admiration of the French savant.
We found our client still under the charge of his devoted nurse, but looking considerably better than before. He rose from the sofa and greeted us without difficulty when we entered.
“Any news?” he asked eagerly.
“My report, as I expected, is a negative one,” said Holmes. “I have seen Forbes, and I have seen your uncle, and I have set one or two trains of inquiry upon foot which may lead to something.”
“You have not lost heart, then?”
“By no means.”
God bless you for saying that!” cried Miss Harrison. “If we keep our courage and our patience the truth must come out.”
“We have more to tell you than you have for us,” said Phelps, reseating himself upon the couch.
“I hoped you might have something.”
“Yes, we have had an adventure during the night, and one which might have proved to be a serious one.” His expression grew very grave as he spoke, and a look of something akin to fear sprang up in his eyes. “Do you know,” said he, “that I begin to believe that I am the unconscious centre of some monstrous conspiracy, and that my life is aimed at as well as my honour?”
“Ah!” cried Holmes.
“It sounds incredible, for I have not, as far as I know, an enemy in the world. Yet from last night’s experience I can come to no other conclusion.”
“Pray let me hear it.”
“You must know that last night was the very first night that I have ever slept without a nurse in the room. I was so much better that I thought I could dispense with one. I had a night-light burning, however. Well, about two in the morning I had sunk into a light sleep when I was suddenly aroused by a slight noise. It was like the sound which a mouse makes when it is gnawing a plank, and I lay listening to it for some time under the impression that it must come from that cause. Then it grew louder, and suddenly there came from the window a sharp metallic snick. I sat up in amazement. There could be no doubt what the sounds were now. The first ones had been caused by someone forcing an instrument through the slit between the sashes and the second by the catch being pressed back.
“There was a pause then for about ten minutes, as if the person were waiting to see whether the noise had awakened me. Then I heard a gentle creaking as the window was very slowly opened. I could stand it no longer, for my nerves are not what they used to be. I sprang out of bed and flung open the shutters. A man was crouching at the window. I could see llttle of him, for he was gone like a flash. He was wrapped in some sort of cloak which came across the lower part of his face. One thing only I am sure of, and that is that he had some weapon in his hand. It looked to me like a long knife. I distinctly saw the gleam of it as he turned to run.”
“This is most interesting,” said Holmes. “Pray what did you do then?”
“I should have followed him through the open window if I had been stronger. As it was, I rang the bell and roused the house. It took some little time, for the bell rings in the kitchen and the servants all sleep upstairs. I shouted, however, and that brought Joseph down, and he roused the others. Joseph and the groom found marks on the bed outside the window, but the weather has been so dry lately that they found it hopeless to follow the trail across the grass. There’s a place, however, on the wooden fence which skirts the road which shows signs, they tell me, as if someone had got over, and had snapped the top of the rail in doing so. I have said nothing to the local police yet, for I thought I had best have your opinion first.”
This tale of our client’s appeared to have an extraordinary effect upon Sherlock Holmes. He rose from his chair and paced about the room in uncontrollable excitement.
“Misfortunes never come single,” said Phelps, smiling, though it was evident that his adventure had somewhat shaken him.
“You have certainly had your share,” said Holmes. “Do you think you could walk round the house with me?”
“Oh, yes, I should like a little sunshine. Joseph will come, too.”
“And I also,” said Miss Harrison.
“I am afraid not,” said Holmes, shaking his head. “I think I must ask you to remain sitting exactly where you are.”
The young lady resumed her seat with an air of displeasure. Her brother, however, had joined us and we set off all four together. We passed round the lawn to the outside of the young diplomatist’s window. Thcre were, as he had said, marks upon the bed, but they were hopelessly blurred and vague. Holmes stooped over them for an instant, and then rose shrugging his shoulders.
“I don’t think anyone could make much of this,” said he. “Let us go round the house and see why this particular room was chosen by the burglar. I should have thought those larger windows of the drawing-room and dining-room would have had more attractions for him.”
“They are more visible from the road,” suggested Mr. Joseph Harrison.
“Ah, yes, of course. There is a door here which he might have attempted. What is it for?”
“It is the side entrance for trades-people. Of course it is locked at night.”
“Have you ever had an alarm like this before?”
“Never,” said our client.
“Do you keep plate in the house, or anything to attract burglars?”
“Nothing of value.”
Holmes strolled round the house with his hands in his pockets and a negligent air which was unusual with him.
“By the way,” said he to Joseph Harrison, “you found some place, I understand, where the fellow scaled the fence. Let us have a look at that!”
The plump young man led us to a spot where the top of one of the wooden rails had been cracked. A small fragment of the wood was hanging down. Holmes pulled it off and examined it critically.
“Do you think that was done last night? It looks rather old, does it not?”
“Well, possi to thhe came”
“There are no marks of anyone jumping down upon the other side. No, I fancy we shall get no help here. Let us go back to the bedroom and talk the matter over.”
Percy Phelps was walking very slowly, leaning upon the arm of his future brother-in-law. Holmes walked swiftly across the lawn, and we were at the open window of the bedroom long before the others came up.
“Miss Harrison,” said Holmes, speaking with the utmost intensity of manner, you must stay where you are all day. Let nothing prevent you from staying where you are all day. It is of the utmost importance.”
“Certainly, if you wish it, Mr. Holmes,” said the girl in astonishment .
“When you go to bed lock the door of this room on the outside and keep the key. Promise to do this.”
“He will come to London with us.”
“And am I to remain here?”
“It is for his sake. You can serve him. Quick! Promise!”
She gave a quick nod of assent just as the other two came up.
“Why do you sit moping there, Annie?” cried her brother. “Come out into the sunshine!”
“No, thank you, Joseph. I have a slight headache and this room is deliciously cool and soothing.”
“What do you propose now, Mr. Holmes?” asked our client.
“Well, in investigating this minor affair we must not lose sight of our main inquiry. It would be a very great help to me if you would come up to London with us.”
“Well, as soon as you conveniently can. Say in an hour.”
“I feel quite strong enough, if I can really be of any help.”
“The greatest possible.”
“Perhaps you would like me to stay there to-night?”
“I was just going to propose it.”