“Then, if my friend of the night comes to revisit me, he will find the bird flown. We are all in your hands, Mr. Holmes, and you must tell us exactly what you would like done. Perhaps you would prefer that Joseph came with us so as to look after me?”
“Oh, no, my friend Watson is a medical man, you know, and he’ll look after you. We’ll have our lunch here, if you will permit us, and then we shall all three set off for town together.”
It was arranged as he suggested. though Miss Harrison excused herself from leaving the bedroom, in accordance with Holmes’s suggestion. What the object of my friend’s manoeuvres was I could not conceive, unless it were to keep the lady away from Phelps, who, rejoiced by his returning health and by the prospect of action, lunched with us in the dining-room. Holmes had a still more startling surprise for us, however, for, after accompanying us down to the station and seeing us into our carriage, he calmly announced that he had no intention of leaving Woking.
“There are one or two small points which I should desire to clear up before I go,” said he. “Your absence, Mr. Phelps, will in some ways rather assist me. Watson, when you reach London you would oblige me by driving at once to Baker Street with our friend here, and remaining with him until I see you again. It is fortunate that you are old school-fellows, as you must have much to talk over. Mr. Phelps can have the spare bedroom to-night, and I will be with you in time for breakfast, for there is a train which will take me into Waterloo at eight.”
“But how about our investigation in London?” asked Phelps ruefully.
“We can do that to-morrow. I think that just at present I can be of more immediate use here.”
“You might tell them at Briarbrae that I hope to be back to-morrow night,” cried Phelps, as we began to move from the platform.
“I hardly expect to go back to Briarbrae,” answered Holmes, and waved his hand to us cheerily as we shot out from the station.
Phelps and I talked it over on our journey, but neither of us could devise a satisfactory reason for this new development.
“I suppose he wants to find out some clues as to the burglary last night, if a burglar it was. For myself, I don’t believe it was an ordinary thief.”
“What is your own idea, then?”
“Upon my word, you may put it down to my weak nerves or not, but I believe there is some deep political intrigue going on around me, and that for some reason that passes my understanding my life is aimed at by the conspirators. It sounds high-flown and absurd, but consider the facts! Why should a thief try to break in at a bedroom window where there could be no hope of any plunder, and why should he come with a long knife in his hand?”
“You are sure it was not a house-breaker’s jimmy?”
“Oh, no, it was a knife. I saw the flash of the blade quite distinctly.”
“But why on earth should you be pursued with such animosity?”
“Ah, that is the question.”
“Well, if Holmes takes the same view, that would account for his action, would it not? Presuming that your theory is correct, if he can lay his hands upon the man who threatened you last night he will have gone a long way towards finding who took the naval treaty. It is absurd to suppose that you have two enemies, one of whom robs you, while the other threatens your life.”
“But Holmes said that he was not going to Briarbrae.”
“I have known him for some time,” said I, “but I never knew him do anything yet without a very good reason,” and with that our conversation drifted off on to other topics.
But it was a weary day for me. Phelps was still weak after his long illness, and his misfortunes made him querulous and nervous. In vain I endeavoured to interest him in Afghanistan, in India, in social questions, in anything which might take his mind out of the groove. He would always come back to his lost treaty, wondering, guessing, speculating as to what Holmes was doing, what steps Lord Holdhurst was taking, what news we should have in the morning. As the evening wore on his excitement became quite painful.
“You have implicit faith in Holmes?” he asked.
“I have seen him do some remarkable things.”
“But he never brought light into anything quite so dark as this?”
“Oh, yes, I have known him solve questions which presented fewer clues than yours.”
“But not where such large interests are at stake?”
“I don’t know that. To my certain knowledge he has acted on behalf of three of the reigning houses of Europe in very vital matters.”
“But you know him well, Watson. He is such an inscrutable fellow that I never quite know what to make of him. Do you think he is hopeful? Do you think he expects to make a success of it?”
“He has said nothing.”
“That is a bad sign.”
“On the contrary. I have noticed that when he is off the trail he generally says so. It is when he is on a scent and is not quite absolutely sure yet that it is the right one that he is most taciturn. Now, my dear fellow, we can’t help matters by making ourselves nervous about them, so let me implore you to go to bed and so be fresh for whatever may await us to-morrow.”
I was able at last to persuade my companion to take my advice, though I knew from his excited manner that there was not much hope of sleep for him. Indeed, his mood was infectious for I lay tossing half the night myself, brooding over this strange problem and inventing a hundred theories, each of which was more impossible than the last. Why had Holmes remained at Woking? Why had he asked Miss Harrison to remai pthe sick-room all day? Why had he been so careful not to inform the people at Briarbrae that he intended to remai near them? I cudgelled my brains until I fell asleep in the endeavour to find some explanation which would cover all these facts.
It was seven o’clock when I awoke, and I set off at once for Phelps’s room to find him haggard and spent after a sleepless night. His first question was whether Holmes had arrived yet.
“He’ll be here when he promised,” said I, “and not an instant sooner or later.”
And my words were true, for shortly after eight a hansom dashed up to the door and our friend got out of it. Standing in the window we saw that his left hand was swathed in a bandage and that his face was very grim and pale. He entered the house, but it was some little time before he came upstairs.
“He looks like a beaten man,” cried Phelps.
I was forced to confess that he was right. “After all,” said I, “the clue of the matter lies probably here in town.”
Phelps gave a groan.
“I don’t know how it is,” said he, “but I had hoped for so much from his return. But surely his hand was not tied up like that yesterday. What can be the matter?”
“You are not wounded, Holmes?” I asked as my friend entered the room.
“Tut, it is only a scratch through my own clumsiness,” he answered, nodding his good-morning to us. “This case of yours, Mr. Phelps, is certainly one of the darkest which I have ever investigated.”
“I feared that you would find it beyond you.”
“It has been a most remarkable experience.”
“That bandage tells of adventures,” said I. “Won’t you tell us what has happened?”
“After breakfast, my dear Watson. Remember that I have breathed thirty miles of Surrey air this morning. I suppose that there has been no answer from my cabman advertisement? Well, well, we cannot expect to score every time.”
The table was all laid, and just as I was about to ring Mrs. Hudson entered with the tea and coffee. A few minutes later she brought in three covers, and we all drew up to the table, Holmes ravenous, I curious, and Phelps in the gloomiest state of depression.
“Mrs. Hudson has risen to the occasion,” said Holmes, uncovering a dish of curried chicken. “Her cuisine is a little limited, but she has as good an idea of breakfast as a Scotchwoman. What have you there, Watson?”
“Ham and eggs,” I answered.
“Good! What are you going to take, Mr. Phelps — curried fowl or eggs, or will you help yourself?”
“Thank you. I can eat nothing,” said Phelps.
“Oh, come! Try the dish before you.”
“Thank you, I would really rather not.”
“Well, then,” said Holmes with a mischievous twinkle, “I suppose that you have no objection to helping me?”
Phelps raised the cover, and as he did so he uttered a scream and sat there staring with a face as white as the plate upon which he looked. Across the centre of it was lying a little cylinder of blue-gray paper. He caught it up, devoured it with his eyes, and then danced madly about the room, pressing it to his bosom and shrieking out in his delight. Then he fell back into an armchair, so limp and exhausted with his own emotions that we had to pour brandy down his throat to keep him from fainting.
“There! there!” said Holmes soothingly, patting him upon the shoulder. “It was too bad to spring it on you like this, but Watson here will tell you that I never can resist a touch of the dramatic.”
Phelps seized his hand and kissed it. “God bless you!” he cried. “You have saved my honour.”
“Well, my own was at stake, you know,” said Holmes. “I assure you it is just as hateful to me to fail in a case as it can be to you to blunder over a commission.”
Phelps thrust away the precious document into the innermost pocket of his coat.
“I have not the heart to interrupt your breakfast any further, and yet I am dying to know how you got it and where it was.”
Sherlock Holmes swallowed a cup of coffee and turned his attention topreham and eggs. Then he rose, lit his pipe, and settled himself down into his chair.
“I’ll tell you what I did first, and how I came to do it afterwards,” said he. “After leaving you at the station I went for a charming walk through some admirable Surrey scenery to a pretty little village called Ripley, where I had my tea at an inn and took the precaution of filling my flask and of putting a paper of sandwiches in my pocket. There I remained until evening, when I set off for Woking again and found myself in the highroad outside Briarbrae just after sunset.
“Well, I waited until thc road was clear — it is never a very frequented one at any time, I fancy — and then I clambered over the fence into the grounds.”
“Surely the gate was open!” ejaculated Phelps.
“Yes, but I have a peculiar taste in these matters. I chose the place where the three fir-trees stand, and behind their screen I got over without the least chance of anyone in the house being able to see me. I crouched down among the bushes on the other side and crawled from one to the other — witness the disreputable state of my trouser knees — until I had reached the clump of rhododendrons just opposite to your bedroom window. There I squatted down and awaited developments.
“The blind was not down in your room, and I could see Miss Harrison sitting there reading by the table. It was quarter-past ten when she closed her book, fastened the shutters, and retired.
“I heard her shut the door and felt quite sure that she had turned the key in the lock.”
“The key!” ejaculated Phelps.
“Yes, I had given Miss Harrison instructions to lock the door on the outside and take the key with her when she went to bed. She carried out every one of my injunctions to the letter, and certainly without her cooperation you would not have that paper in your coat-pocket. She departed then and the lights went out and I was left squatting in the rhododendron-bush.
“The night was fine, but still it was a very weary vigil. Of course it has the sort of excitement about it that the sportsman feels when he lies beside the watercourse and waits for the big game. It was very long, though — almost as long, Watson, as when you and I waited in that deadly room when we looked into the little problem of the Speckled Band. There was a church-clock down at Woking which struck the quarters, and I thought more than once that it had stopped. At last, however, about two in the morning, I suddenly heard the gentle sound of a bolt being pushed back and the creaking of a key. A moment later the servants door was opened, and Mr. Joseph Harrison stepped out into the moonlight.”
“Joseph!” ejaculated Phelps.
“He was bare-headed, but he had a black cloak thrown over his shoulder, so that he could conceal his face in an instant if there were any alarm. He walked on tiptoe under the shadow of the wall, and when he reached the window he worked a longbladed knife through the sash and pushed back the catch. Then he flung open the window, and putting his knife through the crack in the shutters, he thrust the bar up and swung them open.
“From where I lay I had a perfect view of the inside of the room and of every one of his movements. He lit the two candles which stood upon the mantelpiece, and then he proceeded to turn back the corner of the carpet in the neighbourhood of the door. Presently he stooped and picked out a square piece of board, such as is usually left to enable plumbers to get at the joints of the gas-pipes. This one covered, as a matter of fact, the T joint which gives off the pipe which supplies the kitchen underneath. Out of this hiding-place he drew that little cylinder of paper, pushed down the board, rearranged the carpet, blew out the candles, and walked straight into my arms as I stood waiting for him outside the window.
“Well, he has rather more viciousness than I gave him credit for, has Master Joseph. He flew at me with his knife, and I had to grasp him twice, and got a cut over the knuckles, before I had the upper hand of him. He looked murder out of the only eye he could see with when we had finished, but he listened to reason and gave up the papers. Having got them I let my man go, but I wired full particulars to Forbes this morning. If he is quick enough to catch his bird, well and good. But if, as I shrewdly suspect, he finds the nest empty before he gets there, why, all the better for the government. I fancy that Lord Holdhurst, for one, and Mr. Percy Phelps for another, would very much rather that the affair never got as far as a police-court.”
“My God!” gasped our client. “Do you tell me that during these long ten weeks of agony the stolen papers were within the very room with me all the time?”
“So it was.”
“And Joseph! Joseph a villain and a thief!”
“Hum! I am afraid Joseph’s character is a rather deeper and more dangerous one than one might judge from his appearance. From what I have heard from him this morning, I gather that he has lost heavily in dabbling with stocks, and that he is ready to do anything on earth to better his fortunes. Being an absolutely selfish man, when a chance presents itself he did not allow either his sister’s happiness or your reputation to hold his hand.”
Percy Phelps sank back in his chair. “My head whirls,” said he. “Your words have dazed me.”
“The principal difficulty in your case,” remarked Holmes in his didactic fashion, “lay in the fact of there being too much evidence. What was vital was overlaid and hidden by what was irrelevant. Of all the facts which were presented to us we had to pick just those which we deemed to be essential, and then piece them together in their order, so as to reconstruct this very remarkable chain of events. I had already begun to suspect Joseph from the fact that you had intended to travel home with him that night, and that therefore it was a likely enough thing that he should call for you, knowing the Foreign Office well, upon his way. When I heard that someone had been so anxious to get into the bedroom, in which no one but Joseph could have concealed anything — you told us in your narrative how you had turned Joseph out when you arrived with the doctor — my suspicions all changed to certainties, especially as the attempt was made on the first night upon which the nurse was absent, showing that the intruder was well acquainted with the ways of the house.”
“How blind I have been!”
“The facts of the case, as far as I have worked them out, are these: This Joseph Harrison entered the office through the Charles Street door, and knowing his way he walked straight into your room the instant after you left it. Finding no one there he promptly rang the bell, and at the instant that he did so his eyes caught the paper upon the table. A glance showed him that chance had put in his way a State document of immense value, and in an instant he had thrust it into his pocket and was gone. A few minutes elapsed, as you remember, before the sleepy commissionaire drew your attention to the bell, and those were just enough to give the thief time to make his escape.
“He made his way to Woking by the first train, and, having examined his booty and assured himself that it really was of immense value, he had concealed it in what he thought was a very safe place, with the intention of taking it out again in a day or two, and carrying it to the French embassy, or wherever he thought that a long price was to be had. Then came your sudden return. He, without a moment’s warning, was bundled out of his room, and from that time onward there were always at least two of you there to prevent him from regaining his treasure. The situation to him must have been a maddening one. But at last he thought he saw his chance. He tried to steal in, but was baffled by your wakefulness. You may remember that you did not take your usual draught that night.”
“I fancy that he had taken steps to make that draught efficacious, and that he quite relied upon your being unconscious. Of course, I understood that he would repeat the attempt whenever it could be done with safety. Your leaving the room gave him the chance he wanted. I kept Miss Harrison in it all day so that he might not anticipate us. Then, having given him the idea that the coast was clear, I kept guard as I have described. I already knew that the papers were proba to thhin the room, but I had no desire to rip up all the planking and skirting in search of them. I let him take them, therefore, from the hiding-place, and so saved myself an infinity of trouble. Is there any other point which I can make clear?”
“Why did he try the window on the first occasion,” I asked, “when he might have entered by the door?”
“In reaching the door he would have to pass seven bedrooms. On the other hand, he could get out on to the lawn, with ease, Anyt!ling else?”
“You do not think,” asked Phelps, “that he had any murderous intention? The knife was only meant as a tool.”
“li may be so,” answered Holmes, shrugging his shoulders. “I can only say for certain that Mr. Joseph Harrison is a gentleman to whose mercy I should be extremely unwilling to trust.”