I had listened with the greatest interest to the statement which Holmes, with characteristic clearness, had laid before me. Though most of the facts were familiar to me, I had not sufficiently appreciated their relative importance, nor their connection to each other.
“Is it not possible,” I suggested, “that the incised wound upon Straker may have been caused by his own knife in the convulsive struggles which follow any brain injury?”
“It is more than possible; it is probable,” said Holmes. “In that case one of the main points in favour of the accused disappears.”
“And yet,” said I, “even now I fail to understand what the theory of the police can be.”
“I am afraid that whatever theory we state has very grave objections to it,” returned my companion. “The police imagine, I take it, that this Fitzroy Simpson, having drugged the lad, and having in some way obtained a duplicate key, opened the stable door and took out the horse, with the intention, apparently, of kidnapping him altogether. His bridle is missing, so that Simpson must have put this on. Then, having left the door open behind him, he was leading the horse away over the moor when he was either met or overtaken by the trainer. A row naturally ensued. Simpson beat out the trainer’s brains with his heavy stick without receiving any injury from the small knife which Straker used in self-defence, and then the thief either led the horse on to some secret hiding-place, or else it may have bolted during the struggle, and be now wandering out on the moors. That is the case as it appears to the police, and improbable as it is, all other explanations are more improbable still. However, I shall very quickly test the matter when I am once upon the spot, and until then I cannot really see how we can get much further than our present position.”
It was evening before we reached the little town of Tavistock, which lies, like the boss of a shield, in the middle of the huge circle of Dartmoor. Two gentlemen were awaiting us in the station — the one a tall, fair man with lion-like hair and beard and curiously penetrating light blue eyes; the other a small, alert person, very neat and dapper, in a frock-coat and gaiters, with trim little side-whiskers and an eyeglass. The latter was Colonel Ross, the well-known sportsman; the other, Inspector Gregory; a man who was rapidly making his name in the English detective service.
“I am delighted that you have come down, Mr. Holmes,” said the colonel. “The inspector here has done all that could possibly be suggested, but I wish to leave no stone unturned in trying to avenge poor Straker and in recovering my horse.”
“Have there been any fresh developments?” asked Holmes.
“I am sorry to say that we have made very little progress,” said the inspector. “We have an open carriage outside, and as you would no doubt like to see the place before the light fails, we might talk it over as we drive.” A minute later we were all seated in a comfortable landau and were rattling through the quaint old Devonshire city. Inspector Gregory was full of his case and poured out a stream of remarks, while Holmes threw in an occasional question or interjection. Colonel Ross leaned back with his arms folded and his hat tilted over his eyes, while I listened with interest to the dialogue of the two detectives. Gregory was formulating his theory, which was almost exactly what Holmes had foretold in the train.
“The net is drawn pretty close round Fitzroy Simpson,” he remarked, “and I believe myself that he is our man. At the same time I recognize that the evidence is purely circumstantial, and that some new development may upset it.”
“How about Straker’s knife?”
“We have quite come to the conclusion that he wounded himself in his fall.”
“My friend Dr. Watson made that suggestion to me as we came down. If so, it would tell against this man Simpson.”
“Undoubtedly. He has neither a knife nor any sign of a wound. The evidence against him is certainly very strong. He had a great interest in the disappearance of the favourite. He lies under suspicion of having poisoned the stable-boy; he was undoubtedly out in the storm; he was armed with a heavy stick, and his cravat was found in the dead man’s hand. I really think we have enough to go before a jury.”
Holmes shook his head. “A clever counsel would tear it all to rags,” said he. “Why should he take the horse out of the stable? If he wished to injure it, why could he not do it there? Has a duplicate key been found in his possession? What chemist sold him the powdered opium? Above all, where could he, a stranger to the district, hide a horse, and such a horse as this? What is his own explanation as to the paper which he wished the maid to give to the stable-boy?”
“He says that it was a ten-pound note. One was found in his purse. But your other difficulties are not so formidable as they seem. He is not a stranger to the district. He has twice lodged at Tavistock in the summer. The opium was probably brought from London. The key, having served its purpose, would be hurled away. The horse may be at the bottom of one of the pits or old mines upon the moor.”
“What does he say about the cravat?”
“He acknowledges that it is his and declares that he had lost it. But a new element has been introduced into the case which may account for his leading the horse from the stable.”
Holmes pricked up his ears.
“We have found traces which show that a party of gypsies encamped on Monday night within a mile of the spot where the murder took place. On Tuesday they were gone. Now, presuming that there was some understanding between Simpson and these gypsies, might he not have been leading the horse to them when he was overtaken, and may they not have him now?”
“It is certainly possible.”
“The moor is being scoured for these gypsies. I have also examined every stable and outhouse in Tavistock, and for a radius of ten miles.”
“There is another training-stable quite close, I understand?”
“Yes, and that is a factor which we must certainly not neglect. As Desborough, their horse, was second in the betting, they had an interest in the disappearance of the favourite. Silas Brown, the trainer, is known to have had large bets upon the event, and he was no friend to poor Straker. We have, however, examined the stables, and there is nothing to connect him with the affair.”
“And nothing to connect this man Simpson with the interests of the Mapleton stables?”
“Nothing at all.”
Holmes leaned back in the carriage, and the conversation ceased. A few minutes later our driver pulled up at a neat little red-brick villa with overhanging eaves which stood by the road. Some distance off, across a paddock, lay a long gray-tiled outbuilding. In every other direction the low curves of the moor, bronze-coloured from the fading ferns, stretched away to the sky-line, broken only by the steeples of Tavistock, and by a cluster of houses away to the westward which marked the Mapleton stables. We all sprang out with the exception of Holmes, who continued to lean back with his eyes fixed upon the sky in front of him, entirely absorbed in his own thoughts. It was only when I touched his arm that he roused himself with a violent start and stepped out of the carriage.
“Excuse me,” said he, turning to Colonel Ross, who had looked at him in some surprise. “I was day-dreaming.” There was a gleam in his eyes and a suppressed excitement in his manner which convinced me, used as I was to his ways, that his hand was upon a clue, though I could not imagine where he had found it.
“Perhaps you would prefer at once to go on to the scene of the crime, Mr. Holmes?” said Gregory.
“I think that I should prefer to stay here a little and go into one or two questions of detail. Straker was brought back here, I presume?”
“Yes, he lies upstairs. The inquest is to-morrow.”
“He has been in your service some years, Colonel Ross?”
“I have always found him an excellent servant.”
“I presume that you made an inventory of what he had in his pockets at the time of his death, Inspector?”
“I have the things themselves in the sitting-room if you would care to see them.”
“I should be very glad.” We all filed into the front room and sat round the central table while the inspector unlocked a square tin box and lald a small heap of things before us. There was a box of vestas, two inches of tallow candle. an A D P brier-root pipe, a pouch of sealskin with half an ounce of long-cut Cavendish, a silver watch with a gold chain, five sovereigns in gold, an aluminum pencil-case, a few papers, and an ivory-handled knife with a very delicate, inflexible blade marked Weiss & Co., London.
“This is a very singular knife,” said Holmes, lifting it up and examining it minutely. “I presume, as I see blood-stains upon it, that it is the one which was found in the dead man’s grasp. Watson, this knife is surely in your line?”
“It is what we call a cataract knife,” said I.
“I thought so. A very delicate blade devised for very delicate work. A strange thing for a man to carry with him upon a rough expedition, especially as it would not shut in his pocket.”
“The tip was guarded by a disc of cork which we found beside his body,” said the inspector. “His wife tells us that the knife had lain upon the dressing-table, and that he had picked it up as he left the room. It was a poor weapon, but perhaps the best that he could lay his hands on at the moment.”
“Very possibly. How about these papers?”
“Three of them are receipted hay-dealers’ accounts. One of them is a letter of instructions from Colonel Ross. This other is a milliner’s account for thirty-seven pounds fifteen made out by Madame Lesurier, of Bond Street, to William Derbyshire. Mrs. Straker tells us that Derbyshire was a friend of her husband’s and that occasionally his letters were addressed here.”
“Madame Derbyshire had somewhat expensive tastes,” remarked Holmes, glancing down the account. “Twenty-two guineas is rather heavy for a single costume. However, there appears to be nothing more to learn, and we may now go down to the scene of the crime.”
As we emerged from the sitting-room a woman, who had been waiting in the passage, took a step forward and laid her hand upon the inspector’s sleeve. Her face was haggard and thin and eager, stamped with the print of a recent horror.
“Have you got them? Have you found them?” she panted.
“No, Mrs. Straker. But Mr. Holmes here has come from London to help us, and we shall do all that is possible.”
“Surely I met you in Plymouth at a garden-party some little time ago, Mrs. Straker?” said Holmes.
“No, sir; you are mistaken.”
“Dear me! Why, I could have sworn to it. You wore a costume of dove-coloured silk with ostrich-feather trimming.”
“I never had such a dress, sir,” answered the lady.
“Ah, that quite settles it,” said Holmes. And with an apology he followed the inspector outside. A short walk across the moor took us to the hollow in which the body had been found. At the brink of it was the furze-bush upon which the coat had been hung.
“There was no wind that night, I understand,” said Holmes.
“None, but very heavy rain.”
“In that case the overcoat was not blown against the furzebush, but placed there.”
“Yes, it was laid across the bush.”
“You fill me with interest. I perceive that the ground has been trampled up a good deal. No doubt many feet have been here since Monday night.”
“A piece of matting has been laid here at the side, and we have all stood upon that.”
“In this bag I have one of the boots which Straker wore, one of Fitzroy Simpson’s shoes, and a cast horseshoe of Silver Blaze.”
“My dear Inspector, you surpass yourself!” Holmes took the bag, and, descending into the hollow, he pushed the matting into a more central position. Then stretching himself upon his face and leaning his chin upon his hands, he made a careful study of the trampled mud in front of him. “Hullo!” said he suddenly. “What’s this?” It was a wax vesta, half burned, which was so coated with mud that it looked at first like a little chip of wood.
“I cannot think how I came to overlook it,” said the inspector with an expression of annoyance.
“It was invisible, buried in the mud. I only saw it because I was looking for it.”
“What! you expected to find it?”
“I thought it not unlikely.”
He took the boots from the bag and compared the impressions of each of them with marks upon the ground. Then he clambered up to the rim of the hollow and crawled about among the ferns and bushes.
“I am afraid that there are no more tracks,” said the inspector. “I have examined the ground very carefully for a hundred yards in each direction.”
“Indeed!” said Holmes, rising. “I should not have the impertinence to do it again after what you say. But I should like to take a little walk over the moor before it grows dark that I may know my ground to-morrow, and I think that I shall put this horseshoe into my pocket for luck.”