Colonel Ross, who had shown some signs of impatience at my companion’s quiet and systematic method of work, glanced at his watch. “I wish you would come back with me, Inspector,” said he. “There are several points on which I should like your advice, and especially as to whether we do not owe it to the public to remove our horse’s name from the entries for the cup.”
“Certainly not,” cried Holmes with decision. “I should let the name stand.”
The colonel bowed. “I am very glad to have had your opinion, sir,” said he. “You will find us at poor Straker’s house when you have finished your walk, and we can drive together into Tavistock.”
He turned back with the inspector, while Holmes and I walked slowly across the moor. The sun was beginning to sink behind the stable of Mapleton, and the long sloping plain in front of us was tinged with gold, deepening into rich, ruddy browns where the faded ferns and brambles caught the evening light. But the glories of the landscape were all wasted upon my companion, who was sunk in the deepest thought.
“It’s this way, Watson,” said he at last. “We may leave the question of who killed John Straker for the instant and confine ourselves to finding out what has become of the horse. Now, supposing that he broke away during or after the tragedy, where could he have gone to? The horse is a very gregarious creature. If left to himself his instincts would have been either to return to King’s Pyland or go over to Mapleton. Why should he run wild upon the moor? He would surely have been seen by now. And why should gypsies kidnap him? These people always clear out when they hear of trouble, for they do not wish to be pestered by the police. They could not hope to sell such a horse. They would run a great risk and gain nothing by taking him. Surely that is clear.”
“Where is he, then?”
“I have already said that he must have gone to King’s Pyland or to Mapleton. He is not at King’s Pyland. Therefore he is at Mapleton. Let us take that as a working hypothesis and see what it leads us to. This part of the moor, as the inspector remarked, is very hard and dry. But it falls away towards Mapleton, and you can see from here that there is a long hollow over yonder, which must have been very wet on Monday night. If our supposition is correct, then the horse must have crossed that, and there is the point where we should look for his tracks.”
We had been walking briskly during this conversation, and a few more minutes brought us to the hollow in question. At Holmes’s request I walked down the bank to the right, and he to the left, but I had not taken fifty paces before I heard him give a shout and saw him waving his hand to me. The track of a horse was plainly outlined in the soft earth in front of him, and the shoe which he took from his pocket exactly fitted the impression.
“See the value of imagination,” said Holmes. “It is the one quality which Gregory lacks. We imagined what might have happened, acted upon the supposition, and find ourselves justified. Let us proceed.”
We crossed the marshy bottom and passed over a quarter of a mile of dry, hard turf. Again the ground sloped, and again we came on the tracks. Then we lost them for half a mile, but only to pick them up once more quite close to Mapleton. It was Holmes who saw them first, and he stood pointing with a look of triumph upon his face. A man’s track was visible beside the horse’s.
“The horse was alone before,” I cried.
“Quite so. It was alone before. Hullo, what is this?”
The double track turned sharp off and took the direction of King’s Pyland. Holmes whistled, and we both followed along after it. His eyes were on the trail, but I happened to look a little to one side and saw to my surprise the same tracks coming back again in the opposite direction.
“One for you, Watson,” said Holmes when I pointed it out. “You have saved us a long walk, which would have brought us back on our own traces. Let us follow the return track.”
We had not to go far. It ended at the paving of asphalt which led up to the gates of the Mapleton stables. As we approached, a groom ran out from them.
“We don’t want any loiterers about here,” said he.
“I only wished to ask a question,” said Holmes, with his finger and thumb in his waistcoat pocket. “Should I be too early to see your master, Mr. Silas Brown, if I were to call at five o’clock to-morrow morning?”
“Bless you, sir, if anyone is about he will be, for he is always the first stirring. But here he is, sir, to answer your questions for himself. No, sir, no, it is as much as my place is worth to let him see me touch your money. Afterwards, if you like.”
As Sherlock Holmes replaced the half-crown which he had drawn from his pocket, a fierce-looking elderly man strode out from the gate with a hunting-crop swinging in his hand.
“What’s this, Dawson!” he cried. “No gossiping! Go about your business! And you, what the devil do you want here?”
“Ten minutes’ talk with you, my good sir,” said Holmes in the sweetest of voices.
“I’ve no time to talk to every gadabout. We want no strangers here. Be off, or you may find a dog at your heels.”
Holmes leaned forward and whispered something in the trainer’s ear. He started violently and flushed to the temples.
“It’s a lie!” he shouted. “An infernal lie!”
“Very good. Shall we argue about it here in public or talk it over in your parlour?”
“Oh, come in if you wish to.”
Holmes smiled. “I shall not keep you more than a few minutes, Watson.” said he. “Now. Mr. Brown. I am quite at your disposal.”
It was twenty minutes, and the reds had all faded into grays before Holmes and the trainer reappeared. Never have I seen such a change as had been brought about in Silas Brown in that short time. His face was ashy pale, beads of perspiration shone upon his brow, and his hands shook until the hunting-crop wagged like a branch in the wind. His bullying, overbearing manner was all gone too, and he cringed along at my companion’s side like a dog with its master.
“Your instructions will be done. It shall all be done,” said he.
“There must be no mistake,” said Holmes, looking round at him. The other winced as he read the menace in his eyes.
“Oh, no, there shall be no mistake. It shall be there. Should I change it first or not?”
Holmes thought a little and then burst out laughing. “No, don’t,” said he, “I shall write to you about it. No tricks, now, or –”
“Oh, you can trust me, you can trust me!”
“Yes, I think I can. Well, you shall hear from me to-morrow.” He turned upon his heel, disregarding the trembling hand which the other held out to him, and we set off for King’s Pyland. “A more perfect compound of the bully, coward, and sneak than Master Silas Brown I have seldom met with,” remarked Holmes as we trudged along together.
“He has the horse, then?”
“He tried to bluster out of it, but I described to him so exactly what his actions had been upon that morning that he is convinced that I was watching him. Of course you observed the peculiarly square toes in the impressions, and that his own boots exactly corresponded to them. Again, of course no subordinate would have dared to do such a thing. I described to him how, when according to his custom he was the first down, he perceived a strange horse wandering over the moor. How he went out to it, and his astonishment at recognizing, from the white forehead which has given the favourite its name, that chance had put in his power the only horse which could beat the one upon which he had put his money. Then I described how his first impulse had been to lead him back to King’s Pyland, and how the devil had shown him how he could hide the horse until the race was over, and how he had led it back and concealed it at Mapleton. When I told him every detail he gave it up and thought only of saving his own skin.”
“But his stables had been searched?”
“Oh, an old horse-faker like him has many a dodge.”
“But are you not afraid to leave the horse in his power now since he has every interest in injuring it?”
“My dear fellow, he will guard it as the apple of his eye. He knows that his only hope of mercy is to produce it safe.”
“Colonel Ross did not impress me as a man who would be likely to show much mercy in any case.”
“The matter does not rest with Colonel Ross. I follow my own methods and tell as much or as little as I choose. That is the advantage of being unofficial. I don’t know whether you observed it, Watson, but the colonel’s manner has been just a trifle cavalier to me. I am inclined now to have a little amusement at his expense. Say nothing to him about the horse.”
“Certainly not without your permission.”
“And of course this is all quite a minor point compared to the question of who killed John Straker.”
“And you will devote yourself to that?”
“On the contrary, we both go back to London by the night train.”
I was thunderstruck by my friend’s words. We had only been a few hours in Devonshire, and that he should give up an investigation which he had begun so brilliantly was quite incomprehensible to me. Not a word more could I draw from him until we were back at the trainer’s house. The colonel and the inspector were awaiting us in the parlour.
“My friend and I return to town by the night-express,” said Holmes. “We have had a charming little breath of your beautiful Dartmoor air.”
The inspector opened his eyes, and the colonel’s lip curled in a sneer.
“So you despair of arresting the murderer of poor Straker,” said he.
Holmes shrugged his shoulders. “There are certainly grave difficulties in the way,” said he. “I have every hope, however, that your horse will start upon Tuesday, and I beg that you will have your jockey in readiness. Might I ask for a photograph of Mr. John Straker?”
The inspector took one from an envelope and handed it to him.
“My dear Gregory, you anticipate all my wants. If I might ask you to wait here for an instant, I have a question which I should like to put to the maid.”
“I must say that I am rather disappointed in our London consultant,” said Colonel Ross bluntly as my friend left the room. “I do not see that we are any further than when he came.”
“At least you have his assurance that your horse will run,” said I.
“Yes, I have his assurance,” said the colonel with a shrug of his shoulders. “I should prefer to have the horse.”
I was about to make some reply in defence of my friend when he entered the room again.
“Now, gentlemen,” said he, “I am quite ready for Tavistock.”