“I went down as I had promised. When I reached the bridge she was waiting for me. Never did I realize till that moment how this poor creature hated me. She was like a mad woman — indeed, I think she was a mad woman, subtly mad with the deep power of deception which insane people may have. How else could she have met me with unconcern every day and yet had so raging a hatred of me in her heart? I will not say what she said. She poured her whole wild fury out in burning and horrible words. I did not even answer — I could not. It was dreadful to see her. I put my hands to my ears and rushed away. When I left her she was standing, still shrieking out her curses at me, in the mouth of the bridge.”
“Where she was afterwards found?”
“Within a few yards from the spot.”
“And yet, presuming that she met her death shortly after you left her, you heard no shot~”
“No, I heard nothing. But, indeed, Mr. Holmes, I was so agitated and horrified by this terrible outbreak that I rushed to get back to the peace of my own room, and I was incapable of noticing anything which happened.”
“You say that you returned to your room. Did you leave it again before next morning?”
“Yes, when the alarm came that the poor creature had met her death I ran out with the others ”
“Did you see Mr. Gibson?”
“Yes, he had just returned from the bridge when I saw him. He had sent for the doctor and the police.”
“Did he seem to you much perturbed?”
“Mr. Gibson is a very strong, self-contained man. I do not think that he would ever show his emotions on the surface. But I, who knew him so well, could see that he was deeply concerned.”
“Then we come to the all-important point. This pistol that was found in your room. Had you ever seen it before?”
“Never, I swear it.”
“When was it found?”
“Next morning, when the police made their search.”
“Among your clothes?”
“Yes, on the floor of my wardrobe under my dresses.”
“You could not guess how long it had been there?”
“It had not been there the morning before.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I tidied out the wardrobe.”
“That is final. Then someone came into your room and placed the pistol there in order to inculpate you.”
“It must have been so.”
“It could only have been at meal-time, or else at the hours when I would be in the schoolroom with the children.”
“As you were when you got the note?”
“Yes, from that time onward for the whole morning.”
“Thank you, Miss Dunbar. Is there any other point which could help me in the investigation?”
“I can think of none.”
“There was some sign of violence on the stonework of the bridge — a perfectly fresh chip just opposite the body. Could you suggest any possible explanation of that?”
“Surely it must be a mere coincidence.”
“Curious, Miss Dunbar, very curious. Why should it appear at the very time of the tragedy, and why at the very place?”
“But what could have caused it? Only great violence could have such an effect.”
Holmes did not answer. His pale, eager face had suddenly assumed that tense, far-away expression which I had learned to associate with the supreme manifestations of his genius. So evident was the crisis in his mind that none of us dared to speak, and we sat, barrister, prisoner, and myself, watching him in a concentrated and absorbed silence. Suddenly he sprang from his chair, vibrating with nervous energy and the pressing need for action.
“Come, Watson, come!” he cried.
“What is it, Mr. Holmes?”
“Never mind, my dear lady. You will hear from me, Mr. Cummings. With the help of the god of justice I will give you a case which will make England ring. You will get news by to-morrow, Miss Dunbar, and meanwhile take my assurance that the clouds are lifting and that I have every hope that the light of truth is breaking through.”
It was not a long journey from Winchester to Thor Place, but it was long to me in my impatience, while for Holmes it was evident that it seemed endless; for, in his nervous restlessness he could not sit still, but paced the carriage or drummed with his long, sensitive fingers upon the cushions beside him. Suddenly, however, as we neared our destination he seated himself opposite to me — we had a first-class carriage to ourselves — and laying a hand upon each of my knees he looked into my eyes with the peculiarly mischievous gaze which was charactenstic of his more imp-like moods.
“Watson,” said he, “I have some recollection that you go armed upon these excursions of ours.”
It was as well for him that I did so, for he took little care for his own safety when his mind was once absorbed by a problem so that more than once my revolver had been a good friend in need. I reminded him of the fact.
“Yes, yes, I am a little absent-minded in such matters. But have you your revolver on you?”
I produced it from my hip-pocket, a short, handy, but very serviceable little weapon. He undid the catch, shook out the cartridges, and examined it with care.
“It’s heavy — remarkably heavy,” said he.
“Yes, it is a solid bit of work.”
He mused over it for a minute.