“Now comes the point. From that time onward a curious change came over the professor. He became furtive and sly. Those around him had always the feeling that he was not the man that they had known, but that he was under some shadow which had darkened his higher qualities. His intellect was not affected. His lectures were as brilliant as ever. But always there was something new, something sinister and unexpected. His daughter, who was devoted to him, tried again and again to resume the old relations and to penetrate this mask which her father seemed to have put on. You, sir, as I understand, did the same — but all was in vain. And now, Mr. Bennett, tell in your own words the incident of the letters.”
“You must understand, Dr. Watson, that the professor had no secrets from me. If I were his son or his younger brother I could not have more completely enjoyed his confidence. As his secretary I handled every paper which came to him, and I opened and subdivided his letters. Shortly after his return all this was changed. He told me that certain letters might come to him from London which would be marked by a cross under the stamp. These were to be set aside for his own eyes only. I may say that several of these did pass through my hands, that they had the E. C. mark, and were in an illiterate handwriting. If he answered them at all the answers did not pass through my hands nor into the letterbasket in which our correspondence was collected.”
“And the box,” said Holmes.
“Ah, yes, the box. The professor brought back a little wooden box from his travels. It was the one thing which suggested a Continental tour, for it was one of those quaint carved things which one associates with Germany. This he placed in his instrument cupboard. One day, in looking for a canula, I took up the box. To my surprise he was very angry, and reproved me in words which were quite savage for my curiosity. It was the first time such a thing had happened, and I was deeply hurt. I endeavoured to explain that it was a mere accident that I had touched the box, but all the evening I was conscious that he looked at me harshly and that the incident was rankling in his mind.” Mr. Bennett drew a little diary book from his pocket. “That was on July 2d,” said he.
“You are certainly an admirable witness,” said Holmes. “I may need some of these dates which you have noted.”
“I learned method among other things from my great teacher. From the time that I observed abnormality in his behaviour I felt that it was my duty to study his case. Thus I have it here that it was on that very day, July 2d, that Roy attacked the professor as he came from his study into the hall. Again, on July 11th, there was a scene of the same sort, and then I have a note of yet another upon July 20th. After that we had to banish Roy to the stables. He was a dear, affectionate animal — but I fear I weary you.”
Mr. Bennett spoke in a tone of reproach, for it was very clear that Holmes was not listening. His face was rigid and his eyes gazed abstractedly at the ceiling. With an effort he recovered himself.
“Singular! Most singular!” he murmured. “These details were new to me, Mr. Bennett. I think we have now fairly gone over the old ground, have we not? But you spoke of some fresh developments.”
The pleasant, open face of our visitor clouded over, shadowed by some grim remembrance. “What I speak of occurred the night before last,” said he. “I was lying awake about two in the morning, when I was aware of a dull muffled sound coming from the passage. I opened my door and peeped out. I should explain that the professor sleeps at the end of the passage —”
“The date being?” asked Holmes.
Our visitor was clearly annoyed at so irrelevant an interruption.
“I have said, sir, that it was the night before last — that is, September 4th.”
Holmes nodded and smiled.
“Pray continue,” said he.
“He sleeps at the end of the passage and would have to pass my door in order to reach the staircase. It was a really terrifying experience, Mr. Holmes. I think that I am as strong-nerved as my neighbours, but I was shaken by what I saw. The passage was dark save that one window halfway along it threw a patch of light. I could see that something was coming along the passage, something dark and crouching. Then suddenly it emerged into the light, and I saw that it was he. He was crawling, Mr. Holmes — crawling! He was not quite on his hands and knees. I should rather say on his hands and feet, with his face sunk between his hands. Yet he seemed to move with ease. I was so paralyzed by the sight that it was not until he had reached my door that I was able to step forward and ask if I could assist him. His answer was extraordinary. He sprang up, spat out some atrocious word at me, and hurried on past me, and down the staircase. I waited about for an hour, but he did not come back. It must have been daylight before he regained his room.”
“Well, Watson, what make you of that?” asked Holmes with the air of the pathologist who presents a rare specimen.
“Lumbago, possibly. I have known a severe attack make a man walk in just such a way, and nothing would be more trying to the temper.”
“Good, Watson! You always keep us flat-footed on the ground. But we can hardly accept lumbago, since he was able to stand erect in a moment.”
“He was never better in health,” said Bennett. “In fact, he is stronger than I have known him for years. But there are the facts, Mr. Holmes. It is not a case in which we can consult the police, and yet we are utterly at our wit’s end as to what to do, and we feel in some strange way that we are drifting towards disaster. Edith — Miss Presbury — feels as I do, that we cannot wait passively any longer.”
“It is certainly a very curious and suggestive case. What do you think, Watson?”
“Speaking as a medical man,” said I, “it appears to be a case for an alienist. The old gentleman’s cerebral processes were disturbed by the love affair. He made a journey abroad in the hope of breaking himself of the passion. His letters and the box may be connected with some other private transaction — a loan, perhaps, or share cenificates, which are in the box.”
“And the wolfhound no doubt disapproved of the financial bargain. No, no, Watson, there is more in it than this. Now, I can only suggest —”
What Sherlock Holmes was about to suggest will never be known, for at this moment the door opened and a young lady was shown into the room. As she appeared Mr. Bennett sprang up with a cry and ran forward with his hands out to meet those which she had herself outstretched.
“Edith, dear! Nothing the matter, I hope?”
“I felt I must follow you. Oh, Jack, I have been so dreadfully frightened! It is awful to be there alone.”
“Mr. Holmes, this is the young lady I spoke of. This is my fiancee.”
“We were gradually coming to that conclusion, were we not, Watson?” Holmes answered with a smile. “I take it, Miss Presbury, that there is some fresh development in the case, and that you thought we should know?”
Our new visitor, a bright, handsome girl of a conventional English type, smiled back at Holmes as she seated herself beside Mr. Bennett.
“When I found Mr. Bennett had left his hotel I thought I should probably find him here. Of course, he had told me that he would consult you. But, oh, Mr. Holmes, can you do nothing for my poor father?”
“I have hopes, Miss Presbury, but the case is still obscure. Perhaps what you have to say may throw some fresh light upon it.”
“It was last night, Mr. Holmes. He had been very strange all day. I am sure that there are times when he has no recollection of what he does. He lives as in a strange dream. Yesterday was such a day. It was not my father with whom I lived. His outward shell was there, but it was not really he.”