“Tell me what happened.”
“I was awakened in the night by the dog barking most furiously. Poor Roy, he is chained now near the stable. I may say that I always sleep with my door locked; for, as Jack — as Mr. Bennett — will tell you, we all have a feeling of impending danger. My room is on the second floor. It happened that the blind was up in my window, and there was bright moonlight outside. As I lay with my eyes fixed upon the square of light, listening to the frenzied barkings of the dog, I was amazed to see my father’s face looking in at me. Mr. Holmes, I nearly died of surprise and horror. There it was pressed against the windowpane, and one hand seemed to be raised as if to push up the window. If that window had opened, I think I should have gone mad. It was no delusion, Mr. Holmes. Don’t deceive yourself by thinking so. I dare say it was twenty seconds or so that I lay paralyzed and watched the face. Then it vanished, but I could not — I could not spring out of bed and look out after it. I lay cold and shivering till morning. At breakfast he was sharp and fierce in manner, and made no allusion to the adventure of the night. Neither did I, but I gave an excuse for coming to town -and here I am.”
Holmes looked thoroughly surprised at Miss Presbury’s narrative.
“My dear young lady, you say that your room is on the second floor. Is there a long ladder in the garden?”
“No, Mr. Holmes, that is the amazing part of it. There is no possible way of reaching the window — and yet he was there.”
“The date being September 5th,” said Holmes. “That certainly complicates matters.”
It was the young lady’s turn to look surprised. “This is the second time that you have alluded to the date, Mr. Holmes,” said Bennett. “Is it possible that it has any bearing upon the case?”
“It is possible — very possible — and yet I have not my full material at present.”
“Possibly you are thinking of the connection between insanity and phases of the moon?”
“No, I assure you. It was quite a different line of thought. Possibly you can leave your notebook with me, and I will check the dates. Now I think, Watson, that our line of action is perfectly clear. This young lady has informed us — and I have the greatest confidence in her intuition — that her father remembers little or nothing which occurs upon certain dates. We will therefore call upon him as if he had given us an appointment upon such a date. He will put it down to his own lack of memory. Thus we will open our campaign by having a good close view of him.”
“That is excellent,” said Mr. Bennett. “I warn you, however, that the professor is irascible and violent at times.”
Holmes smiled. “There are reasons why we should come at once — very cogent reasons if my theories hold good. To-morrow, Mr. Bennett, will certainly see us in Camford. There is, if I remember right, an inn called the Chequers where the port used to be above mediocrity and the linen was above reproach. I think, Watson, that our lot for the next few days might lie in less pleasant places.”
Monday morning found us on our way to the famous university town — an easy effort on the part of Holmes, who had no roots to pull up, but one which involved frantic planning and hurrying on my part, as my practice was by this time not inconsiderable. Holmes made no allusion to the case until after we had deposited our suitcases at the ancient hostel of which he had spoken.
“I think, Watson, that we can catch the professor just before lunch. He lectures at eleven and should have an interval at home.”
“What possible excuse have we for calling?”
Holmes glanced at his notebook.
“There was a period of excitement upon August 26th. We will assume that he is a little hazy as to what he does at such times. If we insist that we are there by appointment I think he will hardly venture to contradict us. Have you the effrontery necessary to put it through?”
“We can but try.”
“Excellent, Watson! Compound of the Busy Bee and Excelsior. We can but try — the motto of the firm. A friendly native will surely guide us.”
Such a one on the back of a smart hansom swept us past a row of ancient colleges and, finally turning into a tree-lined drive, pulled up at the door of a charming house, girt round with lawns and covered with purple wistaria. Professor Presbury was certainly surrounded with every sign not only of comfort but of luxury. Even as we pulled up, a grizzled head appeared at the front window, and we were aware of a pair of keen eyes from under shaggy brows which surveyed us through large horn glasses. A moment later we were actually in his sanctum, and the mysterious scientist, whose vagaries had brought us from London, was standing before us. There was certainly no sign of eccentricity either in his manner or appearance, for he was a portly, largefeatured man, grave, tall, and frock-coated, with the dignity of bearing which a lecturer needs. His eyes were his most remarkable feature, keen, observant, and clever to the verge of cunning.
He looked at our cards. “Pray sit down, gentlemen. What can I do for you?”
Mr. Holmes smiled amiably.
“It was the question which I was about to put to you, Professor.”
“To me, sir!”
“Possibly there is some mistake. I heard through a second person that Professor Presbury of Camford had need of my services.”
“Oh, indeed!” It seemed to me that there was a malicious sparkle in the intense gray eyes. “You heard that, did you? May I ask the name of your informant?”
“I am sorry, Professor, but the matter was rather confidential. If I have made a mistake there is no harm done. I can only express my regret.”
“Not at all. I should wish to go funher into this matter. It interests me. Have you any scrap of writing, any letter or telegram, to bear out your assertion?”
“No, I have not.”
“I presume that you do not go so far as to assert that I summoned you?”
“I would rather answer no questions,” said Holmes.
“No, I dare say not,” said the professor with asperity. “However, that particular one can be answered very easily without your aid.”
He walked across the room to the bell. Our London friend Mr. Bennett, answered the call.
“Come in, Mr. Bennett. These two gentlemen have come from London under the impression that they have been summoned. You handle all my correspondence. Have you a note of anything going to a person named Holmes?”
“No, sir,” Bennett answered with a flush.
“That is conclusive,” said the professor, glaring angrily at my companion. “Now, sir” — he leaned forward with his two hands upon the table —” it seems to me that your position is a very questionable one.”
Holmes shrugged his shoulders.
“I can only repeat that I am sorry that we have made a needless intrusion.”
“Hardly enough, Mr. Holmes!” the old man cried in a high screaming voice, with extraordinary malignancy upon his face. He got between us and the door as he spoke, and he shook his two hands at us with furious passion. “You can hardly get out of it so easily as that.” His face was convulsed, and he grinned and gibbered at us in his senseless rage. I am convinced that we should have had to fight our way out of the room if Mr. Bennett had not intervened.