A spaniel had lain in a basket in the corner. It came slowly forward towards its master, walking with difficulty. Its hind legs moved irregularly and its tail was on the ground. It licked Ferguson’s hand.
“What is it, Mr. Holmes?”
“The dog. What’s the matter with it?”
“That’s what puzzled the vet. A sort of paralysis. Spinal meningitis, he thought. But it is passing. He’ll be all right soon — won’t you, Carlo?”
A shiver of assent passed through the drooping tail. The dog’s mournful eyes passed from one of us to the other. He knew that we were discussing his case.
“Did it come on suddenly?”
“In a single night.”
“How long ago?”
“It may have been four months ago.”
“Very remarkable. Very suggestive.”
“What do you see in it, Mr. Holmes?”
“A confirmation of what I had already thought.”
“For God’s sake, what do you think, Mr. Holmes? It may be a mere intellectual puzzle to you, but it is life and death to me! My wife a would-be murderer — my child in constant danger! Don’t play with me, Mr. Holmes. It is too terribly serious.”
The big Rugby three-quarter was trembling all over. Holmes put his hand soothingly upon his arm.
“I fear that there is pain for you, Mr. Ferguson, whatever the solution may be,” said he. “I would spare you all I can. I cannot say more for the instant, but before I leave this house I hope I may have something definite.”
“Please God you may! If you will excuse me, gentlemen, I will go up to my wife’s room and see if there has been any change.”
He was away some minutes, during which Holmes resumed his examination of the curiosities upon the wall. When our host returned it was clear from his downcast face that he had made no progress. He brought with him a tall, slim, brown-faced girl.
“The tea is ready, Dolores,” said Ferguson. “See that your mistress has everything she can wish.”
“She verra ill,” cried the girl, looking with indignant eyes at her master. “She no ask for food. She verra ill. She need doctor. I frightened stay alone with her without doctor.”
Ferguson looked at me with a question in his eyes.
“I should be so glad if I could be of use.”
“Would your mistress see Dr. Watson?”
“I take him. I no ask leave. She needs doctor.”
“Then I’ll come with you at once.”
I followed the girl, who was quivering with strong emotion, up the staircase and down an ancient corridor. At the end was an iron-clamped and massive door. It struck me as I looked at it that if Ferguson tried to force his way to his wife he would find it no easy matter. The girl drew a key from her pocket, and the heavy oaken planks creaked upon their old hinges. I passed in and she swiftly followed, fastening the door behind her.
On the bed a woman was lying who was clearly in a high fever. She was only half conscious, but as I entered she raised a pair of frightened but beautiful eyes and glared at me in apprehension. Seeing a stranger, she appeared to be relieved and sank back with a sigh upon the pillow. I stepped up to her with a few reassuring words, and she lay still while I took her pulse and temperature. Both were high, and yet my impression was that the condition was rather that of mental and nervous excitement than of any actual seizure.
“She lie like that one day, two day. I ‘fraid she die,” said the girl.
The woman turned her flushed and handsome face towards me.
“Where is my husband?”
“He is below and would wish to see you.”
“I will not see him. I will not see him.” Then she seemed to wander off into delirium. “A fiend! A fiend! Oh, what shall I do with this devil?”
“Can I help you in any way?”
“No. No one can help. It is finished. All is destroyed. Do what I will, all is destroyed.”
The woman must have some strange delusion. I could not see honest Bob Ferguson in the character of fiend or devil.
“Madame,” I said, “your husband loves you dearly. He is deeply grieved at this happening.”
Again she turned on me those glorious eyes.
“He loves me. Yes. But do I not love him? Do I not love him even to sacrifice myself rather than break his dear heart? That is how I love him. And yet he could think of me — he could speak of me so.”
“He is full of grief, but he cannot understand.”
“No, he cannot understand. But he should trust.”
“Will you not see him?” I suggested.
“No, no, I cannot forget those terrible words nor the look upon his face. I will not see him. Go now. You can do nothing for me. Tell him only one thing. I want my child. I have a right to my child. That is the only message I can send him.” She turned her face to the wall and would say no more.
I returned to the room downstairs, where Ferguson and Holmes still sat by the fire. Ferguson listened moodily to my account of the interview.
“How can I send her the child?” he said. “How do I know what strange impulse might come upon her? How can I ever forget how she rose from beside it with its blood upon her lips?” He shuddered at the recollection. “The child is safe with Mrs. Mason, and there he must remain.”
A smart maid, the only modern thing which we had seen in the house, had brought in some tea. As she was serving it the door opened and a youth entered the room. He was a remarkable lad, pale-faced and fair-haired, with excitable light blue eyes which blazed into a sudden flame of emotion and joy as they rested upon his father. He rushed forward and threw his arms round his neck with the abandon of a loving girl.
“Oh, daddy,” he cried, “I did not know that you were due yet. I should have been here to meet you. Oh, I am so glad to see you!”
Ferguson gently disengaged himself from the embrace with some little show of embarrassment.
“Dear old chap,” said he, patting the flaxen head with a very tender hand. “I came early because my friends, Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson, have been persuaded to come down and spend an evening with us.”
“Is that Mr. Holmes, the detective?”