The youth looked at us with a very penetrating and, as it seemed to me, unfriendly gaze.
“What about your other child, Mr. Ferguson?” asked Holmes. “Might we make the acquaintance of the baby?”
“Ask Mrs. Mason to bring baby down,” said Ferguson. The boy went off with a curious, shambling gait which told my surgical eyes that he was suffering from a weak spine. Presently he returned, and behind him came a tall, gaunt woman bearing in her arms a very beautiful child, dark-eyed, golden-haired, a wonderful mixture of the Saxon and the Latin. Ferguson was evidently devoted to it, for he took it into his arms and fondled it most tenderly.
“Fancy anyone having the heart to hurt him,” he muttered as he glanced down at the small, angry red pucker upon the cherub throat.
It was at this moment that I chanced to glance at Holmes and saw a most singular intentness in his expression. His face was as set as if it had been carved out of old ivory, and his eyes, which had glanced for a moment at father and child, were now fixed with eager curiosity upon something at the other side of the room. Following his gaze I could only guess that he was looking out through the window at the melancholy, dripping garden. It is true that a shutter had half closed outside and obstructed the view, but none the less it was certainly at the window that Holmes was fixing his concentrated attention. Then he smiled, and his eyes came back to the baby. On its chubby neck there was this small puckered mark. Without speaking, Holmes examined it with care. Finally he shook one of the dimpled fists which waved in front of him.
“Good-bye, little man. You have made a strange start in life. Nurse, I should wish to have a word with you in private.”
He took her aside and spoke earnestly for a few minutes. I only heard the last words, which were: “Your anxiety will soon, I hope, be set at rest.” The woman, who seemed to be a sour, silent kind of creature, withdrew with the child.
“What is Mrs. Mason like?” asked Holmes.
“Not very prepossessing externally, as you can see, but a heart of gold, and devoted to the child.”
“Do you like her, Jack?” Holmes turned suddenly upon the boy. His expressive mobile face shadowed over, and he shook his head.
“Jacky has very strong likes and dislikes,” said Ferguson, putting his arm round the boy. “Luckily I am one of his likes.”
The boy cooed and nestled his head upon his father’s breast. Ferguson gently disengaged him.
“Run away, little Jacky,” said he, and he watched his son with loving eyes until he disappeared. “Now, Mr. Holmes,” he continued when the boy was gone, “I really feel that I have brought you on a fool’s errand, for what can you possibly do save give me your sympathy? It must be an exceedingly delicate and complex affair from your point of view.”
“It is certainly delicate,” said my friend with an amused smile, “but I have not been struck up to now with its complexity. It has been a case for intellectual deduction, but when this original intellectual deduction is confirmed point by point by quite a number of independent incidents, then the subjective becomes objective and we can say confidently that we have reached our goal. I had, in fact, reached it before we left Baker Street, and the rest has merely been observation and confirmation.”
Ferguson put his big hand to his furrowed forehead.
“For heaven’s sake, Holmes,” he said hoarsely; “if you can see the truth in this matter, do not keep me in suspense. How do I stand? What shall I do? I care nothing as to how you have found your facts so long as you have really got them.”
“Certainly I owe you an explanation, and you shall have it. But you will permit me to handle the matter in my own way? Is the lady capable of seeing us, Watson?”
“She is ill, but she is quite rational.”
“Very good. It is only in her presence that we can clear the matter up. Let us go up to her.”
“She will not see me,” cried Ferguson.
“Oh, yes, she will,” said Holmes. He scribbled a few lines upon a sheet of paper.”You at least have the entree, Watson. Will you have the goodness to give the lady this note?”
I ascended again and handed the note to Dolores, who cautiously opened the door. A minute later I heard a cry from within, a cry in which joy and surprise seemed to be blended. Dolores looked out.
“She will see them. She will leesten,” said she.
At my summons Ferguson and Holmes came up. As we entered the room Ferguson took a step or two towards his wife, who had raised herself in the bed, but she held out her hand to repulse him. He sank into an armchair, while Holmes seated himself beside him, after bowing to the lady, who looked at him with wide-eyed amazement.
“I think we can dispense with Dolores,” said Holmes. “Oh, very well, madame, if you would rather she stayed I can see no objection. Now, Mr. Ferguson, I am a busy man wlth many calls, and my methods have to be short and direct. The swiftest surgery is the least painful. Let me first say what will ease your mind. Your wife is a very good, a very loving, and a very ill-used woman.”
Ferguson sat up with a cry of joy.
“Prove that, Mr. Holmes, and I am your debtor forever.”
“I will do so, but in doing so I must wound you deeply in another direction.”
“I care nothing so long as you clear my wife. Everything on earth is insignificant compared to that.”
“Let me tell you, then, the train of reasoning which passed through my mind in Baker Street. The idea of a vampire was to me absurd. Such things do not happen in criminal practice in England. And yet your observation was precise. You had seen the lady rise from beside the child’s cot with the blood upon her lips.”
“Did it not occur to you that a bleeding wound may be sucked for some other purpose than to draw the blood from it? Was there not a queen in English history who sucked such a wound to draw poison from it?”
“A South American household. My instinct felt the presence of those weapons upon the wall before my eyes ever saw them. It might have been other poison, but that was what occurred to me. When I saw that little empty quiver beside the small birdbow, it was just what I expected to see. If the child were pricked with one of those arrows dipped in curare or some other devilish drug, it would mean death if the venom were not sucked out.
“And the dog! If one were to use such a poison, would one not try it first in order to see that it had not lost its power? I did not foresee the dog, but at least I understand him and he fitted into my reconstruction.
“Now do you understand? Your wife feared such an attack. She saw it made and saved the child’s life, and yet she shrank from telling you all the truth, for she knew how you loved the boy and feared lest it break your heart.”
“I watched him as you fondled the child just now. His face was clearly reflected in the glass of the window where the shutter formed a background. I saw such jealousy, such cruel hatred, as I have seldom seen in a human face.”