“Well, Masser Holmes, I done gone think over what you said, and I don’t want no more talk about that affair of Masser Perkins. S’pose I can help you, Masser Holmes, I will.”
“Well, then, tell me who is behind you on this job.”
“So help me the Lord! Masser Holmes, I told you the truth before. I don’t know. My boss Barney gives me orders and that’s all.”
“Well, just bear in mind, Steve, that the lady in that house, and everything under that roof, is under my protection. Don’t forget it.”
“All right, Masser Holmes. I’ll remember.”
“I’ve got him thoroughly frightened for his own skin, Watson,” Holmes remarked as we walked on. “I think he would double-cross his employer if he knew who he was. It was lucky I had some knowledge of the Spencer John crowd, and that Steve was one of them. Now, Watson, this is a case for Langdale Pike, and I am going to see him now. When I get back I may be clearer in the matter.”
I saw no more of Holmes during the day, but I could well imagine how he spent it, for Langdale Pike was his human book of reference upon all matters of social scandal. This strange, languid creature spent his waking hours in the bow window of a St. James’s Street club and was the receivingstation as well as the transmitter for all the gossip of the metropolis. He made, it was said, a four-figure income by the paragraphs which he contributed every week to the garbage papers which cater to an inquisitive public. If ever, far down in the turbid depths of London life, there was some strange swirl or eddy, it was marked with automatic exactness by this human dial upon the surface. Holmes discreetly helped Langdale to knowledge, and on occasion was helped in turn.
When I met my friend in his room early next morning, I was conscious from his bearing that all was well, but none the less a most unpleasant surprise was awaiting us. It took the shape of the following telegram.
Please come out at once. Client’s house burgled in the
night. Police in possession.
Holmes whistled. “The drama has come to a crisis, and quicker than I had expected. There is a great driving-power at the back of this business, Watson, which does not surprise me after what I have heard. This Sutro, of course, is her lawyer. I made a mistake, I fear, in not asking you to spend the night on guard. This fellow has clearly proved a broken reed. Well, there is nothing for it but another journey to Harrow Weald.”
We found The Three Gables a very different establishment to the orderly household of the previous day. A small group of idlers had assembled at the garden gate, while a couple of constables were examining the windows and the geranium beds. Within we met a gray old gentleman, who introduced himself as the lawyer together with a bustling, rubicund inspector, who greeted Hoimes as an old friend.
“Well, Mr. Holmes, no chance for you in this case, I’m afraid. Just a common, ordinary burglary, and well within the capacity of the poor old police. No experts need apply.”
“I am sure the case is in very good hands,” said Holmes. “Merely a common burglary, you say?”
“Quite so. We know pretty well who the men are and where to find them. It is that gang of Barney Stockdale, with the big nigger in it — they’ve been seen about here.”
“Excellent! What did they get?”
“Well, they don’t seem to have got much. Mrs. Maberley was chloroformed and the house was — Ah! here is the lady herself.”
Our friend of yesterday, looking very pale and ill, had entered the room, leaning upon a little maidservant.
“You gave me good advice, Mr. Holmes,” said she, smiling ruefully. “Alas, I did not take it! I did not wish to trouble Mr. Sutro, and so I was unprotected.”
“I only heard of it this morning,” the lawyer explained.
“Mr. Holmes advised me to have some friend in the house. I neglected his advice, and I have paid for it.”
“You look wretchedly ill,” said Holmes. “Perhaps you are hardly equal to telling me what occurred.”
“It is all here,” said the inspector, tapping a bulky notebook.
“Still, if the lady is not too exhausted —”
“There is really so little to tell. I have no doubt that wicked Susan had planned an entrance for them. They must have known the house to an inch. I was conscious for a moment of the chloroform rag which was thrust over my mouth, but I have no notion how long I may have been senseless. When I woke, one man was at the bedside and another was rising with a bundle in his hand from among my son’s baggage, which was partially opened and littered over the floor. Before he could get away I sprang up and seized him.”
“You took a big risk,” said the inspector.
“I clung to him, but he shook me off, and the other may have struck me, for I can remember no more. Mary the maid heard the noise and began screaming out of the window. That brought the police, but the rascals had got away.”
“What did they take?”
“Well, I don’t think there is anything of value missing. I am sure there was nothing in my son’s trunks.”
“Did the men leave no clue?”
“There was one sheet of paper which I may have torn from the man that I grasped. It was lying all crumpled on the floor. It is in my son’s handwriting.”
“Which means that it is not of much use,” said the inspector. “Now if it had been in the burglar’s —”
“Exactly,” said Holmes. “What rugged common sense! None the less, I should be curious to see it.”
The inspector drew a folded sheet of foolscap from his pocketbook.
“I never pass anything, however trifling,” said he with some pomposity. “That is my advice to you, Mr. Holmes. In twentyfive years’ experience I have learned my lesson. There is always the chance of finger-marks or something.”
Holmes inspected the sheet of paper.
“What do you make of it, Inspector?”
“Seems to be the end of some queer novel, so far as I can see.”
“It may certainly prove to be the end of a queer tale,” said Holmes. “You have noticed the number on the top of the page. It is two hundred and forty-five. Where are the odd two hundred and forty-four pages?”
“Well, I suppose the burglars got those. Much good may it do them!”
“It seems a queer thing to break into a house in order to steal such papers as that. Does it suggest anything to you, Inspector?”
“Yes, sir, it suggests that in their hurry the rascals just grabbed at what came first to hand. I wish them joy of what they got.”
“Why should they go to my son’s things?” asked Mrs. Maberley.
“Well, they found nothing valuable downstairs, so they tried their luck upstairs. That is how I read it. What do you make of it, Mr. Holmes?”
“I must think it over, Inspector. Come to the window, Watson.” Then, as we stood together, he read over the fragment of paper. It began in the middle of a sentence and ran like this:
“… face bled considerably from the cuts and blows,
but it was nothing to the bleeding of his heart as he saw that
lovely face, the face for which he had been prepared to
sacrifice his very life, looking out at his agony and humilia-