“They will take what comes to them. That is what they are paid for. I shall not appear in the matter.”
“Unless I bring you into it.”
“No, no, you would not. You are a gentleman. It is a woman’s secret.”
“In the first place, you must give back this manuscript.”
She broke into a ripple of laughter and walked to the fireplace. There was a calcined mass which she broke up with the poker. “Shall I give this back?” she asked. So roguish and exquisite did she look as she stood before us with a challenging smile that I felt of all Holmes’s criminals this was the one whom he would find it hardest to face. However, he was immune from sentiment.
“That seals your fate,” he said coldly. “You are very prompt in your actions, madame, but you have overdone it on this occasion.”
She threw the poker down with a clatter.
“How hard you are!” she cried. “May I tell you the whole story?”
“I fancy I could tell it to you.”
“But you must look at it with my eyes, Mr. Holmes. You must realize it from the point of view of a woman who sees all her life’s ambition about to be ruined at the last moment. Is such a woman to be blamed if she protects herself?”
“The original sin was yours.”
“Yes, yes! I admit it. He was a dear boy, Douglas, but it so chanced that he could not fit into my plans. He wanted marriage -marriage, Mr. Holmes — with a penniless commoner. Nothing less would serve him. Then he became pertinacious. Because I had given he seemed to think that I still must give, and to him only. It was intolerable. At last I had to make him realize it.”
“By hiring ruffians to beat him under your own window.”
“You do indeed seem to know everything. Well, it is true. Barney and the boys drove him away, and were, I admit, a little rough in doing so. But what did he do then? Could I have believed that a gentleman would do such an act? He wrote a book in which he described his own story. I, of course, was the wolf; he the lamb. It was all there, under different names, of course; but who in all London would have failed to recognize it? What do you say to that, Mr. Holmes?”
“Well, he was within his rights.”
“It was as if the air of Italy had got into his blood and brought with it the old cruel Italian spirit. He wrote to me and sent me a copy of his book that I might have the torture of anticipation. There were two copies, he said — one for me, one for his publisher.”
“How did you know the publisher’s had not reached him?”
“I knew who his publisher was. It is not his only novel, you know. I found out that he had not heard from Italy. Then came Douglas’s sudden death. So long as that other manuscript was in the world there was no safety for me. Of course, it must be among his effects, and these would be returned to his mother. I set the gang at work. One of them got into the house as servant. I wanted to do the thing honestly. I really and truly did. I was ready to buy the house and everything in it. I offered any price she cared to ask. I only tried the other way when everything else had failed. Now, Mr. Holmes, granting that I was too hard on Douglas — and, God knows, I am sorry for it! — what else could I do with my whole future at stake?”
Sherlock Holmes shrugged his shoulders.
“Well, well,” said he, “I suppose I shall have to compound a felony as usual. How much does it cost to go round the world in first-class style?”
The lady stared in amazement.
“Could it be done on five thousand pounds?”
“Well, I should think so, indeed!”
“Very good. I think you will sign me a check for that, and I will see that it comes to Mrs. Maberley. You owe her a little change of air. Meantime, lady” — he wagged a cautionary forefinger — “have a care! Have a care! You can’t play with edged tools forever without cutting those dainty hands.”
The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier
The ideas of my friend Watson, though limited, are exceedingly pertinacious. For a long time he has worried me to write an experience of my own. Perhaps I have rather invited this persecution, since I have often had occasion to point out to him how superficial are his own accounts and to accuse him of pandering to popular taste instead of confining himself rigidly to facts and figures. “Try it yourself, Holmes!” he has retorted, and I am compelled to admit that, having taken my pen in my hand, I do begin to realize that the matter must be presented in such a way as may interest the reader. The following case can hardly fail to do so, as it is among the strangest happenings in my collection though it chanced that Watson had no note of it in his collection. Speaking of my old friend and biographer, I would take this opportunity to remark that if I burden myself with a companion in my various little inquiries it is not done out of sentiment or caprice, but it is that Watson has some remarkable characteristics of his own to which in his modesty he has given small attention amid his exaggerated estimates of my own performances. A confederate who foresees your conclusions and course of action is always dangerous, but one to whom each development comes as a perpetual surprise, and to whom the future is always a closed book, is indeed an ideal helpmate.
I find from my notebook that it was in January, 1903, just after the conclusion of the Boer War, that I had my visit from Mr. James M. Dodd, a big, fresh, sunburned, upstanding Briton. The good Watson had at that time deserted me for a wife, the only selfish action which I can recall in our association. I was alone.
It is my habit to sit with my back to the window and to place my visitors in the opposite chair, where the light falls full upon them. Mr. James M. Dodd seemed somewhat at a loss how to begin the interview. I did not attempt to help him, for his silence gave me more time for observation. I have found it wise to impress clients with a sense of power, and so I gave him some of my conclusions.
“From South Africa, sir, I perceive.”
“Yes, sir,” he answered, with some surprise.
“Imperial Yeomanry, I fancy.”
“Middlesex Corps, no doubt.”
“That is so. Mr. Holmes, you are a wizard.”
I smiled at his bewildered expression.
“When a gentleman of virile appearance enters my room with such tan upon his face as an English sun could never give, and with his handkerchief in his sleeve instead of in his pocket, it is not difficult to place him. You wear a short beard, which shows that you were not a regular. You have the cut of a riding-man. As to Middlesex, your card has already shown me that you are a stockbroker from Throgmorton Street. What other regiment would you join?”
“You see everything.”