” ‘I thought you might run short in the night-time, sir. It is bitter weather and these rooms are cold.’
“He hesitated before leaving the room, and when I looked round he was standing facing me with a wistful look upon his wrinkled face.
” ‘Beg your pardon, sir, but I could not help hearing what you said of young Master Godfrey at dinner. You know, sir, that my wife nursed him, and so I may say I am his foster-father. It’s natural we should take an interest. And you say he carried himself well, sir?’
” ‘There was no braver man in the regiment. He pulled me out once from under the rifles of the Boers, or maybe I should not be here.’
“The old butler rubbed his skinny hands.
” ‘Yes, sir, yes, that is Master Godfrey all over. He was always courageous. There’s not a tree in the park, sir, that he has not climbed. Nothing would stop him. He was a fine boy — and oh, sir, he was a fine man.’
“I sprang to my feet.
” ‘Look here!’ I cried. ‘You say he was. You speak as if he were dead. What is all this mystery? What has become of Godfrey Emsworth?’
“I gripped the old man by the shoulder, but he shrank away.
” ‘I don’t know what you mean, sir. Ask the master about Master Godfrey. He knows. It is not for me to interfere.’
“He was leaving the room, but I held his arm
” ‘Listen,’ I said. ‘You are going to answer one question before you leave if I have to hold you all night. Is Godfrey dead?”
“He could not face my eyes. He was like a man hypnotized The answer was dragged from his lips. It was a terrible and unexpected one.
” ‘I wish to God he was!’ he cried, and, tearing himself free he dashed from the room.
“You will think, Mr. Holmes, that I returned to my chair in no very happy state of mind. The old man’s words seemed to me to bear only one interpretation. Clearly my poor friend had become involved in some criminal or, at the least, disreputable transaction which touched the family honour. That stern old man had sent his son away and hidden him from the world lest some scandal should come to light. Godfrey was a reckless fellow. He was easily influenced by those around him. No doubt he had fallen into bad hands and been misled to his ruin. It was a piteous business, if it was indeed so, but even now it was my duty to hunt him out and see if I could aid him. I was anxiously pondering the matter when I looked up, and there was Godfrey Emsworth standing before me.”
My client had paused as one in deep emotion.
“Pray continue,” I said. “Your problem presents some very unusual features.”
“He was outside the window, Mr. Holmes, with his face pressed against the glass. I have told you that I looked out at the night. When I did so I left the curtains partly open. His figure was framed in this gap. The window came down to the ground and I could see the whole length of it, but it was his face which held my gaze. He was deadly pale — never have I seen a man so white. I reckon ghosts may look like that; but his eyes met mine, and they were the eyes of a living man. He sprang back when he saw that I was looking at him, and he vanished into the darkness.
“There was something shocking about the man, Mr. Holmes. It wasn’t merely that ghastly face glimmering as white as cheese in the darkness. It was more subtle than that — something slinking, something furtive, something guilty — something very unlike the frank, manly lad that I had known. It left a feeling of horror in my mind.
“But when a man has been soldiering for a year or two with brother Boer as a playmate, he keeps his nerve and acts quickly. Godfrey had hardly vanished before I was at the window. There was an awkward catch, and I was some little time before I could throw it up. Then I nipped through and ran down the garden path in the direction that I thought he might have taken.
“It was a long path and the light was not very good, but it seemed to me something was moving ahead of me. I ran on and called his name, but it was no use. When I got to the end of the path there were several others branching in different directions to various outhouses. I stood hesitating, and as I did so I heard distinctly the sound of a closing door. It was not behind me in the house, but ahead of me, somewhere in the darkness. That was enough, Mr. Holmes, to assure me that what I had seen was not a vision. Godfrey had run away from me, and he had shut a door behind him. Of that I was certain.
“There was nothing more I could do, and I spent an uneasy night turning the matter over in my mind and trying to find some theory which would cover the facts. Next day I found the colonel rather more conciliatory, and as his wife remarked that there were some places of interest in the neighbourhood, it gave me an opening to ask whether my presence for one more night would incommode them. A somewhat grudging acquiescence from the old man gave me a clear day in which to make my observations. I was already perfectly convinced that Godfrey was in hiding somewhere near, but where and why remained to be solved.
“The house was so large and so rambling that a regiment might be hid away in it and no one the wiser. If the secret lay there it was difficult for me to penetrate it. But the door which I had heard close was certainly not in the house. I must explore the garden and see what I could find. There was no difficulty in the way, for the old people were busy in their own fashion and left me to my own devices.
“There were several small outhouses, but at the end of the garden there was a detached building of some size — large enough for a gardener’s or a gamekeeper’s residence. Could this be the place whence the sound of that shutting door had come? I approached it in a careless fashion as though I were strolling aimlessly round the grounds. As I did so, a small, brisk, bearded man in a black coat and bowler hat — not at all the gardener type — came out of the door. To my surprise, he locked it after him and put the key in his pocket. Then he looked at me with some surprise on his face.
” ‘Are you a visitor here?’ he asked.
“I explained that I was and that I was a friend of Godfrey’s.
” ‘What a pity that he should be away on his travels, for he would have so liked to see me,’ I continued.
” ‘Quite so. Exactly,’ said he with a rather guilty air. ‘No doubt you will renew your visit at some more propitious time.’ He passed on, but when I turned I observed that he was standing watching me, half-concealed by the laurels at the far end of the garden.
“I had a good look at the little house as I passed it, but the windows were heavily curtained, and, so far as one could see, it was empty. I might spoil my own game and even be ordered off the premises if I were too audacious, for I was still conscious that I was being watched. Therefore, I strolled back to the house and waited for night before I went on with my inquiry. When all was dark and quiet I slipped out of my window and made my way as silently as possible to the mysterious lodge.
“I have said that it was heavily curtained, but now I found that the windows were shuttered as well. Some light, however, was breaking through one of them, so I concentrated my attention upon this. I was in luck, for the curtain had not been quite closed, and there was a crack in the shutter, so that I could see the inside of the room. It was a cheery place enough, a bright lamp and a blazing fire. Opposite to me was seated the little man whom I had seen in the morning. He was smoking a pipe and reading a paper.”
“What paper?” I asked.
My client seemed annoyed at the interruption of his narrative.
“Can it matter?” he asked.
“It is most essential.”
“I really took no notice.”
“Possibly you observed whether it was a broad-leafed paper or of that smaller type which one associates with weeklies.”