“Now that you mention it, it was not large. It might have been the Spectator. However, I had little thought to spare upon such details, for a second man was seated with his back to the window, and I could swear that this second man was Godfrey. I could not see his face, but I knew the familiar slope of his shoulders. He was leaning upon his elbow in an attitude of great melancholy, his body turned towards the fire. I was hesitating as to what I should do when there was a sharp tap on my shoulder, and there was Colonel Emsworth beside me.
” ‘This way, sir!’ said he in a low voice. He walked in silence to the house, and I followed him into my own bedroom. He had picked up a time-table in the hall.
” There is a train to London at 8:30,’ said he. ‘The trap will be at the door at eight.’
“He was white with rage, and, indeed, I felt myself in so difficult a position that I could only stammer out a few incoherent apologies in which I tried to excuse myself by urging my anxiety for my friend.
” ‘The matter will not bear discussion,’ said he abruptly. ‘You have made a most damnable intrusion into the privacy of our family. You were here as a guest and you have become a spy. I have nothing more to say, sir, save that I have no wish ever to see you again.’
“At this I lost my temper, Mr. Holmes, and I spoke with some warmth.
” ‘I have seen your son, and I am convinced that for some reason of your own you are concealing him from the world. I have no idea what your motives are in cutting him off in this fashion, but I am sure that he is no longer a free agent. I warn you, Colonel Emsworth, that until I am assured as to the safety and well-being of my friend I shall never desist in my efforts to get to the bottom of the mystery, and I shall certainly not allow myself to be intimidated by anything which you may say or do.’
“The old fellow looked diabolical, and I really thought he was about to attack me. I have said that he was a gaunt, fierce old giant, and though I am no weakling I might have been hard put to it to hold my own against him. However, after a long glare of rage he turned upon his heel and walked out of the room. For my part, I took the appointed train in the morning, with the full intention of coming straight to you and asking for your advice and assistance at the appointment for which I had already written.”
Such was the problem which my visitor laid before me. It presented, as the astute reader will have already perceived, few difficulties in its solution, for a very limited choice of alternatives must get to the root of the matter. Still, elementary as it was, there were points of interest and novelty about it which may excuse my placing it upon record. I now proceeded, using my familiar method of logical analysis, to narrow down the possible solutions.
“The servants,” I asked; “how many were in the house?”
“To the best of my belief there were only the old butler and his wife. They seemed to live in the simplest fashion.”
“There was no servant, then, in the detached house?”
“None, unless the little man with the beard acted as such. He seemed, however, to be quite a superior person.”
“That seems very suggestive. Had you any indication that food was conveyed from the one house to the other?”
“Now that you mention it, I did see old Ralph carrying a basket down the garden walk and going in the direction of this house. The idea of food did not occur to me at the moment.”
“Did you make any local inquiries?”
“Yes, I did. I spoke to the station-master and also to the innkeeper in the village. I simply asked if they knew anything of my old comrade, Godfrey Emsworth. Both of them assured me that he had gone for a voyage round the world. He had come home and then had almost at once started off again. The story was evidently universally accepted.”
“You said nothing of your suspicions?”
“That was very wise. The matter should certainly be inquired into. I will go back with you to Tuxbury Old Park.”
It happened that at the moment I was clearing up the case which my friend Watson has described as that of the Abbey School, in which the Duke of Greyminster was so deeply involved. I had also a commission from the Sultan of Turkey which called for immediate action, as political consequences of the gravest kind might arise from its neglect. Therefore it was not until the beginning of the next week, as my diary records, that I was able to start forth on my mission to Bedfordshire in company with Mr. James M. Dodd. As we drove to Eustonn we picked up a grave and tacitum gentleman of iron-gray aspect, with whom I had made the necessary arrangements.
“This is an old friend,” said I to Dodd. “It is possible that his presence may be entirely unnecessary, and, on the other hand, it may be essential. It is not necessary at the present stage to go further into the matter.”
The narratives of Watson have accustomed the reader, no doubt, to the fact that I do not waste words or disclose my thoughts while a case is actually under consideration. Dodd seemed surprised, but nothing more was said, and the three of us continued our journey together. In the train I asked Dodd one more question which I wished our companion to hear.
“You say that you saw your friend’s face quite clearly at the window, so clearly that you are sure of his identity?”
“I have no doubt about it whatever. His nose was pressed against the glass. The lamplight shone full upon him.”
“It could not have been someone resembling him?”
“No, no, it was he.”
“But you say he was changed?”
“Only in colour. His face was — how shall I describe it? — it was of a fish-belly whiteness. It was bleached.”
“Was it equally pale all over?”
“I think not. It was his brow which I saw so clearly as it was pressed against the window.”
“Did you call to him?”
“I was too startled and horrified for the moment. Then I pursued him, as I have told you, but without result.”
My case was practically complete, and there was only one small incident needed to round it off. When, after a considerable drive, we arrived at the strange old rambling house which my client had described, it was Ralph, the elderly butler, who opened the door. I had requisitioned the carriage for the day and had asked my elderly friend to remain within it unless we should summon him. Ralph, a little wrinkled old fellow, was in the conventional costume of black coat and pepper-and-salt trousers, with only one curious variant. He wore brown leather gloves, which at sight of us he instantly shuffled off, laying them down on the hall-table as we passed in. I have, as my friend Watson may have remarked, an abnormally acute set of senses, and a faint but incisive scent was apparent. It seemed to centre on the hall table. I turned, placed my hat there, knocked it off, stooped to pick it up, and contrived to bring my nose within a foot of the gloves. Yes, it was undoubtedly from them that the curious tarry odour was oozing. I passed on into the study with my case complete. Alas, that I should have to show my hand so when I tell my own story! It was by concealing such links in the chain that Watson was enabled to produce his meretricious finales.
Colonel Emsworth was not in his room, but he came quickly enough on receipt of Ralph’s message. We heard his quick, heavy step in the passage. The door was flung open and he rushed in with bristling beard and twisted features, as terrible an old man as ever I have seen. He held our cards in his hand, and he tore them up and stamped on the fragments.
“Have I not told you, you infernal busybody, that you are warned off the premises? Never dare to show your damned face here again. If you enter again without my leave I shall be within my rights if I use violence. I’ll shoot you, sir! By God, I will! As to you, sir,” turning upon me, “I extend the same warning to you. I am familiar with your ignoble profession, but you must take your reputed talents to some other field. There is no opening for them here.”
“I cannot leave here,” said my client firmly, “until I hear from Godfrey’s own lips that he is under no restraint.”
Our involuntary host rang the bell.
“Ralph,” he said, “telephone down to the county police and ask the inspector to send up two constables. Tell him there are burglars in the house.”
“One moment,” said I. “You must be aware, Mr. Dodd, that Colonel Emsworth is within his rights and that we have no legal status within his house. On the other hand, he should recognize that your action is prompted entirely by solicitude for his son. I venture to hope that if I were allowed to have five minutes conversation with Colonel Emsworth I could certainly alter his view of the matter.”
“I am not so easily altered,” said the old soldier. “Ralph, do what I have told you. What the devil are you waiting for? Ring up the police!”