“That is remarkable — most remarkable,” said Holmes, whose interest in the case seemed to be rising. “Pray continue, Watson. I find your narrative most arresting. Did you personally examine this ticket? You did not, perchance, take the number?”
“It so happens that I did,” I answered with some pride. “It chanced to be my old school number, thirty-one, and so is stuck in my head.”
“Excellent, Watson! His seat, then, was either thirty or thirty-two.”
“Quite so,” I answered with some mystification. “And on B row.”
“That is most satisfactory. What else did he tell you?”
“He showed me his strong-room, as he called it. It really is a strong-room — like a bank — with iron door and shutter — burglarproof, as he claimed. However, the woman seems to have had a duplicate key, and between them they had carried off some seven thousand pounds’ worth of cash and securities.”
“Securities! How could they dispose of those?”
“He said that he had given the police a list and that he hoped they would be unsaleable. He had got back from the theatre about midnight and found the place plundered, the door and window open, and the fugitives gone. There was no letter or message, nor has he heard a word since. He at once gave the alarm to the police.”
Holmes brooded for some minutes.
“You say he was painting. What was he painting?”
“Well, he was painting the passage. But he had already painted the door and woodwork of this room I spoke of.”
“Does it not strike you as a strange occupation in the circumstances?”
” ‘One must do something to ease an aching heart.’ That was his own explanation. It was eccentric, no doubt, but he is clearly an eccentric man. He tore up one of his wife’s photographs in my presence — tore it up furiously in a tempest of passion. ‘I never wish to see her damned face again,’ he shrieked.”
“Anything more, Watson?”
“Yes, one thing which struck me more than anything else. I had driven to the Blackheath Station and had caught my train there when, just as it was starting, I saw a man dart into the carriage next to my own. You know that I have a quick eye for faces, Holmes. It was undoubtedly the tall, dark man whom I had addressed in the street. I saw him once more at London Bridge, and then I lost him in the crowd. But I am convinced that he was following me.”
“No doubt! No doubt!” said Holmes. “A tall, dark, heavily moustached man, you say, with gray-tinted sun-glasses?”
“Holmes, you are a wizard. I did not say so, but he had gray-tinted sun-glasses.”
“And a Masonic tie-pin?”
“Quite simple, my dear Watson. But let us get down to what is practical. I must admit to you that the case, which seemed to me to be so absurdly simple as to be hardly worth my notice, is rapidly assuming a very different aspect. It is true that though in your mission you have missed everything of importance, yet even those things which have obtruded themselves upon your notice give rise to serious thought.”
“What have I missed?”
“Don’t be hurt, my dear fellow. You know that I am quite impersonal. No one else would have done better. Some possibly not so well. But clearly you have missed some vital points. What is the opinion of the neighbours about this man Amberley and his wife? That surely is of importance. What of Dr. Ernest? Was he the gay Lothario one would expect? With your natural advantages, Watson, every lady is your helper and accomplice. What about the girl at the post-office, or the wife of the greengrocer? I can picture you whispering soft nothings with the young lady at the Blue Anchor, and receiving hard somethings in exchange. All this you have left undone.”
“It can still be done.”
“It has been done. Thanks to the telephone and the help of the Yard, I can usually get my essentials without leaving this room. As a matter of fact, my information confirms the man’s story. He has the local repute of being a miser as well as a harsh and exacting husband. That he had a large sum of money in that strong-room of his is certain. So also is it that young Dr. Ernest, an unmarried man, played chess with Amberley, and probably played the fool with his wife. All this seems plain sailing, and one would think that there was no more to be said — and yet! -and yet!”
“Where lies the difficulty?”
“In my imagination, perhaps. Well, leave it there, Watson. Let us escape from this weary workaday world by the side door of music. Carina sings to-night at the Albert Hall, and we still have time to dress, dine, and enjoy.”
In the morning I was up betimes, but some toast crumbs and two empty eggshells told me that my companion was earlier still. I found a scribbled note upon the table.
There are one or two points of contact which I should
wish to establish with Mr. Josiah Amberley. When I have
done so we can dismiss the case — or not. I would only ask
you to be on hand about three o’clock, as I conceive it
possible that I may want you.
I saw nothing of Holmes all day, but at the hour named he returned, grave, preoccupied, and aloof. At such times it was wiser to leave him to himself.
“Has Amberley been here yet?”
“Ah! I am expecting him.”
He was not disappointed, for presently the old fellow arrived with a very worried and puzzled expression upon his austere face.
“I’ve had a telegram, Mr. Holmes. I can make nothing of it.” He handed it over, and Holmes read it aloud.
“Come at once without fail. Can give you information as
to your recent loss.
“Dispatched at 2:10 from Little Purlington,” said Holmes. “Little Purlington is in Essex, I believe, not far from Frinton. Well, of course you will start at once. This is evidently from a responsible person, the vicar of the place. Where is my Crockford? Yes, here we have him: ‘J. C. Elman, M. A., Living of Moosmoor cum Little Purlington.’ Look up the trains, Watson.”