“The public don’t know how good he is. Sir Robert has been too clever for the touts. He has the Prince’s half-brother out for spins. You can’t tell ’em apart. But there are two lengths in a furlong between them when it comes to a gallop. He thinks of nothing but the horse and the race. His whole life is on it. He’s holding off the Jews till then. If the Prince fails him he is done. ”
“It seems a rather desperate gamble, but where does the madness come in?”
“Well, first of all, you have only to look at him. I don’t believe he sleeps at night. He is down at the stables at all hours. His eyes are wild. It has all been too much for his nerves. Then there is his conduct to Lady Beatrice!”
“Ah! What is that?”
“They have always been the best of friends. They had the same tastes, the two of them, and she loved the horses as much as he did. Every day at the same hour she would drive down to see them — and, above all, she loved the Prince. He would prick up his ears when he heard the wheels on the gravel, and he would trot out each morning to the carriage to get his lump of sugar. But that’s all over now.”
“Well, she seems to have lost all interest in the horses. For a week now she has driven past the stables with never so much as ‘Good-morning’! ”
“You think there has been a quarrel?”
“And a bitter, savage, spitelful quarrel at that. Why else would he give away her pet spaniel that she loved as if he were her child? He gave it a few days ago to old Barnes, what keeps the Green Dragon, three miles off, at Crendall.”
“That certainly did seem strange.”
“Of course, with her weak heart and dropsy one couldn’t expect that she could get about with him, but he spent two hours every evening in her room. He might well do what he could, for she has been a rare good friend to him. But that’s all over, too. He never goes near her. And she takes it to heart. She is brooding and sulky and drinking, Mr. Holmes — drinking like a fish.”
“Did she drink before this estrangement?”
“Well, she took her glass, but now it is often a whole bottle of an evening. So Stephens, the butler, told me. It’s all changed, Mr. Holmes, and there is something damned rotten about it. But then, again, what is master doing down at the old church crypt at night? And who is the man that meets him there?”
Holmes rubbed his hands.
“Go on, Mr. Mason. You get more and more interesting.”
“It was the butler who saw him go. Twelve o’clock at night and raining hard. So next night I was up at the house and, sure enough, master was off again. Stephens and I went after him, but it was jumpy work, for it would have been a bad job if he had seen us. He’s a terrible man with his fists if he gets started, and no respecter of persons. So we were shy of getting too near, but we marked him down all light. It was the haunted crypt that he was making for, and there was a man waiting for him there.”
“What is this haunted cryp?”
“Well, sir, there is an old ruined chapel in the park. It is so old that nobody could fix its date. And under it there’s a crypt which has a bad name among us. It’s a dark, damp, lonely place by day, but there are few in that county that would have the nerve to go near it at night. But master’s not afraid. He never feared anything in his life. But what is he doing there in the night-time?”
“Wait a bit!” said Holmes. “You say there is another man there. It must be one of your own stablemen, or someone from the house! Surely you have only to spot who it is and question him?”
“It’s no one I know.”
“How can you say that?”
“Because I have seen him, Mr. Holmes. It was on that second night. Sir Robert turned and passed us — me and Stephens, quaking in the bushes like two bunny-rabbits, for there was a bit of moon that night. But we could hear the other moving about behind. We were not afraid of him. So we up when Sir Robert was gone and pretended we were just having a walk like in the moonlight, and so we came right on him as casual and innocent as you please. ‘Hullo, mate! who may you be?’ says I. I guess he had not heard us coming, so he looked over his shoulder with a face as if he had seen the devil coming out of hell. He let out a yell, and away he went as hard as he could lick it in the darkness. He could run! — I’ll give him that. In a minute he was out of sight and hearing, and who he was, or what he was, we never found.”
“But you saw him clearly in the moonlight?”
“Yes, I would swear to his yellow face — a mean dog, I should say. What could he have in common with Sir Robert?”
Holmes sat for some time lost in thought.
“Who keeps Lady Beatrice Falder company?” he asked at last.
“There is her maid, Carrie Evans. She has been with her this five years.”
“And is, no doubt, devoted?”
Mr. Mason shuffled uncomfortably.
“She’s devoted enough,” he answered at last. “But I won’t say to whom.”
“Ah!” said Holmes.
“I can’t tell tales out of school.”
“I quite understand, Mr. Mason. Of course, the situation is clear enough. From Dr. Watson’s description of Sir Robert I can realize that no woman is safe from him. Don’t you think the quarrel between brother and sister may lie there?”
“Well, the scandal has been pretty clear for a long time.”
“But she may not have seen it before. Let us suppose that she has suddenly found it out. She wants to get rid of the woman. Her brother will not permit it. The invalid, with her weak heart and inability to get about, has no means of enforcing her will. The hated maid is still tied to her. The lady refuses to speak, sulks, takes to drink. Sir Robert in his anger takes her pet spaniel away from her. Does not all this hang together?”
“Well, it might do — so far as it goes.”
“Exactly! As far as it goes. How would all that bear upon the visits by night to the old crypt? We can’t fit that into our plot.”
“No, sir, and there is something more that I can’t fit in. Why should Sir Robert want to dig up a dead body?”
Holmes sat up abruptly.