“We only found it out yesterday — after I had written to you. Yesterday Sir Robert had gone to London, so Stephens and I went down to the crypt. It was all in order, sir, except that in one corner was a bit of a human body.”
“You informed the police, I suppose?”
Our visitor smiled grimly.
“Well, sir, I think it would hardly interest them. It was just the head and a few bones of a mummy. It may have been a thousand years old. But it wasn’t there before. That I’ll swear, and so will Stephens. It had been stowed away in a corner and covered over with a board, but that corner had always been empty before.”
“What did you do with it?”
“Well, we just left it there.”
“That was wise. You say Sir Robert was away yesterday. Has he returned?”
“We expect him back to-day.”
“When did Sir Robert give away his sister’s dog?”
“It was just a week ago to-day. The creature was howling outside the old wellhouse, and Sir Robert was in one of his tantrums that morning. He caught it up, and I thought he would have killed it. Then he gave it to Sandy Bain, the jockey, and told him to take the dog to old Barnes at the Green Dragon, for he never wished to see it again.”
Holmes sat for some time in silent thought. He had lit the oldest and foulest of his pipes.
“I am not clear yet what you want me to do in this matter, Mr. Mason,” he said at last. “Can’t you make it more definite?”
“Perhaps this will make it more definite, Mr. Holmes,” said our visltor.
He took a paper from his pocket, and, unwrapping it carefully, he exposed a charred fragment of bone.
Holmes examined it with interest.
“Where did you get it?”
“There is a central heating furnace in the cellar under Lady Beatrice’s room. It’s been off for some time, but Sir Robert complained of cold and had it on again.
Harvey runs it — he’s one of my lads. This very morning he came to me with this which he found raking out the cinders. He didn’t like the look of it.”
“Nor do I,” said Holmes. “What do you make of it, Watson?”
It was burned to a black cinder, but there could be no question as to its anatomical significance.
“It’s the upper condyle of a human femur,” said I.
“Exactly!” Holmes had become very serious. “When does this lad tend to the furnace?”
“He makes it up every evening and then leaves it.”
“Then anyone could visit it during the night?”
“Can you enter it from outside?”
“There is one door from outside. There is another which leads up by a stair to the passage in which Lady Beatrice’s room is situated.”
“These are deep waters, Mr. Mason; deep and rather dirty. You say that Sir Robert was not at home last night?”
“Then, whoever was burning bones, it was not he.”
“That’s true. sir.”
“What is the name of that inn you spoke of?”
“The Green Dragon.”
“Is there good fishing in that part of Berkshire?” The honest trainer showed very clearly upon his face that he was convinced that yet another lunatic had come into his harassed life.
“Well, sir, I’ve heard there are trout in the mill-stream and pike in the Hall lake.”
“That’s good enough. Watson and I are famous fishermen -are we not, Watson? You may address us in future at the Green Dragon. We should reach it to-night. I need not say that we don’t want to see you, Mr. Mason, but a note will reach us, and no doubt I could find you if I want you. When we have gone a little farther into the matter I will let you have a considered opinion.”
Thus it was that on a bright May evening Holmes and I found ourselves alone in a first-class carriage and bound for the little “halt-on-demand” station of Shoscombe. The rack above us was covered with a formidable litter of rods, reels, and baskets. On reaching our destination a short drive took us to an old-fashioned tavern, where a sporting host, Josiah Barnes, entered eagerly into our plans for the extirpation of the fish of the neighbourhood.
“What about the Hall lake and the chance of a pike?” said Holmes.
The face of the innkeeper clouded.
“That wouldn’t do, sir. You might chance to find yourself in the lake before you were through.”
“How’s that, then?”
“It’s Sir Robert, sir. He’s terrible jealous of touts. If you two strangers were as near his training quarters as that he’d be after you as sure as fate. He ain’t taking no chances, Sir Robert ain’t.”
“I’ve heard he has a horse entered for the Derby.”
“Yes, and a good colt, too. He carries all our money for the race, and all Sir Robert’s into the bargain. By the way” — he looked at us with thoughtful eyes — “I suppose you ain’t on the turf yourselves?”
“No, indeed. Just two weary Londoners who badly need some good Berkshire air.”
“Well, you are in the right place for that. There is a deal of it lying about. But mind what I have told you about Sir Robert. He’s the sort that strikes first and speaks afterwards. Keep clear of the park.”
“Surely, Mr. Barnes! We certainly shall. By the way, that was a most beautiful spaniel that was whining in the hall.”
“I should say it was. That was the real Shoscombe breed. There ain’t a better in England.”