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I was up betimes in the morning, but Holmes was afoot earlier still, for I saw him as I dressed, coming up the drive.
“Yes, we should have a full day to-day,” he remarked, and he rubbed his hands with the joy of action. “The nets are all in place, and the drag is about to begin. We’ll know before the day is out whether we have caught our big, lean-jawed pike, or whether he has got through the meshes.”
“Have you been on the moor already?”
“I have sent a report from Grimpen to Princetown as to the death of Selden. I think I can promise that none of you will be troubled in the matter. And I have also communicated with my faithful Cartwright, who would certainly have pined away at the door of my hut, as a dog does at his master’s grave, if I had not set his mind at rest about my safety.”
“What is the next move?”
“To see Sir Henry. Ah, here he is!”
“Good-morning, Holmes,” said the baronet. “You look like a general who is planning a battle with his chief of the staff.”
“That is the exact situation. Watson was asking for orders.”
“And so do I.”
“Very good. You are engaged, as I understand, to dine with our friends the Stapletons to-night.”
“I hope that you will come also. They are very hospitable people, and I am sure that they would be very glad to see you.”
“I fear that Watson and I must go to London.”
“Yes, I think that we should be more useful there at the present juncture.”
The baronet’s face perceptibly lengthened.
“I hoped that you were going to see me through this business. The Hall and the moor are not very pleasant places when one is alone.”
“My dear fellow, you must trust me implicitly and do exactly what I tell you. You can tell your friends that we should have been happy to have come with you, but that urgent business required us to be in town. We hope very soon to return to Devonshire. Will you remember to give them that message?”
“If you insist upon it.”
“There is no alternative, I assure you.”
I saw by the baronet’s clouded brow that he was deeply hurt by what he regarded as our desertion.
“When do you desire to go?” he asked coldly.
“Immediately after breakfast. We will drive in to Coombe Tracey, but Watson will leave his things as a pledge that he will come back to you. Watson, you will send a note to Stapleton to tell him that you regret that you cannot come.”
“I have a good mind to go to London with you,” said the baronet. “Why should I stay here alone?”
“Because it is your post of duty. Because you gave me your word that you would do as you were told, and I tell you to stay.”
“All right, then, I’ll stay.”
“One more direction! I wish you to drive to Merripit House. Send back your trap, however, and let them know that you intend to walk home.”
“To walk across the moor?”
“But that is the very thing which you have so often cautioned me not to do.”
“This time you may do it with safety. If I had not every confidence in your nerve and courage I would not suggest it, but it is essential that you should do it.”
“Then I will do it.”
“And as you value your life do not go across the moor in any direction save along the straight path which leads from Merripit House to the Grimpen Road, and is your natural way home.”
“I will do just what you say.”
“Very good. I should be glad to get away as soon after breakfast as possible, so as to reach London in the afternoon.”
I was much astounded by this programme, though I remembered that Holmes had said to Stapleton on the night before that his visit would terminate next day. It had not crossed my mind, however, that he would wish me to go with him, nor could I understand how we could both be absent at a moment which he himself declared to be critical. There was nothing for it, however, but implicit obedience; so we bade good-bye to our rueful friend, and a couple of hours afterwards we were at the station of Coombe Tracey and had dispatched the trap upon its return journey. A small boy was waiting upon the platform.
“Any orders, sir?”
“You will take this train to town, Cartwright. The moment you arrive you will send a wire to Sir Henry Baskerville, in my name, to say that if he finds the pocketbook which I have dropped he is to send it by registered post to Baker Street.”
“And ask at the station office if there is a message for me.”
The boy returned with a telegram, which Holmes handed to me. It ran:
Wire received. Coming down with unsigned warrant. Arrive five-forty.
“That is in answer to mine of this morning. He is the best of the professionals, I think, and we may need his assistance. Now, Watson, I think that we cannot employ our time better than by calling upon your acquaintance, Mrs. Laura Lyons.”
His plan of campaign was beginning to be evident. He would use the baronet in order to convince the Stapletons that we were really gone, while we should actually return at the instant when we were likely to be needed. That telegram from London, if mentioned by Sir Henry to the Stapletons, must remove the last suspicions from their minds. Already I seemed to see our nets drawing closer around that lean-jawed pike.
Mrs. Laura Lyons was in her office, and Sherlock Holmes opened his interview with a frankness and directness which considerably amazed her.
“I am investigating the circumstances which attended the death of the late Sir Charles Baskerville,” said he. “My friend here, Dr. Watson, has informed me of what you have communicated, and also of what you have withheld in connection with that matter.”
“What have I withheld?” she asked defiantly.
“You have confessed that you asked Sir Charles to be at the gate at ten o’clock. We know that that was the place and hour of his death. You have withheld what the connection is between these events.”
“There is no connection.”
“In that case the coincidence must indeed be an extraordinary one. But I think that we shall succeed in establishing a connection, after all. I wish to be perfectly frank with you, Mrs. Lyons. We regard this case as one of murder, and the evidence may implicate not only your friend Mr. Stapleton but his wife as well.”
The lady sprang from her chair.
“His wife!” she cried.
“The fact is no longer a secret. The person who has passed for his sister is really his wife.”
Mrs. Lyons had resumed her seat. Her hands were grasping the arms of her chair, and I saw that the pink nails had turned white with the pressure of her grip.
“His wife!” she said again. “His wife! He is not a married man.”
Sherlock Holmes shrugged his shoulders.
“Prove it to me! Prove it to me! And if you can do so– –!” The fierce flash of her eyes said more than any words.
“I have come prepared to do so,” said Holmes, drawing several papers from his pocket. “Here is a photograph of the couple taken in York four years ago. It is indorsed ‘Mr. and Mrs. Vandeleur,’ but you will have no difficulty in recognizing him, and her also, if you know her by sight. Here are three written descriptions by trustworthy witnesses of Mr. and Mrs. Vandeleur, who at that time kept St. Oliver’s private school. Read them and see if you can doubt the identity of these people.”
She glanced at them, and then looked up at us with the set, rigid face of a desperate woman.
“Mr. Holmes,” she said, “this man had offered me marriage on condition that I could get a divorce from my husband. He has lied to me, the villain, in every conceivable way. Not one word of truth has he ever told me. And why–why? I imagined that all was for my own sake. But now I see that I was never anything but a tool in his hands. Why should I preserve faith with him who never kept any with me? Why should I try to shield him from the consequences of his own wicked acts? Ask me what you like, and there is nothing which I shall hold back. One thing I swear to you, and that is that when I wrote the letter I never dreamed of any harm to the old gentleman, who had been my kindest friend.”
“I entirely believe you, madam,” said Sherlock Holmes. “The recital of these events must be very painful to you, and perhaps it will make it easier if I tell you what occurred, and you can check me if I make any material mistake. The sending of this letter was suggested to you by Stapleton?”
“He dictated it.”
“I presume that the reason he gave was that you would receive help from Sir Charles for the legal expenses connected with your divorce?”
“And then after you had sent the letter he dissuaded you from keeping the appointment?”
“He told me that it would hurt his self-respect that any other man should find the money for such an object, and that though he was a poor man himself he would devote his last penny to removing the obstacles which divided us.”
“He appears to be a very consistent character. And then you heard nothing until you read the reports of the death in the paper?”
“And he made you swear to say nothing about your appointment with Sir Charles?”
“He did. He said that the death was a very mysterious one, and that I should certainly be suspected if the facts came out. He frightened me into remaining silent.”
“Quite so. But you had your suspicions?”
She hesitated and looked down.
“I knew him,” she said. “But if he had kept faith with me I should always have done so with him.”
“I think that on the whole you have had a fortunate escape,” said Sherlock Holmes. “You have had him in your power and he knew it, and yet you are alive. You have been walking for some months very near to the edge of a precipice. We must wish you good-morning now, Mrs. Lyons, and it is probable that you will very shortly hear from us again.”
“Our case becomes rounded off, and difficulty after difficulty thins away in front of us,” said Holmes as we stood waiting for the arrival of the express from town. “I shall soon be in the position of being able to put into a single connected narrative one of the most singular and sensational crimes of modern times. Students of criminology will remember the analogous incidents in Godno, in Little Russia, in the year ’66, and of course there are the Anderson murders in North Carolina, but this case possesses some features which are entirely its own. Even now we have no clear case against this very wily man. But I shall be very much surprised if it is not clear enough before we go to bed this night.”
The London express came roaring into the station, and a small, wiry bulldog of a man had sprung from a first-class carriage. We all three shook hands, and I saw at once from the reverential way in which Lestrade gazed at my companion that he had learned a good deal since the days when they had first worked together. I could well remember the scorn which the theories of the reasoner used then to excite in the practical man.
“Anything good?” he asked.
“The biggest thing for years,” said Holmes. “We have two hours before we need think of starting. I think we might employ it in getting some dinner, and then, Lestrade, we will take the London fog out of your throat by giving you a breath of the pure night air of Dartmoor. Never been there? Ah, well, I don’t suppose you will forget your first visit.”
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