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OUR breakfast table was cleared early, and Holmes waited in his dressing-gown for the promised interview. Our clients were punctual to their appointment, for the clock had just struck ten when Dr. Mortimer was shown up, followed by the young baronet. The latter was a small, alert, dark-eyed man about thirty years of age, very sturdily built, with thick black eyebrows and a strong, pugnacious face. He wore a ruddy-tinted tweed suit and had the weather-beaten appearance of one who has spent most of his time in the open air, and yet there was something in his steady eye and the quiet assurance of his bearing which indicated the gentleman.
“This is Sir Henry Baskerville,” said Dr. Mortimer.
“Why, yes,” said he, “and the strange thing is, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, that if my friend here had not proposed coming round to you this morning I should have come on my own account. I understand that you think out little puzzles, and I’ve had one this morning which wants more thinking out than I am able to give it.”
“Pray take a seat, Sir Henry. Do I understand you to say that you have yourself had some remarkable experience since you arrived in London?”
“Nothing of much importance, Mr. Holmes. Only a joke, as like as not. It was this letter, if you can call it a letter, which reached me this morning.”
He laid an envelope upon the table, and we all bent over it. It was of common quality, grayish in colour. The address, “Sir Henry Baskerville, Northumberland Hotel,” was printed in rough characters; the post-mark “Charing Cross,” and the date of posting the preceding evening.
“Who knew that you were going to the Northumberland Hotel?” asked Holmes, glancing keenly across at our visitor.
“No one could have known. We only decided after I met Dr. Mortimer.”
“But Dr. Mortimer was no doubt already stopping there?”
“No, I had been staying with a friend,” said the doctor. “There was no possible indication that we intended to go to this hotel.”
“Hum! Someone seems to be very deeply interested in your movements.” Out of the envelope he took a half-sheet of foolscap paper folded into four. This he opened and spread flat upon the table. Across the middle of it a single sentence had been formed by the expedient of pasting printed words upon it. It ran:
As you value your life or your reason keep away from the moor.
The word “moor” only was printed in ink.
“Now,” said Sir Henry Baskerville, “perhaps you will tell me, Mr. Holmes, what in thunder is the meaning of that, and who it is that takes so much interest in my affairs?”
“What do you make of it, Dr. Mortimer? You must allow that there is nothing supernatural about this, at any rate?”
“No, sir, but it might very well come from someone who was convinced that the business is supernatural.”
“What business?” asked Sir Henry sharply. “It seems to me that all you gentlemen know a great deal more than I do about my own affairs.”
“You shall share our knowledge before you leave this room, Sir Henry. I promise you that,” said Sherlock Holmes. “We will confine ourselves for the present with your permission to this very interesting document, which must have been put together and posted yesterday evening. Have you yesterday’s Times, Watson?”
“It is here in the corner.”
“Might I trouble you for it–the inside page, please, with the leading articles?” He glanced swiftly over it, running his eyes up and down the columns. “Capital article this on free trade. Permit me to give you an extract from it.
“You may be cajoled into imagining that your own special trade or your own industry will be encouraged by a protective tariff, but it stands to reason that such legislation must in the long run keep away wealth from the country, diminish the value of our imports, and lower the general conditions of life in this island.
What do you think of that, Watson?” cried Holmes in high glee, rubbing his hands together with satisfaction. “Don’t you think that is an admirable sentiment?”
Dr. Mortimer looked at Holmes with an air of professional interest, and Sir Henry Baskerville turned a pair of puzzled dark eyes upon me.
“I don’t know much about the tariff and things of that kind,” said he, “but it seems to me we’ve got a bit off the trail so far as that note is concerned.”
“On the contrary, I think we are particularly hot upon the trail, Sir Henry. Watson here knows more about my methods than you do, but I fear that even he has not quite grasped the significance of this sentence.”
“No, I confess that I see no connection.”
“And yet, my dear Watson, there is so very close a connection that the one is extracted out of the other. ‘You,’ ‘your,’ ‘your,’ ‘life,’ ‘reason,’ ‘value,’ ‘keep away,’ ‘from the.’ Don’t you see now whence these words have been taken?”
“By thunder, you’re right! Well, if that isn’t smart!” cried Sir Henry.
“If any possible doubt remained it is settled by the fact that ‘keep away’ and ‘from the’ are cut out in one piece.”
“Well, now–so it is!”
“Really, Mr. Holmes, this exceeds anything which I could have imagined,” said Dr. Mortimer, gazing at my friend in amazement. “I could understand anyone saying that the words were from a newspaper; but that you should name which, and add that it came from the leading article, is really one of the most remarkable things which I have ever known. How did you do it?”
“I presume, Doctor, that you could tell the skull of a negro from that of an Esquimau?”
“Because that is my special hobby. The differences are obvious. The supra-orbital crest, the facial angle, the maxillary curve, the– –”
“But this is my special hobby, and the differences are equally obvious. There is as much difference to my eyes between the leaded bourgeois type of a Times article and the slovenly print of an evening half-penny paper as there could be between your negro and your Esquimau. The detection of types is one of the most elementary branches of knowledge to the special expert in crime, though I confess that once when I was very young I confused the Leeds Mercury with the Western Morning News. But a Times leader is entirely distinctive, and these words could have been taken from nothing else. As it was done yesterday the strong probability was that we should find the words in yesterday’s issue.”
“So far as I can follow you, then, Mr. Holmes,” said Sir Henry Baskerville, “someone cut out this message with a scissors– –”
“Nail-scissors,” said Holmes. “You can see that it was a very short-bladed scissors, since the cutter had to take two snips over ‘keep away.’”
“That is so. Someone, then, cut out the message with a pair of short-bladed scissors, pasted it with paste– –”
“Gum,” said Holmes.
“With gum on to the paper. But I want to know why the word ‘moor’ should have been written?”
“Because he could not find it in print. The other words were all simple and might be found in any issue, but ‘moor’ would be less common.”
“Why, of course, that would explain it. Have you read anything else in this message, Mr. Holmes?”
“There are one or two indications, and yet the utmost pains have been taken to remove all clues. The address, you observe, is printed in rough characters. But the Times is a paper which is seldom found in any hands but those of the highly educated. We may take it, therefore, that the letter was composed by an educated man who wished to pose as an uneducated one, and his effort to conceal his own writing suggests that that writing might be known, or come to be known, by you. Again, you will observe that the words are not gummed on in an accurate line, but that some are much higher than others. ‘Life,’ for example, is quite out of its proper place. That may point to carelessness or it may point to agitation and hurry upon the part of the cutter. On the whole I incline to the latter view, since the matter was evidently important, and it is unlikely that the composer of such a letter would be careless. If he were in a hurry it opens up the interesting question why he should be in a hurry, since any letter posted up to early morning would reach Sir Henry before he would leave his hotel. Did the composer fear an interruption–and from whom?”
“We are coming now rather into the region of guesswork,” said Dr. Mortimer.
“Say, rather, into the region where we balance probabilities and choose the most likely. It is the scientific use of the imagination, but we have always some material basis on which to start our speculation. Now, you would call it a guess, no doubt, but I am almost certain that this address has been written in a hotel.”
“How in the world can you say that?”
“If you examine it carefully you will see that both the pen and the ink have given the writer trouble. The pen has spluttered twice in a single word and has run dry three times in a short address, showing that there was very little ink in the bottle. Now, a private pen or ink-bottle is seldom allowed to be in such a state, and the combination of the two must be quite rare. But you know the hotel ink and the hotel pen, where it is rare to get anything else. Yes, I have very little hesitation in saying that could we examine the waste-paper baskets of the hotels around Charing Cross until we found the remains of the mutilated Times leader we could lay our hands straight upon the person who sent this singular message. Halloa! Halloa! What’s this?”
He was carefully examining the foolscap, upon which the words were pasted, holding it only an inch or two from his eyes.
“Nothing,” said he, throwing it down. “It is a blank half-sheet of paper, without even a water-mark upon it. I think we have drawn as much as we can from this curious letter; and now, Sir Henry, has anything else of interest happened to you since you have been in London?”
“Why, no, Mr. Holmes. I think not.”
“You have not observed anyone follow or watch you?”
“I seem to have walked right into the thick of a dime novel,” said our visitor. “Why in thunder should anyone follow or watch me?”
“We are coming to that. You have nothing else to report to us before we go into this matter?”
“Well, it depends upon what you think worth reporting.”
“I think anything out of the ordinary routine of life well worth reporting.”
Sir Henry smiled.
“I don’t know much of British life yet, for I have spent nearly all my time in the States and in Canada. But I hope that to lose one of your boots is not part of the ordinary routine of life over here.”
“You have lost one of your boots?”
“My dear sir,” cried Dr. Mortimer, “it is only mislaid. You will find it when you return to the hotel. What is the use of troubling Mr. Holmes with trifles of this kind?”
“Well, he asked me for anything outside the ordinary routine.”
“Exactly,” said Holmes, “however foolish the incident may seem. You have lost one of your boots, you say?”
“Well, mislaid it, anyhow. I put them both outside my door last night, and there was only one in the morning. I could get no sense out of the chap who cleans them. The worst of it is that I only bought the pair last night in the Strand, and I have never had them on.”
“If you have never worn them, why did you put them out to be cleaned?”
“They were tan boots and had never been varnished. That was why I put them out.”
“Then I understand that on your arrival in London yesterday you went out at once and bought a pair of boots?”
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