The Return of Sherlock Holmes #6

Page 29

Together we stole down to the road and crept across to the door of the inn. The bicycle still leaned against the wall. Holmes struck a match and held it to the back wheel, and I heard him chuckle as the light fell upon a patched Dunlop tire. Up above us was the lighted window.

“I must have a peep through that, Watson. If you bend your back and support yourself upon the wall, I think that I can manage.”

An instant later, his feet were on my shoulders, but he was hardly up before he was down again.

“Come, my friend,” said he, “our day’s work has been quite long enough. I think that we have gathered all that we can. It’s a long walk to the school, and the sooner we get started the better.”

He hardly opened his lips during that weary trudge across the moor, nor would he enter the school when he reached it, but went on to Mackleton Station, whence he could send some telegrams. Late at night I heard him consoling Dr. Huxtable, prostrated by the tragedy of his master’s death, and later still he entered my room as alert and vigorous as he had been when he started in the morning. “All goes well, my friend,” said he. “I promise that before to-morrow evening we shall have reached the solution of the mystery.”

At eleven o’clock next morning my friend and I were walking up the famous yew avenue of Holdernesse Hall. We were ushered through the magnificent Elizabethan doorway and into his Grace’s study. There we found Mr. James Wilder, demure and courtly, but with some trace of that wild terror of the night before still lurking in his furtive eyes and in his twitching features.

“You have come to see his Grace? I am sorry, but the fact is that the Duke is far from well. He has been very much upset by the tragic news. We received a telegram from Dr. Huxtable yesterday afternoon, which told us of your discovery.”

“I must see the Duke, Mr. Wilder.”

“But he is in his room.”

“Then I must go to his room.”

“I believe he is in his bed.”

“I will see him there.”

Holmes’s cold and inexorable manner showed the secretary that it was useless to argue with him.

“Very good, Mr. Holmes, I will tell him that you are here.”

After an hour’s delay, the great nobleman appeared. His face was more cadaverous than ever, his shoulders had rounded, and he seemed to me to be an altogether older man than he had been the morning before. He greeted us with a stately courtesy and seated himself at his desk, his red beard streaming down on the table.

“Well, Mr. Holmes?” said he.

But my friend’s eyes were fixed upon the secretary, who stood by his master’s chair.

“I think, your Grace, that I could speak more freely in Mr. Wilder’s absence.”

The man turned a shade paler and cast a malignant glance at Holmes.

“If your Grace wishes——”

“Yes, yes, you had better go. Now, Mr. Holmes, what have you to say?”

My friend waited until the door had closed behind the retreating secretary.

“The fact is, your Grace,” said he, “that my colleague, Dr. Watson, and myself had an assurance from Dr. Huxtable that a reward had been offered in this case. I should like to have this confirmed from your own lips.”

“Certainly, Mr. Holmes.”

“It amounted, if I am correctly informed, to five thousand pounds to anyone who will tell you where your son is?”

“Exactly.”

“And another thousand to the man who will name the person or persons who keep him in custody?”

“Exactly.”

“Under the latter heading is included, no doubt, not only those who may have taken him away, but also those who conspire to keep him in his present position?”

“Yes, yes,” cried the Duke, impatiently. “If you do your work well, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, you will have no reason to complain of niggardly treatment.”

My friend rubbed his thin hands together with an appearance of avidity which was a surprise to me, who knew his frugal tastes.

“I fancy that I see your Grace’s check-book upon the table,” said he. “I should be glad if you would make me out a check for six thousand pounds. It would be as well, perhaps, for you to cross it. The Capital and Counties Bank, Oxford Street branch are my agents.”

His Grace sat very stern and upright in his chair and looked stonily at my friend.

“Is this a joke, Mr. Holmes? It is hardly a subject for pleasantry.”

“Not at all, your Grace. I was never more earnest in my life.”

“What do you mean, then?”

“I mean that I have earned the reward. I know where your son is, and I know some, at least, of those who are holding him.”

The Duke’s beard had turned more aggressively red than ever against his ghastly white face.

“Where is he?” he gasped.

“He is, or was last night, at the Fighting Cock Inn, about two miles from your park gate.”

The Duke fell back in his chair.

“And whom do you accuse?”

Sherlock Holmes’s answer was an astounding one. He stepped swiftly forward and touched the Duke upon the shoulder.

“I accuse YOU,” said he. “And now, your Grace, I’ll trouble you for that check.”

Never shall I forget the Duke’s appearance as he sprang up and clawed with his hands, like one who is sinking into an abyss. Then, with an extraordinary effort of aristocratic self-command, he sat down and sank his face in his hands. It was some minutes before he spoke.

“How much do you know?” he asked at last, without raising his head.

“I saw you together last night.”

“Does anyone else beside your friend know?”

“I have spoken to no one.”

The Duke took a pen in his quivering fingers and opened his check-book.

“I shall be as good as my word, Mr. Holmes. I am about to write your check, however unwelcome the information which you have gained may be to me. When the offer was first made, I little thought the turn which events might take. But you and your friend are men of discretion, Mr. Holmes?”

“I hardly understand your Grace.”

“I must put it plainly, Mr. Holmes. If only you two know of this incident, there is no reason why it should go any farther. I think twelve thousand pounds is the sum that I owe you, is it not?”