The Return of Sherlock Holmes #6

Page 47

“The second floor is inhabited by Daulat Ras, the Indian. He is a quiet, inscrutable fellow; as most of those Indians are. He is well up in his work, though his Greek is his weak subject. He is steady and methodical.

“The top floor belongs to Miles McLaren. He is a brilliant fellow when he chooses to work—one of the brightest intellects of the university; but he is wayward, dissipated, and unprincipled. He was nearly expelled over a card scandal in his first year. He has been idling all this term, and he must look forward with dread to the examination.”

“Then it is he whom you suspect?”

“I dare not go so far as that. But, of the three, he is perhaps the least unlikely.”

“Exactly. Now, Mr. Soames, let us have a look at your servant, Bannister.”

He was a little, white-faced, clean-shaven, grizzly-haired fellow of fifty. He was still suffering from this sudden disturbance of the quiet routine of his life. His plump face was twitching with his nervousness, and his fingers could not keep still.

“We are investigating this unhappy business, Bannister,” said his master.

“Yes, sir.”

“I understand,” said Holmes, “that you left your key in the door?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Was it not very extraordinary that you should do this on the very day when there were these papers inside?”

“It was most unfortunate, sir. But I have occasionally done the same thing at other times.”

“When did you enter the room?”

“It was about half-past four. That is Mr. Soames’ tea time.”

“How long did you stay?”

“When I saw that he was absent, I withdrew at once.”

“Did you look at these papers on the table?”

“No, sir—certainly not.”

“How came you to leave the key in the door?”

“I had the tea-tray in my hand. I thought I would come back for the key. Then I forgot.”

“Has the outer door a spring lock?”

“No, sir.”

“Then it was open all the time?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Anyone in the room could get out?”

“Yes, sir.”

“When Mr. Soames returned and called for you, you were very much disturbed?”

“Yes, sir. Such a thing has never happened during the many years that I have been here. I nearly fainted, sir.”

“So I understand. Where were you when you began to feel bad?”

“Where was I, sir? Why, here, near the door.”

“That is singular, because you sat down in that chair over yonder near the corner. Why did you pass these other chairs?”

“I don’t know, sir, it didn’t matter to me where I sat.”

“I really don’t think he knew much about it, Mr. Holmes. He was looking very bad—quite ghastly.”

“You stayed here when your master left?”

“Only for a minute or so. Then I locked the door and went to my room.”

“Whom do you suspect?”

“Oh, I would not venture to say, sir. I don’t believe there is any gentleman in this university who is capable of profiting by such an action. No, sir, I’ll not believe it.”

“Thank you, that will do,” said Holmes. “Oh, one more word. You have not mentioned to any of the three gentlemen whom you attend that anything is amiss?”

“No, sir—not a word.”

“You haven’t seen any of them?”

“No, sir.”

“Very good. Now, Mr. Soames, we will take a walk in the quadrangle, if you please.”

Three yellow squares of light shone above us in the gathering gloom.

“Your three birds are all in their nests,” said Holmes, looking up. “Halloa! What’s that? One of them seems restless enough.”

It was the Indian, whose dark silhouette appeared suddenly upon his blind. He was pacing swiftly up and down his room.

“I should like to have a peep at each of them,” said Holmes. “Is it possible?”

“No difficulty in the world,” Soames answered. “This set of rooms is quite the oldest in the college, and it is not unusual for visitors to go over them. Come along, and I will personally conduct you.”

“No names, please!” said Holmes, as we knocked at Gilchrist’s door. A tall, flaxen-haired, slim young fellow opened it, and made us welcome when he understood our errand. There were some really curious pieces of mediaeval domestic architecture within. Holmes was so charmed with one of them that he insisted on drawing it in his notebook, broke his pencil, had to borrow one from our host and finally borrowed a knife to sharpen his own. The same curious accident happened to him in the rooms of the Indian—a silent, little, hook-nosed fellow, who eyed us askance, and was obviously glad when Holmes’s architectural studies had come to an end. I could not see that in either case Holmes had come upon the clue for which he was searching. Only at the third did our visit prove abortive. The outer door would not open to our knock, and nothing more substantial than a torrent of bad language came from behind it. “I don’t care who you are. You can go to blazes!” roared the angry voice. “Tomorrow’s the exam, and I won’t be drawn by anyone.”

“A rude fellow,” said our guide, flushing with anger as we withdrew down the stair. “Of course, he did not realize that it was I who was knocking, but none the less his conduct was very uncourteous, and, indeed, under the circumstances rather suspicious.”

Holmes’s response was a curious one.

“Can you tell me his exact height?” he asked.

“Really, Mr. Holmes, I cannot undertake to say. He is taller than the Indian, not so tall as Gilchrist. I suppose five foot six would be about it.”

“That is very important,” said Holmes. “And now, Mr. Soames, I wish you good-night.”

Our guide cried aloud in his astonishment and dismay. “Good gracious, Mr. Holmes, you are surely not going to leave me in this abrupt fashion! You don’t seem to realize the position. To-morrow is the examination. I must take some definite action to-night. I cannot allow the examination to be held if one of the papers has been tampered with. The situation must be faced.”

“You must leave it as it is. I shall drop round early to-morrow morning and chat the matter over. It is possible that I may be in a position then to indicate some course of action. Meanwhile, you change nothing—nothing at all.”

“Very good, Mr. Holmes.”