“You can be perfectly easy in your mind. We shall certainly find some way out of your difficulties. I will take the black clay with me, also the pencil cuttings. Good-bye.”
When we were out in the darkness of the quadrangle, we again looked up at the windows. The Indian still paced his room. The others were invisible.
“Well, Watson, what do you think of it?” Holmes asked, as we came out into the main street. “Quite a little parlour game—sort of three-card trick, is it not? There are your three men. It must be one of them. You take your choice. Which is yours?”
“The foul-mouthed fellow at the top. He is the one with the worst record. And yet that Indian was a sly fellow also. Why should he be pacing his room all the time?”
“There is nothing in that. Many men do it when they are trying to learn anything by heart.”
“He looked at us in a queer way.”
“So would you, if a flock of strangers came in on you when you were preparing for an examination next day, and every moment was of value. No, I see nothing in that. Pencils, too, and knives—all was satisfactory. But that fellow DOES puzzle me.”
“Why, Bannister, the servant. What’s his game in the matter?”
“He impressed me as being a perfectly honest man.”
“So he did me. That’s the puzzling part. Why should a perfectly honest man—Well, well, here’s a large stationer’s. We shall begin our researches here.”
There were only four stationers of any consequences in the town, and at each Holmes produced his pencil chips, and bid high for a duplicate. All were agreed that one could be ordered, but that it was not a usual size of pencil and that it was seldom kept in stock. My friend did not appear to be depressed by his failure, but shrugged his shoulders in half-humorous resignation.
“No good, my dear Watson. This, the best and only final clue, has run to nothing. But, indeed, I have little doubt that we can build up a sufficient case without it. By Jove! my dear fellow, it is nearly nine, and the landlady babbled of green peas at seven-thirty. What with your eternal tobacco, Watson, and your irregularity at meals, I expect that you will get notice to quit, and that I shall share your downfall—not, however, before we have solved the problem of the nervous tutor, the careless servant, and the three enterprising students.”
Holmes made no further allusion to the matter that day, though he sat lost in thought for a long time after our belated dinner. At eight in the morning, he came into my room just as I finished my toilet.
“Well, Watson,” said he, “it is time we went down to St. Luke’s. Can you do without breakfast?”
“Soames will be in a dreadful fidget until we are able to tell him something positive.”
“Have you anything positive to tell him?”
“I think so.”
“You have formed a conclusion?”
“Yes, my dear Watson, I have solved the mystery.”
“But what fresh evidence could you have got?”
“Aha! It is not for nothing that I have turned myself out of bed at the untimely hour of six. I have put in two hours’ hard work and covered at least five miles, with something to show for it. Look at that!”
He held out his hand. On the palm were three little pyramids of black, doughy clay.
“Why, Holmes, you had only two yesterday.”
“And one more this morning. It is a fair argument that wherever No. 3 came from is also the source of Nos. 1 and 2. Eh, Watson? Well, come along and put friend Soames out of his pain.”
The unfortunate tutor was certainly in a state of pitiable agitation when we found him in his chambers. In a few hours the examination would commence, and he was still in the dilemma between making the facts public and allowing the culprit to compete for the valuable scholarship. He could hardly stand still so great was his mental agitation, and he ran towards Holmes with two eager hands outstretched.
“Thank heaven that you have come! I feared that you had given it up in despair. What am I to do? Shall the examination proceed?”
“Yes, let it proceed, by all means.”
“But this rascal?”
“He shall not compete.”
“You know him?”
“I think so. If this matter is not to become public, we must give ourselves certain powers and resolve ourselves into a small private court-martial. You there, if you please, Soames! Watson you here! I’ll take the armchair in the middle. I think that we are now sufficiently imposing to strike terror into a guilty breast. Kindly ring the bell!”
Bannister entered, and shrank back in evident surprise and fear at our judicial appearance.
“You will kindly close the door,” said Holmes. “Now, Bannister, will you please tell us the truth about yesterday’s incident?”
The man turned white to the roots of his hair.
“I have told you everything, sir.”
“Nothing to add?”
“Nothing at all, sir.”
“Well, then, I must make some suggestions to you. When you sat down on that chair yesterday, did you do so in order to conceal some object which would have shown who had been in the room?”
Bannister’s face was ghastly.
“No, sir, certainly not.”
“It is only a suggestion,” said Holmes, suavely. “I frankly admit that I am unable to prove it. But it seems probable enough, since the moment that Mr. Soames’s back was turned, you released the man who was hiding in that bedroom.”
Bannister licked his dry lips.
“There was no man, sir.”
“Ah, that’s a pity, Bannister. Up to now you may have spoken the truth, but now I know that you have lied.”
The man’s face set in sullen defiance.
“There was no man, sir.”
“Come, come, Bannister!”
“No, sir, there was no one.”
“In that case, you can give us no further information. Would you please remain in the room? Stand over there near the bedroom door. Now, Soames, I am going to ask you to have the great kindness to go up to the room of young Gilchrist, and to ask him to step down into yours.”
An instant later the tutor returned, bringing with him the student. He was a fine figure of a man, tall, lithe, and agile, with a springy step and a pleasant, open face. His troubled blue eyes glanced at each of us, and finally rested with an expression of blank dismay upon Bannister in the farther corner.
“Just close the door,” said Holmes. “Now, Mr. Gilchrist, we are all quite alone here, and no one need ever know one word of what passes between us. We can be perfectly frank with each other. We want to know, Mr. Gilchrist, how you, an honourable man, ever came to commit such an action as that of yesterday?”