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The Return of Sherlock Holmes


The Return of Sherlock Holmes: Page 48


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I rose and, standing behind Holmes, studied it over his shoulder.
"It is very rough, of course, and it only deals with the points which seem to me to be essential. All the rest you will see later for yourself. Now, first of all, presuming that the assassin entered the house, how did he or she come in? Undoubtedly by the garden path and the back door, from which there is direct access to the study. Any other way would have been exceedingly complicated. The escape must have also been made along that line, for of the two other exits from the room one was blocked by Susan as she ran downstairs and the other leads straight to the professor"s bedroom. I therefore directed my attention at once to the garden path, which was saturated with recent rain, and would certainly show any footmarks.
"My examination showed me that I was dealing with a cautious and expert criminal. No footmarks were to be found on the path. There could be no question, however, that someone had passed along the grass border which lines the path, and that he had done so in order to avoid leaving a track. I could not find anything in the nature of a distinct impression, but the grass was trodden down, and someone had undoubtedly passed. It could only have been the murderer, since neither the gardener nor anyone else had been there that morning, and the rain had only begun during the night."
"One moment," said Holmes. "Where does this path lead to?"
"To the road."
"How long is it?"
"A hundred yards or so."
"At the point where the path passes through the gate, you could surely pick up the tracks?"
"Unfortunately, the path was tiled at that point."
"Well, on the road itself?"
"No, it was all trodden into mire."
"Tut-tut! Well, then, these tracks upon the grass, were they coming or going?"
"It was impossible to say. There was never any outline."
"A large foot or a small?"
"You could not distinguish."
Holmes gave an ejaculation of impatience.
"It has been pouring rain and blowing a hurricane ever since," said he. "It will be harder to read now than that palimpsest. Well, well, it can"t be helped. What did you do, Hopkins, after you had made certain that you had made certain of nothing?"
"I think I made certain of a good deal, Mr. Holmes. I knew that someone had entered the house cautiously from without. I next examined the corridor. It is lined with cocoanut matting and had taken no impression of any kind. This brought me into the study itself. It is a scantily furnished room. The main article is a large writing-table with a fixed bureau. This bureau consists of a double column of drawers, with a central small cupboard between them. The drawers were open, the cupboard locked. The drawers, it seems, were always open, and nothing of value was kept in them. There were some papers of importance in the cupboard, but there were no signs that this had been tampered with, and the professor assures me that nothing was missing. It is certain that no robbery has been committed.
"I come now to the body of the young man. It was found near the bureau, and just to the left of it, as marked upon that chart. The stab was on the right side of the neck and from behind forward, so that it is almost impossible that it could have been self-inflicted."
"Unless he fell upon the knife," said Holmes.
"Exactly. The idea crossed my mind. But we found the knife some feet away from the body, so that seems impossible. Then, of course, there are the man"s own dying words. And, finally, there was this very important piece of evidence which was found clasped in the dead man"s right hand."
From his pocket Stanley Hopkins drew a small paper packet. He unfolded it and disclosed a golden pince-nez, with two broken ends of black silk cord dangling from the end of it. "Willoughby Smith had excellent sight," he added. "There can be no question that this was snatched from the face or the person of the assassin."
Sherlock Holmes took the glasses into his hand, and examined them with the utmost attention and interest. He held them on his nose, endeavoured to read through them, went to the window and stared up the street with them, looked at them most minutely in the full light of the lamp, and finally, with a chuckle, seated himself at the table and wrote a few lines upon a sheet of paper, which he tossed across to Stanley Hopkins.
"That"s the best I can do for you," said he. "It may prove to be of some use."
The astonished detective read the note aloud. It ran as follows:
"Wanted, a woman of good address, attired like a lady. She has a remarkably thick nose, with eyes which are set close upon either side of it. She has a puckered forehead, a peering expression, and probably rounded shoulders. There are indications that she has had recourse to an optician at least twice during the last few months. As her glasses are of remarkable strength, and as opticians are not very numerous, there should be no difficulty in tracing her."
Holmes smiled at the astonishment of Hopkins, which must have been reflected upon my features. "Surely my deductions are simplicity itself," said he. "It would be difficult to name any articles which afford a finer field for inference than a pair of glasses, especially so remarkable a pair as these. That they belong to a woman I infer from their delicacy, and also, of course, from the last words of the dying man. As to her being a person of refinement and well dressed, they are, as you perceive, handsomely mounted in solid gold, and it is inconceivable that anyone who wore such glasses could be slatternly in other respects. You will find that the clips are too wide for your nose, showing that the lady"s nose was very broad at the base. This sort of nose is usually a short and coarse one, but there is a sufficient number of exceptions to prevent me from being dogmatic or from insisting upon this point in my description. My own face is a narrow one, and yet I find that I cannot get my eyes into the centre, nor near the centre, of these glasses. Therefore, the lady"s eyes are set very near to the sides of the nose. You will perceive, Watson, that the glasses are concave and of unusual strength. A lady whose vision has been so extremely contracted all her life is sure to have the physical characteristics of such vision, which are seen in the forehead, the eyelids, and the shoulders."
"Yes," I said, "I can follow each of your arguments. I confess, however, that I am unable to understand how you arrive at the double visit to the optician."
Holmes took the glasses in his hand.
"You will perceive," he said, "that the clips are lined with tiny bands of cork to soften the pressure upon the nose. One of these is discoloured and worn to some slight extent, but the other is new. Evidently one has fallen off and been replaced. I should judge that the older of them has not been there more than a few months.
They exactly correspond, so I gather that the lady went back to the same establishment for the second."
"By George, it"s marvellous!" cried Hopkins, in an ecstasy of admiration. "To think that I had all that evidence in my hand and never knew it! I had intended, however, to go the round of the London opticians."
"Of course you would. Meanwhile, have you anything more to tell us about the case?"
"Nothing, Mr. Holmes. I think that you know as much as I do now"probably more. We have had inquiries made as to any stranger seen on the country roads or at the railway station. We have heard of none. What beats me is the utter want of all object in the crime. Not a ghost of a motive can anyone suggest."
"Ah! there I am not in a position to help you. But I suppose you want us to come out to-morrow?"
"If it is not asking too much, Mr. Holmes. There"s a train from Charing Cross to Chatham at six in the morning, and we should be at Yoxley Old Place between eight and nine."
"Then we shall take it. Your case has certainly some features of great interest, and I shall be delighted to look into it. Well, it"s nearly one, and we had best get a few hours" sleep. I daresay you can manage all right on the sofa in front of the fire. I"ll light my spirit lamp, and give you a cup of coffee before we start."
The gale had blown itself out next day, but it was a bitter morning when we started upon our journey. We saw the cold winter sun rise over the dreary marshes of the Thames and the long, sullen reaches of the river, which I shall ever associate with our pursuit of the Andaman Islander in the earlier days of our career. After a long and weary journey, we alighted at a small station some miles from Chatham. While a horse was being put into a trap at the local inn, we snatched a hurried breakfast, and so we were all ready for business when we at last arrived at Yoxley Old Place. A constable met us at the garden gate.
"Well, Wilson, any news?"
"No, sir"nothing."
"No reports of any stranger seen?"
"No, sir. Down at the station they are certain that no stranger either came or went yesterday."
"Have you had inquiries made at inns and lodgings?"
"Yes, sir: there is no one that we cannot account for."

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