I am afraid, Watson, that I shall have to go,” said Holmes, as wesat down together to our breakfast one morning.
“Go! Where to?”
“To Dartmoor; to King’s Pyland.”
I was not surprised. Indeed, my only wonder was that he had notalready been mixed up in this extraordinary case, which was theone topic of conversation through the length and breadth ofEngland. For a whole day my companion had rambled about the roomwith his chin upon his chest and his brows knitted, charging andrecharging his pipe with the strongest black tobacco, andabsolutely deaf to any of my questions or remarks. Fresh editionsof every paper had been sent up by our news agent, only to beglanced over and tossed down into a corner. Yet, silent as hewas, I knew perfectly well what it was over which he wasbrooding. There was but one problem before the public which couldchallenge his powers of analysis, and that was the singulardisappearance of the favourite for the Wessex Cup, and the tragicmurder of its trainer. When, therefore, he suddenly announced hisintention of setting out for the scene of the drama it was onlywhat I had both expected and hoped for.
“I should be most happy to go down with you if I should not be inthe way,” said I.
“My dear Watson, you would confer a great favour upon me bycoming. And I think that your time will not be misspent, forthere are points about the case which promise to make it anabsolutely unique one. We have, I think, just time to catch ourtrain at Paddington, and I will go further into the matter uponour journey. You would oblige me by bringing with you your veryexcellent field-glass.”
And so it happened that an hour or so later I found myself in thecorner of a first-class carriage flying along en route forExeter, while Sherlock Holmes, with his sharp, eager face framedin his ear-flapped travelling-cap, dipped rapidly into the bundleof fresh papers which he had procured at Paddington. We had leftReading far behind us before he thrust the last one of them underthe seat, and offered me his cigar-case.
“We are going well,” said he, looking out the window and glancingat his watch. “Our rate at present is fifty-three and a halfmiles an hour.”
“I have not observed the quarter-mile posts,” said I.
“Nor have I. But the telegraph posts upon this line are sixtyyards apart, and the calculation is a simple one. I presume thatyou have looked into this matter of the murder of John Strakerand the disappearance of Silver Blaze?”
“I have seen what the _Telegraph_ and the _Chronicle_ have tosay.”
“It is one of those cases where the art of the reasoner should beused rather for the sifting of details than for the acquiring offresh evidence. The tragedy has been so uncommon, so complete andof such personal importance to so many people, that we aresuffering from a plethora of surmise, conjecture, and hypothesis.The difficulty is to detach the framework of fact—of absoluteundeniable fact—from the embellishments of theorists andreporters. Then, having established ourselves upon this soundbasis, it is our duty to see what inferences may be drawn andwhat are the special points upon which the whole mystery turns.On Tuesday evening I received telegrams from both Colonel Ross,the owner of the horse, and from Inspector Gregory, who islooking after the case, inviting my co-operation.”
“Tuesday evening!” I exclaimed. “And this is Thursday morning.Why didn’t you go down yesterday?”
“Because I made a blunder, my dear Watson—which is, I am afraid,a more common occurrence than any one would think who only knewme through your memoirs. The fact is that I could not believe itpossible that the most remarkable horse in England could longremain concealed, especially in so sparsely inhabited a place asthe north of Dartmoor. From hour to hour yesterday I expected tohear that he had been found, and that his abductor was themurderer of John Straker. When, however, another morning hadcome, and I found that beyond the arrest of young Fitzroy Simpsonnothing had been done, I felt that it was time for me to takeaction. Yet in some ways I feel that yesterday has not beenwasted.”
“You have formed a theory, then?”
“At least I have got a grip of the essential facts of the case. Ishall enumerate them to you, for nothing clears up a case so muchas stating it to another person, and I can hardly expect yourco-operation if I do not show you the position from which westart.”
I lay back against the cushions, puffing at my cigar, whileHolmes, leaning forward, with his long, thin forefinger checkingoff the points upon the palm of his left hand, gave me a sketchof the events which had led to our journey.
“Silver Blaze,” said he, “is from the Isonomy stock, and holds asbrilliant a record as his famous ancestor. He is now in his fifthyear, and has brought in turn each of the prizes of the turf toColonel Ross, his fortunate owner. Up to the time of thecatastrophe he was the first favourite for the Wessex Cup, thebetting being three to one on him. He has always, however, been aprime favourite with the racing public, and has never yetdisappointed them, so that even at those odds enormous sums ofmoney have been laid upon him. It is obvious, therefore, thatthere were many people who had the strongest interest inpreventing Silver Blaze from being there at the fall of the flagnext Tuesday.
“The fact was, of course, appreciated at King’s Pyland, where theColonel’s training-stable is situated. Every precaution was takento guard the favourite. The trainer, John Straker, is a retiredjockey who rode in Colonel Ross’s colours before he became tooheavy for the weighing-chair. He has served the Colonel for fiveyears as jockey and for seven as trainer, and has always shownhimself to be a zealous and honest servant. Under him were threelads; for the establishment was a small one, containing only fourhorses in all. One of these lads sat up each night in the stable,while the others slept in the loft. All three bore excellentcharacters. John Straker, who is a married man, lived in a smallvilla about two hundred yards from the stables. He has nochildren, keeps one maid-servant, and is comfortably off. Thecountry round is very lonely, but about half a mile to the norththere is a small cluster of villas which have been built by aTavistock contractor for the use of invalids and others who maywish to enjoy the pure Dartmoor air. Tavistock itself lies twomiles to the west, while across the moor, also about two milesdistant, is the larger training establishment of Mapleton, whichbelongs to Lord Backwater, and is managed by Silas Brown. Inevery other direction the moor is a complete wilderness,inhabited only by a few roaming gypsies. Such was the generalsituation last Monday night when the catastrophe occurred.
“On that evening the horses had been exercised and watered asusual, and the stables were locked up at nine o’clock. Two of thelads walked up to the trainer’s house, where they had supper inthe kitchen, while the third, Ned Hunter, remained on guard. At afew minutes after nine the maid, Edith Baxter, carried down tothe stables his supper, which consisted of a dish of curriedmutton. She took no liquid, as there was a water-tap in thestables, and it was the rule that the lad on duty should drinknothing else. The maid carried a lantern with her, as it was verydark and the path ran across the open moor.
“Edith Baxter was within thirty yards of the stables, when a manappeared out of the darkness and called to her to stop. As hestepped into the circle of yellow light thrown by the lantern shesaw that he was a person of gentlemanly bearing, dressed in agrey suit of tweeds, with a cloth cap. He wore gaiters, andcarried a heavy stick with a knob to it. She was most impressed,however, by the extreme pallor of his face and by the nervousnessof his manner. His age, she thought, would be rather over thirtythan under it.
“‘Can you tell me where I am?’ he asked. ‘I had almost made up mymind to sleep on the moor, when I saw the light of your lantern.’
“‘You are close to the King’s Pyland training-stables,’ said she.
“‘Oh, indeed! What a stroke of luck!’ he cried. ‘I understandthat a stable-boy sleeps there alone every night. Perhaps that ishis supper which you are carrying to him. Now I am sure that youwould not be too proud to earn the price of a new dress, wouldyou?’ He took a piece of white paper folded up out of hiswaistcoat pocket. ‘See that the boy has this to-night, and youshall have the prettiest frock that money can buy.’
“She was frightened by the earnestness of his manner, and ranpast him to the window through which she was accustomed to handthe meals. It was already opened, and Hunter was seated at thesmall table inside. She had begun to tell him of what hadhappened, when the stranger came up again.
“‘Good-evening,’ said he, looking through the window. ‘I wantedto have a word with you.’ The girl has sworn that as he spoke shenoticed the corner of the little paper packet protruding from hisclosed hand.
“‘What business have you here?’ asked the lad.
“‘It’s business that may put something into your pocket,’ saidthe other. ‘You’ve two horses in for the Wessex Cup—Silver Blazeand Bayard. Let me have the straight tip and you won’t be aloser. Is it a fact that at the weights Bayard could give theother a hundred yards in five furlongs, and that the stable haveput their money on him?’
“‘So, you’re one of those damned touts!’ cried the lad. ‘I’llshow you how we serve them in King’s Pyland.’ He sprang up andrushed across the stable to unloose the dog. The girl fled awayto the house, but as she ran she looked back and saw that thestranger was leaning through the window. A minute later, however,when Hunter rushed out with the hound he was gone, and though heran all round the buildings he failed to find any trace of him.”
“One moment,” I asked. “Did the stable-boy, when he ran out withthe dog, leave the door unlocked behind him?”
“Excellent, Watson, excellent!” murmured my companion. “Theimportance of the point struck me so forcibly that I sent aspecial wire to Dartmoor yesterday to clear the matter up. Theboy locked the door before he left it. The window, I may add, wasnot large enough for a man to get through.
“Hunter waited until his fellow-grooms had returned, when he senta message to the trainer and told him what had occurred. Strakerwas excited at hearing the account, although he does not seem tohave quite realized its true significance. It left him, however,vaguely uneasy, and Mrs. Straker, waking at one in the morning,found that he was dressing. In reply to her inquiries, he saidthat he could not sleep on account of his anxiety about thehorses, and that he intended to walk down to the stables to seethat all was well. She begged him to remain at home, as she couldhear the rain pattering against the window, but in spite of herentreaties he pulled on his large mackintosh and left the house.
“Mrs. Straker awoke at seven in the morning, to find that herhusband had not yet returned. She dressed herself hastily, calledthe maid, and set off for the stables. The door was open; inside,huddled together upon a chair, Hunter was sunk in a state ofabsolute stupor, the favourite’s stall was empty, and there wereno signs of his trainer.
“The two lads who slept in the chaff-cutting loft above theharness-room were quickly aroused. They had heard nothing duringthe night, for they are both sound sleepers. Hunter was obviouslyunder the influence of some powerful drug, and as no sense couldbe got out of him, he was left to sleep it off while the two ladsand the two women ran out in search of the absentees. They stillhad hopes that the trainer had for some reason taken out thehorse for early exercise, but on ascending the knoll near thehouse, from which all the neighbouring moors were visible, theynot only could see no signs of the missing favourite, but theyperceived something which warned them that they were in thepresence of a tragedy.
“About a quarter of a mile from the stables John Straker’sovercoat was flapping from a furze-bush. Immediately beyond therewas a bowl-shaped depression in the moor, and at the bottom ofthis was found the dead body of the unfortunate trainer. His headhad been shattered by a savage blow from some heavy weapon, andhe was wounded on the thigh, where there was a long, clean cut,inflicted evidently by some very sharp instrument. It was clear,however, that Straker had defended himself vigorously against hisassailants, for in his right hand he held a small knife, whichwas clotted with blood up to the handle, while in his left heclasped a red and black silk cravat, which was recognised by themaid as having been worn on the preceding evening by the strangerwho had visited the stables.
“Hunter, on recovering from his stupor, was also quite positiveas to the ownership of the cravat. He was equally certain thatthe same stranger had, while standing at the window, drugged hiscurried mutton, and so deprived the stables of their watchman.
“As to the missing horse, there were abundant proofs in the mudwhich lay at the bottom of the fatal hollow that he had beenthere at the time of the struggle. But from that morning he hasdisappeared, and although a large reward has been offered, andall the gypsies of Dartmoor are on the alert, no news has come ofhim. Finally, an analysis has shown that the remains of hissupper left by the stable-lad contain an appreciable quantity ofpowdered opium, while the people at the house partook of the samedish on the same night without any ill effect.
“Those are the main facts of the case, stripped of all surmise,and stated as baldly as possible. I shall now recapitulate whatthe police have done in the matter.
“Inspector Gregory, to whom the case has been committed, is anextremely competent officer. Were he but gifted with imaginationhe might rise to great heights in his profession. On his arrivalhe promptly found and arrested the man upon whom suspicionnaturally rested. There was little difficulty in finding him, forhe inhabited one of those villas which I have mentioned. Hisname, it appears, was Fitzroy Simpson. He was a man of excellentbirth and education, who had squandered a fortune upon the turf,and who lived now by doing a little quiet and genteel book-makingin the sporting clubs of London. An examination of hisbetting-book shows that bets to the amount of five thousandpounds had been registered by him against the favourite.
“On being arrested he volunteered the statement that he had comedown to Dartmoor in the hope of getting some information aboutthe King’s Pyland horses, and also about Desborough, the secondfavourite, which was in charge of Silas Brown at the Mapletonstables. He did not attempt to deny that he had acted asdescribed upon the evening before, but declared that he had nosinister designs, and had simply wished to obtain first-handinformation. When confronted with his cravat, he turned verypale, and was utterly unable to account for its presence in thehand of the murdered man. His wet clothing showed that he hadbeen out in the storm of the night before, and his stick, whichwas a Penang-lawyer weighted with lead, was just such a weapon asmight, by repeated blows, have inflicted the terrible injuries towhich the trainer had succumbed.
“On the other hand, there was no wound upon his person, while thestate of Straker’s knife would show that one at least of hisassailants must bear his mark upon him. There you have it all ina nutshell, Watson, and if you can give me any light I shall beinfinitely obliged to you.”
I had listened with the greatest interest to the statement whichHolmes, with characteristic clearness, had laid before me. Thoughmost of the facts were familiar to me, I had not sufficientlyappreciated their relative importance, nor their connection toeach other.
“Is it not possible,” I suggested, “that the incised wound uponStraker may have been caused by his own knife in the convulsivestruggles which follow any brain injury?”
“It is more than possible; it is probable,” said Holmes. “In thatcase one of the main points in favour of the accused disappears.”
“And yet,” said I, “even now I fail to understand what the theoryof the police can be.”
“I am afraid that whatever theory we state has very graveobjections to it,” returned my companion. “The police imagine, Itake it, that this Fitzroy Simpson, having drugged the lad, andhaving in some way obtained a duplicate key, opened the stabledoor and took out the horse, with the intention, apparently, ofkidnapping him altogether. His bridle is missing, so that Simpsonmust have put this on. Then, having left the door open behindhim, he was leading the horse away over the moor, when he waseither met or overtaken by the trainer. A row naturally ensued.Simpson beat out the trainer’s brains with his heavy stickwithout receiving any injury from the small knife which Strakerused in self-defence, and then the thief either led the horse onto some secret hiding-place, or else it may have bolted duringthe struggle, and be now wandering out on the moors. That is thecase as it appears to the police, and improbable as it is, allother explanations are more improbable still. However, I shallvery quickly test the matter when I am once upon the spot, anduntil then I cannot really see how we can get much further thanour present position.”
It was evening before we reached the little town of Tavistock,which lies, like the boss of a shield, in the middle of the hugecircle of Dartmoor. Two gentlemen were awaiting us in thestation—the one a tall, fair man with lion-like hair and beardand curiously penetrating light blue eyes; the other a small,alert person, very neat and dapper, in a frock-coat and gaiters,with trim little side-whiskers and an eye-glass. The latter wasColonel Ross, the well-known sportsman; the other, InspectorGregory, a man who was rapidly making his name in the Englishdetective service.
“I am delighted that you have come down, Mr. Holmes,” said theColonel. “The Inspector here has done all that could possibly besuggested, but I wish to leave no stone unturned in trying toavenge poor Straker and in recovering my horse.”
“Have there been any fresh developments?” asked Holmes.
“I am sorry to say that we have made very little progress,” saidthe Inspector. “We have an open carriage outside, and as youwould no doubt like to see the place before the light fails, wemight talk it over as we drive.”
A minute later we were all seated in a comfortable landau, andwere rattling through the quaint old Devonshire city. InspectorGregory was full of his case, and poured out a stream of remarks,while Holmes threw in an occasional question or interjection.Colonel Ross leaned back with his arms folded and his hat tiltedover his eyes, while I listened with interest to the dialogue ofthe two detectives. Gregory was formulating his theory, which wasalmost exactly what Holmes had foretold in the train.
“The net is drawn pretty close round Fitzroy Simpson,” heremarked, “and I believe myself that he is our man. At the sametime I recognise that the evidence is purely circumstantial, andthat some new development may upset it.”
“How about Straker’s knife?”
“We have quite come to the conclusion that he wounded himself inhis fall.”
“My friend Dr. Watson made that suggestion to me as we came down.If so, it would tell against this man Simpson.”
“Undoubtedly. He has neither a knife nor any sign of a wound. Theevidence against him is certainly very strong. He had a greatinterest in the disappearance of the favourite. He lies undersuspicion of having poisoned the stable-boy, he was undoubtedlyout in the storm, he was armed with a heavy stick, and his cravatwas found in the dead man’s hand. I really think we have enoughto go before a jury.”
Holmes shook his head. “A clever counsel would tear it all torags,” said he. “Why should he take the horse out of the stable?If he wished to injure it why could he not do it there? Has aduplicate key been found in his possession? What chemist sold himthe powdered opium? Above all, where could he, a stranger to thedistrict, hide a horse, and such a horse as this? What is his ownexplanation as to the paper which he wished the maid to give tothe stable-boy?”
“He says that it was a ten-pound note. One was found in hispurse. But your other difficulties are not so formidable as theyseem. He is not a stranger to the district. He has twice lodgedat Tavistock in the summer. The opium was probably brought fromLondon. The key, having served its purpose, would be hurled away.The horse may be at the bottom of one of the pits or old minesupon the moor.”
“What does he say about the cravat?”
“He acknowledges that it is his, and declares that he had lostit. But a new element has been introduced into the case which mayaccount for his leading the horse from the stable.”
Holmes pricked up his ears.
“We have found traces which show that a party of gypsies encampedon Monday night within a mile of the spot where the murder tookplace. On Tuesday they were gone. Now, presuming that there wassome understanding between Simpson and these gypsies, might henot have been leading the horse to them when he was overtaken,and may they not have him now?”
“It is certainly possible.”
“The moor is being scoured for these gypsies. I have alsoexamined every stable and out-house in Tavistock, and for aradius of ten miles.”
“There is another training-stable quite close, I understand?”
“Yes, and that is a factor which we must certainly not neglect.As Desborough, their horse, was second in the betting, they hadan interest in the disappearance of the favourite. Silas Brown,the trainer, is known to have had large bets upon the event, andhe was no friend to poor Straker. We have, however, examined thestables, and there is nothing to connect him with the affair.”
“And nothing to connect this man Simpson with the interests ofthe Mapleton stables?”
“Nothing at all.”
Holmes leaned back in the carriage, and the conversation ceased.A few minutes later our driver pulled up at a neat littlered-brick villa with overhanging eaves which stood by the road.Some distance off, across a paddock, lay a long grey-tiledout-building. In every other direction the low curves of themoor, bronze-coloured from the fading ferns, stretched away tothe sky-line, broken only by the steeples of Tavistock, and by acluster of houses away to the westward which marked the Mapletonstables. We all sprang out with the exception of Holmes, whocontinued to lean back with his eyes fixed upon the sky in frontof him, entirely absorbed in his own thoughts. It was only when Itouched his arm that he roused himself with a violent start andstepped out of the carriage.
“Excuse me,” said he, turning to Colonel Ross, who had looked athim in some surprise. “I was day-dreaming.” There was a gleam inhis eyes and a suppressed excitement in his manner whichconvinced me, used as I was to his ways, that his hand was upon aclue, though I could not imagine where he had found it.
“Perhaps you would prefer at once to go on to the scene of thecrime, Mr. Holmes?” said Gregory.
“I think that I should prefer to stay here a little and go intoone or two questions of detail. Straker was brought back here, Ipresume?”
“Yes; he lies upstairs. The inquest is to-morrow.”
“He has been in your service some years, Colonel Ross?”
“I have always found him an excellent servant.”
“I presume that you made an inventory of what he had in hispockets at the time of his death, Inspector?”
“I have the things themselves in the sitting-room, if you wouldcare to see them.”
“I should be very glad.” We all filed into the front room and satround the central table while the Inspector unlocked a square tinbox and laid a small heap of things before us. There was a box ofvestas, two inches of tallow candle, an A.D.P. briar-root pipe, apouch of seal-skin with half an ounce of long-cut Cavendish, asilver watch with a gold chain, five sovereigns in gold, analuminium pencil-case, a few papers, and an ivory-handled knifewith a very delicate, inflexible blade marked Weiss & Co.,London.
“This is a very singular knife,” said Holmes, lifting it up andexamining it minutely. “I presume, as I see blood-stains upon it,that it is the one which was found in the dead man’s grasp.Watson, this knife is surely in your line?”
“It is what we call a cataract knife,” said I.
“I thought so. A very delicate blade devised for very delicatework. A strange thing for a man to carry with him upon a roughexpedition, especially as it would not shut in his pocket.”
“The tip was guarded by a disk of cork which we found beside hisbody,” said the Inspector. “His wife tells us that the knife hadlain upon the dressing-table, and that he had picked it up as heleft the room. It was a poor weapon, but perhaps the best that hecould lay his hands on at the moment.”
“Very possible. How about these papers?”
“Three of them are receipted hay-dealers’ accounts. One of themis a letter of instructions from Colonel Ross. This other is amilliner’s account for thirty-seven pounds fifteen made out byMadame Lesurier, of Bond Street, to William Derbyshire. Mrs.Straker tells us that Derbyshire was a friend of her husband’sand that occasionally his letters were addressed here.”
“Madam Derbyshire had somewhat expensive tastes,” remarkedHolmes, glancing down the account. “Twenty-two guineas is ratherheavy for a single costume. However there appears to be nothingmore to learn, and we may now go down to the scene of the crime.”
As we emerged from the sitting-room a woman, who had been waitingin the passage, took a step forward and laid her hand upon theInspector’s sleeve. Her face was haggard and thin and eager,stamped with the print of a recent horror.
“Have you got them? Have you found them?” she panted.
“No, Mrs. Straker. But Mr. Holmes here has come from London tohelp us, and we shall do all that is possible.”
“Surely I met you in Plymouth at a garden-party some little timeago, Mrs. Straker?” said Holmes.
“No, sir; you are mistaken.”
“Dear me! Why, I could have sworn to it. You wore a costume ofdove-coloured silk with ostrich-feather trimming.”
“I never had such a dress, sir,” answered the lady.
“Ah, that quite settles it,” said Holmes. And with an apology hefollowed the Inspector outside. A short walk across the moor tookus to the hollow in which the body had been found. At the brinkof it was the furze-bush upon which the coat had been hung.
“There was no wind that night, I understand,” said Holmes.
“None; but very heavy rain.”
“In that case the overcoat was not blown against the furze-bush,but placed there.”
“Yes, it was laid across the bush.”
“You fill me with interest, I perceive that the ground has beentrampled up a good deal. No doubt many feet have been here sinceMonday night.”
“A piece of matting has been laid here at the side, and we haveall stood upon that.”
“In this bag I have one of the boots which Straker wore, one ofFitzroy Simpson’s shoes, and a cast horseshoe of Silver Blaze.”
“My dear Inspector, you surpass yourself!” Holmes took the bag,and, descending into the hollow, he pushed the matting into amore central position. Then stretching himself upon his face andleaning his chin upon his hands, he made a careful study of thetrampled mud in front of him. “Hullo!” said he, suddenly. “What’sthis?” It was a wax vesta half burned, which was so coated withmud that it looked at first like a little chip of wood.
“I cannot think how I came to overlook it,” said the Inspector,with an expression of annoyance.
“It was invisible, buried in the mud. I only saw it because I waslooking for it.”
“What! You expected to find it?”
“I thought it not unlikely.”
He took the boots from the bag, and compared the impressions ofeach of them with marks upon the ground. Then he clambered up tothe rim of the hollow, and crawled about among the ferns andbushes.
“I am afraid that there are no more tracks,” said the Inspector.“I have examined the ground very carefully for a hundred yards ineach direction.”
“Indeed!” said Holmes, rising. “I should not have theimpertinence to do it again after what you say. But I should liketo take a little walk over the moor before it grows dark, that Imay know my ground to-morrow, and I think that I shall put thishorseshoe into my pocket for luck.”
Colonel Ross, who had shown some signs of impatience at mycompanion’s quiet and systematic method of work, glanced at hiswatch. “I wish you would come back with me, Inspector,” said he.“There are several points on which I should like your advice, andespecially as to whether we do not owe it to the public to removeour horse’s name from the entries for the Cup.”
“Certainly not,” cried Holmes, with decision. “I should let thename stand.”
The Colonel bowed. “I am very glad to have had your opinion,sir,” said he. “You will find us at poor Straker’s house when youhave finished your walk, and we can drive together intoTavistock.”
He turned back with the Inspector, while Holmes and I walkedslowly across the moor. The sun was beginning to sink behind thestables of Mapleton, and the long, sloping plain in front of uswas tinged with gold, deepening into rich, ruddy browns where thefaded ferns and brambles caught the evening light. But theglories of the landscape were all wasted upon my companion, whowas sunk in the deepest thought.
“It’s this way, Watson,” said he at last. “We may leave thequestion of who killed John Straker for the instant, and confineourselves to finding out what has become of the horse. Now,supposing that he broke away during or after the tragedy, wherecould he have gone to? The horse is a very gregarious creature.If left to himself his instincts would have been either to returnto King’s Pyland or go over to Mapleton. Why should he run wildupon the moor? He would surely have been seen by now. And whyshould gypsies kidnap him? These people always clear out whenthey hear of trouble, for they do not wish to be pestered by thepolice. They could not hope to sell such a horse. They would runa great risk and gain nothing by taking him. Surely that isclear.”
“Where is he, then?”
“I have already said that he must have gone to King’s Pyland orto Mapleton. He is not at King’s Pyland. Therefore he is atMapleton. Let us take that as a working hypothesis and see whatit leads us to. This part of the moor, as the Inspector remarked,is very hard and dry. But it falls away towards Mapleton, and youcan see from here that there is a long hollow over yonder, whichmust have been very wet on Monday night. If our supposition iscorrect, then the horse must have crossed that, and there is thepoint where we should look for his tracks.”
We had been walking briskly during this conversation, and a fewmore minutes brought us to the hollow in question. At Holmes’request I walked down the bank to the right, and he to the left,but I had not taken fifty paces before I heard him give a shout,and saw him waving his hand to me. The track of a horse wasplainly outlined in the soft earth in front of him, and the shoewhich he took from his pocket exactly fitted the impression.
“See the value of imagination,” said Holmes. “It is the onequality which Gregory lacks. We imagined what might havehappened, acted upon the supposition, and find ourselvesjustified. Let us proceed.”
We crossed the marshy bottom and passed over a quarter of a mileof dry, hard turf. Again the ground sloped, and again we came onthe tracks. Then we lost them for half a mile, but only to pickthem up once more quite close to Mapleton. It was Holmes who sawthem first, and he stood pointing with a look of triumph upon hisface. A man’s track was visible beside the horse’s.
“The horse was alone before,” I cried.
“Quite so. It was alone before. Hullo, what is this?”
The double track turned sharp off and took the direction ofKing’s Pyland. Holmes whistled, and we both followed along afterit. His eyes were on the trail, but I happened to look a littleto one side, and saw to my surprise the same tracks coming backagain in the opposite direction.
“One for you, Watson,” said Holmes, when I pointed it out. “Youhave saved us a long walk, which would have brought us back onour own traces. Let us follow the return track.”
We had not to go far. It ended at the paving of asphalt which ledup to the gates of the Mapleton stables. As we approached, agroom ran out from them.
“We don’t want any loiterers about here,” said he.
“I only wished to ask a question,” said Holmes, with his fingerand thumb in his waistcoat pocket. “Should I be too early to seeyour master, Mr. Silas Brown, if I were to call at five o’clockto-morrow morning?”
“Bless you, sir, if any one is about he will be, for he is alwaysthe first stirring. But here he is, sir, to answer your questionsfor himself. No, sir, no; it is as much as my place is worth tolet him see me touch your money. Afterwards, if you like.”
As Sherlock Holmes replaced the half-crown which he had drawnfrom his pocket, a fierce-looking elderly man strode out from thegate with a hunting-crop swinging in his hand.
“What’s this, Dawson!” he cried. “No gossiping! Go about yourbusiness! And you, what the devil do you want here?”
“Ten minutes’ talk with you, my good sir,” said Holmes in thesweetest of voices.
“I’ve no time to talk to every gadabout. We want no strangershere. Be off, or you may find a dog at your heels.”
Holmes leaned forward and whispered something in the trainer’sear. He started violently and flushed to the temples.
“It’s a lie!” he shouted, “an infernal lie!”
“Very good. Shall we argue about it here in public or talk itover in your parlour?”
“Oh, come in if you wish to.”
Holmes smiled. “I shall not keep you more than a few minutes,Watson,” said he. “Now, Mr. Brown, I am quite at your disposal.”
It was twenty minutes, and the reds had all faded into greysbefore Holmes and the trainer reappeared. Never have I seen sucha change as had been brought about in Silas Brown in that shorttime. His face was ashy pale, beads of perspiration shone uponhis brow, and his hands shook until the hunting-crop wagged likea branch in the wind. His bullying, overbearing manner was allgone too, and he cringed along at my companion’s side like a dogwith its master.
“Your instructions will be done. It shall all be done,” said he.
“There must be no mistake,” said Holmes, looking round at him.The other winced as he read the menace in his eyes.
“Oh no, there shall be no mistake. It shall be there. Should Ichange it first or not?”
Holmes thought a little and then burst out laughing. “No, don’t,”said he; “I shall write to you about it. No tricks, now, or—”
“Oh, you can trust me, you can trust me!”
“Yes, I think I can. Well, you shall hear from me to-morrow.” Heturned upon his heel, disregarding the trembling hand which theother held out to him, and we set off for King’s Pyland.
“A more perfect compound of the bully, coward, and sneak thanMaster Silas Brown I have seldom met with,” remarked Holmes as wetrudged along together.
“He has the horse, then?”
“He tried to bluster out of it, but I described to him so exactlywhat his actions had been upon that morning that he is convincedthat I was watching him. Of course you observed the peculiarlysquare toes in the impressions, and that his own boots exactlycorresponded to them. Again, of course no subordinate would havedared to do such a thing. I described to him how, when accordingto his custom he was the first down, he perceived a strange horsewandering over the moor. How he went out to it, and hisastonishment at recognising, from the white forehead which hasgiven the favourite its name, that chance had put in his powerthe only horse which could beat the one upon which he had put hismoney. Then I described how his first impulse had been to leadhim back to King’s Pyland, and how the devil had shown him how hecould hide the horse until the race was over, and how he had ledit back and concealed it at Mapleton. When I told him everydetail he gave it up and thought only of saving his own skin.”
“But his stables had been searched?”
“Oh, an old horse-faker like him has many a dodge.”
“But are you not afraid to leave the horse in his power now,since he has every interest in injuring it?”
“My dear fellow, he will guard it as the apple of his eye. Heknows that his only hope of mercy is to produce it safe.”
“Colonel Ross did not impress me as a man who would be likely toshow much mercy in any case.”
“The matter does not rest with Colonel Ross. I follow my ownmethods, and tell as much or as little as I choose. That is theadvantage of being unofficial. I don’t know whether you observedit, Watson, but the Colonel’s manner has been just a triflecavalier to me. I am inclined now to have a little amusement athis expense. Say nothing to him about the horse.”
“Certainly not without your permission.”
“And of course this is all quite a minor point compared to thequestion of who killed John Straker.”
“And you will devote yourself to that?”
“On the contrary, we both go back to London by the night train.”
I was thunderstruck by my friend’s words. We had only been a fewhours in Devonshire, and that he should give up an investigationwhich he had begun so brilliantly was quite incomprehensible tome. Not a word more could I draw from him until we were back atthe trainer’s house. The Colonel and the Inspector were awaitingus in the parlour.
“My friend and I return to town by the night-express,” saidHolmes. “We have had a charming little breath of your beautifulDartmoor air.”
The Inspector opened his eyes, and the Colonel’s lip curled in asneer.
“So you despair of arresting the murderer of poor Straker,” saidhe.
Holmes shrugged his shoulders. “There are certainly gravedifficulties in the way,” said he. “I have every hope, however,that your horse will start upon Tuesday, and I beg that you willhave your jockey in readiness. Might I ask for a photograph ofMr. John Straker?”
The Inspector took one from an envelope and handed it to him.
“My dear Gregory, you anticipate all my wants. If I might ask youto wait here for an instant, I have a question which I shouldlike to put to the maid.”
“I must say that I am rather disappointed in our Londonconsultant,” said Colonel Ross, bluntly, as my friend left theroom. “I do not see that we are any further than when he came.”
“At least you have his assurance that your horse will run,” saidI.
“Yes, I have his assurance,” said the Colonel, with a shrug ofhis shoulders. “I should prefer to have the horse.”
I was about to make some reply in defence of my friend when heentered the room again.
“Now, gentlemen,” said he, “I am quite ready for Tavistock.”
As we stepped into the carriage one of the stable-lads held thedoor open for us. A sudden idea seemed to occur to Holmes, for heleaned forward and touched the lad upon the sleeve.
“You have a few sheep in the paddock,” he said. “Who attends tothem?”
“I do, sir.”
“Have you noticed anything amiss with them of late?”
“Well, sir, not of much account; but three of them have gonelame, sir.”
I could see that Holmes was extremely pleased, for he chuckledand rubbed his hands together.
“A long shot, Watson; a very long shot,” said he, pinching myarm. “Gregory, let me recommend to your attention this singularepidemic among the sheep. Drive on, coachman!”
Colonel Ross still wore an expression which showed the pooropinion which he had formed of my companion’s ability, but I sawby the Inspector’s face that his attention had been keenlyaroused.
“You consider that to be important?” he asked.
“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw myattention?”
“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.
Four days later Holmes and I were again in the train, bound forWinchester to see the race for the Wessex Cup. Colonel Ross metus by appointment outside the station, and we drove in his dragto the course beyond the town. His face was grave, and his mannerwas cold in the extreme.
“I have seen nothing of my horse,” said he.
“I suppose that you would know him when you saw him?” askedHolmes.
The Colonel was very angry. “I have been on the turf for twentyyears, and never was asked such a question as that before,” saidhe. “A child would know Silver Blaze, with his white forehead andhis mottled off-foreleg.”
“How is the betting?”
“Well, that is the curious part of it. You could have got fifteento one yesterday, but the price has become shorter and shorter,until you can hardly get three to one now.”
“Hum!” said Holmes. “Somebody knows something, that is clear.”
As the drag drew up in the enclosure near the grand stand Iglanced at the card to see the entries. It ran:—
Wessex Plate. 50 sovs each h ft with 1000 sovs added for four andfive year olds. Second, £300. Third, £200. New course (one mileand five furlongs).1. Mr. Heath Newton’s The Negro (red cap, cinnamon jacket).2. Colonel Wardlaw’s Pugilist (pink cap, blue and black jacket).3. Lord Backwater’s Desborough (yellow cap and sleeves).4. Colonel Ross’s Silver Blaze (black cap, red jacket).5. Duke of Balmoral’s Iris (yellow and black stripes).6. Lord Singleford’s Rasper (purple cap, black sleeves).
“We scratched our other one, and put all hopes on your word,”said the Colonel. “Why, what is that? Silver Blaze favourite?”
“Five to four against Silver Blaze!” roared the ring. “Five tofour against Silver Blaze! Five to fifteen against Desborough!Five to four on the field!”
“There are the numbers up,” I cried. “They are all six there.”
“All six there? Then my horse is running,” cried the Colonel ingreat agitation. “But I don’t see him. My colours have notpassed.”
“Only five have passed. This must be he.”
As I spoke a powerful bay horse swept out from the weighingenclosure and cantered past us, bearing on its back thewell-known black and red of the Colonel.
“That’s not my horse,” cried the owner. “That beast has not awhite hair upon its body. What is this that you have done, Mr.Holmes?”
“Well, well, let us see how he gets on,” said my friend,imperturbably. For a few minutes he gazed through my field-glass.“Capital! An excellent start!” he cried suddenly. “There theyare, coming round the curve!”
From our drag we had a superb view as they came up the straight.The six horses were so close together that a carpet could havecovered them, but half way up the yellow of the Mapleton stableshowed to the front. Before they reached us, however,Desborough’s bolt was shot, and the Colonel’s horse, coming awaywith a rush, passed the post a good six lengths before its rival,the Duke of Balmoral’s Iris making a bad third.
“It’s my race, anyhow,” gasped the Colonel, passing his hand overhis eyes. “I confess that I can make neither head nor tail of it.Don’t you think that you have kept up your mystery long enough,Mr. Holmes?”
“Certainly, Colonel, you shall know everything. Let us all goround and have a look at the horse together. Here he is,” hecontinued, as we made our way into the weighing enclosure, whereonly owners and their friends find admittance. “You have only towash his face and his leg in spirits of wine, and you will findthat he is the same old Silver Blaze as ever.”
“You take my breath away!”
“I found him in the hands of a faker, and took the liberty ofrunning him just as he was sent over.”
“My dear sir, you have done wonders. The horse looks very fit andwell. It never went better in its life. I owe you a thousandapologies for having doubted your ability. You have done me agreat service by recovering my horse. You would do me a greaterstill if you could lay your hands on the murderer of JohnStraker.”
“I have done so,” said Holmes quietly.
The Colonel and I stared at him in amazement. “You have got him!Where is he, then?”
“He is here.”
“In my company at the present moment.”
The Colonel flushed angrily. “I quite recognise that I am underobligations to you, Mr. Holmes,” said he, “but I must regard whatyou have just said as either a very bad joke or an insult.”
Sherlock Holmes laughed. “I assure you that I have not associatedyou with the crime, Colonel,” said he. “The real murderer isstanding immediately behind you.” He stepped past and laid hishand upon the glossy neck of the thoroughbred.
“The horse!” cried both the Colonel and myself.
“Yes, the horse. And it may lessen his guilt if I say that it wasdone in self-defence, and that John Straker was a man who wasentirely unworthy of your confidence. But there goes the bell,and as I stand to win a little on this next race, I shall defer alengthy explanation until a more fitting time.”
We had the corner of a Pullman car to ourselves that evening aswe whirled back to London, and I fancy that the journey was ashort one to Colonel Ross as well as to myself, as we listened toour companion’s narrative of the events which had occurred at theDartmoor training-stables upon the Monday night, and the means bywhich he had unravelled them.
“I confess,” said he, “that any theories which I had formed fromthe newspaper reports were entirely erroneous. And yet there wereindications there, had they not been overlaid by other detailswhich concealed their true import. I went to Devonshire with theconviction that Fitzroy Simpson was the true culprit, although,of course, I saw that the evidence against him was by no meanscomplete. It was while I was in the carriage, just as we reachedthe trainer’s house, that the immense significance of the curriedmutton occurred to me. You may remember that I was distrait, andremained sitting after you had all alighted. I was marvelling inmy own mind how I could possibly have overlooked so obvious aclue.”
“I confess,” said the Colonel, “that even now I cannot see how ithelps us.”
“It was the first link in my chain of reasoning. Powdered opiumis by no means tasteless. The flavour is not disagreeable, but itis perceptible. Were it mixed with any ordinary dish the eaterwould undoubtedly detect it, and would probably eat no more. Acurry was exactly the medium which would disguise this taste. Byno possible supposition could this stranger, Fitzroy Simpson,have caused curry to be served in the trainer’s family thatnight, and it is surely too monstrous a coincidence to supposethat he happened to come along with powdered opium upon the verynight when a dish happened to be served which would disguise theflavour. That is unthinkable. Therefore Simpson becomeseliminated from the case, and our attention centres upon Strakerand his wife, the only two people who could have chosen curriedmutton for supper that night. The opium was added after the dishwas set aside for the stable-boy, for the others had the same forsupper with no ill effects. Which of them, then, had access tothat dish without the maid seeing them?
“Before deciding that question I had grasped the significance ofthe silence of the dog, for one true inference invariablysuggests others. The Simpson incident had shown me that a dog waskept in the stables, and yet, though some one had been in and hadfetched out a horse, he had not barked enough to arouse the twolads in the loft. Obviously the midnight visitor was some onewhom the dog knew well.
“I was already convinced, or almost convinced, that John Strakerwent down to the stables in the dead of the night and took outSilver Blaze. For what purpose? For a dishonest one, obviously,or why should he drug his own stable-boy? And yet I was at a lossto know why. There have been cases before now where trainers havemade sure of great sums of money by laying against their ownhorses, through agents, and then preventing them from winning byfraud. Sometimes it is a pulling jockey. Sometimes it is somesurer and subtler means. What was it here? I hoped that thecontents of his pockets might help me to form a conclusion.
“And they did so. You cannot have forgotten the singular knifewhich was found in the dead man’s hand, a knife which certainlyno sane man would choose for a weapon. It was, as Dr. Watson toldus, a form of knife which is used for the most delicateoperations known in surgery. And it was to be used for a delicateoperation that night. You must know, with your wide experience ofturf matters, Colonel Ross, that it is possible to make a slightnick upon the tendons of a horse’s ham, and to do itsubcutaneously, so as to leave absolutely no trace. A horse sotreated would develop a slight lameness, which would be put downto a strain in exercise or a touch of rheumatism, but never tofoul play.”
“Villain! Scoundrel!” cried the Colonel.
“We have here the explanation of why John Straker wished to takethe horse out on to the moor. So spirited a creature would havecertainly roused the soundest of sleepers when it felt the prickof the knife. It was absolutely necessary to do it in the openair.”
“I have been blind!” cried the Colonel. “Of course that was whyhe needed the candle, and struck the match.”
“Undoubtedly. But in examining his belongings I was fortunateenough to discover not only the method of the crime, but even itsmotives. As a man of the world, Colonel, you know that men do notcarry other people’s bills about in their pockets. We have mostof us quite enough to do to settle our own. I at once concludedthat Straker was leading a double life, and keeping a secondestablishment. The nature of the bill showed that there was alady in the case, and one who had expensive tastes. Liberal asyou are with your servants, one can hardly expect that they canbuy twenty-guinea walking dresses for their ladies. I questionedMrs. Straker as to the dress without her knowing it, and havingsatisfied myself that it had never reached her, I made a note ofthe milliner’s address, and felt that by calling there withStraker’s photograph I could easily dispose of the mythicalDerbyshire.
“From that time on all was plain. Straker had led out the horseto a hollow where his light would be invisible. Simpson in hisflight had dropped his cravat, and Straker had picked it up—withsome idea, perhaps, that he might use it in securing the horse’sleg. Once in the hollow, he had got behind the horse and hadstruck a light; but the creature frightened at the sudden glare,and with the strange instinct of animals feeling that somemischief was intended, had lashed out, and the steel shoe hadstruck Straker full on the forehead. He had already, in spite ofthe rain, taken off his overcoat in order to do his delicatetask, and so, as he fell, his knife gashed his thigh. Do I makeit clear?”
“Wonderful!” cried the Colonel. “Wonderful! You might have beenthere!”
“My final shot was, I confess a very long one. It struck me thatso astute a man as Straker would not undertake this delicatetendon-nicking without a little practice. What could he practiceon? My eyes fell upon the sheep, and I asked a question which,rather to my surprise, showed that my surmise was correct.
“When I returned to London I called upon the milliner, who hadrecognised Straker as an excellent customer of the name ofDerbyshire, who had a very dashing wife, with a strong partialityfor expensive dresses. I have no doubt that this woman hadplunged him over head and ears in debt, and so led him into thismiserable plot.”
“You have explained all but one thing,” cried the Colonel. “Wherewas the horse?”
“Ah, it bolted, and was cared for by one of your neighbours. Wemust have an amnesty in that direction, I think. This is ClaphamJunction, if I am not mistaken, and we shall be in Victoria inless than ten minutes. If you care to smoke a cigar in our rooms,Colonel, I shall be happy to give you any other details whichmight interest you.”