He was carefully examining the foolscap, upon which the words were pasted, holding it only an inch or two from his eyes.
"Nothing," said he, throwing it down. "It is a blank half– sheet of paper, without even a water-mark upon it. I think we have drawn as much as we can from this curious letter; and now, Sir Henry, has anything else of interest happened to you since you have been in London?"
"Why, no, Mr. Holmes. I think not."
"You have not observed anyone follow or watch you?"
"I seem to have walked right into the thick of a dime novel," said our visitor. "Why in thunder should anyone follow or watch me?"
"We are coming to that. You have nothing else to report to us before we go into this matter?"
"Well, it depends upon what you think worth reporting."
"I think anything out of the ordinary routine of life well worth reporting."
Sir Henry smiled.
"I don't know much of British life yet, for I have spent nearly all my time in the States and in Canada. But I hope that to lose one of your boots is not part of the ordinary routine of life over here."
"You have lost one of your boots?"
"My dear sir," cried Dr. Mortimer, "it is only mislaid. You will find it when you return to the hotel. What is the use of troubling Mr. Holmes with trifles of this kind?"
"Well, he asked me for anything outside the ordinary routine."
"Exactly," said Holmes, "however foolish the incident may seem. You have lost one of your boots, you say?"
"Well, mislaid it, anyhow. I put them both outside my door last night, and there was only one in the morning. I could get no sense out of the chap who cleans them. The worst of it is that I only bought the pair last night in the Strand, and I have never had them on."
"If you have never worn them, why did you put them out to be cleaned?"
"They were tan boots and had never been varnished. That was why I put them out."
"Then I understand that on your arrival in London yesterday you went out at once and bought a pair of boots?"
"I did a good deal of shopping. Dr. Mortimer here went round with me. You see, if I am to be squire down there I must dress the part, and it may be that I have got a little careless in my ways out West. Among other things I bought these brown boots – gave six dollars for them – and had one stolen before ever I had them on my feet."
"It seems a singularly useless thing to steal," said Sherlock Holmes. "I confess that I share Dr. Mortimer's belief that it will not be long before the missing boot is found."
"And, now, gentlemen," said the baronet with decision, "it seems to me that I have spoken quite enough about the little that I know. It is time that you kept your promise and gave me a full account of what we are all driving at."
"Your request is a very reasonable one," Holmes answered. "Dr. Mortimer, I think you could not do better than to tell your story as you told it to us."
Thus encouraged, our scientific friend drew his papers from his pocket and presented the whole case as he had done upon the morning before. Sir Henry Baskerville listened with the deepest attention and with an occasional exclamation of surprise.
"Well, I seem to have come into an inheritance with a ven– geance," said he when the long narrative was finished. "Of course, I've heard of the hound ever since I was in the nursery. It's the pet story of the family, though I never thought of taking it seriously before. But as to my uncle's death – well, it all seems boiling up in my head, and I can't get it clear yet. You don't seem quite to have made up your mind whether it's a case for a policeman or a clergyman."
"And now there's this affair of the letter to me at the hotel. I suppose that fits into its place."
"It seems to show that someone knows more than we do about what goes on upon the moor," said Dr. Mortimer.
"And also," said Holmes, "that someone is not ill-disposed towards you, since they warn you of danger."
"Or it may be that they wish, for their own purposes, to scare me away."
"Well, of course, that is possible also. I am very much indebted to you, Dr. Mortimer, for introducing me to a problem which presents several interesting alternatives. But the practical point which we now have to decide, Sir Henry, is whether it is or is not advisable for you to go to Baskerville Hall."
"Why should I not go?"
"There seems to be danger."
"Do you mean danger from this family fiend or do you mean danger from human beings?"
"Well, that is what we have to find out."
"Whichever it is, my answer is fixed. There is no devil in hell, Mr. Holmes, and there is no man upon earth who can prevent me from going to the home of my own people, and you may take that to be my final answer." His dark brows knitted and his face flushed to a dusky red as he spoke. It was evident that the fiery temper of the Baskervilles was not extinct in this their last representative. "Meanwhile," said he, "I have hardly had time to think over all that you have told me. It's a big thing for a man to have to understand and to decide at one sitting. I should like to have a quiet hour by myself to make up my mind. Now, look here, Mr. Holmes, it's half-past eleven now and I am going back right away to my hotel.– Suppose you and your friend, Dr. Watson, come round and lunch with us at two. I'll be able to tell you more clearly then how this thing strikes me."
"Is that convenient to you, Watson?"
"Then you may expect us. Shall I have a cab called?"
"I'd prefer to walk, for this affair has flurried me rather."
"I'll join you in a walk, with pleasure," said his companion.
"Then we meet again at two o'clock. Au revoir, and good– morning!"
We heard the steps of our visitors descend the stair and the bang of the front door. In an instant Holmes had changed from the languid dreamer to the man of action.
"Your hat and boots, Watson, quick! Not a moment to lose!" He rushed into his room in his dressing-gown and was back again in a few seconds in a frock-coat. We hurried together down the stairs and into the street. Dr. Mortimer and Baskerville were still visible about two hundred yards ahead of us in the direction of Oxford Street.
"Shall I run on and stop them?"
"Not for the world, my dear Watson. I am perfectly satisfied with your company if you will tolerate mine. Our friends are wise, for it is certainly a very fine morning for a walk."
He quickened his pace until we had decreased the distance which divided us by about half. Then, still keeping a hundred yards behind, we followed into Oxford Street and so down Regent Street. Once our friends stopped and stared into a shop window, upon which Holmes did the same. An instant after– wards he gave a little cry of satisfaction, and, following the direction of his eager eyes, I saw that a hansom cab with a man inside which had halted on the other side of the street was now proceeding slowly onward again.
"There's our man, Watson! Come along! We'll have a good look at him, if we can do no more."
At that instant I was aware of a bushy black beard and a pair of piercing eyes turned upon us through the side window of the cab. Instantly the trapdoor at the top flew up, something was screamed to the driver, and the cab flew madly off down Regent Street. Holmes looked eagerly round for another, but no-empty one was in sight. Then he dashed in wild pursuit amid the stream of the traffic, but the start was too great, and already the cab was out of sight.
"There now!" said Holmes bitterly as he emerged panting and white with vexation from the tide of vehicles. "Was ever such bad luck and such bad management, too? Watson, Watson, if you are an honest man you will record this also and set it against my successes!"
"Who was the man?"
"I have not an idea."
"Well, it was evident from what we have heard that Basker– ville has been very closely shadowed by someone since he has been in town. How else could it be known so quickly that it was the Northumberland Hotel which he had chosen? If they had followed him the first day I argued that they would follow him also the second. You may have observed that I twice strolled over to the window while Dr. Mortimer was reading his legend."
"Yes, I remember."
"I was looking out for loiterers in the street, but I saw none. We are dealing with a clever man, Watson. This matter cuts very deep, and though I have not finally made up my mind whether it is a benevolent or a malevolent agency which is in touch with us, I am conscious always of power and design. When our friends left I at once followed them in the hopes of marking down their invisible attendant. So wily was he that he had not trusted himself upon foot, but he had availed himself of a cab so that he could loiter behind or dash past them and so escape their notice. His method had the additional advantage that if they were to take a cab he was all ready to follow them. It has, however, one obvious disadvantage."
"It puts him in the power of the cabman."
"What a pity we did not get the number!"
"My dear Watson, clumsy as I have been, you surely do not seriously imagine that I neglected to get the number? No. 2704 is our man. But that is no use to us for the moment."
"I fail to see how you could have done more."
"On observing the cab I should have instantly turned and walked in the other direction. I should then at my leisure have hired a second cab and followed the first at a respectful distance, or, better still, have driven to the Northumberland Hotel and waited there. When our unknown had followed Baskerville home we should have had the opportunity of playing his own game upon himself and seeing where he made for. As it is, by an indiscreet eagerness, which was taken advantage of with extraor– dinary quickness and energy by our opponent, we have betrayed ourselves and lost our man."
We had been sauntering slowly down Regent Street during this conversation, and Dr. Mortimer, with his companion, had long vanished in front of us.
"There is no object in our following them," said Holmes. "The shadow has departed and will not return. We must see what further cards we have in our hands and play them with decision. Could you swear to that man's face within the cab?"
"I could swear only to the beard."
"And so could I – from which I gather that in all probability it was a false one. A clever man upon so delicate an errand has no use for a beard save to conceal his features. Come in here, Watson!"
He turned into one of the district messenger offices, where he was warmly greeted by the manager.
"Ah, Wilson, I see you have not forgotten the little case in which I had the good fortune to help you?"
"No, sir, indeed I have not. You saved my good name, and perhaps my life."
"My dear fellow, you exaggerate. I have some recollection, Wilson, that you had among your boys a lad named Cartwright, who showed some ability during the investigation."
"Yes, sir, he is still with us."
"Could you ring him up? – thank you! And I should be glad to have change of this five-pound note."
A lad of fourteen, with a bright, keen face, had obeyed the summons of the manager. He stood now gazing with great reverence at the famous detective.
"Let me have the Hotel Directory," said Holmes. "Thank you! Now, Cartwright, there are the names of twenty-three hotels here, all in the immediate neighbourhood of Charing Cross. Do you see?"
"You will visit each of these in turn."
"You will begin in each case by giving the outside porter one shilling. Here are twenty-three shillings."
"You will tell him that you want to see the waste-paper of yesterday. You will say that an important telegram has miscar– ried and that you are looking for it. You understand?"
"But what you are really looking for is the centre page of the Times with some holes cut in it with scissors. Here is a copy of the Times. It is this page. You could easily recognize it, could you not?"
"In each case the outside porter will send for the hall porter, to whom also you will give a shilling. Here are twenty-three shillings. You will then learn in possibly twenty cases out of the twenty-three that the waste of the day before has been burned or removed. In the three other cases you will be shown a heap of paper and you will look for this page of the Times among it. The odds are enormously against your finding it. There are ten shillings over in case of emergencies. Let me have a report by wire at Baker Street before evening. And now, Watson, it only remains for us to find out by wire the identity of the cabman, No. 2704, and then we will drop into one of the Bond Street picture galleries and fill in the time until we are due at the hotel."
Three Broken Threads
Sherlock Holmes had, in a very remarkable degree, the power of detaching his mind at will. For two hours the strange business in which we had been involved appeared to be forgotten, and he was entirely absorbed in the pictures of the modern Belgian masters. He would talk of nothing but art, of which he had the crudest ideas, from our leaving the gallery until we found our– selves at the Northumberland Hotel.
"Sir Henry Baskerville is upstairs expecting you," said the clerk. "He asked me to show you up at once when you came."
"Have you any objection to my looking at your register?" said Holmes.
"Not in the least."
The book showed that two names had been added after that of Baskerville. One was Theophilus Johnson and family, of New– castle; the other Mrs. Oldmore and maid, of High Lodge, Alton.
"Surely that must be the same Johnson whom I used to know," said Holmes to the porter. "A lawyer, is he not, gray– headed, and walks with a limp?"
"No, sir, this is Mr. Johnson, the coal-owner, a very active gentleman, not older than yourself."
"Surely you are mistaken about his trade?"
"No, sir! he has used this hotel for many years, and he is very well known to us."
"Ah, that settles it. Mrs. Oldmore, too; I seem to remember the name. Excuse my curiosity, but often in calling upon one friend one finds another."
"She is an invalid lady, sir. Her husband was once mayor of Gloucester. She always comes to us when she is in town."
"Thank you; I am afraid I cannot claim her acquaintance. We have established a most important fact by these questions, Wat– son," he continued in a low voice as we went upstairs together. "We know now that the people who are so interested in our friend have not settled down in his own hotel. That means that while they are, as we have seen, very anxious to watch him, they are equally anxious that he should not see them. Now, this is a most suggestive fact."