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THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

by Arthur Conan Doyle


"Two years have passed since then, and my life has been until
lately lonelier than ever. A month ago, however, a dear friend,
whom I have known for many years, has done me the honor to ask
my hand in marriage. His name is Armitage--Percy Armitage--the
second son of Mr. Armitage, of Crane Water, near Reading. My
stepfather has offered no opposition to the match, and we are to
be married in the course of the spring. Two days ago some repairs
were started in the west wing of the building, and my bedroom
wall has been pierced, so that I have had to move into the
chamber in which my sister died, and to sleep in the very bed in
which she slept. Imagine, then, my thrill of terror when last
night, as I lay awake, thinking over her terrible fate, I
suddenly heard in the silence of the night the low whistle which
had been the herald of her own death. I sprang up and lit the
lamp, but nothing was to be seen in the room. I was too shaken to
go to bed again, however, so I dressed, and as soon as it was
daylight I slipped down, got a dog-cart at the Crown Inn, which
is opposite, and drove to Leatherhead, from whence I have come on
this morning with the one object of seeing you and asking your
advice."

"You have done wisely," said my friend. "But have you told me
all?"

"Yes, all."

"Miss Roylott, you have not. You are screening your stepfather."

"Why, what do you mean?"

For answer Holmes pushed back the frill of black lace which
fringed the hand that lay upon our visitor's knee. Five little
livid spots, the marks of four fingers and a thumb, were printed
upon the white wrist.

"You have been cruelly used," said Holmes.

The lady colored deeply and covered over her injured wrist. "He
is a hard man," she said, "and perhaps he hardly knows his own
strength."

There was a long silence, during which Holmes leaned his chin
upon his hands and stared into the crackling fire.

"This is a very deep business," he said at last. "There are a
thousand details which I should desire to know before I decide
upon our course of action. Yet we have not a moment to lose. If
we were to come to Stoke Moran to-day, would it be possible for
us to see over these rooms without the knowledge of your
stepfather?"

"As it happens, he spoke of coming into town to-day upon some
most important business. It is probable that he will be away all
day, and that there would be nothing to disturb you. We have a
housekeeper now, but she is old and foolish, and I could easily
get her out of the way."

"Excellent. You are not averse to this trip, Watson?"

"By no means."

"Then we shall both come. What are you going to do yourself?"

"I have one or two things which I would wish to do now that I am
in town. But I shall return by the twelve o'clock train, so as to
be there in time for your coming."

"And you may expect us early in the afternoon. I have myself some
small business matters to attend to. Will you not wait and
breakfast?"

"No, I must go. My heart is lightened already since I have
confided my trouble to you. I shall look forward to seeing you
again this afternoon." She dropped her thick black veil over her
face and glided from the room.

"And what do you think of it all, Watson?" asked Sherlock Holmes,
leaning back in his chair.

"It seems to me to be a most dark and sinister business."

"Dark enough and sinister enough."

"Yet if the lady is correct in saying that the flooring and walls
are sound, and that the door, window, and chimney are impassable,
then her sister must have been undoubtedly alone when she met her
mysterious end."

"What becomes, then, of these nocturnal whistles, and what of the
very peculiar words of the dying woman?"

"I cannot think."

"When you combine the ideas of whistles at night, the presence of
a band of gypsies who are on intimate terms with this old doctor,
the fact that we have every reason to believe that the doctor has
an interest in preventing his stepdaughter's marriage, the dying
allusion to a band, and, finally, the fact that Miss Helen Stoner
heard a metallic clang, which might have been caused by one of
those metal bars that secured the shutters falling back into its
place, I think that there is good ground to think that the
mystery may be cleared along those lines."

"But what, then, did the gypsies do?"

"I cannot imagine."

"I see many objections to any such theory."

"And so do I. It is precisely for that reason that we are going
to Stoke Moran this day. I want to see whether the objections are
fatal, or if they may be explained away. But what in the name of
the devil!"

The ejaculation had been drawn from my companion by the fact that
our door had been suddenly dashed open, and that a huge man had
framed himself in the aperture. His costume was a peculiar
mixture of the professional and of the agricultural, having a
black top-hat, a long frock-coat, and a pair of high gaiters,
with a hunting-crop swinging in his hand. So tall was he that his
hat actually brushed the cross bar of the doorway, and his
breadth seemed to span it across from side to side. A large face,
seared with a thousand wrinkles, burned yellow with the sun, and
marked with every evil passion, was turned from one to the other
of us, while his deep-set, bile-shot eyes, and his high, thin,
fleshless nose, gave him somewhat the resemblance to a fierce old
bird of prey.

"Which of you is Holmes?" asked this apparition.

"My name, sir; but you have the advantage of me," said my
companion quietly.

"I am Dr. Grimesby Roylott, of Stoke Moran."

"Indeed, Doctor," said Holmes blandly. "Pray take a seat."

"I will do nothing of the kind. My stepdaughter has been here. I
have traced her. What has she been saying to you?"

"It is a little cold for the time of the year," said Holmes.

"What has she been saying to you?" screamed the old man
furiously.

"But I have heard that the crocuses promise well," continued my
companion imperturbably.

"Ha! You put me off, do you?" said our new visitor, taking a step
forward and shaking his hunting-crop. "I know you, you scoundrel!
I have heard of you before. You are Holmes, the meddler."

My friend smiled.

"Holmes, the busybody!"

His smile broadened.

"Holmes, the Scotland Yard Jack-in-office!"

Holmes chuckled heartily. "Your conversation is most
entertaining," said he. "When you go out close the door, for
there is a decided draught."

"I will go when I have said my say. Don't you dare to meddle with
my affairs. I know that Miss Stoner has been here. I traced her!
I am a dangerous man to fall foul of! See here." He stepped
swiftly forward, seized the poker, and bent it into a curve with
his huge brown hands.

"See that you keep yourself out of my grip," he snarled, and
hurling the twisted poker into the fireplace he strode out of the
room.

"He seems a very amiable person," said Holmes, laughing. "I am
not quite so bulky, but if he had remained I might have shown him
that my grip was not much more feeble than his own." As he spoke
he picked up the steel poker and, with a sudden effort,
straightened it out again.

"Fancy his having the insolence to confound me with the official
detective force! This incident gives zest to our investigation,
however, and I only trust that our little friend will not suffer
from her imprudence in allowing this brute to trace her. And now,
Watson, we shall order breakfast, and afterwards I shall walk
down to Doctors' Commons, where I hope to get some data which may
help us in this matter."


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