While Sherlock Holmes had been detailing this singular series
events, we had been whirling through the outskirts of the great
town until the last straggling houses had been left behind, and
we rattled along with a country hedge upon either side of us.
Just as he finished, however, we drove through two scattered
villages, where a few lights still glimmered in the windows.
"We are on the outskirts of Lee," said my companion.
touched on three English counties in our short drive, starting
Middlesex, passing over an angle of Surrey, and ending in Kent.
See that light among the trees? That is The Cedars, and beside
that lamp sits a woman whose anxious ears have already, I have
little doubt, caught the clink of our horse's feet."
"But why are you not conducting the case from Baker Street?"
"Because there are many inquiries which must be made out
Mrs. St. Clair has most kindly put two rooms at my disposal, and
you may rest assured that she will have nothing but a welcome
my friend and colleague. I hate to meet her, Watson, when I have
no news of her husband. Here we are. Whoa, there, whoa!"
We had pulled up in front of a large villa which stood within
own grounds. A stable-boy had run out to the horse's head, and
springing down, I followed Holmes up the small, winding
gravel-drive which led to the house. As we approached, the door
flew open, and a little blonde woman stood in the opening, clad
in some sort of light mousseline de soie, with a touch of fluffy
pink chiffon at her neck and wrists. She stood with her figure
outlined against the flood of light, one hand upon the door, one
half-raised in her eagerness, her body slightly bent, her head
and face protruded, with eager eyes and parted lips, a standing
"Well?" she cried, "well?" And then, seeing
that there were two
of us, she gave a cry of hope which sank into a groan as she saw
that my companion shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.
"No good news?"
"Thank God for that. But come in. You must be weary, for
had a long day."
"This is my friend, Dr. Watson. He has been of most vital
me in several of my cases, and a lucky chance has made it
possible for me to bring him out and associate him with this
"I am delighted to see you," said she, pressing my
"You will, I am sure, forgive anything that may be wanting
arrangements, when you consider the blow which has come so
suddenly upon us."
"My dear madam," said I, "I am an old campaigner,
and if I were
not I can very well see that no apology is needed. If I can be
any assistance, either to you or to my friend here, I shall be
"Now, Mr. Sherlock Holmes," said the lady as we entered
well-lit dining-room, upon the table of which a cold supper had
been laid out, "I should very much like to ask you one or
plain questions, to which I beg that you will give a plain
"Do not trouble about my feelings. I am not hysterical,
to fainting. I simply wish to hear your real, real opinion."
"Upon what point?"
"In your heart of hearts, do you think that Neville is alive?"
Sherlock Holmes seemed to be embarrassed by the question.
"Frankly, now!" she repeated, standing upon the rug
keenly down at him as he leaned back in a basket-chair.
"Frankly, then, madam, I do not."
"You think that he is dead?"
"I don't say that. Perhaps."
"And on what day did he meet his death?"
"Then perhaps, Mr. Holmes, you will be good enough to explain
it is that I have received a letter from him to-day."
Sherlock Holmes sprang out of his chair as if he had been
"What!" he roared.
"Yes, to-day." She stood smiling, holding up a little
paper in the air.
"May I see it?"
He snatched it from her in his eagerness, and smoothing it out
upon the table he drew over the lamp and examined it intently.
had left my chair and was gazing at it over his shoulder. The
envelope was a very coarse one and was stamped with the Gravesend
postmark and with the date of that very day, or rather of the
before, for it was considerably after midnight.
"Coarse writing," murmured Holmes. "Surely this
is not your
husband's writing, madam."
"No, but the enclosure is."
"I perceive also that whoever addressed the envelope had
and inquire as to the address."
"How can you tell that?"
"The name, you see, is in perfectly black ink, which has
itself. The rest is of the grayish color, which shows that
blotting-paper has been used. If it had been written straight
off, and then blotted, none would be of a deep black shade. This
man has written the name, and there has then been a pause before
he wrote the address, which can only mean that he was not
familiar with it. It is, of course, a trifle, but there is
nothing so important as trifles. Let us now see the letter. Ha!
there has been an enclosure here!"
"Yes, there was a ring. His signet-ring."
"And you are sure that this is your husband's hand?"
"One of his hands."
"His hand when he wrote hurriedly. It is very unlike his
writing, and yet I know it well."
"'Dearest do not be frightened. All will come well. There
huge error which it may take some little time to rectify.
Wait in patience.--NEVILLE.' Written in pencil upon the fly-leaf
of a book, octavo size, no water-mark. Hum! Posted to-day in
Gravesend by a man with a dirty thumb. Ha! And the flap has been
gummed, if I am not very much in error, by a person who had been
chewing tobacco. And you have no doubt that it is your husband's
"None. Neville wrote those words."
"And they were posted to-day at Gravesend. Well, Mrs. St.
the clouds lighten, though I should not venture to say that the
danger is over."
"But he must be alive, Mr. Holmes."
"Unless this is a clever forgery to put us on the wrong
The ring, after all, proves nothing. It may have been taken from
"No, no; it is, it is his very own writing!"
"Very well. It may, however, have been written on Monday
"That is possible."
"If so, much may have happened between."
"Oh, you must not discourage me, Mr. Holmes. I know that
well with him. There is so keen a sympathy between us that I
should know if evil came upon him. On the very day that I saw
last he cut himself in the bedroom, and yet I in the dining-room
rushed upstairs instantly with the utmost certainty that
something had happened. Do you think that I would respond to such
a trifle and yet be ignorant of his death?"
"I have seen too much not to know that the impression of
may be more valuable than the conclusion of an analytical
reasoner. And in this letter you certainly have a very strong
piece of evidence to corroborate your view. But if your husband
is alive and able to write letters, why should he remain away
"I cannot imagine. It is unthinkable."
"And on Monday he made no remarks before leaving you?"
"And you were surprised to see him in Swandam Lane?"
"Very much so."
"Was the window open?"
"Then he might have called to you?"
"He only, as I understand, gave an inarticulate cry?"
"A call for help, you thought?"
"Yes. He waved his hands."
"But it might have been a cry of surprise. Astonishment
unexpected sight of you might cause him to throw up his hands?"
"It is possible."
"And you thought he was pulled back?"
"He disappeared so suddenly."
"He might have leaped back. You did not see anyone else
"No, but this horrible man confessed to having been there,
the Lascar was at the foot of the stairs."
"Quite so. Your husband, as far as you could see, had his
ordinary clothes on?"
"But without his collar or tie. I distinctly saw his bare
"Had he ever spoken of Swandam Lane?"
"Had he ever showed any signs of having taken opium?"
"Thank you, Mrs. St. Clair. Those are the principal points
which I wished to be absolutely clear. We shall now have a little
supper and then retire, for we may have a very busy day