"Yes, Holmes, the autumn is a melancholy time. But you are in need of this holiday. After all, you should be interested in such a country type as that man we see from the window."
My friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes, closing the book in his hands, glanced languidly out of the window of our private sitting-room at the inn near East Grinstead.
"Pray be explicit, Watson," said he. "Do you refer to the cobbler or to the farmer?"
In the country road past the inn, I could see a man on the driver's seat of a market-cart, clearly a farmer. But otherwise there was only an elderly workman in corduroy trousers, plodding towards the cart with his head down.
"Surely a cobbler," observed Holmes, answering my thought rather than my words. "He is left-handed, I perceive."
"Holmes, you would have been accused of wizardry in another age from ours! Why the man should be a cobbler I cannot conceive, but a left-handed cobbler? You cannot have deduced it."
"My dear fellow, observe the marks across the corduroy trousers where the cobbler rests his lap stone. The left hand side, you will remark, is far more worn than the right. He used his left hand for hammering the leather. Would that all our problems were so simple!"
That year of 1889 had brought some significant successes to Sherlock Holmes, which had added further laurels to his already formidable reputation. But the strain of almost unremitting work had left its mark upon him, and I was sincerely relieved when he had fallen in with my proposal that we should exchange the October fogs of Baker Street for the rich autumnal beauty of the Sussex country-side.
My friend possessed a marked resilience, and the few days of relaxation had already put back the old nervous spring in his step and a touch of colour in his cheeks. Indeed, I welcomed even his occasional outbursts of impatience as a sign that his vigorous nature had shaken off the lassitude which had followed upon his last case.
Holmes had lit his pipe, and I had picked up my book when there came a knock on the door and the landlord entered.
"There be a gentleman to see you, Mr. Holmes, sir," he said in his soft Sussex burr, "and so hurried-like that up I must come without even taking off me apron. Ah! Here he is now."
A tall, fair-haired man, wearing a heavy ulster and a Scotch plaid swathed round his throat, rushed into the room, threw his Gladstone bag into the nearest corner, and, curtly dismissing the landlord, closed the door behind him. Then he nodded to us both.
"Ah, Gregson," said Holmes, "there must be something unusual in the wind to bring you so far afield!"
"What a case!" cried Inspector Tobias Gregson, sinking into the chair which I had pushed towards him. "Whew! What a case! As soon as we had the telegram at the Yard, I thought it would do no harm to have a word with you in Baker Street—unofficial, of course, Mr. Holmes. Then, when Mrs. Hudson gave me your address, I decided to come on down. It's less than thirty miles from here to the place in Kent where the murder was committed." He mopped at his forehead. "One of the oldest families in the county, they tell me. By heaven, just wait till the papers get hold of it!"
"My dear Holmes," I interposed, "you are here on a rest."
"Yes, yes, Watson," said my friend hurriedly, "but it will do no harm to hear the details. Well, Gregson?"
"I know no more than the bare facts given in this telegram from the county police. Colonel Jocelyn Daley, who was a guest of Sir Reginald Lavington at Lavington Court, has been stabbed to death in the banqueting-hall. The butler found him there at about ten-thirty this morning. He'd just died; blood still flowing."
Holmes put down his book on the table. "Suicide? Murder? What?" he asked.
"It couldn't be suicide; no weapon was discovered. But I've had a second telegram, and there's new evidence. It appears to implicate Sir Reginald Lavington himself. Colonel Daley was well known in sporting circles, but with none too good a reputation. This is crime in high life, Mr. Holmes, and there is no room for mistakes."
"Lavington—Lavington?". mused Holmes. "Surely, Watson, when we drove last week to visit the Bodiam Ruins, did we not pass through a village of that name? I seem to recall a house lying in a hollow."
I nodded. In my mind rose the memory of a moated manor-house, almost stifled amid yew trees, from which a sense of oppressiveness had seemed to weigh upon me.
"That's right, Mr. Holmes," agreed Gregson. "A house in a hollow. My guide-book says that at Lavington the past is more real than the present. Will you come with me?"
My friend leapt from his chair. "By all means," he cried. "No, Watson, not a word!"
The excellent establishment of Mr. John Hoath again supplied us with a carriage in which for two hours we were driven through the narrow, deep-rutted Sussex lanes. By the time that we had crossed the Kent border, the chill in the air made us glad of our rugs. We had turned off the main road, and were descending a steep lane when the coachman pointed with his whip at a moat-girdled house spread out below us in the grey dusk.
"Lavington Court," said he.
A few minutes later we had alighted from our carriage. As we crossed the causeway to the front door, I had a sombre impression of dead leaves on dark, sullen water and a great battlemented tower looming through the twilight. Holmes struck a match and stooped over the gravelled surface of the causeway.
"H'm, ha! Four sets of footprints. Hullo, what's this? The hoof-marks of a horse, and furiously ridden, to judge by their depth. Probably the first summons to the police. Well, Gregson, there's not much to be gained here. Let us hope that the scene of the crime may yield more interesting results."
As Holmes finished speaking, the door was opened. I must confess to reassurance at the sight of the stolid, and red-faced butler who ushered us into a stone-flagged hall, mellow and beautiful in the light of old-fashioned, many-branched candlesticks. At the far end a stairway led up to an oaken gallery on the floor above.
A thin, ginger-haired man, who had been warming his coat-tails before the fire, hurried towards us.
"Inspector Gregson?" he asked. "Thank the Lord you've come, sir!"
"I take it that you are Sergeant Bassett of the Kent County Constabulary?"
The ginger-haired man nodded. "That will do, Gillings. We'll ring when we need you. This is a dreadful business, sir, dreadful!" he went on, as the butler departed. "And now it's worse than ever. Here's a famous gambler stabbed when he was drinking a toast to his best racehorse, and Sir Reginald claims to have been absent at the time, and yet the knife—" The local detective broke off and looked at us. "Who are these gentlemen?"
"They are Mr. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. You may speak freely."
"Well, Mr. Holmes, I've heard of your clever reputation," remarked Sergeant Bassett doubtfully. "But there's not much mystery about this affair, and I hope the police will receive the credit."
"Gregson can tell you that I play the game for the game's sake," my friend replied. "Officially, I prefer not to appear in this case."
"Very fair, I'm sure, Mr. Holmes. Then, gentlemen, please to come this way."
He picked up a four-branched candlestick, and we were following him across the hall when there came a most unexpected interruption.
I have had considerable experience of women in many parts of the world, but never have I beheld a more queenly presence than the woman now descending the stairs. As she paused with her hand on the banister, the candlelight falling warmly on her soft copper-coloured hair and her heavy-lidded green eyes, I gained an impression of a beauty once radiant but now pale under the stress of some dreadful event which she could not understand.
"I heard your name in the hall, Mr. Holmes," she cried. "I know very little, but of one thing I am certain. My husband is innocent! I beg that you will think of that first."
For a moment Holmes looked at her intently, as though that melodious voice had struck some chord in his memory.
"I will bear your suggestion in mind, Lady Lavington. But surely your marriage has deprived the stage of—"
"Then you recognize Margaret Montpensier?" For the first time a touch of colour came into her face. "Yes, that was when I first met Colonel Daley. But my husband had no reason for jealousy—!" She paused in consternation.
"How's this, my lady?" exclaimed Gregson. "Jealousy?"
The two detectives exchanged glances.
"We hadn't got a motive before," muttered Bassett.
Lady Lavington, formerly that great actress Margaret Montpensier, had said what she had never intended to say. Holmes bowed gravely, and we followed the sergeant towards an arched door.
Though the room we entered was in complete darkness, I had a sense of height and size.
"There are no lights here except from this candlestick, gentlemen," came Bassett's voice. "Stand in the door for a moment, please."
As he moved forward, the reflection of four candle-flames followed him along the surface of a great refectory table, with its narrow side towards the door. At the far end the light flashed back from a tall silver goblet with a human hand lying motionless on either side. Bassett thrust forward the candelabrum.
"Look at this, Inspector Gregson!" he cried.
Seated at the head of the table, his cheek resting upon the surface, a man lay sprawled forward with his arms outflung on either side of the cup. Against a welter of blood and wine his fair hair shone under the candle-flames.
"His throat's been cut," snapped Bassett. "And here," he cried, darting to the wall, "was the dagger that did it!"
We hastened forward to where he was holding up his light against the old wainscotting. Amid a trophy of arms, two small metal hooks showed where some weapon had hung.
"How do you know that it was a dagger?" asked Gregson.
Bassett pointed to a slight scratch on the woodwork some six inches below. Holmes nodded approvingly.
"Good, Sergeant!" said he. "But you have other proof besides the scratch on the panelling?"
"Yes! Ask that butler, Gillings! It's an old hunting-dagger: hung there for years. Now look at the wound in Colonel Daley's throat."
Inured though I was to scenes of violence, I stepped back. Bassett, laying hold of that yellow hair which was tinged with grey at the temples, raised the dead man's head. Even in death it was an eagle face, with a great curving nose above a remorseless mouth.
"The dagger, yes," said Holmes. "But surely an odd direction for the blow? It appears to strike upwards from beneath."
The local detective smiled grimly. "Not so odd, Mr. Holmes, if the murderer struck when his victim raised that heavy cup to drink. Colonel Daley would have had to use both hands. We know already that he and Sir Reginald were drinking in here to the success of the colonel's horse at Leopardstown next week."
We all looked at the great wine-vessel, fully twelve inches high. It was of ancient silver, richly embossed and chased, girded below the lip with a circlet of garnets.
As it stood there amid the crimson stains and the scratches of finger-nails on that dreadful table-top, I noticed the twin silver figures carved like owls that decorated the tops of the handles on either side.
"The Luck of Lavington," said Bassett with a short laugh. "You can see those owls in the family arms. Well, it brought no luck to Colonel Daley. Somebody stabbed him when he raised it to drink."
"Somebody?" said a voice in the background.
Holmes had lifted the cup and, after examining it closely, was looking at the scratches and wine-stains which had seeped beneath it, when the shock of this interruption made us all turn towards the far end of the banqueting-hall.
A man was standing near the door. The light of a single taper which he had raised above his head illumined a pair of dark, brooding eyes that glowered at us from a face as black-browed and swarthy as that of some Andalusian gipsy. There was an impression of formidable strength in the spread of his shoulders, and in his bull neck above an old-fashioned black satin stock.
"How's this?" he challenged in a rumbling voice, advancing on us with silent steps. "Who are ye? A pretty state of affairs, Bassett, when ye drag a set of strangers into the house of your own landlord!"
"I would remind you, Sir Reginald, that a serious crime has been committed," replied the local detective sternly. "This is Inspector Gregson from London; and these gentlemen are Mr. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson."
A shade of uneasiness seemed to flit across the dark face of the baronet as he looked at Holmes.
"I've heard of ye," he growled. His gaze moved towards the dead man. "Yes, Buck Daley's dead, and probably damned. I know his reputation now. Wine, horses, women —well, there have been Lavingtons like that. Mayhap, Mr. Holmes, ye have the wit to recognize a mischance when others talk of murder."
To my amazement Holmes seemed seriously to consider this monstrous statement. "Were it not for one circumstance, Sir Reginald," he said at length, "I should probably agree with you."
Gregson smiled sourly. "We're all aware of that circumstance. The missing knife—"
"I did not say that it was the knife."
"There was no need for you to say so, Mr. Holmes. Can a man cut his own throat by accident and afterwards conceal the weapon?"
Seizing the candelabrum from the sergeant, Gregson held it up to the trophy of arms which glittered against the dark panelling. His stern eyes met those of the baronet.
"Where is the dagger that hung here?" he demanded.
"I took it," said Sir Reginald.
"Oh, you did, did you? Why?"
"I've told Sergeant Bassett there. I was fishing this morning. I used that old blade to gut the pike; ay, as my fathers did before me."
"Then you have it?"
"No; must I tell the police a dozen times? I lost it from my creel. Mayhap at the river, or on my way home."
Gregson drew the sergeant to one side.
"I think there's little more we need," I heard him mutter. "His wife has given us the motive, and we have it from his own lips that he took the weapon. Sir Reginald Lavington," he said with authority, advancing upon the baronet, "I must ask you to accompany me to Maidstone Police Station. There you will be formally charged with—"
Holmes darted forward. "One moment, Gregson!" he cried. "You must really give us twenty-four hours to think this over. For your own sake I tell you that any good counsel would tear your case to pieces."
"I think not, Mr. Holmes; especially with her ladyship in the witness-box."
Sir Reginald started violently, while a livid pallor mottled the swarthiness of his features.
"I warn ye not to drag my wife into this! Whatever she's said, she can't testify against her husband!"
"We would not ask her to do so. It is sufficient that she repeat what she has already stated in the presence of police witnesses. However, Mr. Holmes," Gregson added, "in return for one or two small favours you've done us in the past, I see no harm in—well! in delaying matters for a few more hours. As for you, Sir Reginald, should you attempt to leave this house, you will be arrested at once. Well, Mr. Holmes, what now?"
My friend had dropped to his knees, and by the light of a candle was peering closely at the horrible splashes of blood and wine which dabbled the oaken floor.
"Perhaps you would have the goodness, Watson, to pull that bell-rope," he said, as he scrambled to his feet. "A word with the butler, who discovered the body, would not come amiss before we seek accommodation at the village inn. Let us adjourn to the hall."
I think that each of us was glad to leave that black, vaulted room with its terrible occupant, and to find ourselves once more before the log fire blazing on the hearth. Lady Lavington, pale but beautiful in a gown of bronze velvet with a collar of Brussels lace, rose from a chair.
For a moment her eyes seemed to search each one of us with a mute, intense questioning, and then she had swept to her husband's side.
"In God's name, Margaret, what have ye been saying?" he demanded, the veins swelling in his thick neck. "Ye'll have me at the rope's end yet!"
"Whatever the sacrifice, I swear you shall not suffer! Surely it is better that—" She whispered a few agitated words in his ear.
"Never! Never!" retorted her husband fiercely. "What? You here, Gillings? Have you too been condemning your master?"
None of us had heard the butler's approach, but now he stepped into the circle of fire-light, with a troubled expression on his honest face.
"Heaven forbid, Sir Reginald!" Gillings replied warmly. "I told Sergeant Bassett only what I saw and heard. Colonel Daley called for a bottle of port. He was in the banqueting-hall. He—he said he wished to drink a toast with you from the Luck of Lavington, to the victory of his horse in the Leopardstown races next week. Since there was port in the decanter on the buffet, I poured it into the great cup. I remember how the colonel laughed as he dismissed me."
"He laughed, you say?" said Sherlock Holmes quickly. "When did you actually see Sir Reginald with the colonel?"
"I did not actually see him, sir. But the colonel said—"
"And laughed when he said it," interposed Holmes. "Perhaps Lady Lavington would tell us whether Colonel Daley was a frequent guest under this roof?"
It seemed to me that some swift emotion glowed for an instant in those wonderful green eyes.
"For some years past, a frequent guest," she said. "But my husband was not even in the house this morning! Has he not told you so already?"
"Excuse me, my lady," doggedly interrupted Sergeant Bassett. "Sir Reginald says he was at the river, but he admits he can't prove it."
"Quite so," said Holmes. "Well, Watson, there is nothing more to be done here tonight."
We found comfortable accommodation at the Three Owls in the village of Lavington. Holmes was moody and preoccupied. When I attempted to question him, he cut me short with the statement that he had nothing further to add until he had visited Maidstone on the morrow. I must confess that I could not understand my friend's attitude. It was evident that Sir Reginald Lavington was a dangerous man, and that our visit appeared to have made him more so but when I pointed out to Holmes that his duty lay at Lavington Court rather than in the county town of Maidstone, he replied merely with the incongruous observation that the Lavingtons were a historic family.
I passed a restless morning. The wild weather kept me indoors over a week-old newspaper, and it was not until four o'clock in the afternoon that Holmes burst into our private sitting-room. His cape was dripping and rain-sodden, but his eyes glittered and his cheeks were flushed with some intense inner excitement.
"Good heavens!" I said. "You look as though you have found the answer to our problem."
Before my friend could reply, there came a knock and the door of our sitting-room had swung open. Holmes rose from the chair into which he had just relapsed.
"Ah, Lady Lavington," said he, "we are honoured by your visit."
Though her features were heavily veiled, there was no mistaking that tall, gracious figure now hesitating on our threshold.
"I received your note, Mr. Holmes," she replied in a low voice, "and I came at once." Sinking into the chair which I had wheeled forward, she raised her veil and let her head rest back among the cushions. "I came at once," she repeated wearily.
The fire-light threw her face into strong relief, and, as I studied her features, still beautiful despite the almost waxen pallor and restless brilliance of her eyes, I discerned in them the shock of the event that had shattered the peace of her life and the privacy of her home. A sense of compassion prompted me to speak.
"You may have complete confidence in my friend Sherlock Holmes," I said gently. "This is indeed a painful time for you, Lady Lavington, but rest assured that everything will turn out for the best."
She thanked me with a glance. But, when I rose to leave them together, she held up her hand.
"I would much prefer that you stayed, Dr. Watson," she begged. "Your presence gives me confidence. Why have you sent for me, Mr. Holmes?"
My friend, sitting back, had closed his eyes: "Shall we say that you are here in your husband's interests?" he murmured. "You will not object if I ask you to elucidate a few small points which are still obscure to me?"
Lady Lavington rose to her feet.
"Mr. Holmes, this is unworthy," she said coldly. "You are trying to trick me into condemning my own husband! He is innocent, I tell you!"
"So I believe. Nevertheless, I pray that you will compose yourself and answer my questions. I understand that this Buck Daley has been an intimate friend of Sir Reginald for some years past."
Lady Lavington stared at him, and then began to laugh. She laughed most heartily, but with a note in her mirth that jarred on me as a medical man.
"Friend?" she cried at last. "Why, he was unworthy to black my husband's boots!"
"I am relieved to hear you say so. And yet it is fair to suppose that both men moved in the same circles during the London seasons, and, perhaps unknown to you, might have shared interests in common—possibly of a sporting nature? When did your husband first introduce Colonel Daley to you?"
"You are pitiably wrong in all your suppositions! I knew Colonel Daley for years before my marriage. It was I who introduced him to my husband. Buck Daley was a creature of society: ambitious, worldly, merciless, and yet with all the charm of his kind. What interest could such as he share in common with a rough but honourable man whose world begins and ends with the boundaries of his own ancestral lands?"
"A woman's love," said Holmes quietly.
Lady Lavington's eyes dilated. Then, dropping the veil over her face, she rushed from the room.
For a long time Holmes smoked in silence, his brows drawn down and his gaze fixed thoughtfully upon the fire. I knew from the expression on his face that he had reached some final decision. Then he drew from his pocket a crumpled sheet of paper.
"A while ago, Watson, you asked whether I had found the answer to our problem. In one sense, my dear fellow, I have. Listen closely to the vital evidence I shall read to you. It is from the records in the Maidstone County Registry."
"I am all attention."
"This is a little transcription which I have put into comprehensible English. It was originally written in the year 1485, when the House of Lancaster triumphed at last over the House of York.
"And it came to pass that on the field of Bosworth Sir John Lavington did take prisoner two knights and a squire, and carried them with him to Lavington Court. For he would take no ransom from any who had raised banner for the House of York.
"That night, after Sir John had supped, each was brought to the table and offered the Choice. One knight, he who was a kinsman of Sir John, drank from the Life and departed without ransom. And one knight and the squire drank from the Death. It was a deed most un-Christian, for they were unconfessed, and thereafter men spake far and wide of the Luck of Lavington."
For a while we sat in silence after the reading of this extraordinary document, while the wind lashed the rain against the windows and boomed in the ancient chimney. "Holmes," I said at last, "I seem to sense something monstrous here. Yet what connection can there be between the murder of a profligate gambler and the violence that followed on a battle four hundred years ago? Only the room has remained the same."
"This, Watson, is the second most important thing that I have discovered."
"And the first?"
"We shall find it at Lavington Court. A black baronet, Watson! Might it not also suggest blackmail?"
"You mean that Sir Reginald was being blackmailed?" My friend ignored the question.
"I have promised to meet Gregson at the house. Would you care to accompany me?"
"What is in your mind? I have seldom seen you so grave."
"It is already growing dark," said Sherlock Holmes. "The dagger that killed Colonel Daley must do no further harm."
It was a wild, blustering evening. As we walked through the dusk to the old manor-house, the air was filled with the creaking of tree-branches and I felt the cold touch of a blown leaf against my cheek. Lavington Court was as shadowy as the hollow in which it lay; but, as Gillings opened the door to us, a gleam of light showed in the direction of the banqueting-hall.
"Inspector Gregson has been asking for you, sir," said the butler, helping us off with our wraps.
We hurried towards the light. Gregson, with a look of deep agitation, was pacing up and down beside the table. He glanced at the now-empty chair beyond the great cup.
"Thank God you've come, Mr. Holmes!" he burst out. "Sir Reginald was telling the truth. I didn't believe it, but he is innocent! Bassett has dug up two farmers who met him walking from the river at ten-thirty yesterday morning. Why couldn't he have said he met them?"
There was a singular light in Holmes's eyes as he looked at Gregson.
"There are such men," he said.
"Did you know this all the time?"
"I did not know of the witnesses, no. But I hoped that you would find a witness, since for other reasons I was convinced of his innocence."
"Then we're back where we started!"
"Hardly that. Had you thought, Gregson, of reconstructing this crime after the French fashion?"
"How do you mean?"
Holmes moved to the end of the table, which still bore the marks of the recent tragedy. "Let us suppose that I am Colonel Daley—a tall man, standing here at the head of the table. I am about to drink with someone, who means to stab me. I pick up the cup like this, and with both hands I lift it to my mouth. So! Gregson, we will suppose that you are the murderer. Stab me in the throat!"
"What the devil do you mean?"
"Grasp an imaginary dagger in your right hand. That's it! Don't hesitate, man; stab me in the throat!"
Gregson, as though half-hypnotised, took a step forward with his hand raised, and stopped.
"But it can't be done, Mr. Holmes! Not like this, anyway!"
"The direction of the colonel's wound was straight upwards through the throat. Nobody could strike upwards from underneath, across the breadth of the table. It's impossible!"
My friend, who had been standing with his head back and the heavy cup lifted to his lips by both handles, now straightened up and offered it to the Scotland Yard man. "Good!" said he. "Now, Gregson, imagine that you are Colonel Daley. I am the murderer. Take my place, and lift the Luck of Lavington."
"Very well. What next?"
"Do exactly what I did. But don't put the cup to your lips. That's it, Gregson; that's it! Mark well what I say: don't put it to your lips!"
The light flashed back from the great drinking-vessel as it tilted.
"No, man, no!" shouted Holmes suddenly. "Not another inch, if you value your life!"
Even as he spoke, there came a click and a metallic slither. A slim, sharp blade shot from the lower edge of the cup with the speed of a striking snake. Gregson sprang back with an oath, while the vessel, falling from his hands, crashed and jangled across the floor.
"My God!" I cried.
"My God!" echoed a voice which struck across my own. Sir Reginald Lavington, his dark features now livid, was standing behind us with one hand partly raised as though to ward off a blow. Then, with a groan, he buried his face in his hands. We stared at each other in horror-struck silence.
"If you hadn't warned me, the blade would have been through my throat," said Gregson in a shaking voice.
"Our ancestors had a neat way of eliminating their enemies," observed Holmes, lifting the heavy cup and once more examining it closely. "With such a toy in the house, it is a dangerous thing for a guest to drink in his host's absence."
"Then this was only an appalling accident!" I exclaimed. "Daley was the innocent victim of a trap fashioned four centuries ago!"
"Observe the cunning of this mechanism, very much as I suspected yesterday afternoon—"
"Mr. Holmes," burst out the baronet, "I have never asked favour of any man in my life—"
"Perhaps it would be as well, Sir Reginald, if you left the explanation to me," interrupted Holmes quietly, his long, thin fingers moving over the chased surface of the cup. "The blade cannot strike unless the cup be lifted fully to the lips, when the full pressure of both hands is exerted on the handles. Then the handles themselves act as triggers for the spring-mechanism, to which the old blade is attached. You will perceive the minute slot just below the circlet of jewels and cleverly disguised by the carving."
There was awe in Gregson's face as he gazed down at the ancient vessel.
"Then you mean," he stated somberly, "that the person who drinks from the Luck of Lavington is a dead man?"
"By no means. I would draw your attention to the small silver owl-figures on the crest of the handles. If you look closely, you will see that the right-hand one turns on a pivot. I believe this to act in the same way as a safety-catch on a rifle. Unfortunately, these old mechanisms are apt to become unreliable with the passage of the centuries."
"It was an accident, right enough!" he stated. "Your reference to a mischance, Sir Reginald, has proved to be a lucky shot in the dark. I suspected it all the time. But one moment! Why didn't we see the blade when we first saw the cup?"
"Let us suppose, Gregson," replied Holmes, "that there is some form of recoil-spring."
"But surely, Holmes," I cried, "there could be no such—"
"As you were about to say, Watson, there was no such description of the cup as I had hoped to find in the Maidstone County Registry. However, it did yield me the interesting document I read you."
"Well, well, Mr. Holmes, you can give me the historic details later," said Gregson, turning to the baronet. "In regard to this affair, Sir Reginald, you can think yourself lucky that there are some sharp men hereabouts. Your possession of this dangerous relic might have caused a serious miscarriage of justice. Either you must have the mechanism removed, or entrust it to Scotland Yard."
Sir Reginald Lavington, who had been biting his lip as though to suppress some overmastering emotion, looked dazedly from Holmes to Gregson.
"Right willingly," he said at length. "But the Luck of Lavington has been in our family for over four hundred years. If it passes beyond this door, then I feel it should go to Mr. Sherlock Holmes."
Holmes's eyes met those of the baronet.
"I will accept it as a memento of a very gallant man," my friend replied gravely.
As Holmes and I made our way up the steep lane in the wind-swept darkness, we turned at the brow of the hill and looked down on the old manor-house with its lights dimly reflected in the moat.
"I do feel, Holmes," said I, somewhat nettled, "that you owe me an explanation. When I tried to point to you an error in your case, you indicated plainly that you wished me to speak no further."
"What error, Watson?"
"Your explanation of how the cup worked. By the release of a powerful spring from a trigger controlled by the handles, it would have been quite easy to make the blade strike. But to push it back again, unless this were done by hand so that the blade could be caught again in the mechanism—that, my dear fellow, is quite a different thing."
For a moment Holmes did not reply. He stood gaunt and lonely, his gaze fixed on the ancient tower of Lavington.
"Surely it was apparent from the first," said he, "that no living murderer could have stabbed Daley, and that something was wrong with the appearance of the crime as we saw it?"
"You deduced this from the direction of the wound?"
"That, yes. But there were other facts equally indicative."
"Your behaviour suggested as much at the time! Yet I cannot see what facts."
"The scratches on the table, Watson! And the wine spilled on both table and floor."
"Pray be good enough to explain."
"Colonel Daley's finger-nails," replied Holmes, "had clawed at the table-top in his death-throes, and all the wine had been spilled. You remarked that? Good! Taking as a working hypothesis the theory that he was killed by a blade in the cup, what must follow? The blade would strike. Then—?"
"Then the cup would fall, spilling the wine. I grant that."
"But is it reasonable that the cup, in falling, should land upright on the table—as we found it? This was overwhelmingly unlikely. Further evidence made it impossible. I lifted the cup, if you recall, when I first examined it. Underneath it, covered by it, you saw—?"
"Scratches!" I interrupted. "Scratches and spilled wine!"
"Precisely. Daley would die soon, but not instantly. If the cup fell from his hands, are we to assume that it hung suspended in the air, and afterwards descended over the scratches and the wine? No, Watson. There was, as you pointed out, no recoil-mechanism. With Daley dead, some living hand picked up the cup from the floor. Some living hand pushed back the blade into the cup, and set it upright on the table."
A gust of rain blew out of the dreary sky, but my companion remained motionless.
"Holmes," said I, "according to the butler—"
"According to the butler? Yes?"
"Sir Reginald Lavington was drinking with the colonel. At least, Daley is reported to have said so."
"And, as he said so," commented Holmes, "gave so curious a laugh that Gillings could not forget it. Had the laugh an ulterior meaning, Watson? But I had better say no more, lest I make you an accessory after the fact like myself."
"You do me less than justice, Holmes, should I become accessory after the fact in a good cause!"
"In my judgement," said Sherlock Holmes, "one of the best of causes."
"Then you may rely on my silence."
"Be it so, Watson! Now consider the behaviour of Sir Reginald Lavington. For an innocent man, he acted very strangely."
"You mean that Sir Reginald—"
"Pray don't interrupt. Though he had witnesses that he had not been drinking with Daley, he would not produce them. He preferred to be arrested. Why should Daley, a man of such different character from his host, pay frequent visits to this house? What was Daley doing there? Interpret the meaning of Lavington's statement, 'I know his character now!' We saw the answers to these questions played out in deadly pantomime. To me it suggested the blackest of all crimes, blackmail."
"Sir Reginald," I exclaimed, "was guilty after all! He was a dangerous man, as I remarked—"
"A dangerous man, yes," agreed Holmes. "But you have seen his character. He might kill. But he would not kill and conceal."
"Reflect again, Watson. Though we know that he was not drinking with Daley in the banqueting-hall, he might have returned from the river just in time to find Daley dead. That was when he thrust the blade back into the cup, and set it upright again. But guilt? No. His behaviour, his willingness to be arrested, can be understood only if he had been shielding someone else."
I followed my friend's gaze, which had never moved from the direction of Lavington Court.
"Holmes," I cried, "then who set the diabolical mechanism?"
"Think, Watson! Who was the only person who uttered that one word, 'jealousy'? Let us suppose a woman has erred before a marriage, but never after it. Let us suppose, moreover, that she believes her husband, a man of the old school, would not understand. She is at the mercy of that most vicious of all parasites, a society blackmailer. She is present when the blackmailer drinks a toast—by his own choice—from the Luck of Lavington. But, since she is obliged to slip away at the entrance of the butler, the blackmailer laughed and died. Say no more, Watson. Let the past sleep."
"As you wish. I am silent."
"It is a cardinal error, my dear fellow, to theorize without data. And yet, when we first entered Lavington Court yesterday evening, I had a glimpse of the truth."
"But what did you see?"
As we turned away towards our inn and the comforting light of a fire, Sherlock Holmes nodded over his shoulder.
"I saw a pale, beautiful woman descend a staircase, as once I had seen her on the stage. Have you forgotten another ancient manor, and a hostess named Lady Macbeth?"
Since . . . our visit to Devonshire, he had been engaged in two affairs of the utmost importance . . . the famous card scandal of the Nonpareil Club . . . and the unfortunate Madame Montpensier.
FROM "THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES."
Главная Гостевая книга Попытка (сказки)
Артур Конан Дойл и его последователи