Though we were accustomed to receiving strange telegrams at our rooms in Baker Street, there was one which served to introduce an affair unique even in the annals of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.
I had met Holmes for a stroll in the Regent's Park one dark, drizzling, but not too cold afternoon in December, during which we discussed certain personal affairs of mine with which I need not burden the reader. When we returned to the snug sitting-room at four o'clock, Mrs. Hudson brought up the telegram along with a substantial tea-tray. It was addressed to Holmes, and ran thus:
"Can you imagine man worshipping umbrella? Husbands are irrational. Suspect chicanery with diamonds. Will call upon you tea-time.—Mrs. Gloria Cabpleasure."
I rejoiced to see a gleam of interest flash in Sherlock Holmes's deep-set eyes.
"What's this, what's this?" said he, as with unusual appetite he attacked the hot buttered scones and jam.
"Highgate postmark, hardly a fashionable area, and dispatched at three-seventeen. Study it, Watson!"
At this time—to be more precise, it was late December of the year 1896—I was not living in Baker Street, but I had come for a few days to visit old haunts. Under the heading for this year, my note-book records few cases. Of these only one, the affair of Mrs. Ronder, the veiled lodger, have I seen fit so far to set down; and Mrs. Ronder's problem afforded little scope for my friend's great powers.
Thus Holmes entered a brief period of stagnation and desperation. As I saw his gaunt countenance in the shaded light of the table-lamp, I could not but rebuke myself. Of what moment were my trivial affairs against the thirst for abstruse problems raging in that extraordinary intellect?
"It is possible," continued Holmes, snatching back the telegram to read it again, "that there may be in London two women with the singular and even striking name of Gloria Cabpleasure. But I doubt it."
"You are acquainted with the lady, then?"
"No, no, I have never even seen her. Still, I fancy she must be a certain beauty-specialist who—in any event, what do you make of this?"
"Well, it presents that feature of the bizarre which is so dear to you. 'Can you imagine man worshipping umbrella?' But it is a little difficult."
"True, Watson. A woman, however extravagant she may be in large matters, is usually economical in small. Mrs. Cabpleasure has been so thrifty of her 'an's' and 'the's' that I am not at all sure of her meaning."
"Does it mean that a certain man worships a certain umbrella? Or is man in the abstract, Englishmen perhaps, desired to bow down to the umbrella as his tribal deity and shield against the climate? At least, what can we deduce from it?"
"Deduce? From the telegram?"
I was glad to laugh, since for that same brief time I had been feeling rheumatic and less than young.
"Holmes, we cannot possibly deduce. We can only guess."
"Tut, how often must I tell you that I never guess? It is a shocking habit, destructive of the logical faculty."
"And yet, were I to adopt your own somewhat didactic manner, I should say that nothing affords less opportunity to the reasoner than a telegram, because it is so brief and impersonal."
"Then I fear you would be wrong."
"Confound it, Holmes—"
"Yet, consider. When a man writes me a letter of a dozen pages, he may conceal his true nature in a cloud of words. When he is obliged to be terse, however, I know him at once. You may have remarked a similar thing in public speakers."
"But this is a woman."
"Yes, Watson, no doubt the fact makes a difference. But let me have your views. Come! Apply to a study of this telegram your own natural shrewdness."
Thus challenged, and flattering myself that in the past I had not been altogether unhelpful to him, I did as I was requested.
"Well," said I, "Mrs. Cabpleasure is surely very inconsiderate, since she makes an appointment without confirming it, and seems to think your time is her own."
"Capital, Watson. You improve with the years. What else?"
Inspiration rushed upon me.
"Holmes, the word, 'Mrs.,' in so compressed a message, is totally unnecessary! I think I see it all!"
"Better still, my dear fellow," said Sherlock Holmes, throwing down his napkin and clapping his hands together without noise. "I shall be happy to hear your analysis."
"Mrs. Gloria Cabpleasure, Holmes, is a young bride. Being still in the proud flush of her newly wedded name, she is so insistent upon it that she uses it even in this message. What could be more natural? Especially when we think of a happy, perhaps beautiful young woman—"
"Yes, yes. But be good enough, Watson, to omit the descriptive passages and come to the point."
"By Jove, I am sure of it!" said I. "It supports my first modest deduction too. The poor girl is inconsiderate, let us say, merely because she is pampered by an affectionate young husband."
But my friend shook his head.
"I think not, Watson. If she were in the first strong pride of so-called wedded bliss, she would have signed herself 'Mrs. Henry Cabpleasure,' or 'Mrs. George Cabpleasure,' or whatever the name of her husband chanced to be. But in one respect, at least, you are correct. There is something odd—even disturbing—about that word 'Mrs.' She insists upon it too much."
"My dear fellow!"
Abruptly Holmes rose to his feet and wandered towards his arm-chair. Our gas was lit, and there was a cheery fire against the dark, bleak drizzle which we could hear dripping outside the window.
But he did not sit down. Deep in concentration, his brows knitted, he slowly stretched out his hand towards the right side angle of the chimney-piece. A genuine thrill of emotion shot through my being as he picked up his violin, the old and beloved Stradivarius which, in his moodiness and black humor, he told me he had not touched for weeks.
The light ran along satiny wood as he tucked the violin under his chin and whisked up the bow. None the less, my friend hesitated. He lowered both violin and bow with something like a snarl.
"No, I have not yet enough data," said he, "and it is a cardinal error to theorize without data."
"Then at least," said I, "it is a pleasure to think that I have deduced from the telegram as much as you have deduced yourself."
"Oh, the telegram?" said Holmes, as though he had never heard of it.
"Yes. Is there any point which I have overlooked?"
"Well, Watson, I fear you were wrong in almost every particular. The woman who dispatched that telegram has been married for some years, and is no longer in her first youth. She is of either Scottish or American origin, well educated and well-to-do, but unhappily married and of a domineering disposition. On the other hand, it is probable that she is quite handsome. Though these are only trifling and obvious deductions, perhaps they may do."
A few moments ago I had hoped to see Sherlock Holmes in such a mood, vigorous and alert, with the old mocking light in his eyes. Yet the bright-patterned china rattled upon the snowy napery as I smote the table a blow with my fist.
"Holmes, this time you have carried a jest too far!"
"My dear Watson, I do really beg your pardon. I had no idea you would take the matter so seri—"
"For shame! In popular esteem, at least, only the vulgar live at Hampstead and Highgate, which are usually pronounced without the aspirate. You may be making sport of some wretched, ill-educated female who is on the point of starving!"
"Hardly, Watson. Though an ill-educated woman might attempt such words as 'irrational' and 'chicanery,' she would be unlikely to spell them correctly. Similarly, since Mrs. Cabpleasure tells us that she suspects false dealing in a matter of diamonds, we may assume she does not scavenge her bread from dustbins."
"She has been married for some years? And unhappily?"
"We live in an age of propriety, Watson; and I confess I prefer it so."
"What on earth has that to do with the matter?"
"Only a woman who has been married for years, and hence past her first youth, will so candidly write in a telegram—under the eye of a post-office clerk—her belief that all husbands are irrational. You must perceive some sign of unhappiness, together with a domineering nature? Secondary inference: since the charge of chicanery appears to relate to her husband, this marriage must be even more unhappy than are most."
"But her origin?"
"Pray re-peruse the last sentence of the telegram. Only a Scot or an American says, 'Will call upon you,' when he, or in this case she, means the 'shall' of simple futurity, which would be used as a matter of course by any Englishwoman educated or uneducated. Are you answered?"
"I—I—stay a moment! You stated, not as fancy but as fact, that she must be handsome!"
"Ah, I can say only that it is probable. And the hypothesis comes not from the telegram."
"Then from where?"
"Come, did I not tell you I believe her to have been a beauty-specialist? Such ladies are seldom actually hideous-looking, else they are no strong advertisement for their own wares. But this, if I mistake not, is our client now."
While he had been speaking, we heard a loud and decisive ring of the bell from below. There was some delay, during which the caller presumably expected our landlady to escort her formally to our sitting-room. Sherlock Holmes, putting away the violin and its bow, waited expectantly until Mrs. Gloria Cabpleasure entered the room.
She was certainly handsome—tall, stately, of almost queenly bearing, though perhaps too haughty, with an abundance of rather brassy fair hair and cold, blue eyes. Clad in sables over a costly gown of dark-blue velvet, she wore a beige hat ornamented with a large white bird.
Disdaining my offer to remove her outer coat, while Holmes performed introductions with easy courtesy, Mrs. Cabpleasure cast round one glance which seemed to sum up unfavourably our humble room, with its worn bearskin hearth-rug and acid-stained chemical table. Yet she consented to be seated in my arm-chair, clasping her white-gloved hands in her lap.
"One moment, Mr. Holmes!" said she, politely, but in a hard, brisk voice. "Before I commit myself to anything, I must ask you to state the fee for your professional services."
There was a slight pause before my friend answered.
"My fees never vary, save when I remit them altogether."
"Come, Mr. Holmes, I fear you think to take advantage of a poor weak woman! But in this case it will not do."
"No, sir. Before I employ what you will forgive me for terming a professional spy, and risk being overcharged, I must again ask you to state your exact fee."
Sherlock Holmes rose from his chair.
"I am afraid, Mrs. Cabpleasure," said he, smiling, "that such small talents as I possess might be unavailing to assist you in your problem, and I regret exceedingly that you have been troubled by this call. Good-day, madam. Watson, will you kindly escort our guest downstairs?"
"Stop!" cried Mrs. Cabpleasure, biting hard at her handsome lip.
Holmes shrugged his shoulders and sank back again into the easy-chair.
"You drive a hard bargain, Mr. Holmes. But it would be worth ten shillings or even a guinea to know why on earth my husband cherishes, worships, idolizes that pestilent shabby umbrella, and will never allow it away from his presence even at night!"
Whatever Holmes might have felt, it was gone in his sense of starvation for a fresh problem.
"Ah! Then your husband worships the umbrella in a literal sense?"
"Did I not say so?"
"No doubt the umbrella has some great financial or sentimental value?"
"Stuff and nonsense! I was with him when he bought it two and a half years ago. He paid seven-and-six-pence for it at a shop in the Tottenham Court Road."
"Yet perhaps some idiosyncrasy—?"
Mrs. Gloria Cabpleasure looked shrewdly calculating.
"No, Mr. Holmes. My husband is selfish, inhuman, and soulless. It is true, since my maternal great-grandfather was The McRea of McRea, in Aberdeenshire, I take good care to keep the man in his place. But Mr. Cabpleasure, aside from his vicious nature, has never done anything without very good reasons."
Holmes looked grave.
" 'Inhuman?' 'Vicious nature?' These are very serious terms indeed. Does he use you cruelly, then?" Our visitor raised even haughtier eyebrows. "No, but I have no doubt he would wish to do so. James is an abnormally strong brute, though he is only of middle height and has no more of what is called figure than a hop-pole. Pah, the vanity of men! His features are quite nondescript, but he is inordinately proud of a very heavy, very glossy brown moustache, which curves round his mouth like a horseshoe. He has worn it for years; and, indeed, next to that umbrella—"
"Umbrella!" muttered Holmes. "Umbrella! Forgive the interruption, madam, but I should desire more details of your husband's nature."
"It makes him look only like a police-constable."
"I beg your pardon?"
"The moustache, I mean."
"But does your husband drink? Interest himself in other women? Gamble? Keep you short of money? What, none of these things?"
"I presume, sir," retorted Mrs. Cabpleasure loftily, "that you are desirous of hearing merely the relevant facts? It is for you to provide an explanation. I wish to hear this elucidation. I will tell you whether it satisfies me. Would it not demonstrate better breeding on your part were you to permit me to state the facts?"
Holmes's thin lips closed tightly. "Pray do so."
"My husband is the senior partner of the firm of Cabpleasure & Brown, the well-known diamond-brokers of Hatton Garden. Throughout the fifteen years of our wedlock—ugh!—we have seldom been separated for more than a fortnight's time, save on the latest and most sinister occasion."
"The latest occasion?"
"Yes, sir. Only yesterday afternoon James returned home from a protracted six months' business journey to Amsterdam and Paris, as idolatrous of that umbrella as ever. Never has he been more idolatrous, throughout the full year during which he has worshipped it."
Sherlock Holmes, who had been sitting with his fingertips pressed together and his long legs stretched out, gave a slight start.
"The full year, madam?" demanded he. "Yet a moment ago you remarked that Mr. Cabpleasure had bought the umbrella two and a half years ago. Am I to understand that his—his worship dates from just a year ago?"
"You may certainly so understand it, yes."
"That is suggestive! That is most suggestive!" My friend looked thoughtful. "But of what? We—yes, yes, Watson? What is it? You appear to have become impatient."
Though it was not often that I ventured to vouchsafe my own suggestion before Holmes had asked for one, upon this occasion I could not forbear.
"Holmes," cried I, "surely this problem is not too difficult? It is an umbrella: it has a curved handle, which is probably thick. In a hollow handle, or perhaps some other part of the umbrella, it would be easy to hide diamonds or other valuable objects."
Our guest did not even deign to look at me. "Do you imagine that I would have stooped to visit you, Mr. Holmes, if the answer were as simple as all that?"
"You are sure it is not the true explanation?" Holmes asked quickly.
"Quite sure. I am sharp, Mr. Holmes," said the lady, whose handsome profile did in truth appear to have a knife-edge; "I am very sharp. Let me illustrate. For years after my marriage I consented to preside over the Madame Dubarry Salon de Beautй in Bond Street. Why do you think that a McRea of McRea would condescend to use such a cognomen as Cabpleasure, open as it is to comment from a primitive sense of humour?"
"Clients or prospective clients might stare at such a name. But they would remember it."
"Yes, yes, I confess to having seen the name upon the window. But you spoke of the umbrella?"
"One night some eight months ago, while my husband lay in slumber, I went privily into his sleeping-chamber from my own, removed the umbrella from beside his bed, and took it downstairs to an artisan."
"A rough person, employed in the manufacture of umbrellas, whom I had summoned to Happiness Villa, The Arbour, Highgate, for that purpose. This person took the umbrella to pieces and restored it so ingeniously that my husband was never aware it had been examined. Nothing was concealed inside; nothing is concealed inside; nothing could be concealed inside. It is a shabby umbrella, and no more."
"None the less, madam, he may set great store by the umbrella only as some men cherish a good-luck charm."
"On the contrary, Mr. Holmes, he hates it. 'Mrs. Cabpleasure,' he has said to me on more than one occasion, 'that umbrella will be the death of me; yet I must not relinquish it!' "
"H'm! He made no further explanation?"
"None. And even suppose he keeps the umbrella as a good-luck charm, which he does not! When in a moment of abstraction he leaves it behind for only a few seconds, in house or office, why does he utter a cry of dread and hasten back for it? If you are not stupid, Mr. Holmes, you must have some notion. But I see the matter is beyond you."
Holmes was grey with anger and mortification.
"It is a very pretty little problem," said he. "At the same time, I fail to see what action I can take. So far I have heard no facts to indicate that your husband is a criminal or even in the least vicious."
"Then it was not a crime, I dare say, when yesterday he stole a large number of diamonds from a safe belonging jointly to himself and to his business partner, Mr. Mortimer Brown?"
Holmes raised his eyebrows.
"H'm. This becomes more interesting."
"Oh, yes," said our fair visitor, coolly. "Yesterday, before returning home, my husband paid a visit to his office. Subsequently there arrived at our home a telegram sent to him by Mr. Mortimer Brown. It read as follows:
"Did you remove from our safe twenty-six diamonds belonging to the Cowles-Derningham lot?"
"H'm. Your husband showed you the telegram, then?"
"No. I merely exercised a perfect right to open it."
"But you questioned him as to its contents?"
"Naturally not, since I preferred to bide my time. Late last night, though little he suspects I followed him, my husband crept downstairs in his night-g—crept downstairs, and held a whispered conversation in the mist with some unseen person just outside a ground-floor window. I could overhear only two sentences. 'Be outside the gate before eight-thirty on Thursday morning,' said my husband. 'Don't fail me!'"
"And what did you take to be the meaning of it?"
"Outside the gate of our house, of course! My husband always leaves for his office punctually at eight-thirty. And Thursday, Mr. Holmes: that is tomorrow morning! Whatever criminal scheme the wretch has prepared, it will reach fruition tomorrow. But you must be there to intervene."
Holmes's long, thin fingers crept out towards the mantelshelf as though in search of a pipe, but he drew his hand back.
"At eight-thirty tomorrow morning, Mrs. Cabpleasure, there will be scarcely a gleam of daylight."
"Surely that is no concern of yours! You are paid to spy in all weathers. I must insist that you be there promptly and in a sober condition."
"Now by heaven, madam—!"
"And that, I fear, is all the time I can afford to spare you now. Should your fee be more than nominal or what I consider reasonable, it will not be paid. Good day, sir. Good day!"
The door closed behind her.
"Do you know, Watson," remarked Holmes, with a bitter flush in his thin cheeks, "that if I did not crave such a problem as this, actually crave it—"
Though he did not complete the sentence, I echoed the sentiments he must have felt.
"Holmes, that lady is no true Scotswoman! What is more, though it grieves me to say so, I would wager a year's half-pay she is no relation whatever to The McRea of McRea."
"You seem a little warm, Watson, upon the subject of your own forebears' ancestral homeland. Still, I cannot blame you. Such airs as Mrs. Cabpleasure's become a trifle ridiculous when worn at second-hand. But how to fathom the secret of the umbrella?"
Going to the window, I was just in time to see the white bird on the hat of our late visitor disappearing inside a four-wheeler. A chocolate-coloured omnibus of the Baker Street and Waterloo line rattled past through deepening dusk. The outside passengers of the omnibus, all twelve of them, had their umbrellas raised against a rawer, colder fall of rain. Seeing only a forest of umbrellas, I turned from the window in despair.
"Holmes, what will you do?"
"Well, the hour is a little late to pursue an obvious line of enquiry in Hatton Garden. Mr. James Cabpleasure, with his glossy moustache and his much-prized umbrella, must wait until tomorrow."
Accordingly, with no premonition of the thunderbolt in store, I accompanied my friend to Happiness Villa, The Arbour, Highgate, at twenty minutes past eight on the following morning.
It was pitch dark when we took breakfast by gaslight. But the rain had ceased, and the sky cleared into quiet, shivering cold. By the time a hansom set us down before Mr. and Mrs. Cabpleasure's house, there was enough grey light so that we could see the outlines of our surroundings.
The house was a large one. Set some thirty yards back from the road, behind a waist-high stone wall, it was built of stucco in the Gothic style, with sham battlements and also a sham turret. Even the front door was set inside a panelled entry beyond an open Gothic arch. Though the entry lay in darkness, two windows glowed yellow on the floor above.
Sherlock Holmes, in his Inverness cape and ear-flapped travelling-cap, looked eagerly around him.
"Ha!" said he, placing his hand on the waist-high wall along the road. "Semi-circle of carriage-drive, I see, entering the ground through a gate in the wall there," and he nodded towards a point some distance ahead of us on the pavement. "The carriage-drive passes the front door, with one narrow branch towards a tradesmen's entrance, and returns to the road through a second gate in the wall —here beside us. Hullo, look there!"
"Is anything wrong?"
"Look ahead, Watson! There, by the far gate in the wall! That can't be Inspector Lestrade? By Jove, it is Lestrade!"
A wiry little bulldog of a man, in a hard hat and a plaid greatcoat, was already hurrying towards us along the pavement. Behind him I could see the helmets of at least two police-constables, like twins with their blue bulk and heavy moustaches.
"Don't tell me, Lestrade," cried Holmes, "that Mrs. Cabpleasure also paid a visit to Scotland Yard?"
"If she did, Mr. Holmes, she went to the right shop," said Lestrade, with much complacence. "Hallo, Dr. Watson! It must be fifteen years and a bit since I first met you, but Mr. Holmes here is still the theorist and I'm still the practical man."
"Quick, Lestrade!" said Holmes. "The lady must have told you much the same story as she told us. When did she call upon you?"
"Yesterday morning. We're quick movers at Scotland Yard. We spent the rest of the day investigating this Mr. James Cabpleasure."
"Indeed? What did you discover?"
"Well, everybody thinks highly of the gentleman, and seems to like him. Outside office hours he is a hard reader, almost a bookworm, and his wife don't like that. But he's a great mimic, they say, and got quite a sense of humour."
"Yes, I fancied he must have a sense of humor."
"You've met him, Mr. Holmes?"
"No, but I have met his wife."
"Anyway, I met him last night. Paid a visit to take his measure. Oh, only on a pretext! Nothing to put him on his guard, of course."
"No, of course not," said Holmes, with a groan. "Tell me, Lestrade: have you not discovered that this gentleman has a reputation for complete honesty?"
"Yes, that's what makes it so suspicious," said Lestrade, with a cunning look. "By George, Mr. Holmes! I'm bound to admit I don't much like his lady, but she's got a very clear head. By George! I'll clap the darbies on that gentleman before you can say Jack Robinson!"
"My dear Lestrade! You will clap the handcuffs on him for what offence?"
"Why, because—stop!" cried Lestrade. "Hallo! You, there! Stand where you are!"
We had advanced to meet Lestrade until we were all half-way between the two gates in the low boundary wall. Now Lestrade had dashed past us towards the gate near which we had been standing at the beginning. There, as though conjured from the raw morning murk, was a portly and florid-faced gentleman, rather nervous-looking, in a grey top hat and a handsome grey greatcoat.
"I must ask you, sir," cried Lestrade, with more dignity as he noted the newcomer's costly dress, "to state your name, and give some account of yourself."
The portly newcomer, even more nervous, cleared his throat.
"Certainly," said he. "My name is Harold Mortimer Brown, and I am Mr. Cabpleasure's partner in the firm of Cabpleasure & Brown. I dismissed my hansom a short way down the road. I—er—live in South London."
"You live in South London," said Lestrade, "yet you have come all the way to the heights of North London? Why?"
"My dear Mr. Mortimer Brown," interposed Holmes, with a suavity which clearly brought relief to the florid-faced man, "you must forgive a certain impulsiveness on the part of my old friend Inspector Lestrade, who is from Scotland Yard. My name is Sherlock Holmes, and I shall be deeply indebted to you if you will be good enough to answer only one question. Did your partner really steal—"
"Stop!" Lestrade exclaimed again.
This time he whipped round to look at the far gate. A milk-wagon, its large and laden cans of milk clanking to the clop of the horse's hoofs, went jolting through that gate and up the curve of the gravelled drive towards the house in stucco Gothic.
Lestrade quivered like the little bulldog he was.
"That milk-wagon will bear watching," cried he. "Anyway, let's hope it won't obstruct our view of the front door."
Fortunately, it did not obstruct our view. The milkman, whistling merrily, jumped down from the wagon and went into the entry to fill the small milk-jug which we later found was waiting for him outside the front door. But, no sooner had he disappeared under the Gothic arch of the entry, than all thought of the milk-wagon was driven from my mind.
"Mr. Holmes!" whispered Lestrade in a tense voice.
"There he is!"
Clearly we heard the slam of the front door. Distinguished-looking in glossy hat and heavy greatcoat, there emerged into the drive a conspicuously moustached gentleman whom I deduced, correctly enough, to be Mr. James Cabpleasure on the way to his office.
"Mr. Holmes!" repeated Lestrade. "He hasn't got his umbrella!"
It was as though Lestrade's very thought winged through the grey bleakness into Mr. Cabpleasure's brain. Abruptly the diamond-broker halted in the drive. As though galvanized, he looked up at the sky. Uttering a wordless cry which I confess struck a chill into my heart, he rushed back into the house.
Again the front door slammed. A clearly astonished milkman, turning round to glance back, said something inaudible before he climbed to the seat of the wagon.
"I see it all," declared Lestrade, snapping his fingers. "They think they can deceive me, but they can't. Mr. Holmes, I must stop that milkman!"
"In heaven's name, why should you stop the milkman?"
"He and Mr. Cabpleasure were close to each other in that entry. I saw them! Mr. Cabpleasure could have passed the stolen diamonds to his confederate, the milkman."
"But, my dear Lestrade—"
The man from Scotland Yard would not listen. As the milk-wagon rumbled towards the gate by which we stood, he hurried forward and held up his hand in its path so that the driver, with a curse, was obliged to rein in even that slow-moving horse.
"I've seen you before," said Lestrade, in his bullying voice. "Look sharp, now; I'm a police-officer. Is your name not Hannibal Throgmorton, alias Felix Porteus?"
The milkman's long, clean-shaven face gaped in amazement.
"Me name's Alf Peters," he returned warmly, "and here's me roundsman card with me photograph on it and the blinking manager's signature to prove it! Who do you think I am, Governor—Cecil Rhodes?"
"You pull up your socks, my lad, or you'll find yourself in Queer Street. Get down from the wagon! Yes, that's it; get down!" Here Lestrade turned to the two police-constables who accompanied him. "Burton! Murdock! Search that milkman!"
Alf. Peters' howl of protest was strangled as the constables seized him. Though lanky and only of middle height, Peters put up such a sporting fight that it was minutes before the constables could complete their search. They found nothing.
"Then the diamonds must be in one of those five-gallon milk-cans! We've no time for kid-glove methods. Pour out the milk on the ground!"
The language of the infuriated milkman, as this was done, cannot be called anything save improper.
"What, nothing there either?" demanded Lestrade. "Well, he may have swallowed the diamonds. Shall we take him to the nearest police-station?"
"Oh, crickey," screamed Alf Peters, "he ain't fit to be loose. He's off his blooming chump! Why don't he take a blooming axe and smash the blooming wagon?"
It was Holmes's strident, authoritative voice which restored order.
"Lestrade! Have the kindness to let Peters go. In the first place, he is unlikely to have swallowed twenty-six diamonds. In the second place, if Mr. Cabpleasure wished to give the diamonds to a fellow-conspirator, why did he not do so late on Tuesday night, when he held a secret conversation with someone at a ground-floor window? His whole behaviour, as described by his wife, becomes as irrational as his conduct with the umbrella. Unless—"
Sherlock Holmes had been standing in moody doubt, his head forward and his arms folded inside his cape. Now, glancing first towards the tradesmen's entrance and then towards the front of the house, he raised his head. Even his cold, emotionless nature could not repress the exclamation which rose to his lips. For a moment he remained motionless, his tall, lean figure outlined against a lightening sky.
"By Jove, Lestrade!" said he. "Mr. James Cabpleasure is rather a long time in returning with his umbrella."
"What's that, Mr. Holmes?"
"I might venture to utter a trifling prophecy. I might venture to say Mr. Cabpleasure has gone; that he has already vanished from the house."
"But he can't possibly have vanished from the house!" cried Lestrade.
"May I ask why not?"
"Because I stationed police-constables all round the house, in case he tried to give us the slip. Every door and window is watched! Not so much as a rat could have got out of that house without being seen, and can't get out now."
"Nevertheless, Lestrade, I must repeat my little prophecy. If you search the house, I think you will find that Mr. Cabpleasure has disappeared like a soapbubble."
Pausing only to put a police-whistle to his lips, Lestrade plunged towards the house. Alf Peters, the milkman, improved this opportunity to whip up his horse and clatter frantically away as though from the presence of a dangerous lunatic. Even Mr. Mortimer Brown, despite his venerable portliness and florid face, ran down the road with his hat clutched to his head, and without having answered whatever query my friend had wished to ask him.
"Hold your peace, Watson," said Holmes, in his imperious fashion. "No, no, I am not joking in what I say. You will find the matter extremely simple when you perceive the significance of one point."
"And what point is that?"
"The true reason why Mr. Cabpleasure cherishes his umbrella," said Sherlock Holmes.
Slowly the sky strengthened to such wintry brightness that the two gas-lit windows, which I have mentioned as glowing from an upper floor, were paled by the sun.
Ceaselessly the search went on, with far more police-constables than seemed necessary.
At the end of a full hour, during which Holmes had not moved, Lestrade rushed out of the house. His face wore a look of horror which I know was reflected in my own.
"It's true, Mr. Holmes! His hat, his greatcoat and his umbrella are lying just inside the front door. But—"
"I'll take my oath that the villain's not hidden in the house, and yet they all swear he never left it either!"
"Who is in the house now?"
"Only his wife. Last night, after I spoke with him, it seems he gave the servants a night off. Almost drove 'em out of the house, his wife says, without a word of warning. They didn't much like it, some of 'em wondering where they should go, but they had no choice."
"The wife!" said he. "By the way, how is it that through all this tumult we have neither seen nor heard Mrs. Gloria Cabpleasure? Is it possible that last night she was drugged? That she found herself growing irresistibly drowsy, and has only recently awakened?"
Lestrade fell back a step as though from the eye of a sorcerer.
"Mr. Holmes, why do you think it was that?"
"Because it could have been nothing else."
"Well, it's gospel truth. The lady is accustomed to drink a cup of hot meat-juice an hour before going to bed. That meat-juice last night was so doused with powdered opium that there are still traces in the cup." Lestrade's face darkened. "But the less I see of that lady, by George, the better I shall like it."
"At least she has made a good recovery, for I perceive her now at the window."
"Never mind her," said Lestrade. "Just tell me how that thieving diamond-broker vanished slap under our eyes!"
"Holmes," said I, "surely there is only one explanation.
Mr. Cabpleasure departed by some secret way or passage."
"There's no such thing," shouted Lestrade.
"I quite agree," said Holmes. "That is a modern house, Watson, or at least one built within the last twenty-odd years. Present-day builders, unlike their ancestors, seldom include a secret passage. But I cannot see, Lestrade, that there is any more I can do here."
"You can't leave now!"
"No! You may be a theorist and not practical, but I can't deny you've given me a bit of help once or twice in the past. If you can guess how a man vanished by a miracle, it's your duty as a citizen to tell me." Holmes hesitated.
"Very well," said he. "There are reasons why I should prefer to be silent for the time being. But perhaps I may give you a hint. Had you thought of disguise?"
For a time Lestrade gripped his hat with both hands. Abruptly he turned round and looked up at the window where Mrs. Cabpleasure contemplated nothingness with a haughty superiority which it seemed nothing could shake.
"By George," Whispered Lestrade. "When I was here last night, I never saw Mr. and Mrs. Cabpleasure together. That may account for the false moustache I found hidden in the hall. Only one person was in that house this morning, and one person is still there. That means—" Now it was Holmes's turn to be taken aback. "Lestrade, what has got into your head at this late date?"
"They can't deceive me. If Mr. Cabpleasure is the same person as Mrs. Cabpleasure, if he or she simply walked out of the house in man's clothes and then walked back in again—I see it all now!"
"Lestrade! Stop! Wait! "
"We have female searchers in these days," said Lestrade, dashing towards the house. "They'll soon prove whether it's a lady or a gentleman."
"Holmes," cried I, "can this monstrous theory possibly be true?"
"Then you must restrain Lestrade. My dear fellow," I expostulated presently, as Mrs. Cabpleasure disappeared from the window and a piercing female shriek indicated that Lestrade had imparted the intelligence of what he proposed to do, "this is unworthy of you. Whatever we may think of the lady's manners, especially in commanding you to be here in a sober condition, you must spare her the indignity of an enforced visit to the police-station!"
"Yet I am not at all sure," said he, thoughtfully, "that the lady would be greatly harmed by such an enforced visit. Indeed, it may serve to teach her a salutary lesson. Don't argue, Watson! I have an errand for you."
"I must pursue certain lines of enquiry which may take all day. Meanwhile, since my address is readily accessible to anyone, I feel sure that the conscientious Mr. Mortimer Brown will send me a certain telegram. Therefore I would be grateful, Watson, if you would wait at our rooms and open the telegram should it arrive before my return."
Lestrade's mood must have been contagious. Otherwise I know not why I should have rushed back in such a hurry to Baker Street, shouting to the cab-driver that I would give him a guinea if he took me there in an hour.
But the anticipated telegram from Mr. Mortimer Brown found me discussing midday dinner, and added a fresh shock. It read:
"Regret my too-expeditious departure this morning. Must state openly I am, and have always been, only a nominal partner of Cabpleasure and Brown, whose assets belong entirely to Mr. James B. Cabpleasure. My telegraphed enquiry as to the twenty-six diamonds in the Cowles-Derningham purchase was caused by caution in making certain be had brought these diamonds safely home. If he took the diamonds, he had a perfect right to take them.—Harold Mortimer Brown."
Then James Cabpleasure was not a thief! But, if he had not meant to fly the law, I was at a loss to account for his behaviour. It was seven o'clock that night, and I heard Holmes's familiar tread on the stairs, when inspiration came to me.
"Pray enter," cried I, as the knob turned, "for I have found the only possible explanation at last!"
Flinging open the door, Holmes glanced quickly round, and his face fell.
"What, is there no visitor? Yet, perhaps I am premature; yes, premature. My dear Watson, I apologize. What were you saying?"
"If Mr. Cabpleasure had in fact vanished," said I, as he scanned the telegram, "it would have been the miracle Lestrade called it. But miracles do not happen in the nineteenth century. Holmes, our diamond-broker only seemed to vanish. He was there all the time, but we did not observe him."
"Because he had disguised himself as a police-constable."
Holmes, who was in the act of hanging up his cape and cloth cap on the hook behind the door, turned round with his dark brows drawn together. "Continue!" said he.
"In this very room, Holmes, Mrs. Cabpleasure said that her husband's moustache made him resemble a constable. We know him to be a fine mimic, with a reprehensible sense of humour. To procure a fancy-dress policeman's uniform would have been easy. After the misdirection with which he walked from the house and walked back again, he then put on the uniform. In the half-light, with so many constables about, he went unobserved until he could escape.
"Excellent, Watson! It is only when I have been with Lestrade that I learn to value you. Very good indeed."
"I have found the solution?"
"It is not, I fear, quite good enough. Mrs. Cabpleasure also said, if you recall, that her husband was of medium height and had no more figure than a hop-pole, by which she meant he was thin or lanky. That this was a fact I proved today by many photographs of him in the drawing room at Happiness Villa. He could not have simulated the height or the beef of a metropolitan policeman."
"But mine is the last possible explanation!"
"I think not. There is only one person who meets our requirements of height and figure, and that person—"
There was a loud clamour and jangle of the bell from below.
"Hark!" said Holmes. "It is the visitor, the step upon the stair, the touch of drama which I cannot resist! Who will open that door, Watson? Who will open the door?"
The door opened. Clad in evening clothes, with cape and collapsible hat, our visitor stood upon the threshold. I found myself looking incredulously at a long, cleanshaven, familiar face.
"Good evening, Mr. Alf Peters," said Holmes. "Or should I say—Mr. James Cabpleasure?"
Realization smote me like a blow, and I all but staggered.
"I must congratulate you," continued Holmes, with sternness. "Your impersonation of the persecuted milkman was admirably done. I recall a similar case at Riga in 1876, and it is faintly reminiscent of an impersonation by a Mr. James Windibank in '88; but certain features here are unique. The subject of removing a heavy moustache for changing a man's appearance, especially in making him look younger, is one to which I may devote a monograph. Instead of assuming a moustache for disguise, you took yours off."
When he was dressed in evening clothes, our visitor's face showed as mobile and highly intellectual, with dancing brown eyes which crinkled at the corners as though he might smile. But, far from smiling, he was desperately worried.
"Thank you," said he, in a pleasant and well-modulated voice. "You gave me a very bad moment, Mr. Holmes, when I sat on that milk-wagon outside my own house and I observed that suddenly you saw through my whole plan. Why did you refrain from unmasking me then?"
"I wished first to hear what you had to say for yourself, unembarrassed by the presence of Lestrade."
James Cabpleasure bit his lip.
"Afterwards," said Holmes, "it was not difficult to trace you through the Purity Milk Company, or to send you the judiciously worded telegram which has brought you here. A photograph of James Cabpleasure with moustache eliminated, shown to your employer, disclosed the fact that he was the same man as one Alfred Peters, who six months ago applied for a post with the milk company, and obtained two days' leave of absence for Tuesday and Wednesday.
"Yesterday, in this room, your wife informed us that on Tuesday you 'returned' from an unheard-of six months' absence in Amsterdam and Paris. That was suggestive. Taken together with your curious conduct as regards the umbrella—which you did not prize when you purchased it, but only when you had decided on your plan—and your incredible statement that the umbrella would be the death of you, it already suggested a hoax or imposture designed to deceive your wife."
"Sir, let me tell you—!"
"One moment. Shaving off your moustache, for six months you drove that milk-round; and I have no doubt you enjoyed it. On Tuesday you 'returned' as James Cabpleasure. I find that Messrs. Clarkfather, the wigmakers, supplied you with a real-hair duplicate of your lost moustache. In dark winter weather or by gas-light it would deceive your wife, since the lady takes small interest in you and we know you occupy separate rooms.
"Quite deliberately you acted in a violently suspicious manner. On Tuesday night you staged that sinister scene with a non-existent 'fellow-conspirator' outside a window, hoping to drive your wife into those vigorous measures which you believed she was certain to take.
"On Wednesday night the visit of Inspector Lestrade, who is perhaps not the most subtle of men, told you that you would have witnesses for your projected disappearance and that it was safe to go ahead. Dismissing the servants and drugging your wife, you left the house.
"This morning, hatless and without a greatcoat, you had the effrontery—don't smile, sir!—to drive the milk-wagon straight up to your house, where in the pitchdark entry you played the part of two men.
"Descending from the wagon, you disappeared into the entry as the milkman. Inside, already prepared, lay Mr. Cabpleasure's greatcoat, hat, and moustache. It required only eight seconds to put on hat and coat, and hastily to affix a moustache which on that occasion need be seen only briefly from a distance and in halflight.
"Out you walked as the elegant diamond-broker, seemed to remember your missing umbrella, and rushed back in again. It took but a moment to throw the trappings inside the front door, together with an umbrella already left there, and slam the front door from the outside. Again you reappeared as the milkman, completing the illusion that two men had passed each other.
"Though Inspector Lestrade honestly believes he saw two men, we all observed that the entry was far too dark for this to have been possible. But we must not too much blame Lestrade. When he stopped the milk-wagon and swore he had seen you before, it was no mere bullying. He really had seen you once before, though he could not remember where.
"I have said you had no fellow-conspirator; strictly speaking, this is true. Yet surely you must have shared the secret with your nominal partner, Mr. Mortimer Brown, who appeared this morning for the purpose of drawing away attention and preventing close scrutiny of the milkman. Unfortunately, his caution and apprehension rendered him useless. You made a bad mistake when you hid that false moustache in the hall. Still, the police might have found it when they searched you. This so-called miracle was possible because you very deliberately had accustomed your wife and her acquaintances to your worship of that umbrella. In reality, you cherished the umbrella because your plans could not have succeeded without it."
Sherlock Holmes, though he had been speaking curtly and without heat, seemed to rise up like a lean avenger.
"Now, Mr. James Cabpleasure!" said he. "I can perhaps understand why you were unhappy with your wife, and wished to leave her. But why could you not leave her openly, with a legal separation, and not this mummery of a disappearance into nowhere?"
Our guest's fair-complexioned face went red.
"So I should have," he burst out, "if Gloria had not been already married when she married me."
"I beg your pardon?"
Mr. Cabpleasure made a grimace, with a sudden vivid flash of personality, which showed what he might have accomplished as a comic actor.
"Oh, you can prove it easily enough! Since she longs to go back to her real husband—never mind who he is; it's an august name—I'm afraid Gloria wants to be rid of me, preferably by seeing me in gaol. But I can earn money, whereas the august personage is too lazy to try, and Gloria's prudence has become notorious."
"By Jove, Watson!" muttered Holmes. "This is not too surprising. It supplies the last link. Did I not say the lady insisted too much on her married name of Cabpleasure?"
"I am tired of her chilliness; I am tired of her superiority; and now, at forty-odd, I wish only to sit in peace and read. However, sir, let me acknowledge that it was a cad's trick if you insist."
"Come!" said Holmes. "I am not the official police, Mr. Cabpleasure—"
"My name is not even Cabpleasure. That was forced upon me by my uncle, who founded the business. My real name is Phillimore, James Phillimore. Well! I have put all my possessions into Gloria's name, except twenty-six costly and negotiable diamonds. I had hoped to found a new life as James Phillimore, free of a blasted silly name. But I have been defeated by a master strategist, so do what you like."
"No, no," said Holmes blandly. "Already you have made one bad blunder, though I was deplorably late in seeing it. When a milk-wagon is driven to the front door instead of to the tradesmen's entrance, the foundations of our social world are rocked. If I am to help you in forming this new life—"
"If you are to help me?" cried our visitor.
"Then you must not be betrayed by a real name of which someone is sure to be aware. From diplomatic necessity, until the day you die, Watson shall call the problem of your disappearance unsolved. Assume what other name you choose. But Mr. James Phillimore must never more be seen in this world!"
Among these unfinished tales is that of Mr. James Phillimore, who, stepping back into his own house to get his umbrella, was never more seen in this world.
FROM "THOR BRIDGE"
Главная Гостевая книга Попытка (сказки)
Артур Конан Дойл и его последователи