I find recorded in my notebook that it was on the afternoon of Wednesday, the 16th of November, 1887, when the attention of my friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes was first drawn to the singular affair of the man who hated clocks.
I have written elsewhere that I had heard only a vague account of this matter, since it occurred shortly after my marriage. Indeed, I have gone so far as to state that my first post-nuptial call on Holmes was in March of the following year. But the case in question was a matter of such extreme delicacy that I trust my readers will forgive its suppression by one whose pen has ever been guided by discretion rather than by sensationalism.
A few weeks following my marriage, then, my wife was obliged to leave London on a matter which concerned Thaddeus Sholto and vitally affected our future fortunes. Finding our new home insupportable without her presence, for eight days I returned to the old rooms in Baker Street. Sherlock Holmes made me welcome without question or comment. Yet I must confess that the next day, the 16th of November, began inauspiciously.
It was bitter, frosty weather. All morning the yellow-brown fog pressed against the windows. Lamps and gas-jets were burning, as well as a good fire, and their light shone on a breakfast-table uncleared at past midday.
Sherlock Holmes was moody and distraught. Curled up in his arm-chair in the old mouse-coloured dressing-gown and with a cherry-wood pipe in his mouth, he scanned the morning newspapers, now and again uttering some derisive comment.
"You find little of interest?" I asked.
"My dear Watson," said he, "I begin to fear that life has become one flat and monotonous plain ever since the affair of the notorious Blessington."
"And yet," I remonstrated, "surely this has been a year of memorable cases? You are over-stimulated, my dear fellow."
" 'Pon my word, Watson, you are scarcely the man to preach on that subject. Last night, after I had ventured to offer you a bottle of Beaune at dinner, you held forth so interminably on the joys of wedlock that I feared you would never have done."
"My dear fellow! You imply that I was over-stimulated with wine!" My friend regarded me in his singular fashion.
"Not with wine, perhaps," said he. "However!" And he indicated the newspapers. "Have you glanced over the balderdash with which the press have seen fit to regale us!"
"I fear not. This copy of the British Medical Journal—"
"Well, well!" said he. "Here we find column upon column devoted to next year's racing season. For some reason it seems perpetually to astonish the British public that one horse can run faster than another. Again, for the dozenth time, we have the Nihilists hatching some dark plot against the Grand Duke Alexei at Odessa. One entire leading article is devoted to the doubtless trenchant question, 'Should Shop-Assistants Marry?' "
I forbore to interrupt him, lest his bitterness increase.
"Where is crime, Watson? Where is the weird, where that touch of the outrй without which a problem in itself is as sand and dry grass? Have we lost them forever?"
"Hark!" said I. "Surely that was the bell?"
"And someone in a hurry, if we may judge from its clamour."
With one accord we stepped to the window, and looked down into Baker Street. The fog had partly lifted. At the kerb before our door stood a handsome closed carriage. A top-hatted coachman in livery was just closing the carriage-door, whose panel bore the letter "M." From below came the murmur of voices followed by light, quick footsteps on the stairs, and the door of our sitting-room was flung open.
Both of us were surprised, I think, to perceive that our caller was a young lady: a girl, rather, since she could hardly have been as much as eighteen, and seldom in a young face have I seen such beauty and refinement as well as sensitiveness. Her large blue eyes regarded us with agitated appeal. Her abundant auburn hair was confined in a small hat; and over her travelling-dress she wore a dark-red jacket trimmed with strips of astrakhan. In one gloved hand she held a travelling-case with the letters "C.F." over some sort of label. Her other hand was pressed to her heart.
"Oh, please, please forgive this intrusion!" she pleaded, in a breathless but low and melodious voice. "Which of you, I beg, is Mr. Sherlock Holmes?"
My companion inclined his head.
"I am Mr. Holmes. This is my friend and colleague, Dr. Watson."
"Thank heaven I have found you at home! My errand—"
But our visitor could go no further than "My errand." She stammered, a deep blush spread up over her face, and she lowered her eyes. Gently Sherlock Holmes took the travelling-case from her hand, and pushed an armchair towards the fire.
"Pray be seated, madam, and compose yourself," said he, laying aside his cherry-wood pipe.
"I thank you, Mr. Holmes," replied the young lady, shrinking into the chair and giving him a grateful look. "They say, sir, that you can read the human heart."
"H'm! For poetry, I fear, you must address yourself to Watson."
"That you can read the secrets of your clients, and even the—the errands upon which they come, when they have said not a single word!"
"They over-estimate my powers," he answered, smiling. "Beyond the obvious facts that you are a lady's companion, that you seldom travel yet have recently returned from a journey to Switzerland, and that your errand here concerns a man who has engaged your affections, I can deduce nothing."
The young lady gave a violent start, and I myself was taken aback.
"Holmes," cried I, "this is too much. How could you possibly know this?"
"How, indeed?" echoed the young lady.
"I see it, I observe it. The travelling-case, though far from new, is neither worn nor battered by travel. Yet I need not insult your intelligence by calling attention to the paper label of the Hotel Splendide, at Grindelwald in Switzerland, which has been affixed with gum to the side of the case."
"But the other point?" I insisted.
"The lady's attire, though in impeccable taste, is neither new nor costly. Yet she has stayed at the best hotel in Grindelwald, and she arrives in a carriage of the well-to-do. Since her own initials, 'C.F.,' do not match the 'M.' on the carriage-panel, we may assume her to occupy a position of equality in some well-to-do family. Her youth precludes the position of governess, and we are left with a lady's companion. As for the man who has engaged her affections, her blushes and lowered eyelids proclaim as much. Absurd, is it not?"
"But it is true, Mr. Holmes!" cried our visitor, clasping her hands together in even deeper agitation. "My name is Celia Forsythe, and for over a year I have been companion to Lady Mayo, of Groxton Low Hall, in Surrey. Charles—"
"Charles? That is the name of the gentleman in question?"
Miss Forsythe nodded her head without looking up.
"If I hesitate to speak of him," she continued, "it is because I fear you may laugh at me. I fear you may think me mad; or, worse still, that poor Charles himself is mad."
"And why should I think so, Miss Forsythe?"
"Mr. Holmes, he cannot endure the sight of a clock!"
"Of a clock?"
"In the past fortnight, sir, and for no explicable reason, he has destroyed seven clocks. Two of them he smashed in public, and before my own eyes!"
Sherlock Holmes rubbed his long, thin fingers together.
"Come," said he, "this is most satis—most curious. Pray continue your narrative."
"I despair of doing so, Mr. Holmes. Yet I will try. For the past year I have been very happy in the employ of Lady Mayo. I must tell you that both my parents are dead, but I received a good education and such references as I could obtain were fortunately satisfactory. Lady Mayo, I must acknowledge, is of somewhat forbidding appearance. She is of the old school, stately and austere. Yet to me she has been kindness itself. In fact, it was she who suggested that we take the holiday in Switzerland, fearing that the isolation of Groxton Low Hall might depress my spirits. In the train between Paris and Grindelwald we met—met Charles. I should say Mr. Charles Hendon."
Holmes had relapsed into the arm-chair, putting his finger-tips together as was his wont when he was in a judicial mood.
"Then this was the first time you had met the gentleman?" he asked.
"I see. And how did the acquaintanceship come about?"
"A trifling matter, Mr. Holmes. We three were alone in a first-class carriage. Charles's manners are so beautiful, his voice so fine, his smile so captivating—"
"No doubt. But pray be precise as to details."
Miss Forsythe opened wide her large blue eyes.
"I believe it was the window," said she. "Charles (I may tell you that he has remarkable eyes and a heavy brown moustache) bowed and requested Lady Mayo's permission to lower the window. She assented, and in a few moments they were chatting together like old friends."
"H'm! I see."
"Lady Mayo, in turn, presented me to Charles. The journey to Grindelwald passed quickly and happily. And yet, no sooner had we entered the foyer of the Hotel Splendide, than there occurred the first of the horrible shocks which have since made my life wretched.
"Despite its name, the hotel proved to be rather small and charming. Even then, I knew Mr. Hendon for a man of some importance, though he had described himself modestly as a single gentleman travelling with only one manservant. The manager of the hotel, M. Branger, approached and bowed deeply both to Lady Mayo and to Mr. Hendon. With M. Branger he exchanged some words in a low voice and the manager bowed deeply again. Whereupon Charles turned round, smiling, and then quite suddenly his whole demeanour altered.
"I can still see him standing there, in his long coat and top hat, with a heavy malacca walking-stick under his arm. His back was turned towards an ornamental half-circle of ferns and evergreens surrounding a fireplace with a low mantelshelf on which stood a Swiss clock of exquisite design.
"Up to this time I had not even observed the clock. But Charles, uttering a stifled cry, rushed towards the fireplace. Lifting the heavy walking-stick, he brought it crashing down on the hood of the clock, and rained blow after blow until the clock fell in tinkling ruins on the hearth.
"Then he turned round and walked slowly back. Without a word of explanation he took out a pocketbook, gave to M. Branger a bank-note which would ten times over have paid for the clock, and began lightly to speak of other matters.
"You may well imagine, Mr. Holmes, that we stood as though stunned. My impression was that Lady Mayo, for all her dignity, was frightened. Yet I swear Charles had not been frightened; he had been merely furious and determined. At this point I caught sight of Charles's manservant, who was standing in the background amid luggage. He is a small, spare man with mutton-chop whiskers; and upon his face there was an expression only of embarrassment and, though it hurts me to breathe the word, of deep shame.
"No word was spoken at the time, and the incident was forgotten. For two days Charles was his usual serene self. On the third morning, when we met him in the dining-room for breakfast, it happened again.
"The windows of the dining-room had their heavy curtains partly drawn against the dazzle of sun on the first snow. The room was fairly well filled with other guests taking breakfast. Only then did I remark that Charles, who had just returned from a morning walk, still carried the malacca stick in his hand.
" 'Breathe this air, madame!' he was saying gaily to Lady Mayo. 'You will find it as invigorating as any food or drink!'
"At this he paused, and glanced towards one of the windows. Plunging past us, he struck heavily at the curtain and then tore it aside to disclose the ruins of a large clock shaped like a smiling sun-face. I think I should have fainted if Lady Mayo had not grasped my arm."
Miss Forsythe, who had removed her gloves, now pressed her hands against her cheeks.
"But not only does Charles smash clocks," she went on. "He buries them in the snow, and even hides them in the cupboard of his own room."
Sherlock Holmes had been leaning back in his chair with his eyes closed, and his head sunk into a cushion, but he now half opened his lids.
"In the cupboard?" exclaimed he, frowning. "This is even more singular! How did you become aware of the circumstance?"
"To my shame, Mr. Holmes, I was reduced to questioning his servant."
"To your shame?"
"I had no right to do so. In my humble position, Charles would never—that is, I could mean nothing to him! I had no right!"
"You had every right, Miss Forsythe," answered Holmes kindly. "Then you questioned the servant, whom you describe as a small, spare man with muttonchop whiskers. His name?"
"His name is Trepley, I believe. More than once I have heard Charles address him as 'Trep." And I vow, Mr. Holmes, he is the faithfullest creature alive. Even the sight of his dogged English face was a comfort to me. He knew, he felt, he sensed my—my interest, and he told me that his master had buried or concealed five other clocks. Though he refused to say so, I could tell he shared my fears. Yet Charles is not mad! He is not! You yourself must admit that, because of the final incident."
"It took place only four days ago. You must know that Lady Mayo's suite included a small drawing-room containing a piano. I am passionately devoted to music, and it was my habit to play to Lady Mayo and Charles after tea. On this occasion I had scarcely begun to play when a hotel servant entered with a letter for Charles."
"One moment. Did you observe the postmark?"
"Yes; it was foreign." Miss Forsythe spoke in some surprise. "But surely it was of no importance, since you—"
A sudden touch of bewilderment was manifest in our client's expression, and then, as though, to drive away some perplexity, she hurried on with her narrative.
"Charles tore open the letter, read it, and turned deathly pale. With an incoherent exclamation he rushed from the room. When we descended half an hour later, it was only to discover that he and Trepley had departed with all his luggage. He left no message. He sent no word. I have not seen him since."
Celia Forsythe lowered her head, and tears glimmered in her eyes.
"Now, Mr. Holmes, I have been frank with you. I beg that you will be equally frank with me. What did you write in that letter?"
The question was so startling that I, for one, leaned back in my chair. Sherlock Holmes's face was without expression. His long, nervous fingers reached out for the tobacco in the Persian slipper, and began to fill a clay pipe.
"In the letter, you say," he stated rather than asked.
"Yes! You wrote that letter. I saw your signature. That is why I am here!"
"Dear me!" remarked Holmes. He was silent for several minutes, the blue smoke curling about him, and his eyes fixed vacantly upon the clock on the mantelshelf.
"There are times, Miss Forsythe," he said at last, "when one must be guarded in one's replies. I have only one more question to ask you."
"Well, Mr. Holmes?"
"Did Lady Mayo still preserve her friendliness for Mr. Charles Hendon?"
"Oh, yes! She became quite attached to him. More than once I heard her address him as Alec, apparently her nickname for him." Miss Forsythe paused, with an air of doubt, and even suspicion. "But what can you mean by such a question?"
Holmes rose to his feet.
"Only, madam, that I shall be happy to look into this matter for you. You return to Groxton Low Hall this evening?"
"Yes. But surely you have more to say to me than this? You have answered not one of my questions!"
"Well, well! I have my methods, as Watson here can tell you. But if you could find it convenient to come here, say a week from this day, at nine o'clock in the evening? Thank you. Then I shall hope to have some news for you."
Palpably it was a dismissal. Miss Forsythe rose to her feet, and looked at him so forlornly that I felt the need to interpose some word of comfort.
"Be of good cheer, madam!" I cried, gently taking her hand. "You may have every confidence in my friend Mr. Holmes; and, if I may say so, in myself as well."
I was rewarded by a gracious and grateful smile. When the door had closed behind our fair visitor, I turned to my companion with some asperity.
"I do feel, Holmes, that you might have treated the young lady with more sympathy."
"Oh? Sets the wind in that quarter?"
"Holmes, for shame!" said I, flinging myself into my chair. "The affair is trivial, no doubt. But why you should have written a letter to this clock-breaking madman I cannot conjecture."
Holmes leaned across and laid his long, thin forefinger upon my knee.
"Watson, I wrote no such letter."
"What?" I exclaimed.
"Tut, it is not the first time my name has been borrowed by others! There is devilry here, Watson, else I am much mistaken."
"You take it seriously, then?"
"So seriously that I leave for the Continent tonight."
"For the Continent? For Switzerland?"
"No, no; what have we to do with Switzerland? Our trail lies further afield."
"Then where do you go?"
"Surely that is obvious?"
"My dear Holmes!"
"Yet nearly all the data are before you, and, as I informed Miss Forsythe, you know my methods. Use them, Watson! Use them!"
Already the first lamps were glimmering through the fog in Baker Street, when my friend's simple preparations were completed. He stood at the doorway of our sitting-room, tall and gaunt in his ear-flapped travelling-cap and long Inverness cape, his Gladstone bag at his feet, and regarded me with singular fixity.
"One last word, Watson, since you still appear to see no light. I would remind you that Mr. Charles Hendon cannot endure the s—"
"But that is clear enough! He cannot bear the sight of a clock."
Holmes shook his head.
"Not necessarily," said he. "I would further draw your attention to the other five clocks, as described by the servant."
"Mr. Charles Hendon did not smash those clocks!"
"That is why I draw your attention to them. Until nine o'clock this day week, Watson!"
A moment more, and I was alone.
During the dreary week which followed, I occupied myself as best I might. I played billiards with Thurston. I smoked many pipes of Ship's, and I pondered over the notes in the case of Mr. Charles Hendon. One does not associate for some years with Sherlock Holmes without becoming more observant than most. It seemed to me that some dark and sinister peril hung over that poor young lady, Miss Forsythe, nor did I trust either the too-handsome Charles Hendon or the enigmatic Lady Mayo.
On Wednesday, November 23rd, my wife returned with the welcome news that our fortunes were in better order and that I should soon be able to buy a small practice. Her home-coming was a joyous one. That night, as we sat hand in hand before the fire in our lodgings, I told her something of the strange problem before me. I spoke of Miss Forsythe, touching on her parlous plight, and on her youth and beauty and refinement. My wife did not reply, but sat looking thoughtfully at the fire.
It was the distant chime of Big Ben striking the half hour after eight, which roused me.
"By Jove, Mary!" cried I. "I had all but forgotten!"
"Forgotten?" repeated my wife, with a slight start.
"I have promised to be in Baker Street at nine o'clock tonight. Miss Forsythe is to be there."
My wife drew back her hand.
"Then you had best be off at once," said she, with a coldness which astonished me. "You are always so interested in Mr. Sherlock Holmes's cases."
Puzzled and somewhat hurt, I took my hat and my departure. It was a bitter-cold night, with no breath of fog, but with the roads ice-blocked in mud. Within the half hour a hansom set me down in Baker Street. With a thrill of excitement I observed that Sherlock Holmes had returned from his mission. The upper windows were lighted, and several times I saw his gaunt shadow pass and repass on the blinds.
Letting myself in with a latch-key, I went softly up the stairs and opened the door of the sitting-room. Clearly Holmes had only just returned, for his cape, his cloth cap, and his old Gladstone bag were scattered about the room in his customary untidy fashion.
He stood at his desk, his back towards me, and the light of the green-shaded desk-lamp falling over him as he ripped open envelopes in a small pile of correspondence. At the opening of the door he turned round, but his face fell.
"Ah, Watson, it is you. I had hoped to see Miss Forsythe. She is late."
"By heaven, Holmes! If those scoundrels have harmed the young lady, I swear they shall answer to me!'
"I refer to Mr. Charles Hendon, and, though it grieves me to say as much about a woman, to Lady Mayo as well."
The harsh, eager lines of his face softened. "Good old Watson!" said he. "Always hurrying to the rescue of beauty in distress. And a pretty hash you have made of it, upon occasion."
"Then I trust," I replied with dignity, "that your own mission on the Continent was a success?"
"A touch, Watson! Pray forgive my outburst of nerves. No, my mission was not a success. It seemed to me that I had a direct summons to a certain European city whose name you will readily infer. I went there, and returned in what I fancy is record time."
"The—Mr. Hendon, Watson, is a badly frightened man. Yet he is not without wit. No sooner had he left Switzerland, than he must have divined that the false letter was a decoy to trap him. But I lost him. Where is he now? And be good enough to explain why you should call him a scoundrel."
"I spoke, perhaps, in the heat of the moment. Yet I cannot help disliking the fellow."
"In one of doubtless exalted position, a certain elaborateness of manner is permissible. But he bows too much! He makes scenes in public. He affects the Continental habit of addressing an English lady as 'madame,' instead of an honest 'madam.' Holmes, it is all confoundedly un-English!"
My friend regarded me strangely, as though taken aback, and was about to reply when we heard the clatter of a four-wheeler drawing up outside our street-door. Less than a minute later Celia Forsythe was in the room, followed by a small, hard-looking, dogged man in a bowler hat with a curly brim. From his mutton-chop whiskers I deduced him to be Trepley, the man-servant.
Miss Forsythe's face was aglow with the cold. She wore a short fur jacket, and carried a dainty muff.
"Mr. Holmes," she burst out without preamble, "Charles is in England!"
"So I had already supposed. And where is he?"
"At Groxton Low Hall. I should have sent a telegram yesterday, save that Lady Mayo forbade me to do so."
"Fool that I am!" said Holmes, striking his fist upon the desk. "You spoke of its isolation, I think. Watson! Will you oblige me with the large-scale map of Surrey? Thank you." His voice grew more harsh. "What's this, what's this?"
"My dear fellow," I expostulated, "can you read villainy in a map?"
"Open country, Watson! Fields. Woods. The nearest railway station fully three miles from Groxton Low Hall!" Holmes groaned. "Miss Forsythe, Miss Forsythe, you have much to answer for!"
The young lady fell back a step in amazement.
"I have much to answer for?" she cried. "Can you credit me, sir, when I tell you that so much continued mystery has all but driven the wits from my head? Neither Charles nor Lady Mayo will speak a word."
"Precisely!" She nodded her head towards the servant. "Charles has sent Trepley to London with a letter, to be delivered by hand, and I am not even suffered to know its contents."
"Sorry, miss," observed the little man, gruffly but deferentially. "That's orders."
For the first time I noted that Trepley, who was dressed more like a groom than a manservant, jealously pressed an envelope flat between his hands as though he feared someone might snatch it away. His pale eyes, framed in the mutton-chop whiskers, moved slowly round the room. Sherlock Holmes advanced towards him.
"You will be good enough to show me that envelope, my man," he said.
I have often remarked that a stupid person is the most doggedly loyal. Trepley's eyes were almost those of a fanatic.
"Begging your pardon, sir, but I will not. I will do as I have been ordered, come what may!"
"I tell you, man, this is no time to hesitate. I don't wish to read the letter. I wish merely to see the address on the front and the seal on the back. Quickly, now! It may mean your master's life!"
Trepley hesitated and moistened his lips. Gingerly, still gripping one corner of the envelope, he held it out without releasing it. Holmes whistled.
"Come!" said he. "It is addressed to no less a personage than Sir Charles Warren, the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police. And the seal? Ah! Just as I thought. You are engaged to deliver this letter at once?"
"Yes, Mr. Holmes."
"Then off with you! But detain the four-wheeler, for the rest of us will want it presently."
He did not speak until Trepley had clattered down the stairs. But the old feverishness was again upon him.
"And now, Watson, you might just look up the trams in Bradshaw. Are you armed?"
"For once, I fear, it may prove inadequate." And he opened the left-hand drawer of the desk-table. "Oblige me by slipping this into your greatcoat pocket. A .320 Webley, with Eley's No. 2 cartridges—"
As the light gleamed on the barrel of the revolver, Celia Forsythe uttered a cry and put one hand on the mantelpiece to steady herself.
"Mr. Holmes!" she began, and then seemed to change her mind. "There are frequent trains to Groxton station, which, as you say, is three miles from the Hall. Indeed, there is one in twenty minutes."
"But we must not take it"
"Must not take it, madam?"
"I have had no time to tell you, but Lady Mayo herself now appeals to you for help. Only this afternoon I persuaded her. Lady Mayo requests that we three take the 10:25, which is the last train. She will meet us at Groxton station with the carriage." Miss Forsythe bit her lip. "Lady Mayo, despite her kindness, is—imperious. We must not miss that last train!"
And yet we very nearly missed it. Having forgotten streets of frozen mud, and the crush of vehicles under blue, sputtering arc-lamps, we arrived at Waterloo only just in time.
Presently, as the train emerged into open country, our dim-lit compartment took on a greater quality of eeriness with each click of the wheels. Holmes sat silent, bending slightly forward. I could see his hawk-like profile, under the fore and aft cap, clear-cut against the cold radiance of a full moon. It was nearly half-past eleven when we alighted at a wayside station whose village had long been lightless and asleep.
Nothing stirred there. No dog barked. Near the station stood an open landau, without a clink of harness from the horses. Bolt upright sat the coachman, as motionless as the squat elderly lady who sat in the back of the landau, watching us stonily as we approached.
Miss Forsythe eagerly began to speak, but the elderly lady, who was wrapped in grey furs and had a good deal of nose, raised a hand to forestall her.
"Mr. Sherlock Holmes?" she said, in a singularly deep and musical voice, "and this other gentleman, I take it, is Dr. Watson. I am Lady Mayo."
She scrutinized us for a moment with a pair of singularly sharp and penetrating eyes.
"Pray enter the landau," she continued. "You will find quite a number of carriage-rugs. Though I deplore the necessity of offering an open conveyance on so cold a night, my coachman's fondness for fast driving," and she indicated the driver, who hunched up his shoulders, "has contrived to break the axle of the closed carriage. To the Hall, Billings! Make haste!"
The whip cracked. With an uneasy swing of the rear wheels, our landau was off at a smart pace along a narrow road bordered with spiky hedgerows and skeleton trees.
"But I did not mind," said Lady Mayo. "Lackaday, Mr. Holmes! I am a very old woman. My youth was a time of fast driving; ay, and of fast living too."
"Was it also a time of fast dying?" asked my friend. "Such a death, for instance, as may overtake our young friend tonight?"
The hoof-beats rang on the icy road.
"I think, Mr. Sherlock Holmes," said she quietly, "that you and I understand each other."
"I am sure of it, Lady Mayo. But you have not answered my question,"
"Have no fear, Mr. Holmes. He is safe now."
"You are certain?"
"I tell you, he is quite safe! The park at Groxton Low Hall is patrolled, and the house is guarded. They cannot attack him."
Whether my own outburst was caused by the smart clip of the landau, the rushing wind past our ears, or the maddening nature of the problem itself, to this day I cannot say.
"Forgive the bluntness of an old campaigner," cried I, "who has no answer for anything. But at least take pity on the poor young lady beside you! Who is Mr. Charles Hendon? Why does he smash clocks? For what reason should his life be in danger?"
"Tut, Watson," said Holmes, with a touch of tartness. "You yourself staggered me by enumerating the points in which Mr. Charles Hendon, as you put it, is confoundedly un-English."
"Well? And why does that assist us?"
"Because the so-called 'Charles Hendon' is assuredly not English."
"Not English?" said Celia Forsythe, stretching out her hand. "But he speaks English perfectly!" The breath died in her throat. "Too perfectly!" she whispered.
"This young man," I exclaimed, "is not, then, of exalted station?"
"On the contrary, my dear fellow. Your shrewdness never fails. He is of very exalted station indeed. Now name for me the one Imperial Court in Europe—ay, Watson, Imperial Court!—at which the speaking of English has all but superseded its own native language."
"I cannot think. I don't know."
"Then endeavour to remember what you do know. Shortly before Miss Forsythe first called upon us, I read aloud certain items from the daily press which at the time seemed tediously unimportant. One item stated that the Nihilists, that dangerous band of anarchists who would crush Imperial Russia to nothingness, were suspected of plotting against the life of the Grand Duke Alexei at Odessa. The Grand Duke Alexei, you perceive. Now Lady Mayo's nickname for 'Mr. Charles Hendon' was—"
"Alec!" cried I.
"It might have been the merest coincidence," observed Holmes, shrugging his shoulders. "However, when we reflect upon recent history, we recall that in an earlier attempt on the life of the late Tsar of all the Russias— who was blown to pieces in '81, by the explosion of a dynamite bomb—the ticking of the bomb was drowned beneath the playing of a piano. Dynamite bombs, Watson, are of two kinds. One, iron-sheathed and fairly light, may be ignited on a short fuse and thrown. The other, also of iron, is exploded by means of a clockwork mechanism whose loud ticking alone betrays its presence."
Crack went the coachman's whip, and the hedgerows seemed to unreel as in a dream. Holmes and I sat with our backs to the driver, vis-а-vis the moon-whitened faces of Lady Mayo and Celia Forsythe.
"Holmes, all this is becoming as clear as crystal! That is why the young man cannot bear the sight of a clock!"
"No, Watson. No! The sound of a clock!"
"Precisely. When I attempted to tell you as much, your native impatience cut me short at the first letter. On the two occasions when he destroyed a clock in public, bear in mind that in neither case could he actually see the clock. In one instance, as Miss Forsythe informed us, it was hidden inside a screen of greenery; in the other, it was behind a curtain. Hearing only that significant ticking, he struck before he had time to take thought. His purpose, of course, was to smash the clockwork and draw the fangs of what he believed to be a bomb."
"But surely," I protested, "those blows of a stick might well have ignited and exploded a bomb?"
Again Holmes shrugged his shoulders.
"Had it been a real bomb, who can tell? Yet, against an iron casing, I think the matter doubtful. In either event, we deal with a very courageous gentleman, haunted and hounded, who rushed and struck blindly. It is not unnatural that the memory of his father's death and the knowledge that the same organization was on his own trail should tend toward hasty action."
Yet Sherlock Holmes remained uneasy. I noticed that he glanced round more than once at the lonely sweep of the grey rolling country-side.
"Well," said he, "having determined so much in my first interview with Miss Forsythe, it seemed clear that the forged letter was bait to draw the Grand Duke to Odessa, urging on him the pluck to face these implacable men. But, as I have told you, he must have suspected. Therefore he would go—where?" .
"To England," said I. "Nay, more! To Groxton Low Hall, with the added inducement of an attractive young lady whom I urge to leave off weeping and dry her tears."
Holmes looked exasperated.
"At least I could say," replied he, "that the balance of probability lay in that direction. Surely it was obvious from the beginning that one in the position of Lady Mayo would never have entered so casually into railway-carriage conversation with a young man unless they had been, in Miss Forsythe's unwitting but illuminating phrase, 'old friends.' "
"I underestimated your powers, Mr. Sherlock Holmes." Lady Mayo, who had been patting Celia's hand, spoke harshly. "Yes, I knew Alexei when he was a little boy in a sailor-suit at St. Petersburg."
"Where your husband, I discovered, was First Secretary at the British Embassy. In Odessa I learned another fact of great interest."
"Eh? What was that?"
"The name of the Nihilists' chief agent, a daring, mad, and fanatical spirit who has been very close to the Grand Duke for some time."
For a moment Lady Mayo sat looking at him, her countenance far less stony, while the carriage bumped over a rut and veered.
"Attend to me, Mr. Holmes. My own dear Alec has already written to the police, in the person of Sir Charles Warren, the Commissioner."
"Thank you; I have seen the letter. I have also seen the Imperial Russian Arms on the seal."
"Meanwhile," she continued, "I repeat that the park is patrolled, the house guarded—"
"Yet a fox may escape the hounds none the less."
"It is not only a question of guards! At this minute, Mr. Holmes, poor Alec sits in an old, thick-walled room, with its door double-locked on the inside. The windows are so closely barred that none could so much as stretch a hand inside. The chimney-piece is ancient and hooded, yet with so narrow an aperture that no man could climb down; and a fire burns there. How could an enemy attack him?"
"How?" muttered Holmes, biting his lip and tapping his fingers on his knee. "It is true he may be safe for one night, since—"
Lady Mayo made a slight gesture of triumph.
"No precaution has been neglected," said she. "Even the roof is safeguarded. Alec's manservant, Trepley, after delivering the letter in London with commendable quickness, returned by an earlier train than yours, and borrowed a horse at the village. At this moment he is on the roof of the Hall, faithfully guarding his master."
The effect of this speech was extraordinary. Sherlock Holmes leaped to his feet in the carriage, his cape rising in grotesque black silhouette as he clutched at the box-rail for balance.
"On the roof?" he echoed. "On the roof?"
Then he turned round, seizing the shoulders of the coachman.
"Whip up the horses!" he shouted. "For God's sake, whip up the horses! We have not a second to lose!"
Crack! Crack! went the whip over the ears of the leader. The horses, snorting, settled down to a gallop and plunged away. In the confusion, as we were all thrown together, rose Lady Mayo's angry voice.
"Mr. Holmes, have you taken leave of your senses?"
"You shall see whether I have. Miss Forsythe! Did you ever actually hear the Grand Duke address his man as Trepley?"
"I—no!" faltered Celia Forsythe, shocked to alertness. "As I informed you, Char—oh, heaven help me!—the Grand Duke called him 'Trep.' I assumed—"
"Exactly! You assumed. But his true name is Trepoff. From your first description I knew him to be a liar and a traitor."
The hedgerows flashed past; bit and harness jingled; we flew with the wind.
"You may recall," pursued Holmes, "the man's consummate hypocrisy when his master smashed the first clock? It was a heavy look of embarrassment and shame, was it not? He would have you think Mr. Charles Hendon insane. How came you to know of the other five clocks, which were purely imaginary? Because Trepoff told you. To hide a clock or a live bomb in a cupboard would really have been madness, if in fact the Grand Duke Alexei had ever done so."
"But, Holmes," I protested. "Since Trepoff is his personal servant—"
"Faster, coachman! Faster! Yes, Watson!"
"Surely Trepoff must have had a hundred opportunities to kill his master, by knife or poison perhaps, without this spectacular addition of a bomb?"
"This spectacular addition, as you call it, is the revolutionaries' stock-in-trade. They will not act without it. Their victim must be blown up in one fiery crash of ruin, else the world may not notice them or their power."
"But the letter to Sir Charles Warren?" cried Lady Mayo.
"Doubtless it was dropped down the nearest street drain. Ha! I think that must be Groxton Low Hall just ahead."
The ensuing events of that night are somewhat confused in my mind. I recall a long, low-built Jacobean house, of mellow red brick with mullioned windows and a flat roof, which seemed to rush at us up a gravel drive. Carriage-rugs flew wide. Lady Mayo, thoroughly roused, called sharp instructions to a group of nervous servants.
Then Holmes and I were hurrying after Miss Forsythe up a series of staircases, from a broad and carpeted oak stairway in the hall to a set of narrow steps which were little more than a ladder to the roof. At the foot of these, Holmes paused for a moment to lay his fingers on Miss Forsythe's arm.
"You will stay here," he said quietly.
There was a metallic click as he put his hand into his pocket, and for the first time I knew that Holmes was armed too.
"Come, Watson," said he.
I followed him up the narrow steps while he softly lifted the trap-door to the roof.
"Not a sound, on your life!" he whispered. "Fire if you catch sight of him."
"But how are we to find him?"
The cold air again blew in our faces. We crept cautiously forward across the flat roof. All about us were chimneys, tall ghostly stacks and clusters of squat smoke-blackened pots, surrounding a great leaden cupola shining like silver under the moon. At the far end, where the roof-tree of an old gable rose against the sky, a dark shape seemed to crouch above a single moon-washed chimney.
A sulphur-match flared blue, then burned with a cedar yellow glow and, an instant later, came the hissing of an ignited fuse followed by a clattering sound in the chimney. Holmes ran forward, twisting and turning through the maze of stacks and parapets, toward the hunched figure now hastily clawing away.
"Fire, Watson! Fire!"
Our pistols rang out together. I saw Trepoff's pale face jerk round toward us, and then in the same instant the whole chimney-stack rose straight up into the air in a solid pillar of white fire. The roof heaved beneath my feet, and I was dimly conscious of rolling over and over along the leads, while shards and splinters of broken brickwork whizzed overhead or clanged against the metal dome of the cupola.
Holmes rose unsteadily to his feet. "Are you hurt, Watson?" he gasped.
"Only a trifle winded," I replied. "But it was fortunate we were thrown on our faces. Otherwise—" I gestured toward the slashed and scarred stacks that rose about us.
We had advanced only a few yards through a mist of gritty dust when we came upon the man whom we were seeking.
"He must now answer to a greater tribunal," said Holmes, looking down at the dreadful object sprawled on the leads. "Our shots made him hesitate for that fatal second, and he took the full blast of the bomb up the chimney." My friend turned away. "Come," he added, and his voice was bitter with self-reproach. "We have been both too slow to save our client, and too late to avenge him through the machinery of human justice."
Suddenly his expression altered, and he clutched my arm.
"By Jove, Watson! A single chimney-stack saved our lives!" he cried. "What was the word the woman used! Hooded! That was it, hooded! Quickly; there's not a moment to lose!"
We raced through the trap-door, and down the stairway to the main landing. At the far end, through a haze of acrid smoke, we could discern the ruins of a splintered door. An instant later we had rushed into the bedroom of the Grand Duke. Holmes groaned aloud at the scene which met our eyes.
What was once a stately fireplace now yawned in a great jagged hole beneath the remnants of a heavy stone hood. The fire from the grate had been blasted into the room, and the air was foul with the stench of the carpet smouldering under its powder of red-hot ashes. Holmes darted forward through the smoke, and a moment later I saw him stoop behind the wreckage of a piano.
"Quick, Watson!" he cried. "There is life in him yet! This is where I can do nothing, and you can do everything."
But it was touch and go. For the remainder of the night the young Duke hovered between life and death in the old wainscotted bedroom to which we had carried him. Yet, as the sun rose above the trees in the park, I noted with satisfaction that the coma induced by shock was already passing into a natural sleep.
"His wounds are superficial," I said. "But the shock alone could have proved fatal. Now that he is asleep, he will live, and I have no doubt that the presence of Miss Celia Forsythe will speed his recovery."
"Should you record the facts of this little case," remarked Holmes a few minutes later, as we strolled across the dew-laden grass of the deer-park, all glittering and sparkling in the fresh beauty of the dawn, "then you must have the honesty to lay the credit where it is due."
"But does not the credit lie with you?"
"No, Watson. That the outcome was successful is owing entirely to the fact that our ancestors understood the art of building. The strength of a fireplace-hood two hundred years old saved that young man's head from being blown off his shoulders. It is fortunate for the Grand Duke Alexei of Russia, and for the reputation of Mr. Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street, that in the days of the good King James the householder never failed to allow for the violent predilections of his neighbour."
From time to time I heard some vague account of his doings: of his summons to Odessa in the case of the Trepoff murder.
FROM "A SCANDAL IN BOHEMIA."
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