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Silver Blaze "I am afraid, Watson, that I shall have to go," - 5


"They are still there, Mr. Holmes," said he, laying
his hand hard upon my friend's sleeve. "I saw lights
in the cottage as I came down. We shall settle it now
once and for all."

"What is your plan, then?" asked Holmes, as he walked
down the dark tree-lined road.

"I am going to force my way in and see for myself who
is in the house. I wish you both to be there as
witnesses."

"You are quite determined to do this, in spite of your
wife's warning that it is better that you should not
solve the mystery?"

"Yes, I am determined."

"Well, I think that you are in the right. Any truth
is better than indefinite doubt. We had better go up
at once. Of course, legally, we are putting ourselves
hopelessly in the wrong; but I think that it is worth
it."

It was a very dark night, and a thin rain began to
fall as we turned from the high road into a narrow
lane, deeply rutted, with hedges on either side. Mr.
Grant Munro pushed impatiently forward, however, and
we stumbled after him as best we could.

"There are the lights of my house," he murmured,
pointing to a glimmer among the trees. "And here is
the cottage which I am going to enter."

We turned a corner in the lane as he spoke, and there
was the building close beside us. A yellow bar
falling across the black foreground showed that the
door was not quite closed, and one window in the upper
story was brightly illuminated. As we looked, we saw
a dark blur moving across the blind.

"There is that creature!" cried Grant Munro. "You can
see for yourselves that some one is there. Now follow
me, and we shall soon know all."

We approached the door; but suddenly a woman appeared
out of the shadow and stood in the golden track of the
lamp-light. I could not see her face in the darkness,
but her arms were thrown out in an attitude of entreaty.

"For God's sake, don't Jack!" she cried. "I had a
presentiment that you would come this evening. Think
better of it, dear! Trust me again, and you will
never have cause to regret it."

"I have trusted you too long, Effie," he cried,
sternly. "Leave go of me! I must pass you. My
friends and I are going to settle this matter once and
forever!" He pushed her to one side, and we followed
closely after him. As he threw the door open an old
woman ran out in front of him and tried to bar his
passage, but he thrust her back, and an instant
afterwards we were all upon the stairs. Grant Munro
rushed into the lighted room at the top, and we
entered at his heels.

It was a cosey, well-furnished apartment, with two
candles burning upon the table and two upon the
mantelpiece. In the corner, stooping over a desk,
there sat what appeared to be a little girl. Her face
was turned away as we entered, but we could see that
she was dressed in a red frock, and that she had long
white gloves on. As she whisked round to us, I gave a
cry of surprise and horror. The face which she turned
towards us was of the strangest livid tint, and the
features were absolutely devoid of any expression. An
instant later the mystery was explained. Holmes, with
a laugh, passed his hand behind the child's ear, a
mask peeled off from her countenance, and there was a
little coal black negress, with all her white teeth
flashing in amusement at our amazed faces. I burst
out laughing, out of sympathy with her merriment; but
Grant Munro stood staring, with his hand clutching his
throat.

"My God!" he cried. "What can be the meaning of
this?"

"I will tell you the meaning of it," cried the lady,
sweeping into the room with a proud, set face. "You
have forced me, against my own judgment, to tell you,
and now we must both make the best of it. My husband
died at Atlanta. My child survived."

"Your child?"

She drew a large silver locket from her bosom. "You
have never seen this open."

"I understood that it did not open."

She touched a spring, and the front hinged back.
There was a portrait within of a man strikingly
handsome and intelligent-looking, but bearing
unmistakable signs upon his features of his African
descent.

"That is John Hebron, of Atlanta," said the lady, "and
a nobler man never walked the earth. I cut myself off
from my race in order to wed him, but never once while
he lived did I for an instant regret it. It was our
misfortune that our only child took after his people
rather than mine. It is often so in such matches, and
little Lucy is darker far than ever her father was.
But dark or fair, she is my own dear little girlie,
and her mother's pet." The little creature ran across
at the words and nestled up against the lady's dress.
"When I left her in America," she continued, "it was
only because her health was weak, and the change might
have done her harm. She was given to the care of a
faithful Scotch woman who had once been our servant.
Never for an instant did I dream of disowning her as
my child. But when chance threw you in my way, Jack,
and I learned to love you, I feared to tell you about
my child. God forgive me, I feared that I should lose
you, and I had not the courage to tell you. I had to
choose between you, and in my weakness I turned away
from my own little girl. For three years I have kept
her existence a secret from you, but I heard from the
nurse, and I knew that all was well with her. At
last, however, there came an overwhelming desire to
see the child once more. I struggled against it, but
in vain. Though I knew the danger, I determined to
have the child over, if it were but for a few weeks.
I sent a hundred pounds to the nurse, and I gave her
instructions about this cottage, so that she might
come as a neighbor, without my appearing to be in any
way connected with her. I pushed my precautions so
far as to order her to keep the child in the house
during the daytime, and to cover up her little face
and hands so that even those who might see her at the
window should not gossip about there being a black
child in the neighborhood. If I had been less
cautious I might have been more wise, but I was half
crazy with fear that you should learn the truth.

"It was you who told me first that the cottage was
occupied. I should have waited for the morning, but I
could not sleep for excitement, and so at last I
slipped out, knowing how difficult it is to awake you.
But you saw me go, and that was the beginning of my
troubles. Next day you had my secret at your mercy,
but you nobly refrained from pursuing your advantage.
Three days later, however, the nurse and child only
just escaped from the back door as you rushed in at
the front one. And now to-night you at last know all,
and I ask you what is to become of us, my child and
me?" She clasped her hands and waited for an answer.

It was a long ten minutes before Grant Munro broke the
silence, and when his answer came it was one of which
I love to think. He lifted the little child, kissed
her, and then, still carrying her, he held his other
hand out to his wife and turned towards the door.

"We can talk it over more comfortably at home," said
he. "I am not a very good man, Effie, but I think
that I am a better one than you have given me credit
for being."

Holmes and I followed them down the lane, and my
friend plucked at my sleeve as we came out.

"I think," said he, "that we shall be of more use in
London than in Norbury."

Not another word did he say of the case until late
that night, when he was turning away, with his lighted
candle, for his bedroom.

"Watson," said he, "if it should ever strike you that
I am getting a little over-confident in my powers, or
giving less pains to a case than it deserves, kindly
whisper 'Norbury' in my ear, and I shall be infinitely
obliged to you."

Adventure III

The Stock-Broker's Clerk

Shortly after my marriage I had bought a connection in
the Paddington district. Old Mr. Farquhar, from whom
I purchased it, had at one time an excellent general
practice; but his age, and an affliction of the nature
of St. Vitus's dance from which he suffered, had very
much thinned it. The public not unnaturally goes on
the principle that he who would heal others must
himself be whole, and looks askance at the curative
powers of the man whose own case is beyond the reach
of his drugs. Thus as my predecessor weakened his
practice declined, until when I purchased it from him
it had sunk from twelve hundred to little more than
three hundred a year. I had confidence, however, in
my own youth and energy, and was convinced that in a
very few years the concern would be as flourishing as
ever.

For three months after taking over the practice I was
kept very closely at work, and saw little of my friend
Sherlock Holmes, for I was too busy to visit Baker
Street, and he seldom went anywhere himself save upon
professional business. I was surprised, therefore,
when, one morning in June, as I sat reading the
British Medical Journal after breakfast, I heard a
ring at the bell, followed by the high, somewhat
strident tones of my old companion's voice.

"Ah, my dear Watson," said he, striding into the room,
"I am very delighted to see you! I trust that Mrs.
Watson has entirely recovered from all the little
excitements connected with our adventure of the Sign
of Four."

"Thank you, we are both very well," said I, shaking
him warmly by the hand.

"And I hope, also," he continued, sitting down in the
rocking-chair, "that the cares of medical practice
have not entirely obliterated the interest which you
used to take in our little deductive problems."

"On the contrary," I answered, "it was only last night
that I was looking over my old notes, and classifying
some of our past results."

"I trust that you don't consider your collection
closed."

"Not at all. I should wish nothing better than to
have some more of such experiences."

"To-day, for example?"

"Yes, to-day, if you like."

"And as far off as Birmingham?"

"Certainly, if you wish it."

"And the practice?"

"I do my neighbor's when he goes. He is always ready
to work off the debt."

"Ha! Nothing could be better," said Holmes, leaning
back in his chair and looking keenly at me from under
his half closed lids. "I perceive that you have been
unwell lately. Summer colds are always a little
trying."

"I was confined to the house by a severe chill for
three days last week. I thought, however, that I had
cast off every trace of it."

"So you have. You look remarkably robust."

"How, then, did you know of it?"

"My dear fellow, you know my methods."

"You deduced it, then?"

"Certainly."

"And from what?"

"From your slippers."

I glanced down at the new patent leathers which I was
wearing. "How on earth--" I began, but Holmes
answered my question before it was asked.

"Your slippers are new," he said. "You could not have
had them more than a few weeks. The soles which you
are at this moment presenting to me are slightly
scorched. For a moment I thought they might have got
wet and been burned in the drying. But near the instep
there is a small circular wafer of paper with the
shopman's hieroglyphics upon it. Damp would of course
have removed this. You had, then, been sitting with
your feet outstretched to the fire, which a man would
hardly do even in so wet a June as this if he were in
his full health."

Like all Holmes's reasoning the thing seemed
simplicity itself when it was once explained. He read
the thought upon my features, and his smile had a
tinge of bitterness.

"I am afraid that I rather give myself away when I
explain," said he. "Results without causes are much
more impressive. You are ready to come to Birmingham,
then?"

"Certainly. What is the case?"

"You shall hear it all in the train. My client is
outside in a four-wheeler. Can you come at once?"

"In an instant." I scribbled a note to my neighbor,
rushed upstairs to explain the matter to my wife, and
joined Holmes upon the door-step.

"Your neighbor is a doctor," said he, nodding at the
brass plate.

"Yes; he bought a practice as I did."

"An old-established one?"

"Just the same as mine. Both have been ever since the
houses were built."

"Ah! Then you got hold of the best of the two."

"I think I did. But how do you know?"

"By the steps, my boy. Yours are worn three inches
deeper than his. But this gentleman in the cab is my
client, Mr. Hall Pycroft. Allow me to introduce you
to him. Whip your horse up, cabby, for we have only
just time to catch our train."

The man whom I found myself facing was a well built,
fresh-complexioned young fellow, with a frank, honest
face and a slight, crisp, yellow mustache. He wore a
very shiny top hat and a neat suit of sober black,
which made him look what he was--a smart young City
man, of the class who have been labeled cockneys, but
who give us our crack volunteer regiments, and who
turn out more fine athletes and sportsmen than any
body of men in these islands. His round, ruddy face
was naturally full of cheeriness, but the corners of
his mouth seemed to me to be pulled down in a
half-comical distress. It was not, however, until we
were all in a first-class carriage and well started
upon our journey to Birmingham that I was able to
learn what the trouble was which had driven him to
Sherlock Holmes.

"We have a clear run here of seventy minutes," Holmes
remarked. "I want you, Mr. Hall Pycroft, to tell my
friend your very interesting experience exactly as you
have told it to me, or with more detail if possible.
It will be of use to me to hear the succession of
events again. It is a case, Watson, which may prove
to have something in it, or may prove to have nothing,
but which, at least, presents those unusual and outr 4 5 2014-07-19 18:44
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