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    The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist

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    Chapter 4
    Previous Chapter
    From the years 1894 to 1901 inclusive, Mr. Sherlock Holmes was
    a very busy man. It is safe to say that there was no public case
    of any difficulty in which he was not consulted during those
    eight years, and there were hundreds of private cases, some of
    them of the most intricate and extraordinary character, in which
    he played a prominent part. Many startling successes and a few
    unavoidable failures were the outcome of this long period of
    continuous work. As I have preserved very full notes of all
    these cases, and was myself personally engaged in many of them,
    it may be imagined that it is no easy task to know which I
    should select to lay before the public. I shall, however,
    preserve my former rule, and give the preference to those cases
    which derive their interest not so much from the brutality of
    the crime as from the ingenuity and dramatic quality of the
    solution. For this reason I will now lay before the reader the
    facts connected with Miss Violet Smith, the solitary cyclist of
    Charlington, and the curious sequel of our investigation, which
    culminated in unexpected tragedy. It is true that the
    circumstance did not admit of any striking illustration of those
    powers for which my friend was famous, but there were some
    points about the case which made it stand out in those long
    records of crime from which I gather the material for these
    little narratives.

    On referring to my notebook for the year 1895, I find that it
    was upon Saturday, the 23rd of April, that we first heard of
    Miss Violet Smith. Her visit was, I remember, extremely
    unwelcome to Holmes, for he was immersed at the moment in a very
    abstruse and complicated problem concerning the peculiar
    persecution to which John Vincent Harden, the well known tobacco
    millionaire, had been subjected. My friend, who loved above all
    things precision and concentration of thought, resented anything
    which distracted his attention from the matter in hand. And yet,
    without a harshness which was foreign to his nature, it was
    impossible to refuse to listen to the story of the young and
    beautiful woman, tall, graceful, and queenly, who presented
    herself at Baker Street late in the evening, and implored his
    assistance and advice. It was vain to urge that his time was
    already fully occupied, for the young lady had come with the
    determination to tell her story, and it was evident that nothing
    short of force could get her out of the room until she had done
    so. With a resigned air and a somewhat weary smile, Holmes
    begged the beautiful intruder to take a seat, and to inform us
    what it was that was troubling her.

    "At least it cannot be your health," said he, as his keen eyes
    darted over her, "so ardent a bicyclist must be full of energy."

    She glanced down in surprise at her own feet, and I observed the
    slight roughening of the side of the sole caused by the friction
    of the edge of the pedal.

    "Yes, I bicycle a good deal, Mr. Holmes, and that has something
    to do with my visit to you to-day."

    My friend took the lady's ungloved hand, and examined it with as
    close an attention and as little sentiment as a scientist would
    show to a specimen.

    "You will excuse me, I am sure. It is my business," said he, as
    he dropped it. "I nearly fell into the error of supposing that
    you were typewriting. Of course, it is obvious that it is music.
    You observe the spatulate finger-ends, Watson, which is common
    to both professions? There is a spirituality about the face,
    however"--she gently turned it towards the light--"which the
    typewriter does not generate. This lady is a musician."

    "Yes, Mr. Holmes, I teach music."

    "In the country, I presume, from your complexion."

    "Yes, sir, near Farnham, on the borders of Surrey."

    "A beautiful neighbourhood, and full of the most interesting
    associations. You remember, Watson, that it was near there that
    we took Archie Stamford, the forger. Now, Miss Violet, what has
    happened to you, near Farnham, on the borders of Surrey?"

    The young lady, with great clearness and composure, made the
    following curious statement:

    "My father is dead, Mr. Holmes. He was James Smith, who
    conducted the orchestra at the old Imperial Theatre. My mother
    and I were left without a relation in the world except one
    uncle, Ralph Smith, who went to Africa twenty-five years ago,
    and we have never had a word from him since. When father died,
    we were left very poor, but one day we were told that there was
    an advertisement in the TIMES, inquiring for our whereabouts.
    You can imagine how excited we were, for we thought that someone
    had left us a fortune. We went at once to the lawyer whose name
    was given in the paper. There we, met two gentlemen, Mr.
    Carruthers and Mr. Woodley, who were home on a visit from South
    Africa. They said that my uncle was a friend of theirs, that he
    had died some months before in great poverty in Johannesburg,
    and that he had asked them with his last breath to hunt up his
    relations, and see that they were in no want. It seemed strange
    to us that Uncle Ralph, who took no notice of us when he was
    alive, should be so careful to look after us when he was dead,
    but Mr. Carruthers explained that the reason was that my uncle
    had just heard of the death of his brother, and so felt
    responsible for our fate."

    "Excuse me," said Holmes. "When was this interview?"

    "Last December--four months ago."

    "Pray proceed."

    "Mr. Woodley seemed to me to be a most odious person. He was for
    ever making eyes at me--a coarse, puffy-faced, red-moustached
    young man, with his hair plastered down on each side of his
    forehead. I thought that he was perfectly hateful--and I was
    sure that Cyril would not wish me to know such a person."

    "Oh, Cyril is his name!" said Holmes, smiling.

    The young lady blushed and laughed.

    "Yes, Mr. Holmes, Cyril Morton, an electrical engineer, and we
    hope to be married at the end of the summer. Dear me, how DID I
    get talking about him? What I wished to say was that Mr. Woodley
    was perfectly odious, but that Mr. Carruthers, who was a much
    older man, was more agreeable. He was a dark, sallow,
    clean-shaven, silent person, but he had polite manners and a
    pleasant smile. He inquired how we were left, and on finding
    that we were very poor, he suggested that I should come and
    teach music to his only daughter, aged ten. I said that I did
    not like to leave my mother, on which he suggested that I should
    go home to her every week-end, and he offered me a hundred a
    year, which was certainly splendid pay. So it ended by my
    accepting, and I went down to Chiltern Grange, about six miles
    from Farnham. Mr. Carruthers was a widower, but he had engaged
    a lady housekeeper, a very respectable, elderly person, called
    Mrs. Dixon, to look after his establishment. The child was a
    dear, and everything promised well. Mr. Carruthers was very kind
    and very musical, and we had most pleasant evenings together.
    Every week-end I went home to my mother in town.

    "The first flaw in my happiness was the arrival of the
    red-moustached Mr. Woodley. He came for a visit of a week, and
    oh! it seemed three months to me. He was a dreadful person--a
    bully to everyone else, but to me something infinitely worse. He
    made odious love to me, boasted of his wealth, said that if I
    married him I could have the finest diamonds in London, and
    finally, when I would have nothing to do with him, he seized me
    in his arms one day after dinner--he was hideously strong--and
    swore that he would not let me go until I had kissed him. Mr.
    Carruthers came in and tore him from me, on which he turned upon
    his own host, knocking him down and cutting his face open. That
    was the end of his visit, as you can imagine. Mr. Carruthers
    apologized to me next day, and assured me that I should never be
    exposed to such an insult again. I have not seen Mr. Woodley since.

    "And now, Mr. Holmes, I come at last to the special thing which
    has caused me to ask your advice to-day. You must know that
    every Saturday forenoon I ride on my bicycle to Farnham Station,
    in order to get the 12:22 to town. The road from Chiltern Grange
    is a lonely one, and at one spot it is particularly so, for it
    lies for over a mile between Charlington Heath upon one side and
    the woods which lie round Charlington Hall upon the other. You
    could not find a more lonely tract of road anywhere, and it is
    quite rare to meet so much as a cart, or a peasant, until you
    reach the high road near Crooksbury Hill. Two weeks ago I was
    passing this place, when I chanced to look back over my
    shoulder, and about two hundred yards behind me I saw a man,
    also on a bicycle. He seemed to be a middle-aged man, with a
    short, dark beard. I looked back before I reached Farnham, but
    the man was gone, so I thought no more about it. But you can
    imagine how surprised I was, Mr. Holmes, when, on my return on
    the Monday, I saw the same man on the same stretch of road. My
    astonishment was increased when the incident occurred again,
    exactly as before, on the following Saturday and Monday. He
    always kept his distance and did not molest me in any way, but
    still it certainly was very odd. I mentioned it to Mr.
    Carruthers, who seemed interested in what I said, and told me
    that he had ordered a horse and trap, so that in future I should
    not pass over these lonely roads without some companion.

    "The horse and trap were to have come this week, but for some
    reason they were not delivered, and again I had to cycle to the
    station. That was this morning. You can think that I looked out
    when I came to Charlington Heath, and there, sure enough, was
    the man, exactly as he had been the two weeks before. He always
    kept so far from me that I could not clearly see his face, but
    it was certainly someone whom I did not know. He was dressed in
    a dark suit with a cloth cap. The only thing about his face that
    I could clearly see was his dark beard. To-day I was not
    alarmed, but I was filled with curiosity, and I determined to
    find out who he was and what he wanted. I slowed down my
    machine, but he slowed down his. Then I stopped altogether, but
    he stopped also. Then I laid a trap for him. There is a sharp
    turning of the road, and I pedalled very quickly round this, and
    then I stopped and waited. I expected him to shoot round and
    pass me before he could stop. But he never appeared. Then I went
    back and looked round the corner. I could see a mile of road,
    but he was not on it. To make it the more extraordinary, there
    was no side road at this point down which he could have gone."

    Holmes chuckled and rubbed his hands. "This case certainly
    presents some features of its own," said he. "How much time
    elapsed between your turning the corner and your discovery that
    the road was clear?"

    "Two or three minutes."

    "Then he could not have retreated down the road, and you say
    that there are no side roads?"


    "Then he certainly took a footpath on one side or the other."

    "It could not have been on the side of the heath, or I should
    have seen him."

    "So, by the process of exclusion, we arrive at the fact that he
    made his way toward Charlington Hall, which, as I understand, is
    situated in its own grounds on one side of the road. Anything else?"

    "Nothing, Mr. Holmes, save that I was so perplexed that I felt
    I should not be happy until I had seen you and had your advice."

    Holmes sat in silence for some little time.

    "Where is the gentleman to whom you are engaged?" he asked at last.

    "He is in the Midland Electrical Company, at Coventry."

    "He would not pay you a surprise visit?"

    "Oh, Mr. Holmes! As if I should not know him!"

    "Have you had any other admirers?"

    "Several before I knew Cyril."

    "And since?"

    "There was this dreadful man, Woodley, if you can call him an admirer."

    "No one else?"

    Our fair client seemed a little confused.

    "Who was he?" asked Holmes.

    "Oh, it may be a mere fancy of mine; but it had seemed to me
    sometimes that my employer, Mr. Carruthers, takes a great deal
    of interest in me. We are thrown rather together. I play his
    accompaniments in the evening. He has never said anything. He is
    a perfect gentleman. But a girl always knows."

    "Ha!" Holmes looked grave. "What does he do for a living?"

    "He is a rich man."

    "No carriages or horses?"

    "Well, at least he is fairly well-to-do. But he goes into the
    city two or three times a week. He is deeply interested in South
    African gold shares."

    "You will let me know any fresh development, Miss Smith. I am
    very busy just now, but I will find time to make some inquiries
    into your case. In the meantime, take no step without letting me
    know. Good-bye, and I trust that we shall have nothing but good
    news from you."

    "It is part of the settled order of Nature that such a girl
    should have followers," said Holmes, he pulled at his meditative
    pipe, "but for choice not on bicycles in lonely country roads.
    Some secretive lover, beyond all doubt. But there are curious
    and suggestive details about the case, Watson."

    "That he should appear only at that point?"

    "Exactly. Our first effort must be to find who are the tenants
    of Charlington Hall. Then, again, how about the connection
    between Carruthers and Woodley, since they appear to be men of
    such a different type? How came they BOTH to be so keen upon
    looking up Ralph Smith's relations? One more point. What sort of
    a menage is it which pays double the market price for a
    governess but does not keep a horse, although six miles from the
    station? Odd, Watson--very odd!"

    "You will go down?"

    "No, my dear fellow, YOU will go down. This may be some trifling
    intrigue, and I cannot break my other important research for the
    sake of it. On Monday you will arrive early at Farnham; you will
    conceal yourself near Charlington Heath; you will observe these
    facts for yourself, and act as your own judgment advises. Then,
    having inquired as to the occupants of the Hall, you will come
    back to me and report. And now, Watson, not another word of the
    matter until we have a few solid stepping-stones on which we may
    hope to get across to our solution."

    We had ascertained from the lady that she went down upon the
    Monday by the train which leaves Waterloo at 9:50, so I started
    early and caught the 9:13. At Farnham Station I had no
    difficulty in being directed to Charlington Heath. It was
    impossible to mistake the scene of the young lady's adventure, for
    the road runs between the open heath on one side and an old yew
    hedge upon the other, surrounding a park which is studded with
    magnificent trees. There was a main gateway of lichen-studded
    stone, each side pillar surmounted by mouldering heraldic
    emblems, but besides this central carriage drive I observed
    several points where there were gaps in the hedge and paths
    leading through them. The house was invisible from the road, but
    the surroundings all spoke of gloom and decay.

    The heath was covered with golden patches of flowering gorse,
    gleaming magnificently in the light of the bright spring sunshine.
    Behind one of these clumps I took up my position, so as to
    command both the gateway of the Hall and a long stretch of the
    road upon either side. It had been deserted when I left it, but
    now I saw a cyclist riding down it from the opposite direction
    to that in which I had come. He was clad in a dark suit, and I
    saw that he had a black beard. On reaching the end of the
    Charlington grounds, he sprang from his machine and led it
    through a gap in the hedge, disappearing from my view.

    A quarter of an hour passed, and then a second cyclist appeared.
    This time it was the young lady coming from the station. I saw
    her look about her as she came to the Charlington hedge. An
    instant later the man emerged from his hiding-place, sprang upon
    his cycle, and followed her. In all the broad landscape those
    were the only moving figures, the graceful girl sitting very
    straight upon her machine, and the man behind her bending low
    over his handle-bar with a curiously furtive suggestion in every
    movement. She looked back at him and slowed her pace. He slowed
    also. She stopped. He at once stopped, too, keeping two hundred
    yards behind her. Her next movement was as unexpected as it was
    spirited. She suddenly whisked her wheels round and dashed
    straight at him. He was as quick as she, however, and darted off
    in desperate flight. Presently she came back up the road again,
    her head haughtily in the air, not deigning to take any further
    notice of her silent attendant. He had turned also, and still
    kept his distance until the curve of the road hid them from my sight.

    I remained in my hiding-place, and it was well that I did so,
    for presently the man reappeared, cycling slowly back. He turned
    in at the Hall gates, and dismounted from his machine. For some
    minutes I could see him standing among the trees. His hands were
    raised, and he seemed to be settling his necktie. Then he
    mounted his cycle, and rode away from me down the drive towards
    the Hall. I ran across the heath and peered through the trees.
    Far away I could catch glimpses of the old gray building with
    its bristling Tudor chimneys, but the drive ran through a dense
    shrubbery, and I saw no more of my man.

    However, it seemed to me that I had done a fairly good morning's
    work, and I walked back in high spirits to Farnham. The local
    house agent could tell me nothing about Charlington Hall, and
    referred me to a well known firm in Pall Mall. There I halted on
    my way home, and met with courtesy from the representative. No,
    I could not have Charlington Hall for the summer. I was just too
    late. It had been let about a month ago. Mr. Williamson was the
    name of the tenant. He was a respectable, elderly gentleman. The
    polite agent was afraid he could say no more, as the affairs of
    his clients were not matters which he could discuss.

    Mr. Sherlock Holmes listened with attention to the long report
    which I was able to present to him that evening, but it did not
    elicit that word of curt praise which I had hoped for and should
    have valued. On the contrary, his austere face was even more
    severe than usual as he commented upon the things that I had
    done and the things that I had not.

    "Your hiding-place, my dear Watson, was very faulty. You should
    have been behind the hedge, then you would have had a close view
    of this interesting person. As it is, you were some hundreds of
    yards away and can tell me even less than Miss Smith. She thinks
    she does not know the man; I am convinced she does. Why,
    otherwise, should he be so desperately anxious that she should
    not get so near him as to see his features? You describe him as
    bending over the handle-bar. Concealment again, you see. You
    really have done remarkably badly. He returns to the house, and
    you want to find out who he is. You come to a London house agent!"

    "What should I have done?" I cried, with some heat.

    "Gone to the nearest public-house. That is the centre of country
    gossip. They would have told you every name, from the master to
    the scullery-maid. Williamson? It conveys nothing to my mind. If
    he is an elderly man he is not this active cyclist who sprints
    away from that young lady's athletic pursuit. What have we
    gained by your expedition? The knowledge that the girl's story
    is true. I never doubted it. That there is a connection between
    the cyclist and the Hall. I never doubted that either. That the
    Hall is tenanted by Williamson. Who's the better for that? Well,
    well, my dear sir, don't look so depressed. We can do little
    more until next Saturday, and in the meantime I may make one or
    two inquiries myself."

    Next morning, we had a note from Miss Smith, recounting shortly
    and accurately the very incidents which I had seen, but the pith
    of the letter lay in the postscript:

    I am sure that you will respect my confidence, Mr. Holmes, when
    I tell you that my place here has become difficult, owing to the
    fact that my employer has proposed marriage to me. I am
    convinced that his feelings are most deep and most honourable.
    At the same time, my promise is of course given. He took my
    refusal very seriously, but also very gently. You can
    understand, however, that the situation is a little strained.
    "Our young friend seems to be getting into deep waters," said
    Holmes, thoughtfully, as he finished the letter. "The case
    certainly presents more features of interest and more
    possibility of development than I had originally thought. I
    should be none the worse for a quiet, peaceful day in the
    country, and I am inclined to run down this afternoon and test
    one or two theories which I have formed."

    Holmes's quiet day in the country had a singular termination,
    for he arrived at Baker Street late in the evening, with a cut
    lip and a discoloured lump upon his forehead, besides a general
    air of dissipation which would have made his own person the
    fitting object of a Scotland Yard investigation. He was
    immensely tickled by his own adventures and laughed heartily as
    he recounted them.

    "I get so little active exercise that it is always a treat" said
    he. "You are aware that I have some proficiency in the good old
    British sport of boxing. Occasionally, it is of service, to-day,
    for example, I should have come to very ignominious grief
    without it."

    I begged him to tell me what had occurred.

    "I found that country pub which I had already recommended to
    your notice, and there I made my discreet inquiries. I was in
    the bar, and a garrulous landlord was giving me all that I
    wanted. Williamson is a white-bearded man, and he lives alone
    with a small staff of servants at the Hall. There is some rumor
    that he is or has been a clergyman, but one or two incidents of
    his short residence at the Hall struck me as peculiarly
    unecclesiastical. I have already made some inquiries at a
    clerical agency, and they tell me that there WAS a man of that
    name in orders, whose career has been a singularly dark one. The
    landlord further informed me that there are usually week-end
    visitors--'a warm lot, sir'--at the Hall, and especially one
    gentleman with a red moustache, Mr. Woodley by name, who was
    always there. We had got as far as this, when who should walk in
    but the gentleman himself, who had been drinking his beer in the
    tap-room and had heard the whole conversation. Who was I? What
    did I want? What did I mean by asking questions? He had a fine
    flow of language, and his adjectives were very vigorous. He
    ended a string of abuse by a vicious backhander, which I failed
    to entirely avoid. The next few minutes were delicious. It was
    a straight left against a slogging ruffian. I emerged as you see
    me. Mr. Woodley went home in a cart. So ended my country trip,
    and it must be confessed that, however enjoyable, my day on the
    Surrey border has not been much more profitable than your own."

    The Thursday brought us another letter from our client.

    You will not be surprised, Mr. Holmes [said she] to hear that I
    am leaving Mr. Carruthers's employment. Even the high pay cannot
    reconcile me to the discomforts of my situation. On Saturday I
    come up to town, and I do not intend to return. Mr. Carruthers
    has got a trap, and so the dangers of the lonely road, if there
    ever were any dangers, are now over.

    As to the special cause of my leaving, it is not merely the
    strained situation with Mr. Carruthers, but it is the
    reappearance of that odious man, Mr. Woodley. He was always
    hideous, but he looks more awful than ever now, for he appears
    to have had an accident and he is much disfigured. I saw him out
    of the window, but I am glad to say I did not meet him. He had
    a long talk with Mr. Carruthers, who seemed much excited
    afterwards. Woodley must be staying in the neighbourhood, for he
    did not sleep here, and yet I caught a glimpse of him again this
    morning, slinking about in the shrubbery. I would sooner have a
    savage wild animal loose about the place. I loathe and fear him
    more than I can say. How CAN Mr. Carruthers endure such a creature
    for a moment? However, all my troubles will be over on Saturday.

    "So I trust, Watson, so I trust," said Holmes, gravely. "There is
    some deep intrigue going on round that little woman, and it is
    our duty to see that no one molests her upon that last journey.
    I think, Watson, that we must spare time to run down together on
    Saturday morning and make sure that this curious and inclusive
    investigation has no untoward ending."

    I confess that I had not up to now taken a very serious view of
    the case, which had seemed to me rather grotesque and bizarre
    than dangerous. That a man should lie in wait for and follow a
    very handsome woman is no unheard-of thing, and if he has so
    little audacity that he not only dared not address her, but even
    fled from her approach, he was not a very formidable assailant.
    The ruffian Woodley was a very different person, but, except on
    one occasion, he had not molested our client, and now he visited
    the house of Carruthers without intruding upon her presence. The
    man on the bicycle was doubtless a member of those week-end
    parties at the Hall of which the publican had spoken, but who he
    was, or what he wanted, was as obscure as ever. It was the
    severity of Holmes's manner and the fact that he slipped a
    revolver into his pocket before leaving our rooms which
    impressed me with the feeling that tragedy might prove to lurk
    behind this curious train of events.

    A rainy night had been followed by a glorious morning, and the
    heath-covered countryside, with the glowing clumps of flowering
    gorse, seemed all the more beautiful to eyes which were weary of
    the duns and drabs and slate grays of London. Holmes and I
    walked along the broad, sandy road inhaling the fresh morning
    air and rejoicing in the music of the birds and the fresh breath
    of the spring. From a rise of the road on the shoulder of
    Crooksbury Hill, we could see the grim Hall bristling out from
    amidst the ancient oaks, which, old as they were, were still
    younger than the building which they surrounded. Holmes pointed
    down the long tract of road which wound, a reddish yellow band,
    between the brown of the heath and the budding green of the
    woods. Far away, a black dot, we could see a vehicle moving in
    our direction. Holmes gave an exclamation of impatience.

    "I have given a margin of half an hour," said he. "If that is
    her trap, she must be making for the earlier train. I fear,
    Watson, that she will be past Charlington before we can possibly
    meet her."

    From the instant that we passed the rise, we could no longer see
    the vehicle, but we hastened onward at such a pace that my
    sedentary life began to tell upon me, and I was compelled to
    fall behind. Holmes, however, was always in training, for he had
    inexhaustible stores of nervous energy upon which to draw. His
    springy step never slowed until suddenly, when he was a hundred
    yards in front of me, he halted, and I saw him throw up his hand
    with a gesture of grief and despair. At the same instant an
    empty dog-cart, the horse cantering, the reins trailing, appeared
    round the curve of the road and rattled swiftly towards us.

    "Too late, Watson, too late!" cried Holmes, as I ran panting to
    his side. "Fool that I was not to allow for that earlier train!
    It's abduction, Watson--abduction! Murder! Heaven knows what!
    Block the road! Stop the horse! That's right. Now, jump in, and
    let us see if I can repair the consequences of my own blunder."

    We had sprung into the dog-cart, and Holmes, after turning the
    horse, gave it a sharp cut with the whip, and we flew back along
    the road. As we turned the curve, the whole stretch of road
    between the Hall and the heath was opened up. I grasped Holmes's arm.

    "That's the man!" I gasped. A solitary cyclist was coming
    towards us. His head was down and his shoulders rounded, as he
    put every ounce of energy that he possessed on to the pedals. He
    was flying like a racer. Suddenly he raised his bearded face,
    saw us close to him, and pulled up, springing from his machine.
    That coal-black beard was in singular contrast to eyes were as
    bright as if he had a fever. He stared at us and at the
    dog-cart. Then a look of amazement came over his face.

    "Halloa! Stop there!" he shouted, holding his bicycle to block
    our road. "Where did you get that dog-cart? Pull up, man!" he
    yelled, drawing a pistol from his side "Pull up, I say, or, by
    George, I'll put a bullet into your horse."

    Holmes threw the reins into my lap and sprang down from the cart.

    "You're the man we want to see. Where is Miss Violet Smith?" he
    said, in his quick, clear way.

    "That's what I'm asking you. You're in her dog-cart. You ought
    to know where she is."

    "We met the dog-cart on the road. There was no one in it. We
    drove back to help the young lady."

    "Good Lord! Good Lord! What shall I do?" cried the stranger, in
    an ecstasy of despair. "They've got her, that hell-hound Woodley
    and the blackguard parson. Come, man, come, if you really are
    her friend. Stand by me and we'll save her, if I have to leave
    my carcass in Charlington Wood."

    He ran distractedly, his pistol in his hand, towards a gap in
    the hedge. Holmes followed him, and I, leaving the horse grazing
    beside the road, followed Holmes.

    "This is where they came through," said he, pointing to the
    marks of several feet upon the muddy path. "Halloa! Stop a
    minute! Who's this in the bush?"

    It was a young fellow about seventeen, dressed like an ostler,
    with leather cords and gaiters. He lay upon his back, his knees
    drawn up, a terrible cut upon his head. He was insensible, but
    alive. A glance at his wound told me that it had not penetrated
    the bone.

    "That's Peter, the groom," cried the stranger. "He drove her.
    The beasts have pulled him off and clubbed him. Let him lie; we
    can't do him any good, but we may save her from the worst fate
    that can befall a woman."

    We ran frantically down the path, which wound among the trees.
    We had reached the shrubbery which surrounded the house when
    Holmes pulled up.

    "They didn't go to the house. Here are their marks on the left--
    here, beside the laurel bushes. Ah! I said so."

    As he spoke, a woman's shrill scream--a scream which vibrated
    with a frenzy of horror--burst from the thick, green clump of
    bushes in front of us. It ended suddenly on its highest note
    with a choke and a gurgle.

    "This way! This way! They are in the bowling-alley," cried the
    stranger, darting through the bushes. "Ah, the cowardly dogs!
    Follow me, gentlemen! Too late! too late! by the living Jingo!"

    We had broken suddenly into a lovely glade of greensward
    surrounded by ancient trees. On the farther side of it, under
    the shadow of a mighty oak, there stood a singular group of three
    people. One was a woman, our client, drooping and faint, a
    handkerchief round her mouth. Opposite her stood a brutal,
    heavy-faced, red-moustached young man, his gaitered legs
    parted wide, one arm akimbo, the other waving a riding crop, his
    whole attitude suggestive of triumphant bravado. Between them an
    elderly, gray-bearded man, wearing a short surplice over a light
    tweed suit, had evidently just completed the wedding service,
    for he pocketed his prayer-book as we appeared, and slapped the
    sinister bridegroom upon the back in jovial congratulation.

    "They're married!" I gasped.

    "Come on!" cried our guide, "come on!" He rushed across the
    glade, Holmes and I at his heels. As we approached, the lady
    staggered against the trunk of the tree for support. Williamson,
    the ex-clergyman, bowed to us with mock politeness, and the
    bully, Woodley, advanced with a shout of brutal and exultant

    "You can take your beard off, Bob," said he. "I know you, right
    enough. Well, you and your pals have just come in time for me to
    be able to introduce you to Mrs. Woodley."

    Our guide's answer was a singular one. He snatched off the dark
    beard which had disguised him and threw it on the ground,
    disclosing a long, sallow, clean-shaven face below it. Then he
    raised his revolver and covered the young ruffian, who was
    advancing upon him with his dangerous riding-crop swinging in
    his hand.

    "Yes," said our ally, "I am Bob Carruthers, and I'll see this
    woman righted, if I have to swing for it. I told you what I'd do
    if you molested her, and, by the Lord! I'll be as good as my word."

    "You're too late. She's my wife."

    "No, she's your widow."

    His revolver cracked, and I saw the blood spurt from the front
    of Woodley's waistcoat. He spun round with a scream and fell
    upon his back, his hideous red face turning suddenly to a
    dreadful mottled pallor. The old man, still clad in his
    surplice, burst into such a string of foul oaths as I have never
    heard, and pulled out a revolver of his own, but, before he
    could raise it, he was looking down the barrel of Holmes's weapon.

    "Enough of this," said my friend, coldly. "Drop that pistol!
    Watson, pick it up! Hold it to his head. Thank you. You,
    Carruthers, give me that revolver. We'll have no more violence.
    Come, hand it over!"

    "Who are you, then?"

    "My name is Sherlock Holmes."

    "Good Lord!"

    "You have heard of me, I see. I will represent the official
    police until their arrival. Here, you!" he shouted to a
    frightened groom, who had appeared at the edge of the glade.
    "Come here. Take this note as hard as you can ride to Farnham."
    He scribbled a few words upon a leaf from his notebook. "Give it
    to the superintendent at the police-station. Until he comes, I
    must detain you all under my personal custody."

    The strong, masterful personality of Holmes dominated the tragic
    scene, and all were equally puppets in his hands. Williamson and
    Carruthers found themselves carrying the wounded Woodley into
    the house, and I gave my arm to the frightened girl. The injured
    man was laid on his bed, and at Holmes's request I examined him.
    I carried my report to where he sat in the old tapestry-hung
    dining-room with his two prisoners before him.

    "He will live," said I.

    "What!" cried Carruthers, springing out of his chair. "I'll go
    upstairs and finish him first. Do you tell me that that angel,
    is to be tied to Roaring Jack Woodley for life?"

    "You need not concern yourself about that," said Holmes. "There
    are two very good reasons why she should, under no
    circumstances, be his wife. In the first place, we are very safe
    in questioning Mr. Williamson's right to solemnize a marriage."

    "I have been ordained," cried the old rascal.

    "And also unfrocked."

    "Once a clergyman, always a clergyman."

    "I think not. How about the license?"

    "We had a license for the marriage. I have it here in my pocket."

    "Then you got it by trick. But, in any case a forced marriage is
    no marriage, but it is a very serious felony, as you will
    discover before you have finished. You'll have time to think the
    point out during the next ten years or so, unless I am mistaken.
    As to you, Carruthers, you would have done better to keep your
    pistol in your pocket."

    "I begin to think so, Mr. Holmes, but when I thought of all the
    precaution I had taken to shield this girl--for I loved her, Mr.
    Holmes, and it is the only time that ever I knew what love was--
    it fairly drove me mad to think that she was in the power of the
    greatest brute and bully in South Africa--a man whose name is a
    holy terror from Kimberley to Johannesburg. Why, Mr. Holmes,
    you'll hardly believe it, but ever since that girl has been in
    my employment I never once let her go past this house, where I
    knew the rascals were lurking, without following her on my bicycle,
    just to see that she came to no harm. I kept my distance from her,
    and I wore a beard, so that she should not recognize me, for she
    is a good and high-spirited girl, and she wouldn't have stayed
    in my employment long if she had thought that I was following
    her about the country roads."

    "Why didn't you tell her of her danger?"

    "Because then, again, she would have left me, and I couldn't
    bear to face that. Even if she couldn't love me, it was a great
    deal to me just to see her dainty form about the house, and to
    hear the sound of her voice."

    "Well," said I, "you call that love, Mr. Carruthers, but I
    should call it selfishness."

    "Maybe the two things go together. Anyhow, I couldn't let her
    go. Besides, with this crowd about, it was well that she should
    have someone near to look after her. Then, when the cable came,
    I knew they were bound to make a move."

    "What cable?"

    Carruthers took a telegram from his pocket "That's it," said he.

    It was short and concise:

    The old man is dead.

    "Hum!" said Holmes. "I think I see how things worked, and I can
    understand how this message would, as you say, bring them to a
    head. But while you wait, you might tell me what you can.

    The old reprobate with the surplice burst into a volley of bad

    "By heaven!" said he, "if you squeal on us, Bob Carruthers, I'll
    serve you as you served Jack Woodley. You can bleat about the
    girl to your heart's content, for that's your own affair, but if
    you round on your pals to this plain-clothes copper, it will be
    the worst day's work that ever you did."

    "Your reverence need not be excited," said Holmes, lighting a
    cigarette. "The case is clear enough against you, and all I ask
    is a few details for my private curiosity. However, if there's
    any difficulty in your telling me, I'll do the talking, and then
    you will see how far you have a chance of holding back your
    secrets. In the first place, three of you came from South Africa
    on this game--you Williamson, you Carruthers, and Woodley."

    "Lie number one," said the old man; "I never saw either of them
    until two months ago, and I have never been in Africa in my
    life, so you can put that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr.
    Busybody Holmes!"

    "What he says is true," said Carruthers.

    "Well, well, two of you came over. His reverence is our own
    homemade article. You had known Ralph Smith in South Africa. You
    had reason to believe he would not live long. You found out that
    his niece would inherit his fortune. How's that--eh?"

    Carruthers nodded and Williamson swore.

    "She was next of kin, no doubt, and you were aware that the old
    fellow would make no will."

    "Couldn't read or write," said Carruthers.

    "So you came over, the two of you, and hunted up the girl. The
    idea was that one of you was to marry her, and the other have a
    share of the plunder. For some reason, Woodley was chosen as the
    husband. Why was that?"

    "We played cards for her on the voyage. He won."

    "I see. You got the young lady into your service, and there
    Woodley was to do the courting. She recognized the drunken brute
    that he was, and would have nothing to do with him. Meanwhile,
    your arrangement was rather upset by the fact that you had
    yourself fallen in love with the lady. You could no longer bear
    the idea of this ruffian owning her?"

    "No, by George, I couldn't!"

    "There was a quarrel between you. He left you in a rage, and
    began to make his own plans independently of you."

    "It strikes me, Williamson, there isn't very much that we can
    tell this gentleman," cried Carruthers, with a bitter laugh.
    "Yes, we quarreled, and he knocked me down. I am level with him
    on that, anyhow. Then I lost sight of him. That was when he
    picked up with this outcast padre here. I found that they had
    set up housekeeping together at this place on the line that she
    had to pass for the station. I kept my eye on her after that,
    for I knew there was some devilry in the wind. I saw them from
    time to time, for I was anxious to know what they were after.
    Two days ago Woodley came up to my house with this cable, which
    showed that Ralph Smith was dead. He asked me if I would stand
    by the bargain. I said I would not. He asked me if I would marry
    the girl myself and give him a share. I said I would willingly
    do so, but that she would not have me. He said, 'Let us get her
    married first and after a week or two she may see things a bit
    different.' I said I would have nothing to do with violence. So
    he went off cursing, like the foul-mouthed blackguard that he
    was, and swearing that he would have her yet. She was leaving me
    this week-end, and I had got a trap to take her to the station,
    but I was so uneasy in my mind that I followed her on my
    bicycle. She had got a start, however, and before I could catch
    her, the mischief was done. The first thing I knew about it was
    when I saw you two gentlemen driving back in her dog-cart"

    Holmes rose and tossed the end of his cigarette into the grate.
    "I have been very obtuse, Watson," said he. "When in your report
    you said that you had seen the cyclist as you thought arrange
    his necktie in the shrubbery, that alone should have told me
    all. However, we may congratulate ourselves upon a curious and,
    in some respects, a unique case. I perceive three of the county
    constabulary in the drive, and I am glad to see that the little
    ostler is able to keep pace with them, so it is likely that
    neither he nor the interesting bridegroom will be permanently
    damaged by their morning's adventures. I think, Watson, that in
    your medical capacity, you might wait upon Miss Smith and tell
    her that if she is sufficiently recovered, we shall be happy to
    escort her to her mother's home. If she is not quite
    convalescent you will find that a hint that we were about to
    telegraph to a young electrician in the Midlands would probably
    complete the cure. As to you, Mr. Carruthers, I think that you
    have done what you could to make amends for your share in an
    evil plot. There is my card, sir, and if my evidence can be of
    help in your trial, it shall be at your disposal."

    In the whirl of our incessant activity, it has often been
    difficult for me, as the reader has probably observed, to round
    off my narratives, and to give those final details which the
    curious might expect. Each case has been the prelude to another,
    and the crisis once over, the actors have passed for ever out of
    our busy lives. I find, however, a short note at the end of my
    manuscript dealing with this case, in which I have put it upon
    record that Miss Violet Smith did indeed inherit a large
    fortune, and that she is now the wife of Cyril Morton, the
    senior partner of Morton & Kennedy, the famous Westminster
    electricians. Williamson and Woodley were both tried for
    abduction and assault, the former getting seven years the latter
    ten. Of the fate of Carruthers, I have no record, but I am sure
    that his assault was not viewed very gravely by the court, since
    Woodley had the reputation of being a most dangerous ruffian,
    and I think that a few, months were sufficient to satisfy the
    demands of justice.
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    Chapter 4
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