“There was no wind that night, I understand,” said Holmes.
“None, but very heavy rain.”
“In that case the overcoat was not blown against the furzebush, but placed there.”
“Yes, it was laid across the bush.”
“You fill me with interest. I perceive that the ground has been trampled up a good deal. No doubt many feet have been here since Monday night.”
“A piece of matting has been laid here at the side, and we have all stood upon that.”
“In this bag I have one of the boots which Straker wore, one of Fitzroy Simpson’s shoes, and a cast horseshoe of Silver Blaze.”
“My dear Inspector, you surpass yourself!” Holmes took the bag, and, descending into the hollow, he pushed the matting into a more central position. Then stretching himself upon his face and leaning his chin upon his hands, he made a careful study of the trampled mud in front of him. “Hullo!” said he suddenly. “What’s this?” It was a wax vesta, half burned, which was so coated with mud that it looked at first like a little chip of wood.
“I cannot think how I came to overlook it,” said the inspector with an expression of annoyance.
“It was invisible, buried in the mud. I only saw it because I was looking for it.”
“What! you expected to find it?”
“I thought it not unlikely.”
He took the boots from the bag and compared the impressions of each of them with marks upon the ground. Then he clambered up to the rim of the hollow and crawled about among the ferns and bushes.
“I am afraid that there are no more tracks,” said the inspector. “I have examined the ground very carefully for a hundred yards in each direction.”
“Indeed!” said Holmes, rising. “I should not have the impertinence to do it again after what you say. But I should like to take a little walk over the moor before it grows dark that I may know my ground to-morrow, and I think that I shall put this horseshoe into my pocket for luck.”
Colonel Ross, who had shown some signs of impatience at my companion’s quiet and systematic method of work, glanced at his watch. “I wish you would come back with me, Inspector,” said he. “There are several points on which I should like your advice, and especially as to whether we do not owe it to the public to remove our horse’s name from the entries for the cup.”
“Certainly not,” cried Holmes with decision. “I should let the name stand.”
The colonel bowed. “I am very glad to have had your opinion, sir,” said he. “You will find us at poor Straker’s house when you have finished your walk, and we can drive together into Tavistock.”
He turned back with the inspector, while Holmes and I walked slowly across the moor. The sun was beginning to sink behind the stable of Mapleton, and the long sloping plain in front of us was tinged with gold, deepening into rich, ruddy browns where the faded ferns and brambles caught the evening light. But the glories of the landscape were all wasted upon my companion, who was sunk in the deepest thought.
“It’s this way, Watson,” said he at last. “We may leave the question of who killed John Straker for the instant and confine ourselves to finding out what has become of the horse. Now, supposing that he broke away during or after the tragedy, where could he have gone to? The horse is a very gregarious creature. If left to himself his instincts would have been either to return to King’s Pyland or go over to Mapleton. Why should he run wild upon the moor? He would surely have been seen by now. And why should gypsies kidnap him? These people always clear out when they hear of trouble, for they do not wish to be pestered by the police. They could not hope to sell such a horse. They would run a great risk and gain nothing by taking him. Surely that is clear.”
“Where is he, then?”
“I have already said that he must have gone to King’s Pyland or to Mapleton. He is not at King’s Pyland. Therefore he is at Mapleton. Let us take that as a working hypothesis and see what it leads us to. This part of the moor, as the inspector remarked, is very hard and dry. But it falls away towards Mapleton, and you can see from here that there is a long hollow over yonder, which must have been very wet on Monday night. If our supposition is correct, then the horse must have crossed that, and there is the point where we should look for his tracks.”
We had been walking briskly during this conversation, and a few more minutes brought us to the hollow in question. At Holmes’s request I walked down the bank to the right, and he to the left, but I had not taken fifty paces before I heard him give a shout and saw him waving his hand to me. The track of a horse was plainly outlined in the soft earth in front of him, and the shoe which he took from his pocket exactly fitted the impression.
“See the value of imagination,” said Holmes. “It is the one quality which Gregory lacks. We imagined what might have happened, acted upon the supposition, and find ourselves justified. Let us proceed.”
We crossed the marshy bottom and passed over a quarter of a mile of dry, hard turf. Again the ground sloped, and again we came on the tracks. Then we lost them for half a mile, but only to pick them up once more quite close to Mapleton. It was Holmes who saw them first, and he stood pointing with a look of triumph upon his face. A man’s track was visible beside the horse’s.