“The horse was alone before,” I cried.
“Quite so. It was alone before. Hullo, what is this?”
The double track turned sharp off and took the direction of King’s Pyland. Holmes whistled, and we both followed along after it. His eyes were on the trail, but I happened to look a little to one side and saw to my surprise the same tracks coming back again in the opposite direction.
“One for you, Watson,” said Holmes when I pointed it out. “You have saved us a long walk, which would have brought us back on our own traces. Let us follow the return track.”
We had not to go far. It ended at the paving of asphalt which led up to the gates of the Mapleton stables. As we approached, a groom ran out from them.
“We don’t want any loiterers about here,” said he.
“I only wished to ask a question,” said Holmes, with his finger and thumb in his waistcoat pocket. “Should I be too early to see your master, Mr. Silas Brown, if I were to call at five o’clock to-morrow morning?”
“Bless you, sir, if anyone is about he will be, for he is always the first stirring. But here he is, sir, to answer your questions for himself. No, sir, no, it is as much as my place is worth to let him see me touch your money. Afterwards, if you like.”
As Sherlock Holmes replaced the half-crown which he had drawn from his pocket, a fierce-looking elderly man strode out from the gate with a hunting-crop swinging in his hand.
“What’s this, Dawson!” he cried. “No gossiping! Go about your business! And you, what the devil do you want here?”
“Ten minutes’ talk with you, my good sir,” said Holmes in the sweetest of voices.
“I’ve no time to talk to every gadabout. We want no strangers here. Be off, or you may find a dog at your heels.”
Holmes leaned forward and whispered something in the trainer’s ear. He started violently and flushed to the temples.
“It’s a lie!” he shouted. “An infernal lie!”
“Very good. Shall we argue about it here in public or talk it over in your parlour?”
“Oh, come in if you wish to.”
Holmes smiled. “I shall not keep you more than a few minutes, Watson.” said he. “Now. Mr. Brown. I am quite at your disposal.”
It was twenty minutes, and the reds had all faded into grays before Holmes and the trainer reappeared. Never have I seen such a change as had been brought about in Silas Brown in that short time. His face was ashy pale, beads of perspiration shone upon his brow, and his hands shook until the hunting-crop wagged like a branch in the wind. His bullying, overbearing manner was all gone too, and he cringed along at my companion’s side like a dog with its master.
“Your instructions will be done. It shall all be done,” said he.
“There must be no mistake,” said Holmes, looking round at him. The other winced as he read the menace in his eyes.
“Oh, no, there shall be no mistake. It shall be there. Should I change it first or not?”
Holmes thought a little and then burst out laughing. “No, don’t,” said he, “I shall write to you about it. No tricks, now, or –“
“Oh, you can trust me, you can trust me!”
“Yes, I think I can. Well, you shall hear from me to-morrow.” He turned upon his heel, disregarding the trembling hand which the other held out to him, and we set off for King’s Pyland.
“A more perfect compound of the bully, coward, and sneak than Master Silas Brown I have seldom met with,” remarked Holmes as we trudged along together.
“He has the horse, then?”
“He tried to bluster out of it, but I described to him so exactly what his actions had been upon that morning that he is convinced that I was watching him. Of course you observed the peculiarly square toes in the impressions, and that his own boots exactly corresponded to them. Again, of course no subordinate would have dared to do such a thing. I described to him how, when according to his custom he was the first down, he perceived a strange horse wandering over the moor. How he went out to it, and his astonishment at recognizing, from the white forehead which has given the favourite its name, that chance had put in his power the only horse which could beat the one upon which he had put his money. Then I described how his first impulse had been to lead him back to King’s Pyland, and how the devil had shown him how he could hide the horse until the race was over, and how he had led it back and concealed it at Mapleton. When I told him every detail he gave it up and thought only of saving his own skin.”
“But his stables had been searched?”
“Oh, an old horse-faker like him has many a dodge.”
“But are you not afraid to leave the horse in his power now since he has every interest in injuring it?”
“My dear fellow, he will guard it as the apple of his eye. He knows that his only hope of mercy is to produce it safe.”
“Colonel Ross did not impress me as a man who would be likely to show much mercy in any case.”
“The matter does not rest with Colonel Ross. I follow my own methods and tell as much or as little as I choose. That is the advantage of being unofficial. I don’t know whether you observed it, Watson, but the colonel’s manner has been just a trifle cavalier to me. I am inclined now to have a little amusement at his expense. Say nothing to him about the horse.”
“Certainly not without your permission.”
“And of course this is all quite a minor point compared to the question of who killed John Straker.”
“And you will devote yourself to that?”
“On the contrary, we both go back to London by the night train.”