“There were one or two questions –“
“Oh, I am weary of questions!” cried Miss Cushing impatiently.
“You have two sisters, I believe.”
“How could you know that?”
“I observed the very instant that I entered the room that you have a portrait group of three ladies upon the mantelpiece, one of whom is undoubtedly yourself, while the others are so exceedingly like you that there could be no doubt of the relationship.”
“Yes, you are quite right. Those are my sisters, Sarah and Mary.”
“And here at my elbow is another portrait, taken at Liverpool, of your younger sister, in the company of a man who appears to be a steward by his uniform. I observe that she was unmarried at the time.”
“You are very quick at observing.”
“That is my trade.”
“Well, you are quite right. But she was married to Mr. Browner a few days afterwards. He was on the South American line when that was taken, but he was so fond of her that he couldn’t abide to leave her for so long, and he got into the Liverpool and London boats.”
“Ah, the Conqueror, perhaps?”
“No, the May Day, when last I heard. Jim came down here to see me once. That was before he broke the pledge; but afterwards he would always take drink when he was ashore, and a little drink would send him stark, staring mad. Ah! it was a bad day that ever he took a glass in his hand again. First he dropped me, then he quarrelled with Sarah, and now that Mary has stopped writing we don’t know how things are going with them.”
It was evident that Miss Cushing had come upon a subject on which she felt very deeply. Like most people who lead a lonely life, she was shy at first, but ended by becoming extremely communicative. She told us many details about her brother-in-law the steward, and then wandering off on the subject of her former lodgers, the medical students, she gave us a long account of their delinquencies, with their names and those of their hospitals. Holmes listened attentively to everything, throwing in a question from time to time.
“About your second sister, Sarah,” said he. “I wonder, since you are both maiden ladies, that you do not keep house together.”
“Ah! you don’t know Sarah’s temper or you would wonder no more. I tried it when I came to Croydon, and we kept on until about two months ago, when we had to part. I don’t want to say a word against my own sister, but she was always meddlesome and hard to please, was Sarah.”
“You say that she quarrelled with your Liverpool relations.”
“Yes, and they were the best of friends at one time. Why, she went up there to live in order to be near them. And now she has no word hard enough for Jim Browner. The last six months that she was here she would speak of nothing but his drinking and his ways. He had caught her meddling, I suspect, and given her a bit of his mind, and that was the start of it.”
“Thank you, Miss Cushing,” said Holmes, rising and bowing. “Your sister Sarah lives, I think you said, at New Street Wallington? Good-bye, and I am very sorry that you should have been troubled over a case with which, as you say, you have nothing whatever to do.”
There was a cab passing as we came out, and Holmes hailed it.
“How far to Wallington?” he asked.
“Only about a mile, sir.”
“Very good. Jump in, Watson. We must strike while the iron is hot. Simple as the case is, there have been one or two very instructive details in connection with it. Just pull up at a telegraph office as you pass, cabby.”
Holmes sent off a short wire and for the rest of the drive lay back in the cab, with his hat tilted over his nose to keep the sun from his face. Our driver pulled up at a house which was not unlike the one which we had just quitted. My companion ordered him to wait, and had his hand upon the knocker, when the door opened and a grave young gentleman in black, with a very shiny hat, appeared on the step.
“Is Miss Cushing at home?” asked Holmes.
“Miss Sarah Cushing is extremely ill,” said he. “She has been suffering since yesterday from brain symptoms of great severity. As her medical adviser, I cannot possibly take the responsibility of allowing anyone to see her. I should recommend you to call again in ten days.” He drew on his gloves, closed the door, and marched off down the street.
“Well, if we can’t we can’t,” said Holmes, cheerfully.
“Perhaps she could not or would not have told you much.”
“I did not wish her to tell me anything. I only wanted to look at her. However, I think that I have got all that I want. Drive us to some decent hotel, cabby, where we may have some lunch, and afterwards we shall drop down upon friend Lestrade at the police-station.”
We had a pleasant little meal together, during which Holmes would talk about nothing but violins, narrating with great exultation how he had purchased his own Stradivarius, which was worth at least five hundred guineas, at a Jew broker’s in Tottenham Court Road for fifty-five shillings. This led him to Paganini, and we sat for an hour over a bottle of claret while he told me anecdote after anecdote of that extraordinary man. The afternoon was far advanced and the hot glare had softened into a mellow glow before we found ourselves at the police-station. Lestrade was waiting for us at the door.