The Adventure of the Yellow Face

“Nearly two months.”

“Have you ever seen a photograph of her first husband?”

“No, there was a great fire at Atlanta very shortly after his death, and all her papers were destroyed.”

“And yet she had a certificate of death. You say that you saw it.”

“Yes, she got a duplicate after the fire.”

“Did you ever meet anyone who knew her in America?”

“No.”

“Did she ever talk of revisiting the place?”

“No.”

“Or get letters from it?”

“No.”

“Thank you. I should like to think over the matter a little now. If the cottage is now permanently deserted we may have some difficulty. If, on the other hand, as I fancy is more likely the inmates were warned of your coming and left before you entered yesterday, then they may be back now, and we should clear it all up easily. Let me advise you, then, to return to Norbury and to examine the windows of the cottage again. If you have reason to believe that it is inhabited, do not force your way in, but send a wire to my friend and me. We shall be with you within an hour of receiving it, and we shall then very soon get to the bottom of the business.”

“And if it is still empty?”

“In that case I shall come out to-morrow and talk it over with you. Good-bye, and, above all, do not fret until you know that you really have a cause for it.”

“I am afraid that this is a bad business, Watson,” said my companion as he returned after accompanying Mr. Grant Munro to the door. “What do you make of it?”

“It had an ugly sound,” I answered.

“Yes. There’s blackmail in it, or I am much mistaken.”

“And who is the blackmailer?”

“Well, it must be the creature who lives in the only comfortable room in the place and has her photograph above his fireplace. Upon my word, Watson, there is something very attractive about that livid face at the window, and I would not have missed the case for worlds.”

“You have a theory?”

“Yes, a provisional one. But I shall be surprised if it does not turn out to be correct. This woman’s first husband is in that cottage.”

“Why do you think so?”

“How else can we explain her frenzied anxiety that her second one should not enter it? The facts, as I read them, are something like this: This woman was married in America. Her husband developed some hateful qualities, or shall we say he contracted some loathsome disease and became a leper or an imbecile? She flies from him at last, returns to England, changes her name, and starts her life, as she thinks, afresh. She has been married three years and believes that her position is quite secure, having shown her husband the death certificate of some man whose name she has assumed, when suddenly her whereabouts is discovered by her first husband, or, we may suppose, by some unscrupulous woman who has attached herself to the invalid. They write to the wife and threaten to come and expose her. She asks for a hundred pounds and endeavours to buy them off. They come in spite of it, and when the husband mentions casually to the wife that there are newcomers in the cottage, she knows in some way that they are her pursuers. She waits until her husband is asleep and then she rushes down to endeavour to persuade them to leave her in peace. Having no success, she goes again next morning, and her husband meets her, as he has told us, as she comes out. She promises him then not to go there again, but two days afterwards the hope of getting rid of those dreadful neighbours was too strong for her, and she made another attempt, taking down with her the photograph which had probably been demanded from her. In the midst of this interview the maid rushed in to say that the master had come home, on which the wife, knowing that he would come straight down to the cottage, hurried the inmates out at the back door, into the grove of fir-trees, probably, which was mentioned as standing near. In this way he found the place deserted. I shall be very much surprised, however, if it is still so when he reconnoitres it this evening. What do you think of my theory?”

 

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