” ‘Come, now, Mr. Holmes,’ said he, laughing goodhumouredly. ‘I’m an excellent subject, if you can deduce anything from me.’
” ‘I fear there is not very much,’ I answered. ‘I might suggest that you have gone about in fear of some personal attack within the last twelvemonth.’
“The laugh faded from his lips, and he stared at me in great surprlse.
” ‘Well, that’s true enough,’ said he. ‘You know, Victor,’ turning to his son, ‘when we broke up that poaching gang they swore to knife us, and Sir Edward Holly has actually been attacked. I’ve always been on my guard since then, though I have no idea how you know it.’
” ‘You have a very handsome stick,’ I answered. ‘By the inscription I observed that you had not had it more than a year. But you have taken some pains to bore the head of it and pour melted lead into the hole so as to make it a formidable weapon. I argued that you would not take such precautions unless you had some danger to fear.’
” ‘Anything else?’ he asked, smiling.
” ‘You have boxed a good deal in your youth.’
” ‘Right again. How did you know it? Is my nose knocked a little out of the straight?’
” ‘No,’ said I. ‘It is your ears. They have the peculiar flattening and thickening which marks the boxing man.’
” ‘Anything else?’
” ‘You have done a good deal of digging by your callosities.’
” ‘Made all my money at the gold fields.’
” ‘You have been in New Zealand.’
” ‘Right again.’
” ‘You have visited Japan.’
” ‘Quite true.’
” ‘And you have been most intimately associated with someone whose initials were J. A., and whom you afterwards were eager to entirely forget.’
“Mr. Trevor stood slowly up, fixed his large blue eyes upon me with a strange wild stare, and then pitched forward, with his face among the nutshells which strewed the cloth, in a dead faint.
“You can imagine, Watson, how shocked both his son and I were. His attack did not last long, however,- for when we undid his collar and sprinkled the water from one of the finger-glasses over his face, he gave a gasp or two and sat up.
” ‘Ah, boys,’ said he, forcing a smile, ‘I hope I haven’t frightened you. Strong as I look, there is a weak place in my heart, and it does not take much to knock me over. I don’t know how you manage this, Mr. Holmes, but it seems to me that all the detectives of fact and of fancy would be children in your hands. That’s your line of life, sir, and you may take the word of a man who has seen something of the world.’
“And that recommendation, with the exaggerated estimate of my ability with which he prefaced it, was, if you will believe me, Watson, the very first thing which ever made me feel that a profession might be made out of what had up to that time been the merest hobby. At the moment, however, I was too much concerned at the sudden illness of my host to think of anything else.
” ‘I hope that I have said nothing to pain you?’ said I.
” ‘Well, you certainly touched upon rather a tender point. Might I ask how you know, and how much you know?’ He spoke now in a half-jesting fashion, but a look of terror still lurked at the back of his eyes.
” ‘It is simplicity itself,’ said I. ‘When you bared your arm to draw that fish into the boat I saw that J. A. had been tattooed in the bend of the elbow. The letters were still legible, but it was perfectly clear from their blurred appearance, and from the staining of the skin round them, that efforts had been made to obliterate them. It was obvious, then, that those initials had once been very familiar to you, and that you had afterwards wished to forget them.’
” ‘What an eye you have!’ he cried with a sigh of relief. ‘It is just as you say. But we won’t talk of it. Of all ghosts the ghosts of our old loves are the worst. Come into the billiard-room and have a quiet cigar.’