The Adventure of the Crooked Man

“I did, sir, and at the sight of me he looked as I have never seen a man look before, and over he went with his head on the fender. But he was dead before he fell. I read death on his face as plain as I can read that text over the fire. The bare sight of me was like a bullet through his guilty heart.”

“And then?”

“Then Nancy fainted, and I caught up the key of the door from her hand, intending to unlock it and get help. But as I was doing it it seemed to me better to leave it alone and get away, for the thing might look black against me, and anyway my secret would be out if I were taken. In my haste I thrust the key into my pocket, and dropped my stick while I was chasing Teddy, who had run up the curtain. When I got him into his box, from which he had slipped, I was off as fast as I could run.”

“Who’s Teddy?” asked Holmes.

The man leaned over and pulled up the front of a kind of hutch in the corner. In an instant out there slipped a beautiful reddishbrown creature, thin and lithe, with the legs of a stoat, a long, thin nose, and a pair of the finest red eyes that ever I saw in an animal’s head.

“It’s a mongoose,” I cried.

“Well, some call them that, and some call them ichneumon,” said the man. “Snake-catcher is what I call them, and Teddy is amazing quick on cobras. I have one here without the fangs, and Teddy catches it every night to please the folk in the canteen.

“Any other point, sir?”

“Well, we may have to apply to you again if Mrs. Barclay should prove to be in serious trouble.”

“In that case, of course, I’d come forward.”

“But if not, there is no object in raking up this scandal against a dead man, foully as he has acted. You have at least the satisfaction of knowing that for thirty years of his life his conscience bitterly reproached him for his wicked deed. Ah, there goes Major Murphy on the other side of the street. Good-bye, Wood. I want to learn if anything has happened since yesterday.”

We were in time to overtake the major before he reached the corner.

“Ah, Holmes,” he said, “I suppose you have heard that all this fuss has come to nothing?”

“What then?”

“The }nquest is just over. The medical evidence showed conclusively that death was due to apoplexy. You see it was quite a simple case. after all.”

“Oh, remarkably superficial,” said Holmes, smiling. “Come, Watson, I don’t think we shall be wanted in Aldershot any more.”

“There’s one thing,” said I as we walked down to the station. “If the husband’s name was James, and the other was Henry, what was this talk about David?”

“That one word, my dear Watson, should have told me the whole story had I been the ideal reasoner which you are so fond of depicting. It was evidently a term of reproach.”

“Of reproach?”

“Yes; David strayed a little occasionally, you know, and on one occasion in the same direction as Sergeant James Barclay. You remember the small affair of Uriah and Bathsheba? My Biblical knowledge is a trifle rusty, I fear, but you will find the story in the first or second of Samuel.”

 

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