“There are one or two small points which I should desire to clear up before I go,” said he. “Your absence, Mr. Phelps, will in some ways rather assist me. Watson, when you reach London you would oblige me by driving at once to Baker Street with our friend here, and remaining with him until I see you again. It is fortunate that you are old school-fellows, as you must have much to talk over. Mr. Phelps can have the spare bedroom to-night, and I will be with you in time for breakfast, for there is a train which will take me into Waterloo at eight.”
“But how about our investigation in London?” asked Phelps ruefully.
“We can do that to-morrow. I think that just at present I can be of more immediate use here.”
“You might tell them at Briarbrae that I hope to be back to-morrow night,” cried Phelps, as we began to move from the platform.
“I hardly expect to go back to Briarbrae,” answered Holmes, and waved his hand to us cheerily as we shot out from the station.
Phelps and I talked it over on our journey, but neither of us could devise a satisfactory reason for this new development.
“I suppose he wants to find out some clues as to the burglary last night, if a burglar it was. For myself, I don’t believe it was an ordinary thief.”
“What is your own idea, then?”
“Upon my word, you may put it down to my weak nerves or not, but I believe there is some deep political intrigue going on around me, and that for some reason that passes my understanding my life is aimed at by the conspirators. It sounds high-flown and absurd, but consider the facts! Why should a thief try to break in at a bedroom window where there could be no hope of any plunder, and why should he come with a long knife in his hand?”
“You are sure it was not a house-breaker’s jimmy?”
“Oh, no, it was a knife. I saw the flash of the blade quite distinctly.”
“But why on earth should you be pursued with such animosity?”
“Ah, that is the question.”
“Well, if Holmes takes the same view, that would account for his action, would it not? Presuming that your theory is correct, if he can lay his hands upon the man who threatened you last night he will have gone a long way towards finding who took the naval treaty. It is absurd to suppose that you have two enemies, one of whom robs you, while the other threatens your life.”
“But Holmes said that he was not going to Briarbrae.”
“I have known him for some time,” said I, “but I never knew him do anything yet without a very good reason,” and with that our conversation drifted off on to other topics.
But it was a weary day for me. Phelps was still weak after his long illness, and his misfortunes made him querulous and nervous. In vain I endeavoured to interest him in Afghanistan, in India, in social questions, in anything which might take his mind out of the groove. He would always come back to his lost treaty, wondering, guessing, speculating as to what Holmes was doing, what steps Lord Holdhurst was taking, what news we should have in the morning. As the evening wore on his excitement became quite painful.
“You have implicit faith in Holmes?” he asked.
“I have seen him do some remarkable things.”
“But he never brought light into anything quite so dark as this?”
“Oh, yes, I have known him solve questions which presented fewer clues than yours.”
“But not where such large interests are at stake?”
“I don’t know that. To my certain knowledge he has acted on behalf of three of the reigning houses of Europe in very vital matters.”
“But you know him well, Watson. He is such an inscrutable fellow that I never quite know what to make of him. Do you think he is hopeful? Do you think he expects to make a success of it?”
“He has said nothing.”
“That is a bad sign.”
“On the contrary. I have noticed that when he is off the trail he generally says so. It is when he is on a scent and is not quite absolutely sure yet that it is the right one that he is most taciturn. Now, my dear fellow, we can’t help matters by making ourselves nervous about them, so let me implore you to go to bed and so be fresh for whatever may await us to-morrow.”
I was able at last to persuade my companion to take my advice, though I knew from his excited manner that there was not much hope of sleep for him. Indeed, his mood was infectious for I lay tossing half the night myself, brooding over this strange problem and inventing a hundred theories, each of which was more impossible than the last. Why had Holmes remained at Woking? Why had he asked Miss Harrison to remain in the sick-room all day? Why had he been so careful not to inform the people at Briarbrae that he intended to remain near them? I cudgelled my brains until I fell asleep in the endeavour to find some explanation which would cover all these facts.
It was seven o’clock when I awoke, and I set off at once for Phelps’s room to find him haggard and spent after a sleepless night. His first question was whether Holmes had arrived yet.
“He’ll be here when he promised,” said I, “and not an instant sooner or later.”