The Adventure of the Priory School is one of the short stories about Sherlock Holmes written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, first published in 1905. It is now in the public domain. It has been transferred to electronic text by optical character recognition, and this copy has been reformatted for E2 and cleaned of OCR errors by rootbeer277. A paper version can be found in a collection of short stories called The Return of Sherlock Holmes.
The Adventure of the Priory School opens with the dramatic entrance of one Dr. Thorneycroft Huxtable, who runs an exclusive priory school which boasts an impressive alumni list of England's rich and noble. It appears that one of his charges, the son and heir of the Duke of Holdernesse, has gone missing with few clues and must time lost while the police chased a red herring.
Despite business at home, Holmes agrees to take the case, partially for the 6,000 pound reward and partially, of course, for the challenge of an interesting mystery. They waste no time in leaving for northern England to investigate. Along the way they discover the rather straightforward route the kidnappers must have taken, and discover a brutal murder has taken place during the flight.
Holmes manages to track down the villains after a particularly straightforward investigation of his own, although one with decidedly more lateral thinking than the police took, and uncovers enough clues to reveal the three guilty men. Justice is ultimately done as the murderer is captured, a traitor is exiled, a son is rescued, and in an unusual showing of a happy ending, the Duke is to be reunited with his beloved ex-wife.
Due to Everything2's length limit, this story has been split into two parts.
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The Adventure of the Priory School
We have had some dramatic entrances and exits upon our small
stage at Baker Street, but I cannot recollect anything more
sudden and startling than the first appearance of Thorneycroft
Huxtable, M.A., Ph.D., etc. His card, which seemed too small
to carry the weight of his academic distinctions, preceded him by
a few seconds, and then he entered himself — so large, so pompous, and so dignified that he was the very embodiment of
self-possession and solidity. And yet his first action, when the
door had closed behind him, was to stagger against the table,
whence he slipped down upon the floor, and there was that
majestic figure prostrate and insensible upon our bearskin hearthrug.
We had sprung to our feet, and for a few moments we stared
in silent amazement at this ponderous piece of wreckage, which
told of some sudden and fatal storm far out on the ocean of life.
Then Holmes hurried with a cushion for his head, and I with
brandy for his lips. The heavy, white face was seamed with lines
of trouble, the hanging pouches under the closed eyes were
leaden in colour, the loose mouth drooped dolorously at the
corners, the rolling chins were unshaven. Collar and shirt bore
the grime of a long journey, and the hair bristled unkempt from
the well-shaped head. It was a sorely stricken man who lay
"What is it, Watson?" asked Holmes.
"Absolute exhaustion — possibly mere hunger and fatigue,"
said I, with my finger on the thready pulse, where the stream of
life trickled thin and small.
"Return ticket from Mackleton, in the north of England,"
said Holmes, drawing it from the watch-pocket. "It is not twelve
o'clock yet. He has certainly been an early starter."
The puckered eyelids had begun to quiver, and now a pair of
vacant gray eyes looked up at us. An instant later the man had
scrambled on to his feet, his face crimson with shame.
"Forgive this weakness, Mr. Holmes, I have been a little
overwrought. Thank you, if I might have a glass of milk and a
biscuit, I have no doubt that I should be better. I came personally, Mr. Holmes, in order to insure that you would return with
me. I feared that no telegram would convince you of the absolute
urgency of the case."
"When you are quite restored —"
"I am quite well again. I cannot imagine how I came to be so
weak. I wish you, Mr. Holmes, to come to Mackleton with me
by the next train."
My friend shook his head.
"My colleague, Dr. Watson, could tell you that we are very
busy at present. I am retained in this case of the Ferrers Documents, and the Abergavenny murder is coming up for trial. Only
a very important issue could call me from London at present."
"Important!" Our visitor threw up his hands. "Have you
heard nothing of the abduction of the only son of the Duke of
"What! the late Cabinet Minister?"
"Exactly. We had tried to keep it out of the papers, but there
was some rumor in the Globe last night. I thought it might have
reached your ears."
Holmes shot out his long, thin arm and picked out Volume
"H" in his encyclopaedia of reference.
" 'Holdernesse, 6th Duke, K.G., P.C.' — half the alphabet!
'Baron Beverley, Earl of Carston' — dear me, what a list! 'Lord
Lieutenant of Hallamshire since 1900. Married Edith, daughter
of Sir Charles Appledore, 1888. Heir and only child, Lord
Saltire. Owns about two hundred and fifty thousand acres. Minerals in Lancashire and Wales. Address: Carlton House Terrace;
Holdernesse Hall, Hallamshire; Carston Castle, Bangor, Wales.
Lord of the Admiralty, 1872; Chief Secretary of State for —'
Well, well, this man is certainly one of the greatest subjects of
"The greatest and perhaps the wealthiest. I am aware, Mr.
Holmes, that you take a very high line in professional matters,
and that you are prepared to work for the work's sake. I may tell
you, however, that his Grace has already intimated that a check
for five thousand pounds will be handed over to the person who
can tell him where his son is, and another thousand to him who
can name the man or men who have taken him."
"It is a princely offer," said Holmes. "Watson, I think that
we shall accompany Dr. Huxtable back to the north of England.
And now, Dr. Huxtable, when you have consumed that milk,
you will kindly tell me what has happened, when it happened,
how it happened, and, finally, what Dr. Thorneycroft Huxtable,
of the Priory School, near Mackleton, has to do with the matter,
and why he comes three days after an event — the state of your
chin gives the date — to ask for my humble services."
Our visitor had consumed his milk and biscuits. The light had
come back to his eyes and the colour to his cheeks, as he set
himself with great vigour and lucidity to explain the situation.
"I must inform you, gentlemen, that the Priory is a preparatory school, of which I am the founder and principal. Huxtable's
Sidelights on Horace may possibly recall my name to your
memories. The Priory is, without exception, the best and most
select preparatory school in England. Lord Leverstoke, the Earl
of Blackwater, Sir Cathcart Soames — they all have intrusted
their sons to me. But I felt that my school had reached its zenith
when, three weeks ago, the Duke of Holdernesse sent Mr. James
Wilder, his secretary, with the intimation that young Lord Saltire, ten years old, his only son and heir, was about to be
committed to my charge. Little did I think that this would be the
prelude to the most crushing misfortune of my life.
"On May 1st the boy arrived, that being the beginning of the
summer term. He was a charming youth, and he soon fell into
our ways. I may tell you — I trust that I am not indiscreet, but
half-confidences are absurd in such a case — that he was not
entirely happy at home. It is an open secret that the Duke's
married life had not been a peaceful one, and the matter had
ended in a separation by mutual consent, the Duchess taking up
her residence in the south of France. This had occurred very
shortly before, and the boy's sympathies are known to have been
strongly with his mother. He moped after her departure from
Holdernesse Hall, and it was for this reason that the Duke
desired to send him to my establishment. In a fortnight the boy
was quite at home with us and was apparently absolutely happy.
"He was last seen on the night of May 13th — that is, the night
of last Monday. His room was on the second floor and was
approached through another larger room, in which two boys
were sleeping. These boys saw and heard nothing, so that it is
certain that young Saltire did not pass out that way. His window
was open, and there is a stout ivy plant leading to the ground.
We could trace no footmarks below, but it is sure that this is the
only possible exit.
"His absence was discovered at seven o'clock on Tuesday
morning. His bed had been slept in. He had dressed himself
fully, before going off, in his usual school suit of black Eton
jacket and dark gray trousers. There were no signs that anyone
had entered the room, and it is quite certain that anything in the
nature of cries or a struggle would have been heard, since
Caunter, the elder boy in the inner room, is a very light sleeper.
"When Lord Saltire's disappearance was discovered, I at once
called a roll of the whole establishment — boys, masters, and
servants. It was then that we ascertained that Lord Saltire had not
been alone in his flight. Heidegger, the German master, was
missing. His room was on the second floor, at the farther end of
the building, facing the same way as Lord Saltire's. His bed had
also been slept in, but he had apparently gone away partly
dressed, since his shirt and socks were lying on the floor. He had
undoubtedly let himself down by the ivy, for we could see the
marks of his feet where he had landed on the lawn. His bicycle
was kept in a small shed beside this lawn, and it also was gone.
"He had been with me for two years, and came with the best
references, but he was a silent, morose man, not very popular
either with masters or boys. No trace could be found of the
fugitives, and now, on Thursday morning, we are as ignorant as
we were on Tuesday. Inquiry was, of course, made at once at
Holdernese Hall. It is only a few miles away, and we imagined
that, in some sudden attack of homesickness, he had gone back
to his father, but nothing had been heard of him. The Duke is
greatly agitated, and, as to me, you have seen yourselves the
state of nervous prostration to which the suspense and the responsibility have reduced me. Mr. Holmes, if ever you put
forward your full powers, I implore you to do so now, for never
in your life could you have a case which is more worthy of
Sherlock Holmes had listened with the utmost intentness to the
statement of the unhappy schoolmaster. His drawn brows and the
deep furrow between them showed that he needed no exhortation
to concentrate all his attention upon a problem which, apart from
the tremendous interests involved, must appeal so directly to his
love of the complex and the unusual. He now drew out his
notebook and jotted down one or two memoranda.
"You have been very remiss in not coming to me sooner,"
said he, severely. "You start me on my investigation with a very
serious handicap. It is inconceivable for example, that this ivy
and this lawn would have yielded nothing to an expert observer."
"I am not to blame, Mr. Holmes. His Grace was extremely
desirous to avoid all public scandal. He was afraid of his family
unhappiness being dragged before the world. He has a deep
horror of anything of the kind."
"But there has been some official investigation?"
"Yes, sir, and it has proved most disappointing. An apparent
clue was at once obtained, since a boy and a young man were
reported to have been seen leaving a neighbouring station by an
early train. Only last night we had news that the couple had been
hunted down in Liverpool, and they prove to have no connection
whatever with the matter in hand. Then it was that in my despair
and disappointment, after a sleepless night, I came straight to
you by the early train."
"I suppose the local investigation was relaxed while this false
clue was being followed up?"
"It was entirely dropped."
"So that three days have been wasted. The affair has been
most deplorably handled."
"I feel it and admit it."
"And yet the problem should be capable of ultimate solution.
I shall be very happy to look into it. Have you been able to trace
any connection between the missing boy and this German master?"
"None at all."
"Was he in the master's class?"
"No, he never exchanged a word with him, so far as I
"That is certainly very singular. Had the boy a bicycle?"
"Was any other bicycle missing?"
"Is that certain?"
"Well, now, you do not mean to seriously suggest that this
German rode off upon a bicycle in the dead of the night, bearing
the boy in his arms?"
"Then what is the theory in your mind?"
"The bicycle may have been a blind. It may have been hidden
somewhere, and the pair gone off on foot."
"Quite so, but it seems rather an absurd blind, does it not?
Were there other bicycles in this shed?"
"Would he not have hidden a couple, had he desired to give
the idea that they had gone off upon them?"
"I suppose he would."
"Of course he would. The blind theory won't do. But the
incident is an admirable starting-point for an investigation. After
all, a bicycle is not an easy thing to conceal or to destroy. One
other question. Did anyone call to see the boy on the day before
"Did he get any letters?"
"Yes, one letter."
"From his father."
"Do you open the boys' letters?"
"How do you know it was from the father?"
"The coat of arms was on the envelope, and it was addressed
in the Duke's peculiar stiff hand. Besides, the Duke remembers
"When had he a letter before that?"
"Not for several days."
"Had he ever one from France?"
"You see the point of my questions, of course. Either the boy
was carried off by force or he went of his own free will. In the
latter case, you would expect that some prompting from outside
would be needed to make so young a lad do such a thing. If he
has had no visitors, that prompting must have come in letters;
hence I try to find out who were his correspondents."
"I fear I cannot help you much. His only correspondent, so
far as I know, was his own father."
"Who wrote to him on the very day of his disappearance.
Were the relations between father and son very friendly?"
"His Grace is never very friendly with anyone. He is completely immersed in large public questions, and is rather inaccessible to all ordinary emotions. But he was always kind to the boy
in his own way."
"But the sympathies of the latter were with the mother?"
"Did he say so?"
"The Duke, then?"
"Good heaven, no!"
"Then how could you know?"
"I have had some confidential talks with Mr. James Wilder,
his Grace's secretary. It was he who gave me the information
about Lord Saltire's feelings."
"I see. By the way, that last letter of the Duke's — was it
found in the boy's room after he was gone?"
"No, he had taken it with him. I think, Mr. Holmes, it is time
that we were leaving for Euston."
"I will order a four-wheeler. In a quarter of an hour, we shall
be at your service. If you are telegraphing home, Mr. Huxtable,
it would be well to allow the people in your neighbourhood to
imagine that the inquiry is still going on in Liverpool, or wherever else that red herring led your pack. In the meantime I will
do a little quiet work at your own doors, and perhaps the scent is
not so cold but that two old hounds like Watson and myself may
get a sniff of it."
That evening found us in the cold, bracing atmosphere of the
Peak country, in which Dr. Huxtable's famous school is situated.
It was already dark when we reached it. A card was lying on the
hall table, and the butler whispered something to his master, who
turned to us with agitation in every heavy feature.
"The Duke is here," said he. "The Duke and Mr. Wilder are
in the study. Come, gentlemen, and I will introduce you."
I was, of course, familiar with the pictures of the famous
statesman, but the man himself was very different from his
representation. He was a tall and stately person, scrupulously
dressed, with a drawn, thin face, and a nose which was grotesquely curved and long. His complexion was of a dead pallor,
which was more startling by contrast with a long, dwindling
beard of vivid red, which flowed down over his white waistcoat,
with his watch-chain gleaming through its fringe. Such was the
stately presence who looked stonily at us from the centre of Dr.
Huxtable's hearthrug. Beside him stood a very young man,
whom I understood to be Wilder, the private secretary. He was
small, nervous, alert, with intelligent light-blue eyes and mobile
features. It was he who at once, in an incisive and positive tone,
opened the conversation.
"I called this morning, Dr. Huxtable, too late to prevent you
from starting for London. I learned that your object was to invite
Mr. Sherlock Holmes to undertake the conduct of this case. His
Grace is surprised, Dr. Huxtable, that you should have taken
such a step without consulting him."
"When I learned that the police had failed —"
"His Grace is by no means convinced that the police have
"But surely, Mr. Wilder —"
"You are well aware, Dr. Huxtable, that his Grace is particularly anxious to avoid all public scandal. He prefers to take as
few people as possible into his confidence."
"The matter can be easily remedied," said the browbeaten
Doctor. "Mr. Sherlock Holmes can return to London by the
"Hardly that, Doctor, hardly that," said Holmes, in his blandest
voice. "This northern air is invigorating and pleasant, so I
propose to spend a few days upon your moors, and to occupy my
mind as best I may. Whether I have the shelter of your roof or of
the village inn is, of course, for you to decide."
I could see that the unfortunate doctor was in the last stage of
indecision, from which he was rescued by the deep, sonorous
voice of the red-bearded Duke, which boomed out like a
"I agree with Mr. Wilder, Dr. Huxtable, that you would have
done wisely to consult me. But since Mr. Holmes has already
been taken into your confidence, it would indeed be absurd that
we should not avail ourselves of his services. Far from going to
the inn, Mr. Holmes, I should be pleased if you would come and
stay with me at Holdernesse Hall."
"I thank your Grace. For the purposes of my investigation, I
think that it would be wiser for me to remain at the scene of the
"Just as you like, Mr. Holmes. Any information which Mr.
Wilder or I can give you is, of course, at your disposal."
"It will probably be necessary for me to see you at the Hall,"
said Holmes. "I would only ask you now, sir, whether you have
formed any explanation in your own mind as to the mysterious
disappearance of your son?"
"No, sir, I have not."
"Excuse me if I allude to that which is painful to you. but I
have no alternative. Do you think that the Duchess had anything
to do with the matter?"
The great minister showed perceptible hesitation.
"I do not think so," he said, at last.
"The other most obvious explanation is that the child has been
kidnapped for the purpose of levying ransom. You have not had
any demand of the sort?"
"One more question, your Grace. I understand that you wrote
to your son upon the day when this incident occurred."
"No, I wrote upon the day before."
"Exactly. But he received it on that day?"
"Was there anything in your letter which might have unbalanced him or induced him to take such a step?"
"No, sir, certainly not."
"Did you post that letter yourself?"
The nobleman's reply was interrupted by his secretary, who
broke in with some heat.
"His Grace is not in the habit of posting letters himself," said
he. "This letter was laid with others upon the study table, and I
myself put them in the post-bag."
"You are sure this one was among them?"
"Yes, I observed it."
"How many letters did your Grace write that day?"
"Twenty or thirty. I have a large correspondence. But surely
this is somewhat irrelevant?"
"Not entirely," said Holmes.
"For my own part," the Duke continued, "I have advised the
police to turn their attention to the south of France. I have
already said that I do not believe that the Duchess would encourage so monstrous an action, but the lad had the most wrongheaded opinions, and it is possible that he may have fled to her,
aided and abetted by this German. I think, Dr. Huxtable, that we
will now return to the Hall."
I could see that there were other questions which Holmes
would have wished to put, but the nobleman's abrupt manner
showed that the interview was at an end. It was evident that to
his intensely aristocratic nature this discussion of his intimate
family affairs with a stranger was most abhorrent, and that he
feared lest every fresh question would throw a fiercer light into
the discreetly shadowed corners of his ducal history.
When the nobleman and his secretary had left, my friend
flung himself at once with characteristic eagerness into the
The boy's chamber was carefully examined, and yielded nothing save the absolute conviction that it was only through the
window that he could have escaped. The German master's room
and effects gave no further clue. In his case a trailer of ivy
had given way under his weight, and we saw by the light of a
lantern the mark on the lawn where his heels had come down.
That one dint in the short, green grass was the only material
witness left of this inexplicable nocturnal flight.
Sherlock Holmes left the house alone, and only returned after
eleven. He had obtained a large ordnance map of the neighbourhood, and this he brought into my room, where he laid it out on
the bed, and, having balanced the lamp in the middle of it, he
began to smoke over it, and occasionally to point out objects of
interest with the reeking amber of his pipe.
"This case grows upon me, Watson," said he. "There are
decidedly some points of interest in connection with it. In this
early stage, I want you to realize those geographical features
which may have a good deal to do with our investigation.
"Look at this map. This dark square is the Priory School. I'll
put a pin in it. Now, this line is the main road. You see that it
runs east and west past the school, and you see also that there is
no side road for a mile either way. If these two folk passed away
by road, it was this road."
"By a singular and happy chance, we are able to some extent
to check what passed along this road during the night in question. At this point, where my pipe is now resting, a county
constable was on duty from twelve to six. It is, as you perceive,
the first cross-road on the east side. This man declares that he
was not absent from his post for an instant, and he is positive
that neither boy nor man could have gone that way unseen. I
have spoken with this policeman to-night, and he appears to me
to be a perfectly reliable person. That blocks this end. We have
now to deal with the other. There is an inn here, the Red Bull,
the landlady of which was ill. She had sent to Mackleton for a
doctor, but he did not arrive until morning, being absent at
another case. The people at the inn were alert all night, awaiting
his coming, and one or other of them seems to have continually
had an eye upon the road. They declare that no one passed. If
their evidence is good, then we are fortunate enough to be able
to block the west, and also to be able to say that the fugitives did
not use the road at all."
"But the bicycle?" I objected.
"Quite so. We will come to the bicycle presently. To continue
our reasoning: if these people did not go by the road, they must
have traversed the country to the north of the house or to the
south of the house. That is certain. Let us weigh the one against
the other. On the south of the house is, as you perceive, a large
district of arable land, cut up into small fields, with stone walls
between them. There, I admit that a bicycle is impossible. We
can dismiss the idea. We turn to the country on the north. Here
there lies a grove of trees, marked as the 'Ragged Shaw,' and on
the farther side stretches a great rolling moor, Lower Gill Moor,
extending for ten miles and sloping gradually upward. Here, at
one side of this wilderness, is Holdernesse Hall, ten miles by
road, but only six across the moor. It is a peculiarly desolate
plain. A few moor farmers have small holdings, where they rear
sheep and cattle. Except these, the plover and the curlew are the
only inhabitants until you come to the Chesterfield high road.
There is a church there, you see, a few cottages, and an inn.
Beyond that the hills become precipitous. Surely it is here to the
north that our quest must lie."
"But the bicycle?" I persisted.
"Well, well!" said Holmes, impatiently. "A good cyclist does
not need a high road. The moor is intersected with paths, and the
moon was at the full. Halloa! what is this?"
There was an agitated knock at the door, and an instant
afterwards Dr. Huxtable was in the room. In his hand he held a
blue cricket-cap with a white chevron on the peak.
"At last we have a clue!" he cried. "Thank heaven! at last we
are on the dear boy's track! It is his cap."
"Where was it found?"
"In the van of the gipsies who camped on the moor. They left
on Tuesday. To-day the police traced them down and examined
their caravan. This was found."
"How do they account for it?"
"They shuffled and lied — said that they found it on the moor
on Tuesday morning. They know where he is, the rascals! Thank
goodness, they are all safe under lock and key. Either the fear of
the law or the Duke's purse will certainly get out of them all that
"So far, so good," said Holmes, when the doctor had at last
left the room. "It at least bears out the theory that it is on the
side of the Lower Gill Moor that we must hope for results. The
police have really done nothing locally, save the arrest of these
gipsies. Look here, Watson! There is a watercourse across the
moor. You see it marked here in the map. In some parts it
widens into a morass. This is particularly so in the region
between Holdernesse Hall and the school. It is vain to look
elsewhere for tracks in this dry weather, but at that point there is
certainly a chance of some record being left. I will call you early
to-morrow morning, and you and I will try if we can throw some
little light upon the mystery."
The day was just breaking when I woke to find the long, thin
form of Holmes by my bedside. He was fully dressed, and had
apparently already been out.
"I have done the lawn and the bicycle shed," said he. "I have
also had a ramble through the Ragged Shaw. Now, Watson
there is cocoa ready in the next room. I must beg you to hurry, for
we have a great day before us."
His eyes shone, and his cheek was flushed with the exhilaration of the master workman who sees his work lie ready before
him. A very different Holmes, this active, alert man, from the
introspective and pallid dreamer of Baker Street. I felt, as I
looked upon that supple figure, alive with nervous energy, that it
was indeed a strenuous day that awaited us.
And yet it opened in the blackest disappointment. With high
hopes we struck across the peaty, russet moor, intersected with a
thousand sheep paths, until we came to the broad, light-green
belt which marked the morass between us and Holdernesse.
Certainly, if the lad had gone homeward, he must have passed
this, and he could not pass it without leaving his traces. But no
sign of him or the German could be seen. With a darkening face
my friend strode along the margin, eagerly observant of every
muddy stain upon the mossy surface. Sheep-marks there were in
profusion, and at one place, some miles down, cows had left
their tracks. Nothing more.
"Check number one," said Holmes, looking gloomily over
the rolling expanse of the moor. "There is another morass down
yonder, and a narrow neck between. Halloa! halloa! halloa! what
have we here?"
We had come on a small black ribbon of pathway. In the
middle of it, clearly marked on the sodden soil, was the track of
"Hurrah!" I cried. "We have it."
But Holmes was shaking his head, and his face was puzzled
and expectant rather than joyous.
"A bicycle, certainly, but not the bicycle " said he. "I am
familiar with forty-two different impressions left by tyres. This
as you perceive, is a Dunlop, with a patch upon the outer cover.
Heidegger's tyres were Palmer's, leaving longitudinal stripes.
Aveling, the mathematical master, was sure upon the point.
Therefore, it is not Heidegger's track."
"The boy's then?"
"Possibly, if we could prove a bicycle to have been in his
possession. But this we have utterly failed to do. This track, as
you perceive, was made by a rider who was going from the
direction of the school."
"Or towards it?"
"No, no, my dear Watson. The more deeply sunk impression
is, of course, the hind wheel, upon which the weight rests. You
perceive several places where it has passed across and obliterated
the more shallow mark of the front one. It was undoubtedly
heading away from the school. It may or may not be connected
with our inquiry, but we will follow it backwards before we go
We did so, and at the end of a few hundred yards lost the
tracks as we emerged from the boggy portion of the moor.
Following the path backwards, we picked out another spot,
where a spring trickled across it. Here, once again, was the mark
of the bicycle, though nearly obliterated by the hoofs of cows.
After that there was no sign, but the path ran right on into
Ragged Shaw, the wood which backed on to the school. From
this wood the cycle must have emerged. Holmes sat down on a
boulder and rested his chin in his hands. I had smoked two
cigarettes before he moved.
"Well, well," said he, at last. "It is, of course, possible that
a cunning man might change the tyres of his bicycle in order to
leave unfamiliar tracks. A criminal who was capable of such a
thought is a man whom I should be proud to do business with.
We will leave this question undecided and hark back to our
morass again, for we have left a good deal unexplored."
We continued our systematic survey of the edge of the sodden
portion of the moor, and soon our perseverance was gloriously
rewarded. Right across the lower part of the bog lay a miry path.
Holmes gave a cry of delight as he approached it. An impression
like a fine bundle of telegraph wires ran down the centre of it. It
was the Palmer tyres.
"Here is Herr Heidegger, sure enough!" cried Holmes, exultantly. "My reasoning seems to have been pretty sound, Watson."
"I congratulate you."
"But we have a long way still to go. Kindly walk clear of the
path. Now let us follow the trail. I fear that it will not lead very
We found, however, as we advanced that this portion of the
moor is intersected with soft patches, and, though we frequently
lost sight of the track, we always succeeded in picking it up once
"Do you observe," said Holmes, "that the rider is now
undoubtedly forcing the pace? There can be no doubt of it. Look
at this impression, where you get both tyres clear. The one is as
deep as the other. That can only mean that the rider is throwing
his weight on to the handle-bar, as a man does when he is
sprinting. By Jove! he has had a fall."
There was a broad, irregular smudge covering some yards of
the track. Then there were a few footmarks, and the tyres
reappeared once more.
"A side-slip," I suggested.
Holmes held up a crumpled branch of flowering gorse. To my
horror I perceived that the yellow blossoms were all dabbled
with crimson. On the path, too, and among the heather were
dark stains of clotted blood.
"Bad!" said Holmes. "Bad! Stand clear, Watson! Not an
unnecessary footstep! What do I read here? He fell wounded — he
stood up — he remounted — he proceeded. But there is no other
track. Cattle on this side path. He was surely not gored by a
bull? Impossible! But I see no traces of anyone else. We must
push on, Watson. Surely, with stains as well as the track to
guide us, he cannot escape us now."
Our search was not a very long one. The tracks of the tyre
began to curve fantastically upon the wet and shining path.
Suddenly, as I looked ahead, the gleam of metal caught my eye
from amid the thick gorse-bushes. Out of them we dragged a
bicycle, Palmer-tyred, one pedal bent, and the whole front of it
horribly smeared and slobbered with blood. On the other side of
the bushes, a shoe was projecting. We ran round, and there lay
the unfortunate rider. He was a tall man, full-bearded, with
spectacles, one glass of which had been knocked out. The cause
of his death was a frightful blow upon the head, which had
crushed in part of his skull. That he could have gone on after
receiving such an injury said much for the vitality and courage of
the man. He wore shoes, but no socks, and his open coat
disclosed a nightshirt beneath it. It was undoubtedly the German
Holmes turned the body over reverently, and examined it with
great attention. He then sat in deep thought for a time, and I
could see by his ruffled brow that this grim discovery had not, in
his opinion, advanced us much in our inquiry.
"It is a little difficult to know what to do, Watson," said he,
at last. "My own inclinations are to push this inquiry on, for we
have already lost so much time that we cannot afford to waste
another hour. On the other hand, we are bound to inform the
police of the discovery, and to see that this poor fellow's body is
"I could take a note back."
"But I need your company and assistance. Wait a bit! There is
a fellow cutting peat up yonder. Bring him over here, and he will
guide the police."
I brought the peasant across, and Holmes dispatched the frightened man with a note to Dr. Huxtable.
"Now, Watson," said he, "we have picked up two clues this
morning. One is the bicycle with the Palmer tyre, and we see
what that has led to. The other is the bicycle with the patched
Dunlop. Before we start to investigate that, let us try to realize
what we do know, so as to make the most of it, and to separate
the essential from the accidental."
"First of all, I wish to impress upon you that the boy certainly
left of his own free-will. He got down from his window and he
went off, either alone or with someone. That is sure."
"Well, now, let us turn to this unfortunate German master.
The boy was fully dressed when he fled. Therefore he foresaw
what he would do. But the German went without his socks. He
certainly acted on very short notice."
"Why did he go? Because, from his bedroom window, he saw
the flight of the boy because he wished to overtake him and
bring him back. He seized his bicycle, pursued the lad, and in
pursuing him met his death."
"So it would seem."
"Now I come to the critical part of my argument. The natural
action of a man in pursuing a little boy would be to run after
him. He would know that he could overtake him. But the
German does not do so. He turns to his bicycle. I am told that he
was an excellent cyclist. He would not do this, if he did not see
that the boy had some swift means of escape."
"The other bicycle."
"Let us continue our reconstruction. He meets his death five
miles from the school — not by a bullet, mark you, which even a
lad might conceivably discharge, but by a savage blow dealt by a
vigorous arm. The lad, then, had a companion in his flight. And
the flight was a swift one, since it took five miles before an
expert cyclist could overtake them. Yet we survey the ground
round the scene of the tragedy. What do we find? A few cattle-tracks, nothing more. I took a wide sweep round, and there is no
path within fifty yards. Another cyclist could have had nothing
to do with the actual murder, nor were there any human
"Holmes," I cried, "this is impossible."
"Admirable!" he said. "A most illuminating remark. It is
impossible as I state it, and therefore I must in some respect have
stated it wrong. Yet you saw for yourself. Can you suggest any
"He could not have fractured his skull in a fall?"
"In a morass, Watson?"
"I am at my wit's end."
"Tut, tut, we have solved some worse problems. At least we
have plenty of material, if we can only use it. Come, then, and,
having exhausted the Palmer, let us see what the Dunlop with the
patched cover has to offer us."
We picked up the track and followed it onward for some
distance, but soon the moor rose into a long, heather-tufted
curve, and we left the watercourse behind us. No further help
from tracks could be hoped for. At the spot where we saw the
last of the Dunlop tyre it might equally have led to Holdernesse
Hall, the stately towers of which rose some miles to our left, or
to a low, gray village which lay in front of us and marked the
position of the Chesterfield high road.
As we approached the forbidding and squalid inn, with the
sign of a game-cock above the door, Holmes gave a sudden
groan, and clutched me by the shoulder to save himself from
falling. He had had one of those violent strains of the ankle
which leave a man helpless. With difficulty he limped up to the
door, where a squat, dark, elderly man was smoking a black clay
"How are you, Mr. Reuben Hayes?" said Holmes.
"Who are you, and how do you get my name so pat?" the
countryman answered, with a suspicious flash of a pair of cunning eyes.
"Well, it's printed on the board above your head. It's easy to
see a man who is master of his own house. I suppose you
haven't such a thing as a carriage in your stables?"
"No, I have not."
"I can hardly put my foot to the ground."
"Don't put it to the ground."
"But I can't walk."
"Well, then, hop."
Mr. Reuben Hayes's manner was far from gracious, but Holmes
took it with admirable good-humour.
"Look here, my man," said he. "This is really rather an
awkward fix for me. I don't mind how I get on."
"Neither do I," said the morose landlord.
"The matter is very important. I would offer you a sovereign
for the use of a bicycle."
The landlord pricked up his ears.
"Where do you want to go?"
"To Holdernesse Hall."
"Pals of the Dook, I suppose?" said the landlord, surveying
our mud-stained garments with ironical eyes.
Holmes laughed good-naturedly.
"He'll be glad to see us, anyhow."
"Because we bring him news of his lost son."
The landlord gave a very visible start.
"What, you're on his track?"
"He has been heard of in Liverpool. They expect to get him
Again a swift change passed over the heavy, unshaven face.
His manner was suddenly genial.
"I've less reason to wish the Dook well than most men,"
said he, "for I was his head coachman once, and cruel bad he
treated me. It was him that sacked me without a character on the
word of a lying corn-chandler. But I'm glad to hear that the
young lord was heard of in Liverpool, and I'll help you to take
the news to the Hall."
"Thank you," said Holmes. "We'll have some food first.
Then you can bring round the bicycle."
"I haven't got a bicycle."
Holmes held up a sovereign.
"I tell you, man, that I haven't got one. I'll let you have two
horses as far as the Hall."
"Well, well," said Holmes, "we'll talk about it when we've
had something to eat."
When we were left alone in the stone-flagged kitchen, it was
astonishing how rapidly that sprained ankle recovered. It was
nearly nightfall, and we had eaten nothing since early morning,
so that we spent some time over our meal. Holmes was lost in
thought, and once or twice he walked over to the window and
stared earnestly out. It opened on to a squalid courtyard. In the
far corner was a smithy, where a grimy lad was at work. On the
other side were the stables. Holmes had sat down again after one
of these excursions, when he suddenly sprang out of his chair
with a loud exclamation.
"By heaven, Watson, I believe that I've got it!" he cried.
"Yes, yes, it must be so. Watson, do you remember seeing any
"Well, everywhere. They were at the morass, and again on
the path, and again near where poor Heidegger met his death."
"Exactly. Well, now, Watson, how many cows did you see
on the moor?"
"I don't remember seeing any."
"Strange, Watson, that we should see tracks all along our
line, but never a cow on the whole moor. Very strange, Watson,
"Yes, it is strange."
"Now, Watson, make an effort, throw your mind back. Can
you see those tracks upon the path?"
"Yes, I can."
"Can you recall that the tracks were sometimes like that,
Watson" — he arranged a number of bread-crumbs in this fashion —
: : : : :
— "and sometimes like this" —
: . : . : . : .
— "and occasionally like this" —
. ' . ' . ' . '
"Can you remember that?"
"No, I cannot."
"But I can. I could swear to it. However, we will go back at
our leisure and verify it. What a blind beetle I have been, not to
draw my conclusion."
"And what is your conclusion?"
"Only that it is a remarkable cow which walks, canters, and
gallops. By George! Watson, it was no brain of a country
publican that thought out such a blind as that. The coast seems to
be clear, save for that lad in the smithy. Let us slip out and see
what we can see."
There were two rough-haired, unkempt horses in the tumble-down stable. Holmes raised the hind leg of one of them and
"Old shoes, but newly shod — old shoes, but new nails. This
case deserves to be a classic. Let us go across to the smithy."
The lad continued his work without regarding us. I saw Holmes's
eye darting to right and left among the litter of iron and wood
which was scattered about the floor. Suddenly, however, we
heard a step behind us, and there was the landlord, his heavy
eyebrows drawn over his savage eyes, his swarthy features convulsed with passion. He held a short, metal-headed stick in his
hand, and he advanced in so menacing a fashion that I was right
glad to feel the revolver in my pocket.
"You infernal spies!" the man cried. "What are you doing
"Why, Mr. Reuben Hayes," said Holmes, coolly, "one might
think that you were afraid of our finding something out."
The man mastered himself with a violent effort, and his grim
mouth loosened into a false laugh, which was more menacing
than his frown.
"You're welcome to all you can find out in my smithy," said
he. "But look here, mister, I don't care for folk poking about
my place without my leave, so the sooner you pay your score
and get out of this the better I shall be pleased."
"All right, Mr. Hayes, no harm meant," said Holmes. "We
have been having a look at your horses, but I think I'll walk,
after all. It's not far, I believe."
"Not more than two miles to the Hall gates. That's the road to
the left." He watched us with sullen eyes until we had left his
We did not go very far along the road, for Holmes stopped the
instant that the curve hid us from the landlord's view.
"We were warm, as the children say, at that inn," said he. "I
seem to grow colder every step that I take away from it. No, no,
I can't possibly leave it."
"I am convinced," said I, "that this Reuben Hayes knows all
about it. A more self-evident villain I never saw."
"Oh! he impressed you in that way, did he? There are the
horses, there is the smithy. Yes, it is an interesting place, this
Fighting Cock. I think we shall have another look at it in an
A long, sloping hillside, dotted with gray limestone boulders,
stretched behind us. We had turned off the road, and were
making our way up the hill, when, looking in the direction of
Holdemesse Hall, I saw a cyclist coming swiftly along.
"Get down, Watson!" cried Holmes, with a heavy hand upon
my shoulder. We had hardly sunk from view when the man flew
past us on the road. Amid a rolling cloud of dust, I caught a
glimpse of a pale, agitated face — a face with horror in every
lineament, the mouth open, the eyes staring wildly in front. It
was like some strange caricature of the dapper James Wilder
whom we had seen the night before.
"The Duke's secretary!" cried Holmes. "Come, Watson, let
us see what he does."
We scrambled from rock to rock, until in a few moments we
had made our way to a point from which we could see the front
door of the inn. Wilder's bicycle was leaning against the wall
beside it. No one was moving about the house, nor could we
catch a glimpse of any faces at the windows. Slowly the twilight
crept down as the sun sank behind the high towers of Holdemesse
Hall. Then, in the gloom, we saw the two side-lamps of a trap
light up in the stable-yard of the inn, and shortly afterwards
heard the rattle of hoofs, as it wheeled out into the road and tore
off at a furious pace in the direction of Chesterfield.
"What do you make of that, Watson?" Holmes whispered.
"It looks like a flight."
"A single man in a dog-cart, so far as I could see. Well, it
certainly was not Mr. James Wilder, for there he is at the door."
A red square of light had sprung out of the darkness. In the
middle of it was the black figure of the secretary, his head
advanced, peering out into the night. It was evident that he was
expecting someone. Then at last there were steps in the road, a
second figure was visible for an instant against the light, the door
shut, and all was black once more. Five minutes later a lamp was
lit in a room upon the first floor.
"It seems to be a curious class of custom that is done by the
Fighting Cock," said Holmes.
"The bar is on the other side."
"Quite so. These are what one may call the private guests.
Now, what in the world is Mr. James Wilder doing in that den at
this hour of night, and who is the companion who comes to meet
him there? Come, Watson, we must really take a risk and try to
investigate this a little more closely."
Together we stole down to the road and crept across to the
door of the inn. The bicycle still leaned against the wall. Holmes
struck a match and held it to the back wheel, and I heard him
chuckle as the light fell upon a patched Dunlop tyre. Up above
us was the lighted window.
"I must have a peep through that, Watson. If you bend your
back and support yourself upon the wall, I think that I can
An instant later, his feet were on my shoulders, but he was
hardly up before he was down again.
"Come, my friend," said he, "our day's work has been quite
long enough. I think that we have gathered all that we can. It's a
long walk to the school, and the sooner we get started the
He hardly opened his lips during that weary trudge across the
moor, nor would he enter the school when he reached it, but
went on to Mackleton Station, whence he could send some
telegrams. Late at night I heard him consoling Dr. Huxtable,
prostrated by the tragedy of his master's death, and later still he
entered my room as alert and vigorous as he had been when he
started in the morning. "All goes well, my friend," said he. "I
promise that before to-morrow evening we shall have reached the
solution of the mystery."
On to Part 2/2