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The extract from my private diary which forms the last chapter has brought my narrative up to the 18th of October, a time when these strange events began to move swiftly towards their terrible conclusion. The incidents of the next few days are indelibly graven upon my recollection, and I can tell them without reference to the notes made at the time. I start then from the day which succeeded that upon which I had established two facts of great importance, the one that Mrs. Laura Lyons of Coombe Tracey had written to Sir Charles Baskerville and made an appointment with him at the very place and hour that he met his death, the other that the lurking man upon the moor was to be found among the stone huts upon the hill-side. With these two facts in my possession I felt that either my intelligence or my courage must be deficient if I could not throw some further light upon these dark places.

I had no opportunity to tell the baronet what I had learned about Mrs. Lyons upon the evening before, for Dr. Mortimer remained with him at cards until it was very late. At breakfast, however, I informed him about my discovery, and asked him whether he would care to accompany me to Coombe Tracey. At first he was very eager to come, but on second thoughts it seemed to both of us that if I went alone the results might be better. The more formal we made the visit the less information we might obtain. I left Sir Henry behind, therefore, not without some prickings of conscience, and drove off upon my new quest.

When I reached Coombe Tracey I told Perkins to put up the horses, and I made inquiries for the lady whom I had come to interrogate. I had no difficulty in finding her rooms, which were central and well appointed. A maid showed me in without ceremony, and as I entered the sitting-room a lady, who was sitting before a Remington typewriter, sprang up with a pleasant smile of welcome. Her face fell, however, when she saw that I was a stranger, and she sat down again and asked me the object of my visit.

The first impression left by Mrs. Lyons was one of extreme beauty. Her eyes and hair were of the same rich hazel colour, and her cheeks, though considerably freckled, were flushed with the exquisite bloom of the brunette, the dainty pink which lurks at the heart of the sulphur rose. Admiration was, I repeat, the first impression. But the second was criticism. There was something subtly wrong with the face, some coarseness of expression, some hardness, perhaps, of eye, some looseness of lip which marred its perfect beauty. But these, of course, are after-thoughts. At the moment I was simply conscious that I was in the presence of a very handsome woman, and that she was asking me the reasons for my visit. I had not quite understood until that instant how delicate my mission was.

"I have the pleasure," said I, "of knowing your father." It was a clumsy introduction, and the lady made me feel it.

Dr. Watson has gone to Coombe Tracey.

For a minute I stood there with the paper in my hands thinking out the meaning of this curt message. It was I, then, and not Sir Henry, who was being dogged by this secret man. He had not followed me himself, but he had set an agent--the boy, perhaps--upon my track, and this was his report. Possibly I had taken no step since I had been upon the moor which had not been observed and reported. Always there was this feeling of an unseen force, a fine net drawn round us with infinite skill and delicacy, holding us so lightly that it was only at some supreme moment that one realized that one was indeed entangled in its meshes.

"There is nothing in common between my father and me," she said. "I owe him nothing, and his friends are not mine. If it were not for the late Sir Charles Baskerville and some other kind hearts I might have starved for all that my father cared."

"It was about the late Sir Charles Baskerville that I have come here to see you."

The freckles started out on the lady's face.

"What can I tell you about him?" she asked, and her fingers played nervously over the stops of her typewriter.

"You knew him, did you not?"

"I have already said that I owe a great deal to his kindness. If I am able to support myself it is largely due to the interest which he took in my unhappy situation."

"Did you correspond with him?"

The lady looked quickly up with an angry gleam in her hazel eyes.

"What is the object of these questions?" she asked sharply.

"The object is to avoid a public scandal. It is better that I should ask them here than that the matter should pass outside our control."

She was silent and her face was still very pale. At last she looked up with something reckless and defiant in her manner.

"Well, I'll answer," she said. "What are your questions?"

"Did you correspond with Sir Charles?"

"I certainly wrote to him once or twice to acknowledge his delicacy and his generosity."

"Have you the dates of those letters?"

"No."

"Have you ever met him?"

"Yes, once or twice, when he came into Coombe Tracey. He was a very retiring man, and he preferred to do good by stealth."

"But if you saw him so seldom and wrote so seldom, how did he know enough about your affairs to be able to help you, as you say that he has done?"

She met my difficulty with the utmost readiness.

"There were several gentlemen who knew my sad history and united to help me. One was Mr. Stapleton, a neighbour and intimate friend of Sir Charles's. He was exceedingly kind, and it was through him that Sir Charles learned about my affairs."

I knew already that Sir Charles Baskerville had made Stapleton his almoner upon several occasions, so the lady's statement bore the impress of truth upon it.

"Did you ever write to Sir Charles asking him to meet you?" I continued.

Mrs. Lyons flushed with anger again.

"Really, sir, this is a very extraordinary question."

"I am sorry, madam, but I must repeat it."

"Then I answer, certainly not."

"Not on the very day of Sir Charles's death?"

The flush had faded in an instant, and a deathly face was before me. Her dry lips could not speak the "No" which I saw rather than heard.

"Surely your memory deceives you," said I. "I could even quote a passage of your letter. It ran 'Please, please, as you are a gentleman, burn this letter, and be at the gate by ten o'clock.'"

I thought that she had fainted, but she recovered herself by a supreme effort.

"Is there no such thing as a gentleman?" she gasped.

"You do Sir Charles an injustice. He did burn the letter. But sometimes a letter may be legible even when burned. You acknowledge now that you wrote it?"

"Yes, I did write it," she cried, pouring out her soul in a torrent of words. "I did write it. Why should I deny it? I have no reason to be ashamed of it. I wished him to help me. I believed that if I had an interview I could gain his help, so I asked him to meet me."

"But why at such an hour?"

"Because I had only just learned that he was going to London next day and might be away for months. There were reasons why I could not get there earlier."

"But why a rendezvous in the garden instead of a visit to the house?"

"Do you think a woman could go alone at that hour to a bachelor's house?"

"Well, what happened when you did get there?"

"I never went."

"Mrs. Lyons!"

"No, I swear it to you on all I hold sacred. I never went. Something intervened to prevent my going."

"What was that?"

"That is a private matter. I cannot tell it."

"You acknowledge then that you made an appointment with Sir Charles at the very hour and place at which he met his death, but you deny that you kept the appointment."

"That is the truth."

Again and again I cross-questioned her, but I could never get past that point.

"Mrs. Lyons," said I, as I rose from this long and inconclusive interview, "you are taking a very great responsibility and putting yourself in a very false position by not making an absolutely clean breast of all that you know. If I have to call in the aid of the police you will find how seriously you are compromised. If your position is innocent, why did you in the first instance deny having written to Sir Charles upon that date?"

"Because I feared that some false conclusion might be drawn from it and that I might find myself involved in a scandal."

"And why were you so pressing that Sir Charles should destroy your letter?"

"If you have read the letter you will know."

"I did not say that I had read all the letter."

"You quoted some of it."

"I quoted the postscript. The letter had, as I said, been burned and it was not all legible. I ask you once again why it was that you were so pressing that Sir Charles should destroy this letter which he received on the day of his death."

"The matter is a very private one."

"The more reason why you should avoid a public investigation."

"I will tell you, then. If you have heard anything of my unhappy history you will know that I made a rash marriage and had reason to regret it."

"I have heard so much."

"My life has been one incessant persecution from a husband whom I abhor. The law is upon his side, and every day I am faced by the possibility that he may force me to live with him. At the time that I wrote this letter to Sir Charles I had learned that there was a prospect of my regaining my freedom if certain expenses could be met. It meant everything to me--peace of mind, happiness, self-respect--everything. I knew Sir Charles's generosity, and I thought that if he heard the story from my own lips he would help me."

"Then how is it that you did not go?"

"Because I received help in the interval from another source."

"Why then, did you not write to Sir Charles and explain this?"

"So I should have done had I not seen his death in the paper next morning."

The woman's story hung coherently together, and all my questions were unable to shake it. I could only check it by finding if she had, indeed, instituted divorce proceedings against her husband at or about the time of the tragedy.

It was unlikely that she would dare to say that she had not been to Baskerville Hall if she really had been, for a trap would be necessary to take her there, and could not have returned to Coombe Tracey until the early hours of the morning. Such an excursion could not be kept secret. The probability was, therefore, that she was telling the truth, or, at least, a part of the truth. I came away baffled and disheartened. Once again I had reached that dead wall which seemed to be built across every path by which I tried to get at the object of my mission. And yet the more I thought of the lady's face and of her manner the more I felt that something was being held back from me. Why should she turn so pale? Why should she fight against every admission until it was forced from her? Why should she have been so reticent at the time of the tragedy? Surely the explanation of all this could not be as innocent as she would have me believe. For the moment I could proceed no farther in that direction, but must turn back to that other clue which was to be sought for among the stone huts upon the moor.

And that was a most vague direction. I realized it as I drove back and noted how hill after hill showed traces of the ancient people. Barrymore's only indication had been that the stranger lived in one of these abandoned huts, and many hundreds of them are scattered throughout the length and breadth of the moor. But I had my own experience for a guide since it had shown me the man himself standing upon the summit of the Black Tor. That then should be the centre of my search. From there I should explore every hut upon the moor until I lighted upon the right one. If this man were inside it I should find out from his own lips, at the point of my revolver if necessary, who he was and why he had dogged us so long. He might slip away from us in the crowd of Regent Street, but it would puzzle him to do so upon the lonely moor. On the other hand, if I should find the hut and its tenant should not be within it I must remain there, however long the vigil, until he returned. Holmes had missed him in London. It would indeed be a triumph for me if I could run him to earth, where my master had failed.

Luck had been against us again and again in this inquiry, but now at last it came to my aid. And the messenger of good fortune was none other than Mr. Frankland, who was standing, gray-whiskered and red-faced, outside the gate of his garden, which opened on to the high road along which I travelled.

"Good-day, Dr. Watson," cried he with unwonted good humour, "you must really give your horses a rest, and come in to have a glass of wine and to congratulate me."

My feelings towards him were very far from being friendly after what I had heard of his treatment of his daughter, but I was anxious to send Perkins and the wagonette home, and the opportunity was a good one. I alighted and sent a message to Sir Henry that I should walk over in time for dinner. Then I followed Frankland into his dining-room.

"It is a great day for me, sir--one of the red-letter days of my life," he cried with many chuckles. "I have brought off a double event. I mean to teach them in these parts that law is law, and that there is a man here who does not fear to invoke it. I have established a right of way through the centre of old Middleton's park, slap across it, sir, within a hundred yards of his own front door. What do you think of that? We'll teach these magnates that they cannot ride roughshod over the rights of the commoners, confound them! And I've closed the wood where the Fernworthy folk used to picnic. These infernal people seem to think that there are no rights of property, and that they can swarm where they like with their papers and their bottles. Both cases decided, Dr. Watson, and both in my favour. I haven't had such a day since I had Sir John Morland for trespass, because he shot in his own warren."

"How on earth did you do that?"

"Look it up in the books, sir. It will repay reading--Frankland v. Morland, Court of Queen's Bench. It cost me 200 pounds, but I got my verdict."

"Did it do you any good?"

"None, sir, none. I am proud to say that I had no interest in the matter. I act entirely from a sense of public duty. I have no doubt, for example, that the Fernworthy people will burn me in effigy to-night. I told the police last time they did it that they should stop these disgraceful exhibitions. The County Constabulary is in a scandalous state, sir, and it has not afforded me the protection to which I am entitled. The case of Frankland v. Regina will bring the matter before the attention of the public. I told them that they would have occasion to regret their treatment of me, and already my words have come true."

"How so?" I asked.

The old man put on a very knowing expression.

"Because I could tell them what they are dying to know; but nothing would induce me to help the rascals in any way."

I had been casting round for some excuse by which I could get away from his gossip, but now I began to wish to hear more of it. I had seen enough of the contrary nature of the old sinner to understand that any strong sign of interest would be the surest way to stop his confidences.

"Some poaching case, no doubt?" said I, with an indifferent manner.

"Ha, ha, my boy, a very much more important matter than that! What about the convict on the moor?"

I started. "You don't mean that you know where he is?" said I.

"I may not know exactly where he is, but I am quite sure that I could help the police to lay their hands on him. Has it never struck you that the way to catch that man was to find out where he got his food, and so trace it to him?"

He certainly seemed to be getting uncomfortably near the truth. "No doubt," said I; "but how do you know that he is anywhere upon the moor?"

"I know it because I have seen with my own eyes the messenger who takes him his food."

My heart sank for Barrymore. It was a serious thing to be in the power of this spiteful old busybody. But his next remark took a weight from my mind.

"You'll be surprised to hear that his food is taken to him by a child. I see him every day through my telescope upon the roof. He passes along the same path at the same hour, and to whom should he be going except to the convict?"

Here was luck indeed! And yet I suppressed all appearance of interest. A child! Barrymore had said that our unknown was supplied by a boy. It was on his track, and not upon the convict's, that Frankland had stumbled. If I could get his knowledge it might save me a long and weary hunt. But incredulity and indifference were evidently my strongest cards.

"I should say that it was much more likely that it was the son of one of the moorland shepherds taking out his father's dinner."

The least appearance of opposition struck fire out of the old autocrat. His eyes looked malignantly at me, and his gray whiskers bristled like those of an angry cat.

"Indeed, sir!" said he, pointing out over the wide-stretching moor. "Do you see that Black Tor over yonder? Well, do you see the low hill beyond with the thornbush upon it? It is the stoniest part of the whole moor. Is that a place where a shepherd would be likely to take his station? Your suggestion, sir, is a most absurd one."

I meekly answered that I had spoken without knowing all the facts. My submission pleased him and led him to further confidences.

"You may be sure, sir, that I have very good grounds before I come to an opinion. I have seen the boy again and again with his bundle. Every day, and sometimes twice a day, I have been able--but wait a moment, Dr. Watson. Do my eyes deceive me, or is there at the present moment something moving upon that hill- side?"

It was several miles off, but I could distinctly see a small dark dot against the dull green and gray.

"Come, sir, come!" cried Frankland, rushing upstairs. "You will see with your own eyes and judge for yourself."

The telescope, a formidable instrument mounted upon a tripod, stood upon the flat leads of the house. Frankland clapped his eye to it and gave a cry of satisfaction.

"Quick, Dr. Watson, quick, before he passes over the hill!"

There he was, sure enough, a small urchin with a little bundle upon his shoulder, toiling slowly up the hill. When he reached the crest I saw the ragged uncouth figure outlined for an instant against the cold blue sky. He looked round him with a furtive and stealthy air, as one who dreads pursuit. Then he vanished over the hill.

"Well! Am I right?"

"Certainly, there is a boy who seems to have some secret errand."

"And what the errand is even a county constable could guess. But not one word shall they have from me, and I bind you to secrecy also, Dr. Watson. Not a word! You understand!"

"Just as you wish."

"They have treated me shamefully--shamefully. When the facts come out in Frankland v. Regina I venture to think that a thrill of indignation will run through the country. Nothing would induce me to help the police in any way. For all they cared it might have been me, instead of my effigy, which these rascals burned at the stake. Surely you are not going! You will help me to empty the decanter in honour of this great occasion!"

But I resisted all his solicitations and succeeded in dissuading him from his announced intention of walking home with me. I kept the road as long as his eye was on me, and then I struck off across the moor and made for the stony hill over which the boy had disappeared. Everything was working in my favour, and I swore that it should not be through lack of energy or perseverance that I should miss the chance which fortune had thrown in my way.

The sun was already sinking when I reached the summit of the hill, and the long slopes beneath me were all golden-green on one side and gray shadow on the other. A haze lay low upon the farthest sky-line, out of which jutted the fantastic shapes of Belliver and Vixen Tor. Over the wide expanse there was no sound and no movement. One great gray bird, a gull or curlew, soared aloft in the blue heaven. He and I seemed to be the only living things between the huge arch of the sky and the desert beneath it. The barren scene, the sense of loneliness, and the mystery and urgency of my task all struck a chill into my heart. The boy was nowhere to be seen. But down beneath me in a cleft of the hills there was a circle of the old stone huts, and in the middle of them there was one which retained sufficient roof to act as a screen against the weather. My heart leaped within me as I saw it. This must be the burrow where the stranger lurked. At last my foot was on the threshold of his hiding place--his secret was within my grasp.

As I approached the hut, walking as warily as Stapleton would do when with poised net he drew near the settled butterfly, I satisfied myself that the place had indeed been used as a habitation. A vague pathway among the boulders led to the dilapidated opening which served as a door. All was silent within. The unknown might be lurking there, or he might be prowling on the moor. My nerves tingled with the sense of adventure. Throwing aside my cigarette, I closed my hand upon the butt of my revolver and, walking swiftly up to the door, I looked in. The place was empty.

But there were ample signs that I had not come upon a false scent. This was certainly where the man lived. Some blankets rolled in a waterproof lay upon that very stone slab upon which Neolithic man had once slumbered. The ashes of a fire were heaped in a rude grate. Beside it lay some cooking utensils and a bucket half-full of water. A litter of empty tins showed that the place had been occupied for some time, and I saw, as my eyes became accustomed to the checkered light, a pannikin and a half-full bottle of spirits standing in the corner. In the middle of the hut a flat stone served the purpose of a table, and upon this stood a small cloth bundle--the same, no doubt, which I had seen through the telescope upon the shoulder of the boy. It contained a loaf of bread, a tinned tongue, and two tins of preserved peaches. As I set it down again, after having examined it, my heart leaped to see that beneath it there lay a sheet of paper with writing upon it. I raised it, and this was what I read, roughly scrawled in pencil:--

If there was one report there might be others, so I looked round the hut in search of them. There was no trace, however, of anything of the kind, nor could I discover any sign which might indicate the character or intentions of the man who lived in this singular place, save that he must be of Spartan habits and cared little for the comforts of life. When I thought of the heavy rains and looked at the gaping roof I understood how strong and immutable must be the purpose which had kept him in that inhospitable abode. Was he our malignant enemy, or was he by chance our guardian angel? I swore that I would not leave the hut until I knew.

Outside the sun was sinking low and the west was blazing with scarlet and gold. Its reflection was shot back in ruddy patches by the distant pools which lay amid the great Grimpen Mire. There were the two towers of Baskerville Hall, and there a distant blur of smoke which marked the village of Grimpen. Between the two, behind the hill, was the house of the Stapletons. All was sweet and mellow and peaceful in the golden evening light, and yet as I looked at them my soul shared none of the peace of nature but quivered at the vagueness and the terror of that interview which every instant was bringing nearer. With tingling nerves, but a fixed purpose, I sat in the dark recess of the hut and waited with sombre patience for the coming of its tenant.

And then at last I heard him. Far away came the sharp clink of a boot striking upon a stone. Then another and yet another, coming nearer and nearer. I shrank back into the darkest corner, and cocked the pistol in my pocket, determined not to discover myself until I had an opportunity of seeing something of the stranger. There was a long pause which showed that he had stopped. Then once more the footsteps approached and a shadow fell across the opening of the hut.

"It is a lovely evening, my dear Watson," said a well-known voice. "I really think that you will be more comfortable outside than in."

用摘录我日记的方法写成的上一章,已经叙述到十月十八日了。那时正是这些怪事开始迅速发展,快要接近可怕的结局的时候。随后几天所发生的事情都已难忘地铭刻在我的记忆之中,不用参考当时所作的记录我就能说得出来。我就从明确了两个极为重要的事实的次日说起吧。所说的两个事实之一,就是库姆·特雷西的劳拉·莱昂丝太太曾经给查尔兹·巴斯克维尔爵士写过信,并约定在他死去的那个地点和时间相见;另一个就是潜藏在沼地里的那个人,可以在山边的石头房子里面找到。掌握了这两个情况之后,我觉得如果我还不能使疑案稍露端倪,那我一定不是低能就是缺乏勇气了。

昨天傍晚,未能得到机会把我当时所了解到的关于莱昂丝太太的事告诉准男爵,因为摩梯末医生和他玩牌一直玩到很晚。今天早饭时,我才把我的发现告诉了他,并问他是否愿意陪我到库姆·特雷西去。起初他很急于要去,可是经过重新考虑之后,我们两人都觉得,如果我单独去,结果会更好一些。因为访问的形式愈是郑重其事,我们所能得知的情况就会愈少。于是我就把亨利爵士留在家里了,心中难免稍感不安地驾车出发去进行新的探索了。

在到了库姆·特雷西以后,我叫波金斯把马匹安置好,然后就去探听我此来所要探访的那位女士了。我很容易地就找到了她的住所,位置适中,陈设也好。一个女仆很随便地把我领了进去,在我走进客厅的时候,一位坐在一架雷明吞牌打字机前的女士迅速地站了起来,笑容可掬地对我表示了欢迎;可是当她看出我是个陌生人的时候,她的面容又恢复了原状,重新坐了下来,并问我来访的目的。

莱昂丝太太给人的第一个印象就是极端的美丽。她的两眼和头发都发深棕色,双颊上虽有不少雀斑,然而有着对棕色皮肤的人说来恰到好处的红润,如同在微黄的玫瑰花心里隐现着悦目的粉红色似的。我再重复一遍,首先产生的印象就是赞叹。可是随后就发现了缺点,那面孔上有些说不出来的不对头的地方,有些粗犷的表情,也许眼神有些生硬,嘴唇有些松弛,这些都破坏了那一无瑕疵的美貌。当然了,这些都是事后的想法,当时我只知道我是站在一个非常漂亮的女人的面前,听着她问我来访的目的。直到那时我才真的认识到我的任务是多么的棘手。

“我有幸地,”我说道,“认识您的父亲。”

我拿了起来,上面有用铅笔潦潦草草写成的:

“华生医生曾到库姆·特雷西去过。”

我手里拿着那张纸,在那里站了足有一分钟之久,思考这张短信的寓意何在。那么说这个秘密的人所跟踪的并不是亨利爵士而是我了。他并没有亲自对我跟踪,而是派了一个人——也许就是那个孩子——跟着我,这就是他所写的报告。

这样的自我介绍作得很笨,我由那女人的反应上感觉得出来。

“我父亲和我之间没有什么关系,”她说道,“我什么也不亏欠他,他的朋友也不是我的朋友。如果没有已故的查尔兹·巴斯克维尔爵士和一些别的好心肠的人的话,我也许早就饿死了,我父亲根本就没把我放在心上。”

“我是因为有关已故的查尔兹·巴斯克维尔爵士的事才到这里来找您的。”

惊吓之下,女士的面孔变得苍白起来,雀斑因而变得更加明显了。

“关于他的事我能告诉您什么呢?”她问道。她的手指神经质地玩弄着她那打字机上的标点符号字键。

“您认识他,是吗?”

“我已经说过了,我非常感激他对于我的厚意。如果说我还能自立生活的话,那主要是由于他对我的可悲的处境的关心了。”

“您和他通过信吗?”

女士迅速地抬起头来,棕色的眼睛里闪着愤怒的光芒。

“您问这些问题用意何在呢?”她厉声问道。

“目的在于避免丑闻的传播。我在这里问总比让事情传出去弄得无法收拾要好一些吧。”

她沉默不语,她的面孔依然很苍白。最后她带着不顾一切和挑战的神色抬起头来。

“好吧,我回答吧,”她说道,“您的问题是什么?”

“您和查尔兹爵士通过信吗?”

“我确实给他写过一两次信,感谢他的体贴和慷慨。”

“发信的日期您还记得吗?”

“不记得了。”

“您和他会过面吗?”

“会过面,在他到库姆·特雷西来的时候会过一两次面。他是个很不爱出头露面的人,他宁愿暗地里做好事。”

“可是,如果您很少看到他而又很少给他写信的话,关于您的事他怎么会知道得那样多,以致象您所说的那样来帮助您呢?”

她毫不犹豫地回答了这个我认为是难于回答的问题。

“有几个绅士知道我的可悲的经历,他们共同帮助了我。 一个是斯台普吞先生,他是查尔兹爵士的近邻和密友,他心肠好极了,查尔兹爵士是通过他才知道我的事的。”

我知道查尔兹·巴斯克维尔爵士曾有几次邀请斯台普吞负责为他分发救济金,因此女士的话听来倒似乎真实。

“您曾经写过信给查尔兹爵士请他和您见面吗?”我继续问道。

莱昂丝太太又气得脸红起来。

“先生,这真是岂有此理的问题。”

“我很抱歉,太太,可是我不得不重复它。”

“那么我就回答吧,肯定没有过。”

“就是在查尔兹爵士死的那天也没有过吗?”

脸上的红色马上褪了下去,在我面前出现了一副死灰的面孔。她那焦枯的嘴唇已说不出那“没有”来了。与其说我听到了,不如说我是看出来了。

“一定是您的记忆愚弄了您,”我说道,“我甚至能够背出您那封信中的一段来,是这样的:‘您是一位君子,请您千万将此信烧掉,并在十点钟的时候到栅门那里去。’”

当时,我以为她已经晕过去了,可是她竟尽了最大的努力使自己恢复了镇静。

“难道天下就没有一个真正的君子吗?!”她的呼吸变得急促起来。

“您冤枉查尔兹爵士了。他确已把信烧掉了,可是有时虽是一封烧了的信还是可以认得出来的。您现在承认您曾写过这封信了吗!”

“是的,我写过,”她喊道,同时把满腹的心事都滔滔不绝地说了出来,“是我写的。我干什么要否认这事呢?我没有理由要因此而感到可耻,我希望他能帮助我,我相信如果我能亲自和他见面的话,就可能得到他的协助,因此我才请求他和我见面的。”

“可是为什么约在这样一个时间呢?”

“因为那时我刚知道他第二天就要到伦敦去,而且一去也许就是几个月。由于其他原因我又不能早一点到那里去。”

“可是为什么要在花园里会面而不到房子里面去拜访呢?”

“您想,一个女人能在那个时候单独到一个单身汉的家里去吗?”

“噢,您到那里去了以后,发生了什么事没有?”

“我并没有去。”

“莱昂丝太太!”

“没有去,我拿一切我认为是最神圣的东西向您发誓。我没有去。有一件事使我不能去了。”

“那是件什么事呢?”

“那是一件私事,我不能说。”

“那么,您承认您曾和查尔兹爵士约定在那正是他死去的时间和地点相会,可是您又否认您曾守约前往。”

“这是实情。”

我一再地盘问了她,可是往下再也问不出什么东西来了。

“莱昂丝太太,”最后我结束了这次既长而又毫无结果的拜访,站起来说道,“由于您不肯全部彻底地说出您所知道的事,使您负起了严重的责任,并已把您自己置于非常危险的地位。如果我不得不叫来警察协助的话,您就会知道您受着多么大的嫌疑了。如果您是清白无罪的话,那为什么最初要否认在那一天您曾写信给查尔兹爵士呢?”

“因为我恐怕从那问题上得出什么不正确的结论来,那样我就可能被牵连到一件丑闻中去了。”

“那么您为什么那样迫切地要求查尔兹爵士把您的信毁掉呢?”

“如果您已经读过那封信的话,您就应该知道了。”

“我并没有说我读过信的全部啊。”

“您却引用了其中的一部分。”

“我只引用了附笔,我说过,那封信已被烧掉了,而且并非全信都能辨认。我还要问您,为什么您那样迫切地要求查尔兹爵士把他临死那天所收到的这封信毁掉呢?”

“因为这是一件纯属私人之间的事。”

“更重要的原因恐怕是您要避免公开的追究调查吧。”

“那么我就告诉您吧,如果您曾听过任何关于我的悲惨的经历的话,您就会知道我曾经草率地结过婚,事后当然又因此而懊悔。”

“我听到过很多了。”

“我过着不断遭受我已厌恶透顶的丈夫迫害的生活。法律袒护着他,每天我都面临着被迫和他同居的可能。在我给查尔兹爵士写这封信的时候,我听说如果我能支付一笔钱的话,我就可能重获自由了。这就是我所想望的一切——心地宁静、幸福、自尊——这就是一切。我知道查尔兹爵士是慷慨的,而且我想,如果他听我亲口讲出这事的话,他就一定会帮助我。”

“那么您为什么又没有去呢?”

“因为就在那时候,我又从别处得到帮助了。”

“那么,为什么您没有写信给查尔兹爵士解释这件事呢?”

“如果第二天早晨我没有在报上看到他的噩耗的话,我一定会这样做的。”

那女人的叙述前后相符,我提尽了所有的问题也找不出破绽来。我只能调查一下,是否恰在悲剧发生的时候或是接近悲剧发生的时候,她确曾通过法律程序向她丈夫提出过离婚诉讼。

看来,如果她真的去过巴斯克维尔庄园的话,恐怕她不见得敢说她没有去过。因为她总得坐马车才能到那里去,这样的话,要到第二天清晨她才能回到库姆·特雷西,这样一次远行是无法保守秘密的。因此,最大的可能就是,她说的是实话,或者说至少有一部分是实情。我垂头丧气地回来了,这是再度的碰壁,这堵墙好象是修在每一条我想通过它而抵达目的地的路上似的。可是我愈想象那女士的面孔和她的神情,我就愈觉得她还有些东西是瞒着我的。为什么她的脸要变得那样苍白呢?为什么她每次都要竭力否认而只有到了迫不得已的时候才承认呢?在悲剧发生的时候,为什么她那样保持沉默呢?当然罗,对这些问题的解释并非象她解释给我听的那样简单。目前,沿此方向我已无法再前进一步,只好转到沼地里的石屋去搜寻其他线索了。

可是这也是个希望极为渺茫的方向,在我回去的路上我感到了这一点。我看到一座山接着一座山,上面都有古时人们生活的遗迹。白瑞摩只不过说那个人住在这些废弃不用的小房之中的一幢里,这种小房子成百成千地散布在整个的沼地里。幸而我曾看见过那人站在黑岩岗的绝顶上,我不妨就先以此作为线索,把我看到过他的那个地方作为进行搜寻的中心。我应当从那里开始查看沼地里的每一幢小房,直至找到我要找的那幢为止。如果那人呆在房内的话,我要让他亲口说明他是谁,为什么要这么长时期地跟踪我们,必要时甚至不惜用我的手枪逼着他说。在摄政街的人群里他也许能从我们的手中溜跑,可是在这样荒漠的沼地里,恐怕他就会感到不知如何是好了。但是如果我找到了那小房而那人不在房里的话,不管需要熬多久的夜,我也要在那里等着,直到他回来为止。在伦敦,福尔摩斯让他溜跑了,在我的师傅失败之后,如果我能将他查出的话,对我说来确是一个很大的胜利。

我们在对这个案件进行调查的工作中,运气一再地不佳,可是现在我竟时来运转了,而送来好运道的使者不是别人,恰是弗兰克兰先生。他胡须花白,面色红润,正站在他那花园的门口,那园门端正地开向我要走过的大道。

“好啊,华生医生,”他兴致勃勃地喊道,“您真得让您的马休息一下了,进来喝一杯酒祝贺我吧。”

在听到他如何对待他的女儿以后,我对他实在说不上还有什么好感,可是我正急于想把波斯金和马车遣回家去,这确实是个好机会。我下了车,给亨利爵士写了个便条,说明我要在晚饭时分散步回去。然后我就跟着弗兰克兰先生走进了他的饭厅。*

“对我说来可真是个了不起的一天啊,先生,是我一生里的一个大喜的日子,”他不停地格格地笑着,一面喊道,“我已了结两件案子了。我一定要教训一下这里的人们,让他们知道,法律就是法律。这儿竟还有个不怕打官司的人呢。我已证实了有一条公路整整穿过老米多吞的花园的中心,先生,离他的前门不到一百码。您对这点觉得如何?咱们真得教训教训这帮大人物了,让他们知道知道,不能任意蹂躏平民的权利,这些个混蛋!我还封闭了一片弗恩沃西家的人常去野餐的树林。这些无法无天的人们似乎认为产权根本不存在,他们可以到处乱钻,随处乱丢烂纸空瓶。华生医生,这两件案子我都胜诉了。从约翰·摩兰爵士因为在自己的鸟兽畜养场里放枪而被我告发以来,我还没有过象这样得意的一天呢。”

“您究竟是怎样控告他的呢?”

“看看记录吧,先生。值得看一看的——弗兰克兰对摩兰。 高等法院。这场官司破费了我二百镑,可是我胜诉了。”

“您得到什么好处了呢?”

“什么也没有,先生,什么好处也没有得到。我感到骄傲的就是在我做这些事的时候,丝毫也没有考虑到个人的利益。 我的行为完全是由对社会的责任感所推动的。我确信,譬如说吧,弗恩沃西家的人今晚就可能把我扎成草人烧掉,上回他们那样做的时候,我就报告了警察,告诉他们应该制止这些可耻的行为。县里的警察局真丢人,先生,他们并没有给我应有的保护。弗兰克兰对女王政府的诉讼案,不久就会引起社会上的注意了。我告诉过他们,他们那样对待我总有一天要后悔的,我的话现在果然应验了。”

“怎么就能这样呢?”我问道。

老头摆出了一副很自鸣得意的表情来。

“因为我本来能告诉他们一件他们所迫切想要知道的事情,可是,无论如何,我是不肯帮那些坏蛋的忙的。”

我本来一直在想找个脱身的借口,不再听他那些闲扯,可是,现在我又希望多听一些了。我很清楚这个老荒唐鬼的异乎常情的怪脾气,只要你一表现出强烈的兴趣来,就一定会引起他的怀疑而停止不说了。

“肯定是件偷猎的案子吧?”我带着漠不关心的神气说道。

“啊哈,老兄,是一件比这重要得多的事啊!在沼地里的那个犯人怎么样了?”

我听了大吃一惊。“难道说您知道他在哪里吗?”我说道。

“虽然我并不知道他确实是在哪里,可是我肯定地知道,我能帮助警察把他抓住。难道您从没有想到过抓这个人的办法就是先找出他从哪里弄到食物,然后再根据这条线索去找到他吗?”

他的话确已愈加使人不安地接近了事实。“当然罗,”我说道,“可是您怎么知道他确实是在沼地里呢?”

“我知道,因为我亲眼看到过那个给他送饭的人。”

我为白瑞摩担起心来。被这样一个专好惹是生非、爱管闲事的老头抓住了小辫,确是一件很可怕的事。可是他底下那句话又使我感到如释重负了。

“当您听到他的食物是一个小孩给他送去的时候,您一定会感吃惊吧。我每天都从屋顶上的那架望远镜里看到他,他每天都在同一时间走过同一条道路;除了到那罪犯那里去之外,他还会到谁那里去呢?”

这可真是运气!我抑制住自己对这件事感觉兴趣的一切表现。一个小孩!白瑞摩曾经说过,我们弄不清楚的那个人是由一个小孩给他送东西的。弗兰克兰所发现的是他的线索,而不是那逃犯的线索。如果我能从那里了解到他所知道的事,就可以省得我作长久而疲惫的追踪了。可是,显然我还必须对此表示怀疑和淡漠。

“我想很可能是个沼地牧人的儿子在给他父亲送饭吧。”

稍有不同意的表示,就能把这老专刺激得冒起火来。他两眼恶意地望着我,灰白胡子象发怒的猫似地竖了起来。

“真的,先生!”他说道,同时向外面广袤的沼地指着,“您看到了那边的那个黑色的岩岗了吗?啊,您看到了远处那长满荆棘的矮山吗?那是整个沼地里岩石最多的部分了。难道那里会是牧人驻脚的地方吗?先生!您的想法真是荒谬透顶了。”

我顺从着他回答说,我是因为不了解全部事实才这样说的。我的服输使他大为高兴,也就使他更愿意多说一些了。

“您可以相信,先生,在我提出一个肯定的意见的时候,我是有了很充分的根据的。我一再地看到过那孩子拿着他那卷东西,每天一次,有时每天两次,我都能……等一等,华生医生。是我的眼花呢,还是在那山坡上现在有什么东西在动着?”

约有几里远的样子,可是在暗绿的和灰色的背景衬托之下,我能清楚地看到一个小黑点。

“来呀,先生,来呀!”弗兰克兰边喊边向楼上冲去,“您可以先亲眼看看,然后再自己去判断吧。”

那望远镜是一个装在一只三角架上的庞大的仪器,就放在平坦的铅板屋顶上。弗兰克兰把眼凑了上去,发出了满意的呼声。

“快呀,华生医生,快来,不要等他过了山呀!”

真的,他就在那里呢,一个肩上扛着一小卷东西的孩子,正在费力地慢慢向山上走着。当他走到最高点的时候,在暗蓝色的天空的衬托下,一瞬间我看到了那衣衫不整的陌生人。他鬼鬼祟祟地向四周望着,好象是怕被人跟踪似的。后来就在山那边不见了。

“哈,我说得对不对?”

“当然了,那个小孩好象负有什么秘密使命似的。”

“至于是什么样的使命,就连一个县里的警察都能猜得出来,可是我一个字也不会告诉他们,我要求您也保守秘密,华生医生。一个字也不要泄露,您明白吗!”

“遵命就是了。”

“他们对待我太不象话——太不象话了。等弗兰克兰对女王政府的讼案的内情公布之后,我敢说,全国都会因而大为愤怒的。无论如何,我也不肯帮警察的忙的。他们要管的是我本人,而不是象征我的、被这群流氓捆在柱子上烧掉的草人。您不要走哇!您得帮助我喝干这瓶来庆祝这个伟大的胜利!”

我谢绝了他的一切恳求,而且成功地打消了他的要陪我散步回家的想法。在他望得见我的时候,我一直是顺着大路走,然后我突然离开了大道,穿过沼地,向那孩子消失不见的那座山上走去。对我说来事事都很顺利,我敢发誓,我绝不会因为缺乏精神和毅力而错过命运之神给我送到眼前来的机会。

在我抵达山顶的时候,太阳已经就要落下去了,脚下的山坡向阳的一面变成了金绿色,而另一面则完全被灰暗的阴影笼罩了。在极远的天际线上,呈现出一抹苍茫的暮色,在暮色中突出来的就是奇形怪状的贝利弗和维克森岩岗。在无边无际的大地上,一无动静。一只灰雁,也许是一只海鸥或麻鹬翱翔在高高的蓝色天空之中。在广大无边的苍穹和下面荒芜的大地之间,它和我好象就是这里仅有的生物了。荒漠的景色,孤独的感觉和我的神秘而急迫的使命使我不禁打起寒战来。哪里也看不到那个孩子,可是在我下面的一个山沟里有一些环绕成圈的古老石屋,中间有一栋还有着能够使人免于日晒雨淋的屋顶。我一看到它,心房就不禁为之一跳,这一定就是那个人藏匿的地方了。我的脚终于踏上了他那藏身之所的门槛了——他的秘密可被我抓住了。

当我慢慢接近小屋的时候,我走得小心而又谨慎,就象是斯台普吞高举着捕蝶网慢慢走近落稳了的蝴蝶似的。我深为满意的是这地方确曾被用作居住之所。乱石之间有一条隐约可见的小路,通向破烂得要塌的当作门用的开口。那个不知来由的人可能正藏在那里,或者正在沼地里荡来荡去。冒险的感觉使我的神经大为兴奋,我把烟头抛在一旁,手摸着我那支左轮的枪柄,迅速地走到门口,我向屋里望了一望,里面空空的。

可是有很多迹象可以说明,我并没有找错地方。这里一定是那个人住的地方。一块防雨布包着几条毛毯,放在新石器时代的人曾经睡过觉的那块石板上,在一个粗陋的石框里还有一堆烧过的灰烬,旁边放着一些厨房用具还有半桶水。一堆乱七八糟的空罐头盒说明,那人在这屋里已经住了些时候了。当我的眼睛习惯了这种透过树叶照下来的纷乱的点点阳光之后,我又在屋角里看到了一只金属小杯和半瓶酒。在小屋的中央有一块平平的石头被当桌子用了,上面有个小布包——无疑的就是我从望远镜里看到的小孩肩上的那卷。里面有一块面包、一听牛舌和两听桃罐头。当我察看完毕重新放下的时候,心里一跳,因为我看到下面还有一张写着字的纸。

可能从我到了沼地以来,没有一步行动是未被他看到并报告了上去的。我总感觉到有一股看不见的力量,象一张密密的网似的,无比巧妙地围住了我们,把我们拢得这样松,是为了到极端紧要的关头时,才让我们知道自己真的已被纠缠在网眼里了。

既然有了一份报告,就可能还有,于是我就在屋里到处搜寻起来。可是毫无踪影,也没有发现任何足以说明住在这个奇怪地方的人的特点和意图的迹象。只有一点可以确定,就是他一定有着斯巴达人式的习惯,对生活中的舒适不大介意。 我看了看这开着大口的屋顶,再想一想那天的倾盆大雨,就更深切地了解到他那要想达到目的的意志是多么地坚定不移,正因为有了这样的意志,他才能住在这种不舒适的地方。

我下了决心,不弄清一切,决不离开这小屋。

外面,太阳已经落得很低了,西面放射着火红和金色的余辉,天光照着散布在远处格林盆大泥潭中的水洼,反射出片片的红光。在那边可以看到巴斯克维尔庄园的两座塔楼,远处有一带朦胧的烟气,说明那里就是格林盆村,在这两处的中间,那小山背后就是斯台普吞家的房子。在傍晚金黄色的余光照耀下,一切都显得那样美好、醉人而又恬静。可是在我看到这景色的时候,内心里不仅丝毫不能感受大自然的宁静,反而还因愈益迫近的会面所引起的茫然和恐惧的心理而发抖。我的神经在悸动,但是决心坚定,我在小屋里坐在黑暗的深处,耐心地等待屋主人的来临。

后来,我终于听到他走来了,远处传来了皮鞋走在石头上所发出来的得得声,一步又一步地愈走愈近了。我退回到最黑的屋角去,手在口袋里把左轮的枪机扳好,我决定在能看清这人以前不使自己露面。那声音停住了很久,说明他站住了;后来脚步声又向前走来,一条黑影由石屋的开口处投射进来。

“真是个可爱的黄昏,亲爱的华生,”一个很熟悉的声音说,“我真觉得你到外边来要比呆在里面舒服得多呢。”