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The three detectives had many matters of detail into which to inquire; so I returned alone to our modest quarters at the village inn. But before doing so I took a stroll in the curious old-world garden which flanked the house. Rows of very ancient yew trees cut into strange designs girded it round. Inside was a beautiful stretch of lawn with an old sundial in the middle, the whole effect so soothing and restful that it was welcome to my somewhat jangled nerves.

In that deeply peaceful atmosphere one could forget, or remember only as some fantastic nightmare, that darkened study with the sprawling, bloodstained figure on the floor. And yet, as I strolled round it and tried to steep my soul in its gentle balm, a strange incident occurred, which brought me back to the tragedy and left a sinister impression in my mind.

I have said that a decoration of yew trees circled the garden. At the end farthest from the house they thickened into a continuous hedge. On the other side of this hedge, concealed from the eyes of anyone approaching from the direction of the house, there was a stone seat. As I approached the spot I was aware of voices, some remark in the deep tones of a man, answered by a little ripple of feminine laughter.

An instant later I had come round the end of the hedge and my eyes lit upon Mrs. Douglas and the man Barker before they were aware of my presence. Her appearance gave me a shock. In the dining-room she had been demure and discreet. Now all pretense of grief had passed away from her. Her eyes shone with the joy of living, and her face still quivered with amusement at some remark of her companion. He sat forward, his hands clasped and his forearms on his knees, with an answering smile upon his bold, handsome face. In an instant--but it was just one instant too late--they resumed their solemn masks as my figure came into view. A hurried word or two passed between them, and then Barker rose and came towards me.

"Excuse me, sir," said he, "but am I addressing Dr. Watson?"

I bowed with a coldness which showed, I dare say, very plainly the impression which had been produced upon my mind.

"We thought that it was probably you, as your friendship with Mr. Sherlock Holmes is so well known. Would you mind coming over and speaking to Mrs. Douglas for one instant?"

I followed him with a dour face. Very clearly I could see in my mind's eye that shattered figure on the floor. Here within a few hours of the tragedy were his wife and his nearest friend laughing together behind a bush in the garden which had been his. I greeted the lady with reserve. I had grieved with her grief in the dining room. Now I met her appealing gaze with an unresponsive eye.

"I fear that you think me callous and hard-hearted," said she.

I shrugged my shoulders. "It is no business of mine," said I.

"Perhaps some day you will do me justice. If you only realized--"

"There is no need why Dr. Watson should realize," said Barker quickly. "As he has himself said, it is no possible business of his."

"Exactly," said I, "and so I will beg leave to resume my walk."

"One moment, Dr. Watson," cried the woman in a pleading voice. "There is one question which you can answer with more authority than anyone else in the world, and it may make a very great difference to me. You know Mr. Holmes and his relations with the police better than anyone else can. Supposing that a matter were brought confidentially to his knowledge, is it absolutely necessary that he should pass it on to the detectives?"

"Yes, that's it," said Barker eagerly. "Is he on his own or is he entirely in with them?"

"I really don't know that I should be justified in discussing such a point."

"I beg--I implore that you will, Dr. Watson! I assure you that you will be helping us--helping me greatly if you will guide us on that point."

There was such a ring of sincerity in the woman's voice that for the instant I forgot all about her levity and was moved only to do her will.

"Mr. Holmes is an independent investigator," I said. "He is his own master, and would act as his own judgment directed. At the same time, he would naturally feel loyalty towards the officials who were working on the same case, and he would not conceal from them anything which would help them in bringing a criminal to justice. Beyond this I can say nothing, and I would refer you to Mr. Holmes himself if you wanted fuller information."

So saying I raised my hat and went upon my way, leaving them still seated behind that concealing hedge. I looked back as I rounded the far end of it, and saw that they were still talking very earnestly together, and, as they were gazing after me, it was clear that it was our interview that was the subject of their debate.

"I wish none of their confidences," said Holmes, when I reported to him what had occurred. He had spent the whole afternoon at the Manor House in consultation with his two colleagues, and returned about five with a ravenous appetite for a high tea which I had ordered for him. "No confidences, Watson; for they are mighty awkward if it comes to an arrest for conspiracy and murder."

"You think it will come to that?"

He was in his most cheerful and debonair humour. "My dear Watson, when I have exterminated that fourth egg I shall be ready to put you in touch with the whole situation. I don't say that we have fathomed it--far from it--but when we have traced the missing dumb-bell--"

"The dumb-bell!"

"Dear me, Watson, is it possible that you have not penetrated the fact that the case hangs upon the missing dumb-bell? Well, well, you need not be downcast; for between ourselves I don't think that either Inspector Mac or the excellent local practitioner has grasped the overwhelming importance of this incident. One dumb-bell, Watson! Consider an athlete with one dumb-bell! Picture to yourself the unilateral development, the imminent danger of a spinal curvature. Shocking, Watson, shocking!"

He sat with his mouth full of toast and his eyes sparkling with mischief, watching my intellectual entanglement. The mere sight of his excellent appetite was an assurance of success; for I had very clear recollections of days and nights without a thought of food, when his baffled mind had chafed before some problem while his thin, eager features became more attenuated with the asceticism of complete mental concentration. Finally he lit his pipe, and sitting in the inglenook of the old village inn he talked slowly and at random about his case, rather as one who thinks aloud than as one who makes a considered statement.

"A lie, Watson--a great, big, thumping, obtrusive, uncompromising lie--that's what meets us on the threshold! There is our starting point. The whole story told by Barker is a lie. But Barker's story is corroborated by Mrs. Douglas. Therefore she is lying also. They are both lying, and in a conspiracy. So now we have the clear problem. Why are they lying, and what is the truth which they are trying so hard to conceal? Let us try, Watson, you and I, if we can get behind the lie and reconstruct the truth.

"How do I know that they are lying? Because it is a clumsy fabrication which simply could not be true. Consider! According to the story given to us, the assassin had less than a minute after the murder had been committed to take that ring, which was under another ring, from the dead man's finger, to replace the other ring--a thing which he would surely never have done--and to put that singular card beside his victim. I say that this was obviously impossible.

"You may argue--but I have too much respect for your judgment, Watson, to think that you will do so--that the ring may have been taken before the man was killed. The fact that the candle had been lit only a short time shows that there had been no lengthy interview. Was Douglas, from what we hear of his fearless character, a man who would be likely to give up his wedding ring at such short notice, or could we conceive of his giving it up at all? No, no, Watson, the assassin was alone with the dead man for some time with the lamp lit. Of that I have no doubt at all.

"But the gunshot was apparently the cause of death. Therefore the shot must have been fired some time earlier than we are told. But there could be no mistake about such a matter as that. We are in the presence, therefore, of a deliberate conspiracy upon the part of the two people who heard the gunshot--of the man Barker and of the woman Douglas. When on the top of this I am able to show that the blood mark on the windowsill was deliberately placed there by Barker, in order to give a false clue to the police, you will admit that the case grows dark against him.

"Now we have to ask ourselves at what hour the murder actually did occur. Up to half-past ten the servants were moving about the house; so it was certainly not before that time. At a quarter to eleven they had all gone to their rooms with the exception of Ames, who was in the pantry. I have been trying some experiments after you left us this afternoon, and I find that no noise which MacDonald can make in the study can penetrate to me in the pantry when the doors are all shut.

"It is otherwise, however, from the housekeeper's room. It is not so far down the corridor, and from it I could vaguely hear a voice when it was very loudly raised. The sound from a shotgun is to some extent muffled when the discharge is at very close range, as it undoubtedly was in this instance. It would not be very loud, and yet in the silence of the night it should have easily penetrated to Mrs. Allen's room. She is, as she has told us, somewhat deaf; but none the less she mentioned in her evidence that she did hear something like a door slamming half an hour before the alarm was given. Half an hour before the alarm was given would be a quarter to eleven. I have no doubt that what she heard was the report of the gun, and that this was the real instant of the murder.

"If this is so, we have now to determine what Barker and Mrs. Douglas, presuming that they are not the actual murderers, could have been doing from quarter to eleven, when the sound of the shot brought them down, until quarter past eleven, when they rang the bell and summoned the servants. What were they doing, and why did they not instantly give the alarm? That is the question which faces us, and when it has been answered we shall surely have gone some way to solve our problem."

"I am convinced myself," said I, "that there is an understanding between those two people. She must be a heartless creature to sit laughing at some jest within a few hours of her husband's murder."

"Exactly. She does not shine as a wife even in her own account of what occurred. I am not a whole-souled admirer of womankind, as you are aware, Watson, but my experience of life has taught me that there are few wives, having any regard for their husbands, who would let any man's spoken word stand between them and that husband's dead body. Should I ever marry, Watson, I should hope to inspire my wife with some feeling which would prevent her from being walked off by a housekeeper when my corpse was lying within a few yards of her. It was badly stage-managed; for even the rawest investigators must be struck by the absence of the usual feminine ululation. If there had been nothing else, this incident alone would have suggested a prearranged conspiracy to my mind."

"You think then, definitely, that Barker and Mrs. Douglas are guilty of the murder?"

"There is an appalling directness about your questions, Watson," said Holmes, shaking his pipe at me. "They come at me like bullets. If you put it that Mrs. Douglas and Barker know the truth about the murder, and are conspiring to conceal it, then I can give you a whole-souled answer. I am sure they do. But your more deadly proposition is not so clear. Let us for a moment consider the difficulties which stand in the way.

"We will suppose that this couple are united by the bonds of a guilty love, and that they have determined to get rid of the man who stands between them. It is a large supposition; for discreet inquiry among servants and others has failed to corroborate it in any way. On the contrary, there is a good deal of evidence that the Douglases were very attached to each other."

"That, I am sure, cannot be true," said I, thinking of the beautiful smiling face in the garden.

"Well at least they gave that impression. However, we will suppose that they are an extraordinarily astute couple, who deceive everyone upon this point, and conspire to murder the husband. He happens to be a man over whose head some danger hangs--"

"We have only their word for that."

Holmes looked thoughtful. "I see, Watson. You are sketching out a theory by which everything they say from the beginning is false. According to your idea, there was never any hidden menace, or secret society, or Valley of Fear, or Boss MacSomebody, or anything else. Well, that is a good sweeping generalization. Let us see what that brings us to. They invent this theory to account for the crime. They then play up to the idea by leaving this bicycle in the park as proof of the existence of some outsider. The stain on the windowsill conveys the same idea. So does the card on the body, which might have been prepared in the house. That all fits into your hypothesis, Watson. But now we come on the nasty, angular, uncompromising bits which won't slip into their places. Why a cut-off shotgun of all weapons--and an American one at that? How could they be so sure that the sound of it would not bring someone on to them? It's a mere chance as it is that Mrs. Allen did not start out to inquire for the slamming door. Why did your guilty couple do all this, Watson?"

"I confess that I can't explain it."

"Then again, if a woman and her lover conspire to murder a husband, are they going to advertise their guilt by ostentatiously removing his wedding ring after his death? Does that strike you as very probable, Watson?"

"No, it does not."

"And once again, if the thought of leaving a bicycle concealed outside had occurred to you, would it really have seemed worth doing when the dullest detective would naturally say this is an obvious blind, as the bicycle is the first thing which the fugitive needed in order to make his escape."

"I can conceive of no explanation."

"And yet there should be no combination of events for which the wit of man cannot conceive an explanation. Simply as a mental exercise, without any assertion that it is true, let me indicate a possible line of thought. It is, I admit, mere imagination; but how often is imagination the mother of truth?

"We will suppose that there was a guilty secret, a really shameful secret in the life of this man Douglas. This leads to his murder by someone who is, we will suppose, an avenger, someone from outside. This avenger, for some reason which I confess I am still at a loss to explain, took the dead man's wedding ring. The vendetta might conceivably date back to the man's first marriage, and the ring be taken for some such reason.

"Before this avenger got away, Barker and the wife had reached the room. The assassin convinced them that any attempt to arrest him would lead to the publication of some hideous scandal. They were converted to this idea, and preferred to let him go. For this purpose they probably lowered the bridge, which can be done quite noiselessly, and then raised it again. He made his escape, and for some reason thought that he could do so more safely on foot than on the bicycle. He therefore left his machine where it would not be discovered until he had got safely away. So far we are within the bounds of possibility, are we not?"

"Well, it is possible, no doubt," said I, with some reserve.

"We have to remember, Watson, that whatever occurred is certainly something very extraordinary. Well, now, to continue our supposititious case, the couple--not necessarily a guilty couple--realize after the murderer is gone that they have placed themselves in a position in which it may be difficult for them to prove that they did not themselves either do the deed or connive at it. They rapidly and rather clumsily met the situation. The mark was put by Barker's bloodstained slipper upon the windowsill to suggest how the fugitive got away. They obviously were the two who must have heard the sound of the gun; so they gave the alarm exactly as they would have done, but a good half hour after the event."

"And how do you propose to prove all this?"

"Well, if there were an outsider, he may be traced and taken. That would be the most effective of all proofs. But if not--well, the resources of science are far from being exhausted. I think that an evening alone in that study would help me much."

"An evening alone!"

"I propose to go up there presently. I have arranged it with the estimable Ames, who is by no means wholehearted about Barker. I shall sit in that room and see if its atmosphere brings me inspiration. I'm a believer in the genius loci. You smile, Friend Watson. Well, we shall see. By the way, you have that big umbrella of yours, have you not?"

"It is here."

"Well, I'll borrow that if I may."

"Certainly--but what a wretched weapon! If there is danger--"

"Nothing serious, my dear Watson, or I should certainly ask for your assistance. But I'll take the umbrella. At present I am only awaiting the return of our colleagues from Tunbridge Wells, where they are at present engaged in trying for a likely owner to the bicycle."

It was nightfall before Inspector MacDonald and White Mason came back from their expedition, and they arrived exultant, reporting a great advance in our investigation.

"Man, I'll admeet that I had my doubts if there was ever an outsider," said MacDonald, "but that's all past now. We've had the bicycle identified, and we have a description of our man; so that's a long step on our journey."

"It sounds to me like the beginning of the end," said Holmes. "I'm sure I congratulate you both with all my heart."

"Well, I started from the fact that Mr. Douglas had seemed disturbed since the day before, when he had been at Tunbridge Wells. It was at Tunbridge Wells then that he had become conscious of some danger. It was clear, therefore, that if a man had come over with a bicycle it was from Tunbridge Wells that he might be expected to have come. We took the bicycle over with us and showed it at the hotels. It was identified at once by the manager of the Eagle Commercial as belonging to a man named Hargrave, who had taken a room there two days before. This bicycle and a small valise were his whole belongings. He had registered his name as coming from London, but had given no address. The valise was London made, and the contents were British; but the man himself was undoubtedly an American."

"Well, well," said Holmes gleefully, "you have indeed done some solid work while I have been sitting spinning theories with my friend! It's a lesson in being practical, Mr. Mac."

"Ay, it's just that, Mr. Holmes," said the inspector with satisfaction.

"But this may all fit in with your theories," I remarked.

"That may or may not be. But let us hear the end, Mr. Mac. Was there nothing to identify this man?"

"So little that it was evident that he had carefully guarded himself against identification. There were no papers or letters, and no marking upon the clothes. A cycle map of the county lay on his bedroom table. He had left the hotel after breakfast yesterday morning on his bicycle, and no more was heard of him until our inquiries."

"That's what puzzles me, Mr. Holmes," said White Mason. "If the fellow did not want the hue and cry raised over him, one would imagine that he would have returned and remained at the hotel as an inoffensive tourist. As it is, he must know that he will be reported to the police by the hotel manager and that his disappearance will be connected with the murder."

"So one would imagine. Still, he has been justified of his wisdom up to date, at any rate, since he has not been taken. But his description--what of that?"

MacDonald referred to his notebook. "Here we have it so far as they could give it. They don't seem to have taken any very particular stock of him; but still the porter, the clerk, and the chambermaid are all agreed that this about covers the points. He was a man about five foot nine in height, fifty or so years of age, his hair slightly grizzled, a grayish moustache, a curved nose, and a face which all of them described as fierce and forbidding."

"Well, bar the expression, that might almost be a description of Douglas himself," said Holmes. "He is just over fifty, with grizzled hair and moustache, and about the same height. Did you get anything else?"

"He was dressed in a heavy gray suit with a reefer jacket, and he wore a short yellow overcoat and a soft cap."

"What about the shotgun?"

"It is less than two feet long. It could very well have fitted into his valise. He could have carried it inside his overcoat without difficulty."

"And how do you consider that all this bears upon the general case?"

"Well, Mr. Holmes," said MacDonald, "when we have got our man--and you may be sure that I had his description on the wires within five minutes of hearing it--we shall be better able to judge. But, even as it stands, we have surely gone a long way. We know that an American calling himself Hargrave came to Tunbridge Wells two days ago with bicycle and valise. In the latter was a sawed-off shotgun; so he came with the deliberate purpose of crime. Yesterday morning he set off for this place on his bicycle, with his gun concealed in his overcoat. No one saw him arrive, so far as we can learn; but he need not pass through the village to reach the park gates, and there are many cyclists upon the road. Presumably he at once concealed his cycle among the laurels where it was found, and possibly lurked there himself, with his eye on the house, waiting for Mr. Douglas to come out. The shotgun is a strange weapon to use inside a house; but he had intended to use it outside, and there it has very obvious advantages, as it would be impossible to miss with it, and the sound of shots is so common in an English sporting neighbourhood that no particular notice would be taken."

"That is all very clear," said Holmes.

"Well, Mr. Douglas did not appear. What was he to do next? He left his bicycle and approached the house in the twilight. He found the bridge down and no one about. He took his chance, intending, no doubt, to make some excuse if he met anyone. He met no one. He slipped into the first room that he saw, and concealed himself behind the curtain. Thence he could see the drawbridge go up, and he knew that his only escape was through the moat. He waited until quarter-past eleven, when Mr. Douglas upon his usual nightly round came into the room. He shot him and escaped, as arranged. He was aware that the bicycle would be described by the hotel people and be a clue against him; so he left it there and made his way by some other means to London or to some safe hiding place which he had already arranged. How is that, Mr. Holmes?"

"Well, Mr. Mac, it is very good and very clear so far as it goes. That is your end of the story. My end is that the crime was committed half an hour earlier than reported; that Mrs. Douglas and Barker are both in a conspiracy to conceal something; that they aided the murderer's escape--or at least that they reached the room before he escaped--and that they fabricated evidence of his escape through the window, whereas in all probability they had themselves let him go by lowering the bridge. That's my reading of the first half."

The two detectives shook their heads.

"Well, Mr. Holmes, if this is true, we only tumble out of one mystery into another," said the London inspector.

"And in some ways a worse one," added White Mason. "The lady has never been in America in all her life. What possible connection could she have with an American assassin which would cause her to shelter him?"

"I freely admit the difficulties," said Holmes. "I propose to make a little investigation of my own to-night, and it is just possible that it may contribute something to the common cause."

"Can we help you, Mr. Holmes?"

"No, no! Darkness and Dr. Watson's umbrella--my wants are simple. And Ames, the faithful Ames, no doubt he will stretch a point for me. All my lines of thought lead me back invariably to the one basic question--why should an athletic man develop his frame upon so unnatural an instrument as a single dumb-bell?"

It was late that night when Holmes returned from his solitary excursion. We slept in a double-bedded room, which was the best that the little country inn could do for us. I was already asleep when I was partly awakened by his entrance.

"Well, Holmes," I murmured, "have you found anything out?"

He stood beside me in silence, his candle in his hand. Then the tall, lean figure inclined towards me. "I say, Watson," he whispered, "would you be afraid to sleep in the same room with a lunatic, a man with softening of the brain, an idiot whose mind has lost its grip?"

"Not in the least," I answered in astonishment.

"Ah, that's lucky," he said, and not another word would he utter that night.

六 一线光明

这三个侦探还有许多细节要去调查,所以我就独自返回我们在乡村旅店的住所。可是在回去以前,我在这古色古香的花园里散了散步,花园在庄园侧翼,四周环绕着一排排非常古老的紫杉,修剪得奇形怪状。园里是一片连绵的草坪,草其中间有一个古式的日晷仪。整个园中景色雅静宜人,不禁使我的紧张神经为之松弛,顿时心旷神怡起来。在这样清雅幽静的环境里,一个人就能忘掉那间阴森森的书房和地板上那个四肢伸开、血迹斑斑的尸体,或者只把它当做一场噩梦而已。然而,正当我在园中散步,心神沉浸在鸟语花香之中时,忽然遇到了一件怪事,又使我重新想起那件惨案,并在我心中留下不祥的印象。

我刚才说过,花园四周点缀着一排排的紫杉。在距庄园楼房最远的那一头,紫杉很稠密,形成一道连绵的树篱。树篱的后面,有个长条石凳,从楼房这方向走过去是看不见的。我走近那个地方就听到有人说话,先是一个男人的喉音,随后是一个女人娇柔的笑声。我转眼来到了树篱的尽头,对方还没有发现我,我就看到了道格拉斯夫人和巴克这个大汉。她的样子使我大吃一惊。在餐室里,她那么平静而又拘谨,而现在,她脸上一切伪装的悲哀都已烟消云散,双眼闪烁着生活欢乐的光辉,面部被同伴的妙语逗乐的笑纹未消。巴克坐在那里,向前倾着身子,两手交握在一起,双肘支在膝上,英俊的面孔答以微笑。一看到我,他俩立刻恢复了那种严肃的伪装——只不过太晚了点。他俩匆匆说了一两句话,巴克随即起身走到我身旁,说道:“请原谅,先生,你可是华生医生吗!”

我冷冷地向他点了点头,我敢说,我很明显地表露出内心对他们的印象。

“我们想可能是你,因为你和歇洛克·福尔摩斯先生的友情是尽人皆知的。你可愿意过来和道格拉斯夫人说会儿话吗?”

我脸色阴沉地随他走过去,脑海里清楚地浮现出地板上那个脑袋几乎被打碎了的尸体。惨案发生后还不到几小时,他的妻子竟在他的花园的灌木丛后面和他的至爱男友说说笑笑。我很冷淡地向这个女人打了个招呼。在餐室时,我曾因她的不幸而感到沉痛,而现在,我对她那祈求的目光也只能漠然置之了。

“恐怕你要以为我是一个冷酷无情、铁石心肠的人了吧?”道格拉斯夫人说道。

我耸了耸双肩,说道:“这不干我的事。”

“也许有那么一天你会公平地对待我,只要你了解……”

“华生医生没有必要了解什么,"巴克急忙说道,“因为他亲口说过,这不干他的事嘛。”

“不错,"我说道,“那么,我就告辞了,我还要继续散步呢。”

“华生先生,请等一等,"妇人用恳求的声音大声喊道,“有一个问题,你的回答比世上任何人都更有权威,而这个答案对我却有重大关系。你比任何人都更了解福尔摩斯先生,了解他和警署的关系。假使有人把一件事秘密告诉他知道,他是不是绝对必须转告警探们呢?”

“对,问题就在这里,"巴克也很恳切地说道,“他是独立处理问题,还是全都要和他们一起解决?”

“我真不知道该不该谈这样一个问题。”

“我求你,我恳求你告诉我,华生医生,我相信你一定能有助于我们,只要你在这点上给我们指点一下,你对我的帮助就太大了。”

妇人的声音是那么诚恳,竟使我霎时忘掉她的一切轻浮举动,感动得只能满足她的要求。

“福尔摩斯先生是一个独立的侦探,"我说道,“一切事他都自己作主,并根据自己的判断来处理问题。同时,他当然会忠于那些和他一同办案的官方人员,而对那些能帮助官方把罪犯缉拿归案的事情,他也绝不隐瞒他们。除此以外,我不能说别的。如果你要知道得更详细,我希望你找福尔摩斯先生本人。”

说着,我抬了一下帽子就走开了,他俩仍然坐在树篱挡①住的地方。我走到树篱尽头,回头看到他们仍坐在树篱后面,热烈地谈论着;因为他们的眼睛一直在盯着我,这就很明显,他们是在议论刚才和我的对话。

福尔摩斯用了整个下午的时间,和他的两个同行在庄园里商量案情,五点左右方才回来,我叫人给他端上茶点,他狼吞虎咽地吃起来。

当我把这件事告诉福尔摩斯时,他说道:“我不希望他们告诉我什么隐秘。华生,也根本没有什么隐秘。因为如果我们以同谋和谋杀的罪名去逮捕他们的话,他们就会十分狼狈了。”

“你觉得这件事会引向这样的结果么?”

福尔摩斯兴高采烈、意趣盎然,幽默地说道:“我亲爱的华生,等我消灭了这第四个鸡蛋,我就让你听到全部情况。我不敢说已经完全水落石出了——还差得远呢。不过,当我们追查到了那个丢失的哑铃的时候……”①欧洲人的一种礼节,将帽子稍稍拿起一些,并稍点头,随即戴上。——译者注

“那个哑铃!?”

“哎呀,华生,难道你没看出来,这个案子的关键就在于那个丢失的哑铃吗?好了,好了,你也用不着垂头丧气,因为,这只是咱们两个人说说,我想不管是警官麦克,还是那个精明的当地侦探,都没有理解到这件小事的特殊重要性。只有一个哑铃!华生,想想,一个运动员只有一个哑铃的情况吧!想想那种畸形发展——很快就有造成脊椎弯曲的危险。不正常啊,华生,不正常啊!”

他坐在那里,大口吃着面包,两眼闪耀着调皮的神色,注视着我那搜索枯肠的狼狈相。

福尔摩斯食欲这样旺盛,说明他已经是胸有成竹了。因为我对他那些食不甘味的日日夜夜记忆犹新,当他那困惑的头脑被疑难问题弄得焦躁不安的时候,他就会象一个苦行主义者那样全神贯注,而他那瘦削、渴望成功的面容就变得愈发枯瘦如柴了。

最后,福尔摩斯点着了烟斗,坐在这家老式乡村旅馆的炉火旁,不慌不忙地,随意地谈起这个案子来,这与其说是深思熟虑的讲述,不如说是自言自语的回忆。

“谎言,华生,是一个很大的、出奇的、不折不扣的弥天大谎,我们一开头就碰到这个谎言,这就是我们的出发点。巴克所说的话完全是撒谎。不过巴克的话被道格拉斯夫人进一步证实了。所以说,道格拉斯夫人也是在撒谎。他们两个都撒谎,而且是串通一起的。所以现在我们的问题很清楚,就是查清楚他们为什么要撒谎?他们千方百计力图隐瞒的真相又是什么?华生,你我两人试试看,能不能查出这些谎言背后的真情。

“我怎么知道他们是在撒谎呢?因为他们捏造得非常笨拙,根本违背了事实。试想一想吧!照他们所说,凶手杀人后,在不到一分钟的时间里从死者手指上摘去这个戒指,而这个戒指上面还套着另一只戒指,然后再把这另一只戒指套回原处——这是他肯定做不到的,还把这张奇怪的卡片放在受害者身旁。我说这显然是办不到的。你也可能会争辩说,那指环也许是在他被害以前被摘下去的。可是,华生,我非常尊重你的判断能力,因此我想你是不会这么说的。蜡烛只点了很短时间,这个事实说明,死者和凶手会面的时间不会很长。我们听说道格拉斯胆量很大,他是那种稍经吓唬就自动交出结婚戒指的人吗?我们能想象他竟然会交出结婚戒指吗?不,不会的,华生,灯点着后,凶手独自一人和死者呆了一段时间。对于这一点,我是深信不疑的。

“不过致死的原因,很明显是枪杀。所以,开枪的时间比他们所说的要早许多。事情经过就是这样,这是决不会错的。因此,我们面临的是一种蓄意合谋,是由两个听到枪声的人,也就是巴克这个男人和道格拉斯夫人这个女人干的。首先,只我能证明窗台上的血迹是巴克故意印上去的,目的是给警方造成假线索时,你也就会承认,这一案件的发展变得对他不利了。

“现在,我们必须向自己提出一个问题:凶杀究竟是在什么时间发生的呢?直到十点半钟,仆人们还在这屋里来来往往,所以谋杀肯定不是在这之前发生的。十点四十五分,仆人们都回到了下处,只有艾姆斯还留在餐具室。你在下午离开我们以后,我曾作过一些试验,发现只要房门都关上,麦克唐纳在书房不管发出多大声音,我在餐具室里也休想听到。

“然而,女管家的卧室就不同了。这间卧室离走廊不远,当声音非常响时,我在这间卧室是可以模模糊糊地听到的。在从极近距离射击时——本案无疑是如此——火枪的枪声在某种程度上消声了,枪声不会很响,但在寂静的夜晚艾伦太太卧室是能听到的。艾伦太太告诉我们她有些耳聋,尽管如此,她还是在证词中提到过,在警报发出前半小时,她听到砰的一声象关门的声音。警报发出前半小时当然是十点四十五分。我确信她听到的就是枪声,那才是真正的行凶时间。

“假如确实如此,我们现在必须查明一个问题:假定巴克先生和道格拉斯夫人不是凶手,那么,十点四十五分他们听到枪声下楼,到十一点一刻他们拉铃叫来仆人为止,这段时间里他们俩都干了些什么。他们在干些什么呢?为什么他们不马上报警呢?这就是摆在我们面前的问题。这个问题一经查明,就向解决问题前进了几步。”

“我也相信,"我说道,“他们两个是串通一起的。道格拉斯夫人在丈夫死后不到几小时,竟然听见笑话就坐在那里哈哈大笑,那她一定是个毫无心肝的东西了。”

“不错。甚至当她自己讲述案情时,也不象个被害人的妻子。华生,我不是一个崇拜女性的人,这一点你是知道的。可是我的生活经验告诉我,那种听了别人的话就不去看她丈夫尸体的妻子,很少是把丈夫放在心上的。华生,要是我娶妻的话,我一定愿意给我妻子灌输一种感情,当我的尸体躺在离她不远的地方时,她决不会随管家妇走开。他们这种安排非常拙劣,即使是最没有经验的侦探,也会因为没有出现通常会有的妇女尖声悲号的场面而感到吃惊的。即使没有其它原因,单凭这件小事也会使我认为这是预谋。”

“那么,你一定认为巴克和道格拉斯夫人就是杀人犯了?”

“你的这些问题真够直截了当的,"福尔摩斯向我挥舞着烟斗说,“就象对我射来的子弹一样。如果你认为道格拉斯夫人和巴克知道谋杀案的真情,并且合谋策划,隐瞒真相,那我打心眼里同意你,肯定他们是这样干的。不过你那击中要害的前提还不那么清楚。我们先来把妨碍我们前进的疑难问题研究一下吧。

“我们如果设想他们两个人因暧昧关系而沆瀣一气,而且他们决心除掉碍手碍脚的那个人。这只是一种大胆的设想,因为我们经过对仆人们和其他人的周密调查,从哪一方面也不能证明这一点。恰恰相反,有许多证据说明道格拉斯夫妇恩爱无比。”

“我敢说这都不是真的,"我想起花园中那张美丽含笑的面孔,说道。

“好,至少他们使人产生这种印象。然而,我们假定他们是一对诡计多端的人,在这一点上欺骗了所有的人,而且共同图谋杀害道格拉斯。碰巧道格拉斯正面临着某种危险……”

“我们只是听到他们的一面之词啊。”

福尔摩斯沉思着,说道:“我知道,华生,你概括地说明了你的意见,你的意见是,从一开始他们说的每件事都是假的。按照你的看法,根本就没有什么暗藏的危险,没有什么秘密团体,也没有什么'恐怖谷',没有什么叫做麦金蒂之类的大头目诸如此类的事情。好啊,这也算是一种不错的总归纳。让我们看看它会使我们得到什么结果。他们捏造这种论点来说明犯罪原因。然后,他们配合这种说法,把这辆自行车丢在花园里,作为凶手是个外来人的物证。窗台上的血迹也是出于同一目的。尸体上的卡片也是如此,卡片可能就是在屋里写好的。所有这一切都符合你的假设,华生。可是现在,我们跟着就要碰到这样一些难于处理、颇为棘手、处处对不上碴儿的问题了。为什么他们从所有武其中单单选了一支截短了的火枪,而且又是美国火枪呢?他们怎么能肯定火枪的射击声不会把别人惊动,向他们奔来呢?象艾伦太太那样把枪声只当关门声而不出来查看,这不过是偶然现象罢了。华生,为什么你所谓的一对罪犯会这样蠢呢?”

“我承认我对这些也无法解释。”

“那么,还有,如果一个女人和她的情夫合谋杀死她的丈夫,他们会在他死后象炫耀胜利似地把结婚戒指摘走,从而让自己的罪行尽人皆知吗?华生,难道你认为这也是非常可能的吗?”

“不,这是不可能的。”

“再说,假如丢下一辆藏在外边的自行车是你想出来的主意,难道这样做真有什么价值吗?即使最蠢的侦探也必然会说,这显然是故布疑阵,因为一个亡命徒为了逃跑,首要的东西就是自行车呀。”

“我想不出怎样才能解释了。”

“然而,就人类的智力而言,对于一系列相互关联的事件想不出解释来,这是不可能的事。我来指一条可能的思路吧,就当做是一次智力练习,且不管它对还是不对。我承认,这仅仅是一种想象,不过,想象不始终是真实之母吗?

“我们可以假定,道格拉斯这个人生活中确实有过犯罪的隐私,而且实在是可耻的隐私。这就使他遭到某人暗杀,我们设想凶手是个从外面来的仇人。出于某种我到目前还无法解释的原因,这个仇人取走了死者的结婚戒指。这种宿怨可以认为是他第一次结婚时造成的,而正因如此,才取走他的结婚戒指。

“在这个仇人逃跑以前,巴克和死者的妻子来到屋中。凶手使他们认识到,如果企图逮捕他,那么,一件耸人听闻的丑事就会被公诸于世。于是他们就改变了主意,情愿把他放走了。为了这个目的,他们完全可能无声无息地放下吊桥,然后再拉上去。凶手逃跑时,出于某种原因,认为步行比起自行车要安全得多。所以他把自行车丢到他安全逃走以后才可能被发现的地方。到此为止,我们只能认为这些推测是可能的,对不对?”

“对,毫无疑问,这是可能的,"我稍有保留地说。

“华生,我们一定要想到我们遇到的事无疑是极为特殊的。现在我们继续把我们想象的案情谈下去。这一对不一定是罪犯的人,在凶手逃离后,意识到自己处于一种嫌疑地位,他们既难说明自己没有动手行凶,又难证明不是纵容他人行凶。于是他们急急忙忙、笨手笨脚地应付这种情况。巴克用他沾了血迹的拖鞋在窗台上做了脚印,伪作凶手逃走的痕迹。他们显然是两个肯定听到枪声的人,所以在他们安排好了以后,才拉铃报警。不过这已经是案发后整整半个小时了。”

“你打算怎样证明所有这一切呢?”

“好,如果是一个外来人,那么他就有可能被追捕归案,这种证明当然是最有效不过了。但如果不是这样的话……嗯,科学的手段是无穷无尽的。我想,要是我能单独在书房呆一晚上,那对我会有很大帮助的。”

“独自一个人呆一晚上!”

“我打算现在就去那里。我已经和那个令人尊敬的管家艾姆斯商量过了,他决不是巴克的心腹。我要坐在那间屋里,看看室中的气氛是否能给我带来一些灵感。华生,我的朋友,你笑吧。我是笃信守护神的。好,走着瞧吧。顺便问你一下,你有一把大雨伞吧?带来了没有?”

“在这儿。”

“好,如果可以的话,我要借用一下。”

“当然可以了,不过,这是一件多么蹩脚的武器啊!如果有什么危险……”

“没什么严重问题,我亲爱的华生,不然,我就一定会请你帮忙了。可是我一定要借这把伞用一用。目前,我只是等候我的同事们从滕布里奇韦尔斯市回来,他们现在正在那里查找自行车的主人呢。”

黄昏时分,警官麦克唐纳和怀特·梅森调查回来了。他们兴高采烈,说是调查有了很大进展。

“伙计,我承认我曾经怀疑过是否果真有个外来人,"麦克唐纳说道,“不过现在一切都过去了。我们已经认出了自行车,并且还查访到车主的外貌特征,所以,这一趟可是收获不小啊。”

“你们这么说,好象这案子就要了结了,"福尔摩斯说道,

“我衷心地向你们二位道喜啊。”

“好,我是从这个事实入手的:道格拉斯先生曾经到过滕布里奇韦尔斯市,从那一天气,他就显得神情不安了。那么,正是在滕布里奇韦尔斯市,他意识到了有某种危险。很明显,如果一个人是骑自行车来的话,那就可以料想是从滕布里奇韦尔斯市来的了。我们把自行车随身带上,把它给各旅馆看。车马上被伊格尔商业旅馆的经理认出来了,说车主是一个叫哈格雷夫的人。他两天前在那里开过房间。这辆自行车和一个小手提箱,就是他的全部家当。他登记是从伦敦来的,可是没有写地址。手提箱是伦敦出品,里面的东西也是英国货,不过那人本身却无疑是美国人。”

“很好,很好,"福尔摩斯高兴地说道,“你们确实做了一件扎实的工作,而我却和我的朋友坐在这里编造各种推论。麦克先生,这的确是一次教训呢。是得多做些实际的工作啊。”

“当然,这话不错,福尔摩斯先生,"警官麦克唐纳满意地说道。

“可是这也完全符合你的推论啊,"我提醒说。

“那也说不定。不过,让我们听听结果如何吧,麦克先生。没有什么线索可以查清这个人吗?”

“很明显,他非常小心谨慎提防着,不放别人认出他来。既没有文件也没有书信,衣服上也没有特记。他卧室桌上有一张本郡的自行车路线图。昨天早晨,他吃过早饭,骑上自行车离开旅馆,直到我们去查问为止,也没有再听到他的情况。”

“福尔摩斯先生,这正是使我迷惑不解的,"怀特·梅森说道,“如果这个人不想叫人怀疑他,他就应当想到,他必须返回旅馆,并且象一个与事无关的游客那样呆在那里。象现在这样,他应当知道,旅馆主人会去向警察报告的,必然要把他的失踪和凶杀案联系起来。”

“人家是要这样想的。既然还没有捉到他,至少直到现在证明他还是机智的。不过他的外貌特征到底是什么样的呢?”

麦克唐纳查看了一下笔记本。

“这里我们已经把他们所说的完全记下来了。他们似乎说得不太详细,不过那些茶房、管事的和女侍者们所说的大致相同。那人身高五英尺九英寸,五十岁左右,有点儿头发灰白,淡灰色的胡子,鹰钩鼻子和一张凶残无比、令人生畏的面孔。”

“好,别说了,这几乎是道格拉斯本人的写照了,"福尔摩斯说道,“道格拉斯正好是五十多岁,须发灰白,身高也是这样。你还得到什么情况了?”

“他穿一身厚的灰衣服和一件双排扣夹克,披一件黄色短大衣,戴一顶便帽。”

“关于那支火枪有什么情况?”

“这支火枪不到二英尺长,完全可以放到他的手提箱里。他也可以毫不费力地把它放在大衣里,带在身上。”

“你认为这些情况同这件案子有什么关系呢?”

“噢,福尔摩斯先生,"麦克唐纳说道,“你可以相信,我听到这些情况以后,不到五分钟就发出了电报。当我们捉住这个人时,我们就可以更好地判断了。不过,恰恰在这件案子停滞不前时,我们肯定是前进了一大步。我们知道一个自称哈格雷夫的美国人两天前来到滕布里奇韦尔斯市,随身携带一辆自行车和一个手提箱,箱子里装的是一支截短了的火枪。所以他是蓄意来进行犯罪活动的。昨天早晨他把火枪藏在大衣里,骑着自行车来到这个地方。据我们所知,谁也没看到他来。不过他到庄园大门口用不着经过村子,而且路上骑自行车的人也很多。大概他马上把他的自行车藏到月桂树丛里(人们后来就在这里找到那辆车),也可能他自己就潜伏在这里,注视着庄园的动静,等候道格拉斯先生走出来。在咱们看来,在室内使用火枪这种武器是件怪事。不过,他本来是打算在室外使用的。火枪在室外有一个很明显的好处,因为它不会打不中,而且在英国爱好射击运动的人聚居的地方,枪声是很平常的事,不会引仆人们特别注意的。”

“这一切都很清楚了!"福尔摩斯说道。

“可是,道格拉斯先生没有出来。凶手下一步怎么办呢?他丢下自行车,在黄昏时走近庄园。他发现吊桥是放下来的,附近一个人也没有。他就利用了这个机会,毫无疑问,假如有人碰到他,他可以捏造一些借口。可是他没有碰到一个人。他溜进了他首先看到的屋子,隐藏在窗帘后面。从那个地方,他看到吊桥已经拉起来,他知道,唯一的生路就是蹚过护城河。他一直等到十一点一刻,道格拉斯先生进行睡前的例行检查走进房来。他按事先预定计划向道格拉斯开枪以后就逃跑了。他知道,旅馆的人会说出他的自行车特征来,这是个对他不利的线索,所以他就把自行车丢在此地,另行设法到伦敦,或是到他预先安排好的某一安全隐身地去。福尔摩斯先生,我说得怎么样?”

“很好,麦克先生,按照目前的情况来看,你说得很好,也很清楚。这是你所说的情况发展的结局。我的结论是:犯罪时间比我听说的要早半小时;道格拉斯夫人和巴克先生两个人合谋隐瞒了一些情况;他们帮助杀人犯逃跑了,或者至少是在他们进屋以后凶手才逃走的;他们还伪造凶手从窗口逃跑的迹象,而十有八九是他们自己放下吊桥,让凶手逃走的。这是我对案子前一半情况的判断。”

这两个侦探摇了摇头。

“好,福尔摩斯先生,假如这是真的,那我们愈发弄得莫名其妙了。"这个伦敦警官说道。

“而且是更加难于理解了,"怀特·梅森补充说道,“道格拉斯夫人一生中从未到过美洲。她怎么可能和一个美洲来的凶手有瓜葛,并使她庇护这一罪犯呢?”

“我承认存在这些疑问,"福尔摩斯说道,“我打算今天晚上亲自去调查一下,也可能会发现一些有助于破案的情况。”

“福尔摩斯先生,我们能帮你的忙吗?”

“不,不用!我的需要很简单。只要天色漆黑再加上华生医生的雨伞就行了。还有艾姆斯,这个忠实的艾姆斯,毫无疑问,他会破例给我些方便的。我的一切思路始终萦绕着一个基本问题:为什么一个运动员锻炼身体要这么不合情理地使用单个哑铃?”

半夜时候,福尔摩斯才独自调查回来。我们住的屋子有两张床,这已经是这家乡村小旅馆对我们最大的优待了。那时我已入睡,他进门时才把我惊醒。

“哦,福尔摩斯,"我喃喃地说道,“你可发现什么新情况了吗?”

他手里拿着蜡烛,站在我身边,默默不语,然后他那高大而瘦削的身影向我俯过来。

“我说,华生,"他低声说道,“你现在和一个神经失常的人,一个头脑失去控制的白痴,睡在同一个屋子里,不觉得害怕么?”

“一点也不怕。"我吃惊地回答道。

“啊,运气还不错,"他说道,这一夜他就再也没有说一句话。

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