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Next morning, after breakfast, we found Inspector MacDonald and White Mason seated in close consultation in the small parlour of the local police sergeant. On the table in front of them were piled a number of letters and telegrams, which they were carefully sorting and docketing. Three had been placed on one side.

"Still on the track of the elusive bicyclist?" Holmes asked cheerfully. "What is the latest news of the ruffian?"

MacDonald pointed ruefully to his heap of correspondence.

"He is at present reported from Leicester, Nottingham, Southampton, Derby, East Ham, Richmond, and fourteen other places. In three of them--East Ham, Leicester, and Liverpool--there is a clear case against him, and he has actually been arrested. The country seems to be full of the fugitives with yellow coats."

"Dear me!" said Holmes sympathetically. "Now, Mr. Mac and you, Mr. White Mason, I wish to give you a very earnest piece of advice. When I went into this case with you I bargained, as you will no doubt remember, that I should not present you with half-proved theories, but that I should retain and work out my own ideas until I had satisfied myself that they were correct. For this reason I am not at the present moment telling you all that is in my mind. On the other hand, I said that I would play the game fairly by you, and I do not think it is a fair game to allow you for one unnecessary moment to waste your energies upon a profitless task. Therefore I am here to advise you this morning, and my advice to you is summed up in three words--abandon the case."

MacDonald and White Mason stared in amazement at their celebrated colleague.

"You consider it hopeless!" cried the inspector.

"I consider your case to be hopeless. I do not consider that it is hopeless to arrive at the truth."

"But this cyclist. He is not an invention. We have his description, his valise, his bicycle. The fellow must be somewhere. Why should we not get him?"

"Yes, yes, no doubt he is somewhere, and no doubt we shall get him; but I would not have you waste your energies in East Ham or Liverpool. I am sure that we can find some shorter cut to a result."

"You are holding something back. It's hardly fair of you, Mr. Holmes." The inspector was annoyed.

"You know my methods of work, Mr. Mac. But I will hold it back for the shortest time possible. I only wish to verify my details in one way, which can very readily be done, and then I make my bow and return to London, leaving my results entirely at your service. I owe you too much to act otherwise; for in all my experience I cannot recall any more singular and interesting study."

"This is clean beyond me, Mr. Holmes. We saw you when we returned from Tunbridge Wells last night, and you were in general agreement with our results. What has happened since then to give you a completely new idea of the case?"

"Well, since you ask me, I spent, as I told you that I would, some hours last night at the Manor House."

"Well, what happened?"

"Ah, I can only give you a very general answer to that for the moment. By the way, I have been reading a short but clear and interesting account of the old building, purchasable at the modest sum of one penny from the local tobacconist."

Here Holmes drew a small tract, embellished with a rude engraving of the ancient Manor House, from his waistcoat pocket.

"It immensely adds to the zest of an investigation, my dear Mr. Mac, when one is in conscious sympathy with the historical atmosphere of one's surroundings. Don't look so impatient; for I assure you that even so bald an account as this raises some sort of picture of the past in one's mind. Permit me to give you a sample. 'Erected in the fifth year of the reign of James I, and standing upon the site of a much older building, the Manor House of Birlstone presents one of the finest surviving examples of the moated Jacobean residence--'"

"You are making fools of us, Mr. Holmes!"

"Tut, tut, Mr. Mac!--the first sign of temper I have detected in you. Well, I won't read it verbatim, since you feel so strongly upon the subject. But when I tell you that there is some account of the taking of the place by a parliamentary colonel in 1644, of the concealment of Charles for several days in the course of the Civil War, and finally of a visit there by the second George, you will admit that there are various associations of interest connected with this ancient house."

"I don't doubt it, Mr. Holmes; but that is no business of ours."

"Is it not? Is it not? Breadth of view, my dear Mr. Mac, is one of the essentials of our profession. The interplay of ideas and the oblique uses of knowledge are often of extraordinary interest. You will excuse these remarks from one who, though a mere connoisseur of crime, is still rather older and perhaps more experienced than yourself."

"I'm the first to admit that," said the detective heartily. "You get to your point, I admit; but you have such a deuced round-the-corner way of doing it."

"Well, well, I'll drop past history and get down to present-day facts. I called last night, as I have already said, at the Manor House. I did not see either Barker or Mrs. Douglas. I saw no necessity to disturb them; but I was pleased to hear that the lady was not visibly pining and that she had partaken of an excellent dinner. My visit was specially made to the good Mr. Ames, with whom I exchanged some amiabilities, which culminated in his allowing me, without reference to anyone else, to sit alone for a time in the study."

"What! With that?" I ejaculated.

"No, no, everything is now in order. You gave permission for that, Mr. Mac, as I am informed. The room was in its normal state, and in it I passed an instructive quarter of an hour."

"What were you doing?"

"Well, not to make a mystery of so simple a matter, I was looking for the missing dumb-bell. It has always bulked rather large in my estimate of the case. I ended by finding it."

"Where?"

"Ah, there we come to the edge of the unexplored. Let me go a little further, a very little further, and I will promise that you shall share everything that I know."

"Well, we're bound to take you on your own terms," said the inspector; "but when it comes to telling us to abandon the case--why in the name of goodness should we abandon the case?"

"For the simple reason, my dear Mr. Mac, that you have not got the first idea what it is that you are investigating."

"We are investigating the murder of Mr. John Douglas of Birlstone Manor."

"Yes, yes, so you are. But don't trouble to trace the mysterious gentleman upon the bicycle. I assure you that it won't help you."

"Then what do you suggest that we do?"

"I will tell you exactly what to do, if you will do it."

"Well, I'm bound to say I've always found you had reason behind all your queer ways. I'll do what you advise."

"And you, Mr. White Mason?"

The country detective looked helplessly from one to the other. Holmes and his methods were new to him. "Well, if it is good enough for the inspector, it is good enough for me," he said at last.

"Capital!" said Holmes. "Well, then, I should recommend a nice, cheery country walk for both of you. They tell me that the views from Birlstone Ridge over the Weald are very remarkable. No doubt lunch could be got at some suitable hostelry; though my ignorance of the country prevents me from recommending one. In the evening, tired but happy--"

"Man, this is getting past a joke!" cried MacDonald, rising angrily from his chair.

"Well, well, spend the day as you like," said Holmes, patting him cheerfully upon the shoulder. "Do what you like and go where you will, but meet me here before dusk without fail--without fail, Mr. Mac."

"That sounds more like sanity."

"All of it was excellent advice; but I don't insist, so long as you are here when I need you. But now, before we part, I want you to write a note to Mr. Barker."

"Well?"

"I'll dictate it, if you like. Ready?

"Dear Sir:

"It has struck me that it is our duty to drain the moat, in the hope that we may find some--"

"It's impossible," said the inspector. "I've made inquiry."

"Tut, tut! My dear sir, please do what I ask you."

"Well, go on."

"--in the hope that we may find something which may bear upon our investigation. I have made arrangements, and the workmen will be at work early to-morrow morning diverting the stream--"

"Impossible!"

"--diverting the stream; so I thought it best to explain matters beforehand.

"Now sign that, and send it by hand about four o'clock. At that hour we shall meet again in this room. Until then we may each do what we like; for I can assure you that this inquiry has come to a definite pause."

Evening was drawing in when we reassembled. Holmes was very serious in his manner, myself curious, and the detectives obviously critical and annoyed.

"Well, gentlemen," said my friend gravely, "I am asking you now to put everything to the test with me, and you will judge for yourselves whether the observations I have made justify the conclusions to which I have come. It is a chill evening, and I do not know how long our expedition may last; so I beg that you will wear your warmest coats. It is of the first importance that we should be in our places before it grows dark; so with your permission we shall get started at once."

We passed along the outer bounds of the Manor House park until we came to a place where there was a gap in the rails which fenced it. Through this we slipped, and then in the gathering gloom we followed Holmes until we had reached a shrubbery which lies nearly opposite to the main door and the drawbridge. The latter had not been raised. Holmes crouched down behind the screen of laurels, and we all three followed his example.

"Well, what are we to do now?" asked MacDonald with some gruffness.

"Possess our souls in patience and make as little noise as possible," Holmes answered.

"What are we here for at all? I really think that you might treat us with more frankness."

Holmes laughed. "Watson insists that I am the dramatist in real life," said he. "Some touch of the artist wells up within me, and calls insistently for a well-staged performance. Surely our profession, Mr. Mac, would be a drab and sordid one if we did not sometimes set the scene so as to glorify our results. The blunt accusation, the brutal tap upon the shoulder--what can one make of such a denouement? But the quick inference, the subtle trap, the clever forecast of coming events, the triumphant vindication of bold theories--are these not the pride and the justification of our life's work? At the present moment you thrill with the glamour of the situation and the anticipation of the hunt. Where would be that thrill if I had been as definite as a timetable? I only ask a little patience, Mr. Mac, and all will be clear to you."

"Well, I hope the pride and justification and the rest of it will come before we all get our death of cold," said the London detective with comic resignation.

We all had good reason to join in the aspiration; for our vigil was a long and bitter one. Slowly the shadows darkened over the long, sombre face of the old house. A cold, damp reek from the moat chilled us to the bones and set our teeth chattering. There was a single lamp over the gateway and a steady globe of light in the fatal study. Everything else was dark and still.

"How long is this to last?" asked the inspector finally. "And what is it we are watching for?"

"I have no more notion than you how long it is to last," Holmes answered with some asperity. "If criminals would always schedule their movements like railway trains, it would certainly be more convenient for all of us. As to what it is we--Well, THAT'S what we are watching for!"

As he spoke the bright, yellow light in the study was obscured by somebody passing to and fro before it. The laurels among which we lay were immediately opposite the window and not more than a hundred feet from it. Presently it was thrown open with a whining of hinges, and we could dimly see the dark outline of a man's head and shoulders looking out into the gloom. For some minutes he peered forth in furtive, stealthy fashion, as one who wishes to be assured that he is unobserved. Then he leaned forward, and in the intense silence we were aware of the soft lapping of agitated water. He seemed to be stirring up the moat with something which he held in his hand. Then suddenly he hauled something in as a fisherman lands a fish--some large, round object which obscured the light as it was dragged through the open casement.

"Now!" cried Holmes. "Now!"

We were all upon our feet, staggering after him with our stiffened limbs, while he ran swiftly across the bridge and rang violently at the bell. There was the rasping of bolts from the other side, and the amazed Ames stood in the entrance. Holmes brushed him aside without a word and, followed by all of us, rushed into the room which had been occupied by the man whom we had been watching.

The oil lamp on the table represented the glow which we had seen from outside. It was now in the hand of Cecil Barker, who held it towards us as we entered. Its light shone upon his strong, resolute, clean-shaved face and his menacing eyes.

"What the devil is the meaning of all this?" he cried. "What are you after, anyhow?"

Holmes took a swift glance round, and then pounced upon a sodden bundle tied together with cord which lay where it had been thrust under the writing table.

"This is what we are after, Mr. Barker--this bundle, weighted with a dumb-bell, which you have just raised from the bottom of the moat."

Barker stared at Holmes with amazement in his face. "How in thunder came you to know anything about it?" he asked.

"Simply that I put it there."

"You put it there! You!"

"Perhaps I should have said 'replaced it there,'" said Holmes. "You will remember, Inspector MacDonald, that I was somewhat struck by the absence of a dumb-bell. I drew your attention to it; but with the pressure of other events you had hardly the time to give it the consideration which would have enabled you to draw deductions from it. When water is near and a weight is missing it is not a very far-fetched supposition that something has been sunk in the water. The idea was at least worth testing; so with the help of Ames, who admitted me to the room, and the crook of Dr. Watson's umbrella, I was able last night to fish up and inspect this bundle.

"It was of the first importance, however, that we should be able to prove who placed it there. This we accomplished by the very obvious device of announcing that the moat would be dried to-morrow, which had, of course, the effect that whoever had hidden the bundle would most certainly withdraw it the moment that darkness enabled him to do so. We have no less than four witnesses as to who it was who took advantage of the opportunity, and so, Mr. Barker, I think the word lies now with you."

Sherlock Holmes put the sopping bundle upon the table beside the lamp and undid the cord which bound it. From within he extracted a dumb-bell, which he tossed down to its fellow in the corner. Next he drew forth a pair of boots. "American, as you perceive," he remarked, pointing to the toes. Then he laid upon the table a long, deadly, sheathed knife. Finally he unravelled a bundle of clothing, comprising a complete set of underclothes, socks, a gray tweed suit, and a short yellow overcoat.

"The clothes are commonplace," remarked Holmes, "save only the overcoat, which is full of suggestive touches." He held it tenderly towards the light. "Here, as you perceive, is the inner pocket prolonged into the lining in such fashion as to give ample space for the truncated fowling piece. The tailor's tab is on the neck--'Neal, Outfitter, Vermissa, U.S.A.' I have spent an instructive afternoon in the rector's library, and have enlarged my knowledge by adding the fact that Vermissa is a flourishing little town at the head of one of the best known coal and iron valleys in the United States. I have some recollection, Mr. Barker, that you associated the coal districts with Mr. Douglas's first wife, and it would surely not be too far-fetched an inference that the V.V. upon the card by the dead body might stand for Vermissa Valley, or that this very valley which sends forth emissaries of murder may be that Valley of Fear of which we have heard. So much is fairly clear. And now, Mr. Barker, I seem to be standing rather in the way of your explanation."

It was a sight to see Cecil Barker's expressive face during this exposition of the great detective. Anger, amazement, consternation, and indecision swept over it in turn. Finally he took refuge in a somewhat acrid irony.

"You know such a lot, Mr. Holmes, perhaps you had better tell us some more," he sneered.

"I have no doubt that I could tell you a great deal more, Mr. Barker; but it would come with a better grace from you."

"Oh, you think so, do you? Well, all I can say is that if there's any secret here it is not my secret, and I am not the man to give it away."

"Well, if you take that line, Mr. Barker," said the inspector quietly, "we must just keep you in sight until we have the warrant and can hold you."

"You can do what you damn please about that," said Barker defiantly.

The proceedings seemed to have come to a definite end so far as he was concerned; for one had only to look at that granite face to realize that no peine forte et dure would ever force him to plead against his will. The deadlock was broken, however, by a woman's voice. Mrs. Douglas had been standing listening at the half opened door, and now she entered the room.

"You have done enough for now, Cecil," said she. "Whatever comes of it in the future, you have done enough."

"Enough and more than enough," remarked Sherlock Holmes gravely. "I have every sympathy with you, madam, and should strongly urge you to have some confidence in the common sense of our jurisdiction and to take the police voluntarily into your complete confidence. It may be that I am myself at fault for not following up the hint which you conveyed to me through my friend, Dr. Watson; but, at that time I had every reason to believe that you were directly concerned in the crime. Now I am assured that this is not so. At the same time, there is much that is unexplained, and I should strongly recommend that you ask Mr. Douglas to tell us his own story."

Mrs. Douglas gave a cry of astonishment at Holmes's words. The detectives and I must have echoed it, when we were aware of a man who seemed to have emerged from the wall, who advanced now from the gloom of the corner in which he had appeared. Mrs. Douglas turned, and in an instant her arms were round him. Barker had seized his outstretched hand.

"It's best this way, Jack," his wife repeated; "I am sure that it is best."

"Indeed, yes, Mr. Douglas," said Sherlock Holmes, "I am sure that you will find it best."

The man stood blinking at us with the dazed look of one who comes from the dark into the light. It was a remarkable face, bold gray eyes, a strong, short-clipped, grizzled moustache, a square, projecting chin, and a humorous mouth. He took a good look at us all, and then to my amazement he advanced to me and handed me a bundle of paper.

"I've heard of you," said he in a voice which was not quite English and not quite American, but was altogether mellow and pleasing. "You are the historian of this bunch. Well, Dr. Watson, you've never had such a story as that pass through your hands before, and I'll lay my last dollar on that. Tell it your own way; but there are the facts, and you can't miss the public so long as you have those. I've been cooped up two days, and I've spent the daylight hours--as much daylight as I could get in that rat trap--in putting the thing into words. You're welcome to them--you and your public. There's the story of the Valley of Fear."

"That's the past, Mr. Douglas," said Sherlock Holmes quietly. "What we desire now is to hear your story of the present."

"You'll have it, sir," said Douglas. "May I smoke as I talk? Well, thank you, Mr. Holmes. You're a smoker yourself, if I remember right, and you'll guess what it is to be sitting for two days with tobacco in your pocket and afraid that the smell will give you away." He leaned against the mantelpiece and sucked at the cigar which Holmes had handed him. "I've heard of you, Mr. Holmes. I never guessed that I should meet you. But before you are through with that," he nodded at my papers, "you will say I've brought you something fresh."

Inspector MacDonald had been staring at the newcomer with the greatest amazement. "Well, this fairly beats me!" he cried at last. "If you are Mr. John Douglas of Birlstone Manor, then whose death have we been investigating for these two days, and where in the world have you sprung from now? You seemed to me to come out of the floor like a jack-in-a-box."

"Ah, Mr. Mac," said Holmes, shaking a reproving forefinger, "you would not read that excellent local compilation which described the concealment of King Charles. People did not hide in those days without excellent hiding places, and the hiding place that has once been used may be again. I had persuaded myself that we should find Mr. Douglas under this roof."

"And how long have you been playing this trick upon us, Mr. Holmes?" said the inspector angrily. "How long have you allowed us to waste ourselves upon a search that you knew to be an absurd one?"

"Not one instant, my dear Mr. Mac. Only last night did I form my views of the case. As they could not be put to the proof until this evening, I invited you and your colleague to take a holiday for the day. Pray what more could I do? When I found the suit of clothes in the moat, it at once became apparent to me that the body we had found could not have been the body of Mr. John Douglas at all, but must be that of the bicyclist from Tunbridge Wells. No other conclusion was possible. Therefore I had to determine where Mr. John Douglas himself could be, and the balance of probability was that with the connivance of his wife and his friend he was concealed in a house which had such conveniences for a fugitive, and awaiting quieter times when he could make his final escape."

"Well, you figured it out about right," said Douglas approvingly. "I thought I'd dodge your British law; for I was not sure how I stood under it, and also I saw my chance to throw these hounds once for all off my track. Mind you, from first to last I have done nothing to be ashamed of, and nothing that I would not do again; but you'll judge that for yourselves when I tell you my story. Never mind warning me, Inspector: I'm ready to stand pat upon the truth.

"I'm not going to begin at the beginning. That's all there," he indicated my bundle of papers, "and a mighty queer yarn you'll find it. It all comes down to this: That there are some men that have good cause to hate me and would give their last dollar to know that they had got me. So long as I am alive and they are alive, there is no safety in this world for me. They hunted me from Chicago to California, then they chased me out of America; but when I married and settled down in this quiet spot I thought my last years were going to be peaceable.

"I never explained to my wife how things were. Why should I pull her into it? She would never have a quiet moment again; but would always be imagining trouble. I fancy she knew something, for I may have dropped a word here or a word there; but until yesterday, after you gentlemen had seen her, she never knew the rights of the matter. She told you all she knew, and so did Barker here; for on the night when this thing happened there was mighty little time for explanations. She knows everything now, and I would have been a wiser man if I had told her sooner. But it was a hard question, dear," he took her hand for an instant in his own, "and I acted for the best.

"Well, gentlemen, the day before these happenings I was over in Tunbridge Wells, and I got a glimpse of a man in the street. It was only a glimpse; but I have a quick eye for these things, and I never doubted who it was. It was the worst enemy I had among them all--one who has been after me like a hungry wolf after a caribou all these years. I knew there was trouble coming, and I came home and made ready for it. I guessed I'd fight through it all right on my own, my luck was a proverb in the States about '76. I never doubted that it would be with me still.

"I was on my guard all that next day, and never went out into the park. It's as well, or he'd have had the drop on me with that buckshot gun of his before ever I could draw on him. After the bridge was up--my mind was always more restful when that bridge was up in the evenings--I put the thing clear out of my head. I never dreamed of his getting into the house and waiting for me. But when I made my round in my dressing gown, as was my habit, I had no sooner entered the study than I scented danger. I guess when a man has had dangers in his life--and I've had more than most in my time--there is a kind of sixth sense that waves the red flag. I saw the signal clear enough, and yet I couldn't tell you why. Next instant I spotted a boot under the window curtain, and then I saw why plain enough.

"I'd just the one candle that was in my hand; but there was a good light from the hall lamp through the open door. I put down the candle and jumped for a hammer that I'd left on the mantel. At the same moment he sprang at me. I saw the glint of a knife, and I lashed at him with the hammer. I got him somewhere; for the knife tinkled down on the floor. He dodged round the table as quick as an eel, and a moment later he'd got his gun from under his coat. I heard him cock it; but I had got hold of it before he could fire. I had it by the barrel, and we wrestled for it all ends up for a minute or more. It was death to the man that lost his grip.

"He never lost his grip; but he got it butt downward for a moment too long. Maybe it was I that pulled the trigger. Maybe we just jolted it off between us. Anyhow, he got both barrels in the face, and there I was, staring down at all that was left of Ted Baldwin. I'd recognized him in the township, and again when he sprang for me; but his own mother wouldn't recognize him as I saw him then. I'm used to rough work; but I fairly turned sick at the sight of him.

"I was hanging on the side of the table when Barker came hurrying down. I heard my wife coming, and I ran to the door and stopped her. It was no sight for a woman. I promised I'd come to her soon. I said a word or two to Barker--he took it all in at a glance--and we waited for the rest to come along. But there was no sign of them. Then we understood that they could hear nothing, and that all that had happened was known only to ourselves.

"It was at that instant that the idea came to me. I was fairly dazzled by the brilliance of it. The man's sleeve had slipped up and there was the branded mark of the lodge upon his forearm. See here!"

The man whom we had known as Douglas turned up his own coat and cuff to show a brown triangle within a circle exactly like that which we had seen upon the dead man.

"It was the sight of that which started me on it. I seemed to see it all clear at a glance. There were his height and hair and figure, about the same as my own. No one could swear to his face, poor devil! I brought down this suit of clothes, and in a quarter of an hour Barker and I had put my dressing gown on him and he lay as you found him. We tied all his things into a bundle, and I weighted them with the only weight I could find and put them through the window. The card he had meant to lay upon my body was lying beside his own.

"My rings were put on his finger; but when it came to the wedding ring," he held out his muscular hand, "you can see for yourselves that I had struck the limit. I have not moved it since the day I was married, and it would have taken a file to get it off. I don't know, anyhow, that I should have cared to part with it; but if I had wanted to I couldn't. So we just had to leave that detail to take care of itself. On the other hand, I brought a bit of plaster down and put it where I am wearing one myself at this instant. You slipped up there, Mr. Holmes, clever as you are; for if you had chanced to take off that plaster you would have found no cut underneath it.

"Well, that was the situation. If I could lie low for a while and then get away where I could be joined by my 'widow' we should have a chance at last of living in peace for the rest of our lives. These devils would give me no rest so long as I was above ground; but if they saw in the papers that Baldwin had got his man, there would be an end of all my troubles. I hadn't much time to make it all clear to Barker and to my wife; but they understood enough to be able to help me. I knew all about this hiding place, so did Ames; but it never entered his head to connect it with the matter. I retired into it, and it was up to Barker to do the rest.

"I guess you can fill in for yourselves what he did. He opened the window and made the mark on the sill to give an idea of how the murderer escaped. It was a tall order, that; but as the bridge was up there was no other way. Then, when everything was fixed, he rang the bell for all he was worth. What happened afterward you know. And so, gentlemen, you can do what you please; but I've told you the truth and the whole truth, so help me God! What I ask you now is how do I stand by the English law?"

There was a silence which was broken by Sherlock Holmes.

"The English law is in the main a just law. You will get no worse than your deserts from that, Mr. Douglas. But I would ask you how did this man know that you lived here, or how to get into your house, or where to hide to get you?"

"I know nothing of this."

Holmes's face was very white and grave. "The story is not over yet, I fear," said he. "You may find worse dangers than the English law, or even than your enemies from America. I see trouble before you, Mr. Douglas. You'll take my advice and still be on your guard."

And now, my long-suffering readers, I will ask you to come away with me for a time, far from the Sussex Manor House of Birlstone, and far also from the year of grace in which we made our eventful journey which ended with the strange story of the man who had been known as John Douglas. I wish you to journey back some twenty years in time, and westward some thousands of miles in space, that I may lay before you a singular and terrible narrative--so singular and so terrible that you may find it hard to believe that even as I tell it, even so did it occur.

Do not think that I intrude one story before another is finished. As you read on you will find that this is not so. And when I have detailed those distant events and you have solved this mystery of the past, we shall meet once more in those rooms on Baker Street, where this, like so many other wonderful happenings, will find its end.

七 谜底

第二天吃过早饭,我们到当地警察局去,看见警官麦克唐纳和怀特·梅森正在警官的小会客室里密商某事。他们面前的公事桌上堆着许多书信和电报,他们正在仔细地整理和摘录,有三份已经放在一边了。

“还在追踪那个难以捉摸的骑自行车人吗?"福尔摩斯高兴地问道,“关于这个暴徒有什么最新消息?”

麦克唐纳沮丧地指了指他那一大堆信件,说道:“目前从莱斯特、诺丁汉、南安普敦、德比、东哈姆、里士满和其他十四个地方都来了关于他的报告。其中东哈姆、莱斯特和利物浦三处有对他明显不利的情况。因此,他实际上已受到注意了。不过好象全国到处都有穿黄大衣的亡命徒似的。”

“哎呀!"福尔摩斯同情地说道,“现在,麦克先生,还有你,怀特·梅森先生 ,我愿意向你们提出一个非常诚恳的忠告。当我和你们一起研究这件案子时,你们一定还记得,我曾经提出过条件:我不会对你们发表未经充分证实的见解;我要保留并制定出我自己的计划,直到我认为它们是正确的,而使自己满意为止。因此,眼下我还是不想告诉你们我的全部想法。另一方面,我说过我对你们一定要光明磊落,如果我眼看你们白白把精力浪费在毫无益处的工作上,那就是我的不是了。所以今天早晨我要向你们提出忠告,我的忠告就是三个字:'放弃它'。”

麦克唐纳和怀特·梅森惊奇地瞪着大眼望着他们这位出名的同行。

“你认为这件案子已经没法办了吗?"麦克唐纳大声说道。

“我认为你们这样办这件案子是没有希望的,但我并不认为本案不能真相大白。”

“可是骑自行车的人并不是虚构的啊。我们有他的外貌特征,他的手提箱,他的自行车。这个人一定藏在什么地方了,为什么我们不应当缉拿他呢?”

“不错,不错,毫无疑问,他藏在某个地方,而且我们一定可以捉到他。不过我不愿让你们到东哈姆或是利物浦这些地方去浪费精力,我相信我们能找到破案捷径。”

“你是对我们瞒了什么东西了。这可就是你的不是了,福尔摩斯先生,"麦克唐纳生气地说。

“麦克先生,你是知道我的工作方法的。但是我要在尽可能短的时间里保一下密,我只不过希望设法证实一下我想到的一切细节,这很容易做到。然后我就和你们告别,回伦敦,并把我的成果完全留下为你们效劳。不这样做,我就太对不起你们了。因为在我的全部经历中,我还想不起来哪件案子比这件更新奇、更有趣。”

“我简直无法理解,福尔摩斯先生。昨晚我们从滕布里奇韦尔斯市回来看到你的时候,你大体上还同意我们的判断。后来发生了什么事,使你对本案的看法又截然不同了呢?”

“好,既然你们问我,我不妨告诉你们。正如我对你们说过的,我昨夜在庄园里消磨了几个小时。”

“那么,发生了什么事?”

“啊!现在我权且给你们一个非常一般的回答。顺便说一下,我曾经读过一篇介绍资料,它简明而又有趣,是关于这座古老庄园的。这份资料只要花一个便士就可以在本地烟酒店买到,"福尔摩斯从背心口袋里掏出一本小册子,书皮上印有这座古老庄园的粗糙的版画。

他又说道:“我亲爱的麦克先生,当一个人在周围古老环境气氛中深受感染的时候,这本小册子对调查是很能增加情趣的。你们不要不耐烦,因为我可以向你们保证,即使象这样一篇简短的介绍资料,也可以使人在头脑中浮现出这座古厦的昔日情景。请允许我给你们读上一段吧。'伯尔斯通庄园是在詹姆士一世登基后第五年,在一些古建筑物的遗址上建造的,它是残留的詹姆士一世时代有护城河的宅邸最完美的典型……'”

“福尔摩斯先生,你别捉弄我们了。”

“啧!啧!麦克先生!我已经看出你们有些不耐烦了。好,既然你们对这个问题不太感兴趣,我就不再逐字地念了。不过我告诉你们,这里有一些描写,谈到一六四四年反对查理一世的议会党人中的一个上校取得了这块宅基;谈到在英国内战期间,查理一世本人曾在这里藏了几天;最后谈到乔治二世也到过这里;你们会承认这里面有许多问题都与这座古老别墅有种种的关系。”

“我不怀疑这一点,福尔摩斯先生,不过这与我们的事毫无关系啊。”

“没有关系吗?是没有关系吗?我亲爱的麦克先生,干咱们这一行,一个最重要的基本功,就是眼界必须开阔。各种概念的相互作用以及知识的间接使用始终是非常重要的。请原谅,我虽然只是一个犯罪问题专家,但总比你岁数大些,也许经验多一些。”

“我首先承认这一点,"麦克唐纳恳切地说道,“我承认你有你的道理,可是你做起事来未免太转弯抹角了。”

“好,好,我可以把过去的历史放下不谈,回到当前的事实上来。正象我已经说过的那样,昨晚我曾经到庄园去过。我既没有见到巴克先生,也没有见到道格拉斯夫人。我认为没有必要去打扰他们,不过我很高兴地听说,这个女人并没有形容憔悴的样子,而且刚吃过一顿丰盛的晚餐。我专门去拜访了那位善良的艾姆斯先生,和他亲切地交谈了一阵,他终于答应我,让我独自在书房里呆一阵子,不让其他任何人知道。”

“什么!和这个死尸在一起!"我突然喊出来。

“不,不,现在一切正常。麦克先生,我听说,你已许可这么做了。这间屋子已恢复了原状。我在里面呆了一刻钟,很有启发。”

“你做了些什么事呢?”

“噢,我并没有把这样简单的事情神秘化,我是在寻找那只丢失了的哑铃。在我对这件案子的判断中,它始终显得很重要。我终于找到了它。”

“在哪儿找到的?”

“啊,咱们已经到了真相大白的边缘了,让我进一步做下去,再稍微前进一步,就能答应你们把我所知道的一切和盘托出。”

“好,我们只好答应根据你自己的主张去做,"麦克唐纳说道,“不过说到你叫我们放弃这件案子……那究竟是为了什么呢?”

“理由很简单,我亲爱的麦克先生,因为你们首先就没有弄清楚调查对象啊。”

“我们正在调查伯尔斯通庄园约翰·道格拉斯先生的被害案。”

“对,对,你们的话不错。可是不要劳神去搜寻那个骑自行车的神秘先生了。我向你们保证,这不会对你们有什么帮助的。”

“那么,你说我们应当怎样去做呢?”

“如果你们愿意,我就详细地告诉你们应该做些什么。”

“好,我不能不说,我总觉得你的那些古怪的作法是有道理的。我一定照你的意见去办。”

“怀特·梅森先生,你怎么样?”

这个乡镇侦探茫然地看看这个,望望那个。福尔摩斯先生和他的侦探法对他来说是够陌生的了。

“好吧,如果警官麦克唐纳认为对,那么我当然也一样,”怀特·梅森终于说道。

“好极了!"福尔摩斯说道,“好,那么我建议你们两位到乡间去畅快地散散步吧。有人对我说,从伯尔斯通小山边一直到威尔德,景色非常好。尽管我对这乡村不熟悉,不能向你们推荐一家饭馆,但我想你们一定能找到合适的饭馆吃午饭。晚上,虽然疲倦了,可是却高高兴兴……”

“先生,您这个玩笑可真是开得过火了!"麦克唐纳生气地从椅子上站起来,大声叫道。

“好,好,随你们的便好了,怎么消磨这一天都可以,"福尔摩斯说道,高兴地拍拍麦克唐纳的肩膀,“你们愿意做什么就做什么,愿意到哪里就到哪里,不过,务必在黄昏以前到这里来见我,务必来,麦克先生。”

“这听起来还象是个头脑清醒的人说的话。”

“我所说的,都是极好的建议,可是我并不强迫你们接受。只要在我需要你们的时候你们在这里就行了。可是,现在,在我们分手以前,我需要你给巴克先生写一个便条。”

“好!”

“如果你愿意的话,那我就口述了。准备好了吗?

'亲爱的先生,我觉得,我们有责任排净护城河的水,

希望我们能找到一些……'”

“这是不可能的,"麦克唐纳说道,“我已做过调查了。”

“啧,啧,我亲爱的先生!写吧,请照我所说的写好了。”

“好,接着说吧。”

“'……希望我们能找到与我们的调查有关的什么东

西。我已经安排好了。明天清早工人们就来上工,把河水

引走……'”

“不可能!”

“'把河水引走,所以我想最好还是预先说明一下。'

“现在签个名吧,四点钟左右,由专人送去。那时我们再在这间屋里见面。在见面以前,我们可以一切自便。我可以向你们保证,调查肯定可以暂停了。”

将近黄昏时分,我们又重新聚集在一起。福尔摩斯态度非常严肃,我怀着好奇的心理,而两个侦探显然极为不满,异常气恼。

“好吧,先生们,"我的朋友严肃地说道,“我请你们现在和我一同去把一切情况都考察一下,然后你们自己就会作出判断,我所作的观察究竟是否能说明我得出的结论有道理。夜间天气很冷,我也不知道要去多长时间,所以请你们多穿一些衣服。最重要的是,我们要在天黑以前赶到现场。如果你们同意的话,我们现在立即出发。”

庄园花园四周有栏杆围着,我们顺着花园向前走,直到一个地方,那里的栏杆有一个豁口,我们穿过豁口溜进花园。在越来越暗的暮色中,我们随着福尔摩斯走到一片灌木丛附近,几乎就在正门和吊桥的对过。吊桥还没有拉起来。福尔摩斯蹲下来藏在月桂树丛后面,我们三个人照他的样子蹲下来。

“好,现在我们要干什么呢?"麦克唐纳唐突地问道。

“我们要耐心等待,尽量不要出声,"福尔摩斯答道。

“我们到底要在这儿干什么?我认为你应该对我们开诚布公一些!”

福尔摩斯笑了,他说道:“华生一再说我是现实生活中的剧作家,我怀有艺术家的情调,执拗地要作一次成功的演出。麦克唐纳先生,如果我们不能常使我们的演出效果辉煌,那我们这个营生就真的是单调而令人生厌的了。试问,直截了当的告发,一刀见血的严峻处决——这种结案法能演出什么好剧呢?但敏锐的推断,锦囊妙计,对转眼到来的事件作机智的预测,而又胜利地证实自己的推断——难道这些不说明我们的营生值得自豪、干得有理吗?在当前这一时刻,你们会感到猎人预期得手前的激动。假如象一份既定的时间表那样,还有什么可激动呢?麦克先生,我只请你们耐心一点,一切就会清楚了。”

“好哇,我倒希望在我们大家冻死以前,这种自豪、有理等等可以实现。"这个伦敦侦探无可奈何、幽默地说道。

我们几个人都颇有理由赞同这种迫切的愿望,因为我们守候得实在太久、太难忍了。暮色逐渐笼罩了这座狭长而阴森的古堡,从护城河里升起一股阴冷、潮湿的寒气,使我们感到锥心刺骨,牙齿不住打颤。大门口只有一盏灯,那间晦气的书房里有一盏固定的球形灯。四处是一片漆黑,寂静无声。

“这要呆多长时间啊?"麦克唐纳突然问道,“我们在守候什么呢?”

“我不打算象你那样计较等了多长时间,"福尔摩斯非常严厉地答道,“要是罪犯把他们的犯罪活动安排得象列车时刻表那样准时,那对我们大家当然是方便多了。至于我们在守候什……瞧,那就是我们守候的东西啊!”

他说话的时候,书房中明亮的黄色灯光,被一个来回走动的人挡得看不清了。我们隐身的月桂树丛正对着书房的窗户,相距不到一百英尺。不久,窗子吱地一声突然打开了,我们隐约地看到一个人的头和身子探出窗外,向暗处张望。他向前方注视了片刻,鬼鬼祟祟、偷偷摸摸,好象怕让人看到。然后他向前伏下身子,我们在这寂静中听到河水被搅动的轻微响声,这个人手里好象拿着什么东西在搅动护城河水。后来他突然象渔夫捞鱼一样,捞上某些又大又圆的东西,在把它拖进窗子时,灯光又被挡住了。

“马上!"福尔摩斯大声喊道,“快去!”

我们大家都站起来,四肢已经麻木了,摇摇晃晃地跟在福尔摩斯后面。他急速地跑过桥去,用力拉响门铃。门吱拉一声打开了,艾姆斯惊愕地站在门口,福尔摩斯一言不发地把他推到一边,我们大家也都随他一同冲进室内,我们所守候的那个人就在那里。

桌上的油灯重新放出刚才我们在窗外看到的光芒来。现在油灯正拿在塞西尔·巴克手中,我们进来时,他把灯举向我们。灯光映射在他那坚强、果敢、刮得光光的脸上,他的双眼冒出怒火。

“你们这究竟是什么意思呀?"巴克喊道,"你们在找什么?”

福尔摩斯很快地向周围扫视了一下,然后向塞在写字台底下的一个浸湿了的包袱猛扑过去。

“我就是找这个,巴克先生,这个裹着哑铃的包袱是你刚从护城河里捞起来的。”

巴克脸上现出惊奇的神色,注视着福尔摩斯问道:“你究竟是怎么知道这些情况的呢?”

“这很简单,是我把它放在水里的嘛。”

“是你放进水里的?你!”

“也许我应该说'是我重新放进水里的'。"福尔摩斯说道,

“麦克唐纳先生,你记得我提到过缺一只哑铃的事吧,我让你注意它,可是你却忙于别的事,几乎没有去考虑,而它本来是可以使你从中得出正确推论的。这屋子既然靠近河水,而且又失去一件有重量的东西,那么就不难想象,这是用来把什么别的东西加重使之沉到水中去了。这种推测至少是值得验证的。艾姆斯答应我可以留在这屋中,所以说,我在艾姆斯的帮助下,用华生医生雨伞的伞柄,昨晚已经把这个包袱钩出来,而且检查了一番。

“然而,最首要的是,我们应当证实是谁把它放到水中去的。于是,我们便宣布要在明天抽干护城河水,当然,这就使得那个隐匿这个包袱的人一定要取回它来,而这只有在黑夜里才能去做。我们至少有四个人亲眼见到是谁趁机抢先打捞包袱。巴克先生,我想,现在该由你讲讲了。”

歇洛克·福尔摩斯把这个湿包袱放在桌上油灯旁边,打开捆着的绳索。他从里面取出一只哑铃来,放到墙角上那一只的旁边。然后他又抽出一双长统靴子。

“你们看,这是美国式的,"福尔摩斯指着鞋尖说道。他又把一柄带鞘的杀人长刀放在桌上。最后他解开一捆衣服,里面有一整套内衣裤、一双袜子、一身灰粗呢衣服,还有一件黄色短大衣。

“这些衣服,"福尔摩斯指着说,“除了这件大衣以外,都是平常的衣物,这件大衣对人很有启发。”

福尔摩斯把大衣举到灯前,用他那瘦长的手指在大衣上指点着继续说道:“你们看,这件大衣衬里里面,有做成这种式样的一个口袋,好象是为了有宽敞的地方去装那支截短了的猎枪。衣领上有成衣商的签条——美国维尔米萨镇的尼尔服饰用品店。我曾在一个修道院院长的藏书室里花了一下午的时间,增长了我的知识,了解到维尔米萨是一个繁荣的小城镇,在美国一个驰名的盛产煤铁山谷的谷口。巴克先生,我记得你同我谈起道格拉斯先生第一位夫人时,曾经谈到产煤地区的事。那么就不难由此得出推论:死者身旁的卡片上的V.V.两个字,可能是代表维尔米萨山谷(Vermissa Valley),或许就是从这个山谷中,派出了刺客,这山谷可能就是我们听说的恐怖谷。这已经完全清楚了。现在,巴克先生,我好象是有点妨碍你来说明了。”

这个伟大的侦探解说时,塞西尔·巴克脸上的表情可真是怪相百出:忽而气恼无比,忽而惊奇不已,忽而惊恐万状,忽而犹疑不决。最后他用带挖苦味道的反话回避福尔摩斯的话语,冷笑着说:

“福尔摩斯先生,你既然知道得这么详细,最好再多给我们讲一点。”

“我当然能告诉你更多的情况了,巴克先生,不过还是你自己讲体面一些。”

“啊,你是这样想的吗?好,我只能告诉你,如果这里面有什么隐私的话,那也不是我的秘密,叫我说出来是找错人了。”

“好,巴克先生,假如你采取这种态度,"麦克唐纳冷冷地说,“那我们就要先拘留你,等拿到逮捕证再逮捕你了。”

“随你们的便好了,"巴克目中无人地说。

看来从他那里再也弄不出什么来了,因为只要望一望他那刚毅顽强的面容,就会明白,即使对他施以酷刑,也绝不会使他违背自己的心意。然而,正在这时,一个女人的话声,打破了这场僵局。原来,道格拉斯夫人正站在半开的门外听我们谈话,现在她走进屋里来了。

“你对我们已经很尽力了,塞西尔,"道格拉斯夫人说道,

“不管这个事将来结局如何,反正你已经竭尽全力了。”

“不只很尽力,而且过分尽力了,"歇洛克·福尔摩斯庄重地说道,“我对你非常同情,太太,我坚决劝你要信任我们裁判的常识,并且自愿完全把警探当知心人。可能我在这方面有过失,因为你曾通过我的朋友华生医生向我转达过你有隐私要告诉我,我那时没有照你的暗示去做,不过,那时我认为你和这件犯罪行为有直接关系。现在我相信完全不是这么回事。然而,有许多问题还需要说清楚,我劝你还是请道格拉斯先生把他自己的事情给我们讲一讲。”

道格拉斯夫人听福尔摩斯这么一说,惊奇万状,不由得叫出声来。这时我们看到有一个人好象从墙里冒出来一样,正从阴暗的墙角出现并走过来,我和两个侦探也不由得惊叫了一声。

道格拉斯夫人转过身,立刻和他拥抱起来,巴克也抓住他伸过来的那只手。

“这样最好了,杰克,"他的妻子重复说道,“我相信这样最好了。”

“是的,确实这样最好,道格拉斯先生,"歇洛克·福尔摩斯说道,“我断定你会发现这样最好。”

这个人刚从黑暗的地方走向亮处,眨着昏花的眼睛站在那里望着我们。这是一张非同寻常的面孔——一双勇敢刚毅的灰色大眼睛,剪短了的灰白色胡须,凸出的方下巴,嘴角浮现出幽默感来。他把我们大家细细打量了一番,后来,使我惊讶的是,他竟向我走来,并且递给我一个纸卷。

“久闻大名,"他说道,声音不完全象英国人,也不完全象美国人,不过却圆润悦耳,“你是这些人中的历史学家。好,华生医生,恐怕你以前从来没有得到过你手中这样的故事资料,我敢拿全部财产和你打赌。你可以用自己的方式表达它,不过只要你有了这些事实,你就不会使读者大众不感兴趣的。我曾隐藏了两天,用白天的时光,就是在这种困难处境中所能利用的时光,把这些事写成文字的东西。你和你的读者大众可以随意使用这些材料。这是恐怖谷的故事。”

“这是过去的事了,道格拉斯先生,"歇洛克·福尔摩斯心平气和地说道,“而我们希望听你讲讲现在的事情。”

“我会告诉你们的,先生,"道格拉斯说道,“我说话的时候,可以吸烟吗?好,谢谢你,福尔摩斯先生。假如我记得不错的话,你自己也喜欢吸烟。你想想看,要是你坐了两天,明明衣袋里有烟草,却怕吸烟时烟味把你暴露了,那是一种什么滋味啊。”

道格拉斯倚着壁炉台,抽着福尔摩斯递给他的雪茄,说道:“我久闻你的大名,福尔摩斯先生,可从来没想到竟会和你相见。但在你还没有来得及读这些材料以前,"道格拉斯向我手中的纸卷点头示意说,"你将会说,我给你们讲的是新鲜事。”

警探麦克唐纳非常惊奇地注视着这个新来的人。

“啊,这可真把我难住了!"麦克唐纳终于大声说道,“假如你是伯尔斯通庄园的约翰·道格拉斯先生,那么,这两天来我们调查的死者是谁呢?还有,现在你又是从哪儿突然冒出来的呢?我看你象玩偶匣中的玩偶一样是从地板里钻出来的。"①“唉,麦克先生,"福尔摩斯不赞成地摇晃一下食指,“你没有读过那本出色的地方志吗?上面明明写着国王查理一世避难的故事。在那年头要是没有保险的藏身之处是无法藏身的。用过的藏身之地当然还可以再用。所以我深信会在这所别墅里找到道格拉斯先生的。”

“福尔摩斯先生,你怎么捉弄我们这么长时间?"麦克唐纳生气地说道,“你让我们白白浪费了多少时间去搜索那些你本早已知道是荒谬的事情。”

“不是一下子就清楚的,我亲爱的麦克先生。对这案件的全盘见解,我也是昨夜才形成的。因为只有到今天晚上才能证实,所以我劝你和你的同事白天去休息。请问,此外我还能怎①玩偶匣——一种玩具,揭开盖子即有玩具跳起。——译者注样做呢?当我从护城河里发现衣物包袱时,我立即清楚了,我们所看到的那个死尸根本就不是约翰·道格拉斯先生,而是从滕布里奇韦尔斯市来的那个骑自行车的人。不可能再有其他的结论了。所以我只有去确定约翰·道格拉斯先生本人可能在什么地方,而最可能的是,在他的妻子和朋友的帮助下,他隐藏在别墅内对一个逃亡者最适宜的地方,等待能够逃跑的最稳妥的时机。”

“好,你推断得很对,"道格拉斯先生赞许地说道,“我本来想,我已经从你们英国的法律下逃脱了,因为我不相信我怎么能忍受美国法律的裁决,而且我有了一劳永逸地摆脱追踪我的那些猎狗们的机会。不过,自始至终,我没有做过亏心事,而且我做过的事也没有什么不能再做的。但是,我把我的故事讲给你们听,你们自己去裁决好了。警探先生,你不用费心警告我,我决不会在真理面前退缩的。

“我不打算从头开始。一切都在这上面写着,"道格拉斯指着我手中的纸卷说道,“你们可以看到无数怪诞无稽的奇事,这都归结为一点:有些人出于多种原因和我结怨,并且就是倾家荡产也要整死我。只要我活着,他们也活着,世界上就没有我的安全容身之地。他们从芝加哥到加利福尼亚到处追逐我,终于把我赶出了美国。在我结婚并在这样一个宁静的地方安家以后,我想我可以安安稳稳地度过晚年了。

“我并没有向我的妻子讲过这些事。我何必要把她拖进去呢?如果她要知道了,那么,她就不会再有安静的时刻了,而且一定会经常惊恐不安。我想她已经知道一些情况了,因为我有时无意中总要露出一两句来。不过,直到昨天,在你们这些先生们看到她以后,她还不知道事情的真相。她把她所知道的一切情况都告诉了你们,巴克也是这样,因为发生这件案子的那天晚上,时间太仓促,来不及向他们细讲。现在她才知道这些事,我要是早告诉她我就聪明多了。不过这是一个难题啊,亲爱的,"道格拉斯握了握妻子的手,“现在我做得很好吧。

“好,先生们,在这些事发生以前,有一天我到滕布里奇韦尔斯市去,在街上一眼瞥见一个人。虽然只一瞥,可是我对这类事目力很敏锐,并且毫不怀疑他是谁了。这正是我所有仇敌中最凶恶的一个——这些年来他一直象饿狼追驯鹿一样不放过我。我知道麻烦来了。于是我回到家里作了准备。我想我自己完全可以对付。一八七六年,有一个时期,我的运气好,在美国是人所共知的,我毫不怀疑,好运气仍然和我同在。

“第二天一整天我都在戒备着,也没有到花园里去。这样会好一些,不然的话,在我接近他以前,他就会抢先掏出那支截短了的火枪照我射来。晚上吊桥拉起以后,我的心情平静了许多,不再想这件事了。我万没料到他会钻进屋里来守候我。可是当我穿着睡衣照我的习惯进行巡视的时候,还没走进书房,我就发觉有危险了。我想,当一个人性命有危险的时候——在我一生中就有过数不清的危险——有一种第六感官会发出警告。我很清楚地看到了这种信号,可是我说不出为什么。霎时我发现窗帘下露出一双长统靴子,我就完全清楚是怎么回事了。

“这时我手中只有一支蜡烛,但房门开着,大厅的灯光很清楚地照进来,我就放下蜡烛,跳过去把我放在壁炉台上的铁锤抓到手中。这时他扑到我面前,我只见刀光一闪,便用铁锤向他砸过去。我打中了他,因为那把刀子当啷一声掉到地上了。他象一条鳝鱼一样很快绕着桌子跑开了,过了一会,他从衣服里掏出枪来。我听到他把机头打开,但还没来得及开枪,就被我死死抓住了枪管,我们互相争夺了一分钟左右。对他来说松手丢了枪就等于丢了命。

“他没有丢下枪,但他始终让枪托朝下。也许是我碰响了扳机,也许是我们抢夺时震动了扳机,不管怎样,反正两筒枪弹都射在他脸上,我终于看出这是特德·鲍德温。我在滕布里奇韦尔斯市看出是他,在他向我起过来时又一次看出是他,可是照我那时看到他的样子,恐怕连他的母亲也认不出他来了。我过去对大打出手已经习惯了,可是一见他这副尊容还是不免作呕。

“巴克匆忙赶来时,我正倚靠在桌边。我听到我妻子走来了,赶忙跑到门口去阻拦她,因为这种惨象决不能让一个妇女看见。我答应马上到她那里去。我对巴克只讲了一两句,他一眼就看明白了,于是我们就等着其余的人随后来到,可是没有听到来人的动静。于是我们料定他们什么也没有听见,刚才这一切只有我们三人知道。

“这时我不由想起了一个主意,我简直为这主意的高明而感到飘飘然了。因为这个人的袖子卷着,他的臂膀上露出一个会党的标记。请瞧瞧这里。”

道格拉斯卷其他自己的衣袖,让我们看一个烙印——褐色圆圈里面套个三角形,正象我们在死者身上看到的一模一样。

“就是一见这标记才使我灵机一动,我似乎转眼就明白了一切。他的身材、头发、体形都和我自己一模一样。再没有人能认出他的面目了,可怜的恶魔!我把他这身衣服扒下来,我和巴克只用了一刻钟就把我的睡衣给死者穿好,而死者就象你们看到的那样躺在地上。我们把他的所有东西打成一个包袱,用当时仅能找到的重物使它加重,然后把它从窗户扔出去。他本来打算放在我尸体上的卡片,被我放在他自己的尸体旁边。

“我又把我的几个戒指也戴到他的手指上,不过至于结婚戒指,"道格拉斯伸出他那只肌肉发达的手来,说道,“你们自己可以看到我戴得紧极了。从我结婚时期,我就没有动过它,要想取下它除非用锉刀才行。总之我不知道当时是否想到把它锉下来,即使当时想这么做也是办不到的。所以只好让这件小事由它去了。另一方面,我拿来一小块橡皮膏贴在死者脸上,那时我自己在那个位置正贴着一块,福尔摩斯先生,这地方你却疏忽了。象你这样聪明的人,如果你当时碰巧揭开这块橡皮膏,你就会发现下面没有伤痕。

“好,这就是那时的情况。假如我能够躲藏一阵子,然后再和我的'姘妇'妻子一同离开这里,我们自然有机会在余生中过平安生活了。只要我活在世上,这些恶魔们当然不会让我安宁;可是如果他们在报上看到鲍德温暗杀得手的消息,那么,我的一切麻烦也就结束了。我没有时间对巴克和我的妻子说明白,不过他们很是心领神会,完全能帮助我。我很清楚别墅中的藏身之处,艾姆斯也知道,可是他万万想不到这个藏身之地会和这件事发生关系。我藏进那个密室里,其余的事就由巴克去做了。

“我想你们自己已能补充说明巴克所做的事。他打开窗户,把鞋印留在窗台上,造成凶手越窗逃跑的假象。这当然是困难的事,可是吊桥已经拉起,没有别的道路逃走了。等一切都安排就绪以后,他才拚命拉起铃来。以后发生的事,你们都知道了。就这样,先生们,你们要怎样办就怎样办吧。可是我已经把真情告诉你们了。千真万确,我把全部真情都告诉你们了。现在请问英国法律如何处理我?”

大家都默不作声,歇洛克·福尔摩斯打破了沉寂,说道:“英国的法律,基本上是公正的。你不会受冤枉的刑罚的。可是我要问你这个人怎么知道你住在这儿?他是怎样进入你屋里的,又藏在哪里想暗害你呢?”

“这我就不知道了。”

福尔摩斯的面容非常苍白而严肃。

“恐怕这件事还不算完呢,"福尔摩斯说道,“你会发现还有比英国刑罚更大的危险,甚至也比你那些从美国来的仇敌更危险。道格拉斯先生,我看你面前还有麻烦事。你要记住我的忠告,继续小心戒备才是。”

现在,请读者不要厌倦,暂时随我一起远离这苏塞克斯的伯尔斯通庄园;也远离这个叫做约翰·道格拉斯的人的怪事发生的这一年。

我希望你们在时间上退回二十年,在地点上向西方远渡几千里,作一次远游。那么,我可以摆在你们面前一件稀奇古怪、骇人听闻的故事——这故事是那样稀奇古怪,那样骇人听闻,即使是我讲给你听,即使它是确凿的事实,你还会觉得难以相信。

不要以为我在一案未了以前,又介绍另一件案子。你们读下去就会发现并非如此。在我详细讲完这些年代久远的事件,你们解决了过去的哑谜时,我们还要在贝克街这座宅子里再一次见面,在那里,这件案子象其他许多奇异事件一样,都有它的结局。

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