"I do not know what I have done to be so severely tried," said he. "Only two days ago I was a happy and prosperous man, without a care in the world. Now I am left to a lonely and dishonoured age. One sorrow comes close upon the heels of another. My niece, Mary, has deserted me."
"Yes. Her bed this morning had not been slept in, her room was empty, and a note for me lay upon the hall table. I had said to her last night, in sorrow and not in anger, that if she had married my boy all might have been well with him. Perhaps it was thoughtless of me to say so. It is to that remark that she refers in this note:
"'MY DEAREST UNCLE:--I feel that I have brought trouble upon you, and that if I had acted differently this terrible misfortune might never have occurred. I cannot, with this thought in my mind, ever again be happy under your roof, and I feel that I must leave you forever. Do not worry about my future, for that is provided for; and, above all, do not search for me, for it will be fruitless labour and an ill-service to me. In life or in death, I am ever your loving,--MARY.'
"What could she mean by that note, Mr. Holmes? Do you think it points to suicide?"
"No, no, nothing of the kind. It is perhaps the best possible solution. I trust, Mr. Holder, that you are nearing the end of your troubles."
"Ha! You say so! You have heard something, Mr. Holmes; you have learned something! Where are the gems?"
"You would not think 1000 pounds apiece an excessive sum for them?"
"I would pay ten."
"That would be unnecessary. Three thousand will cover the matter. And there is a little reward, I fancy. Have you your check-book? Here is a pen. Better make it out for 4000 pounds."
With a dazed face the banker made out the required check. Holmes walked over to his desk, took out a little triangular piece of gold with three gems in it, and threw it down upon the table.
With a shriek of joy our client clutched it up.
"You have it!" he gasped. "I am saved! I am saved!"
The reaction of joy was as passionate as his grief had been, and he hugged his recovered gems to his bosom.
"There is one other thing you owe, Mr. Holder," said Sherlock Holmes rather sternly.
"Owe!" He caught up a pen. "Name the sum, and I will pay it."
"No, the debt is not to me. You owe a very humble apology to that noble lad, your son, who has carried himself in this matter as I should be proud to see my own son do, should I ever chance to have one."
"Then it was not Arthur who took them?"
"I told you yesterday, and I repeat to-day, that it was not."
"You are sure of it! Then let us hurry to him at once to let him know that the truth is known."
"He knows it already. When I had cleared it all up I had an interview with him, and finding that he would not tell me the story, I told it to him, on which he had to confess that I was right and to add the very few details which were not yet quite clear to me. Your news of this morning, however, may open his lips."
"For heaven's sake, tell me, then, what is this extraordinary mystery!"
"I will do so, and I will show you the steps by which I reached it. And let me say to you, first, that which it is hardest for me to say and for you to hear: there has been an understanding between Sir George Burnwell and your niece Mary. They have now fled together."
"My Mary? Impossible!"
"It is unfortunately more than possible; it is certain. Neither you nor your son knew the true character of this man when you admitted him into your family circle. He is one of the most dangerous men in England--a ruined gambler, an absolutely desperate villain, a man without heart or conscience. Your niece knew nothing of such men. When he breathed his vows to her, as he had done to a hundred before her, she flattered herself that she alone had touched his heart. The devil knows best what he said, but at least she became his tool and was in the habit of seeing him nearly every evening."
"I cannot, and I will not, believe it!" cried the banker with an ashen face.